Referred to by the French as Anjouan and by early English visitors as Johanna, Nzwani has been called the "pearl" of the Indian Ocean. With forested hillsides and rivers tumbling to the sea it is a beautiful island. It is essentially a triangle with approximately 50 kilometers on each side and a total area of 424 square kilometers (164 square miles).
With a population of more than 320,000 people it is the most densely populated island in the Comoro archipelago (over 1951 persons per square mile). Most live in small communities found throughout the island. The major towns are the capital and the island's major seaport, Mutsamudu, on the western side of the island and Domoni, a capital and seaport in ancient times, on the eastern shore. You can read a detailed description of traditional life on the island in the book, Marriage in Domoni. Other communities of historical interest on Nzwani are Sima and Ouani.
The volcanic peak on the island, Ntingi, is 1,575 meters high and is covered with vegetation, including large ferns, tropical mahoganies, and wild orchids. By contrast, the three peninsulas of the island are less luxuriant due to centuries of cultivation. Agricultural products include essential oils such as ylang-ylang, jasmine, cassis, basilic, palmarosa, and orange flower. Vanilla, cloves, and copra are also exported while a large variety of fruits, root crops, legumes, spices, herbs, and grains are grown for domestic use.
Arabic-style sultanates developed in Anjouan centuries ago with different areas of the island first ruled by chiefs referred to by local historians as “Fani.” During the 19th century, conflicts between sultanates led rulers to appeal to Europeans to intercede on their behalf. This led to the island becoming a French protectorate in 1886 and being formally annexed by France to its possessions in 1909.
In 1975, Anjouan was one of the three islands to declare their independence from France and constitute the Republic of the Comoro Islands. The first president of the independent country, Ahmed Abdallah, was from Anjouan and his shrine is in his hometown of Domoni, the ancient walled community on the east coast of the island. In 1997, a group of secessionists on the island declared Anjouan's independence from the Comoro Republic and hoped to reattach the island to France. This attempt failed, ending with the ousting of the renegade president in 2008 by a combined effort of a Federal Comorian and Organization of African Unity military force. Presently, the island is part of the reorganized federal government called the Union of the Comoros.
Click here for current weather conditions at Ouani, on the northwest coast of Anjouan, where the airport is located.
Listen to online news, music, and events from Domoni, the ancient capital of Anjouan.