Referred to by
the French as Grande Comore, Ngazidja
is the site of Moroni,
the capital city of the Union of the Comoros, and is the largest of the
islands in the Comoro archipelago. It has an area of 442 square miles (1,146 square
kilometers). The northern two-thirds of the island are dominated by a rocky
plain known as La Grille. The southern third of the island is dominated by an
active volcano, Karthala, which stands over 7700 feet
(2361 meters) high. Karthala's crater is 3.0 x 4.0
kilometers wide, the largest active crater in the world. Since 1857 there have
been over a dozen eruptions with lava flows; the most extensive was that of
1918. The most recent serious eruption was in 2005.
The island's over 280,000 inhabitants are predominantly descended from Arab
and African ancestors. Agriculture on the island is generally limited to areas
lower than 2,000 feet in altitude. Above this altitude is
the remnants of a dense tropical forest (in the south) and an area of grassy
plain (in the center and north).
European sailing ships stopped for provisions at Ngazidja
as early as 1570 when the island was ruled by 12 sultans. Although each was
independent of the others, they generally recognized a principal sultan, whose
rights and responsibilities were primarily conciliatory in inter-regional
disputes, and accorded him or her the title of Sultan Thibe. There was frequent conflict over the right to use
this title, especially after the Europeans appeared on the scene, as these
latter generally assumed that the title indicated sovereignty over the entire
The best documented of the conflicts between sultans is the long and
complicated struggle between the rulers of the towns of Bambao
and Itsandra during the nineteenth century. This
eventually led to the establishment of a French protectorate over the island
and the ceding of Ngazidja to France.
Beach at Itsandra, Ngazidja
Photo by M. Aboud
The Town of Iconi,
Photo by M. Aboud
An Interesting Question: What is the relationship
between the Comoros
and The Book of Mormon?
is the capital city of the Comoros.
Both names are found in the Book of Mormon, the sacred text of The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the book, an angel named Moroni revealed to Joseph Smith the location of golden
tablets upon which the sacred text is based. The golden tablets were hidden
on a hill near Palmyra,
New York, spelled, "Cumorah", in the text. Is it just a coincidence
that both the name of the hill and the name of the angel who revealed the
location to Joseph Smith are similar to the two names from the islands of
the western Indian Ocean? Or, is there a historical connection between
It should be first noted that 'moroni'
has a meaning in the local languages spoken in the western Indian Ocean. The word can be translated into English
as: "at the place of fire." It is constructed of the root 'moro,' which means "fire" or "heat"
and the locative '-ni,' which has the meaning
"at the place of". Thus, it is a meaningful name constructed from
the morphemes of the local languages reflecting the fact that Moroni
is a community located at the base of an immense, active volcano. Secondly,
it should be noted that 'Moroni' is a word found on
European maps as early as the middle of the 18th century. The name,
'Comoro', also has a meaning in the local languages. It is composed of an
old Swahili locative 'ko-' and the word 'moro.' It's meaning is also
"the place of fire" and the name can be found since ancient times
on Arabic maps.
The present evidence suggests that the most likely explanation for the
extraordinary similarity between the names found in The Book of Mormon and
in the western Indian Ocean is that a historical relationship exists
between the two. American whalers visited the Comoros as early as the
seventeenth century and it was reported that as many as twenty-five to
forty whalers a year were visiting the islands during the 19th
century. The seamen aboard these ships undoubtedly told about these exotic islands
when they returned to the whaling ports of New England. By the time The
Book of Mormon first appeared in the 1820s, the words ‘Comoro’
and ‘Moroni’ had unquestionably been
mentioned in the eastern U.S. Thus, the appearance of "Moroni" and "Cumorah"
in The Book of Mormon is probably the result of Joseph Smith having heard
these exotic names from American seamen’s tales of the Indian Ocean.
The Old Friday Mosque, Moroni