The total population of the Comoro Islands has been estimated to be over 800,000 people. The average density is greater than 182.5 persons per square kilometer, varying between less than 70 persons per square kilometer in Mwali to over 349 persons per square kilometer in Nzwani. Nzwani is one of the most highly populated islands in the world.
In recent decades the population was increased by the forced evacuation of Comorians from Madagascar and Zanzibar. These peoples resettled in the Comoros adding to an already difficult situation. Earlier, changes in politics in the area had reduced the opportunities for Comorian men to go abroad; one means that had effectively eased population pressures. There still are a number of Comorians living abroad. Comorians can be found living in many parts of the world. Most Comorian emigrants live in Europe with an estimated 60,000 living in France alone today. A number of Comorians or people of Comorian descent can also be found along the East African coast.
The present population increase is estimated to be nearly 3.0% per year with an annual birth rate exceeding 35 births per 1,000 and an annual death rate less than 8 deaths per 1,000 population.
The inhabitants are a blend of various peoples of the Indian Ocean littoral. African, Malagasy, and Arabic features are clearly evident. Maritime commerce before entry of Europeans into the Indian Ocean brought Comorians into contact with peoples from southern Africa to southeast Asia. Since the end of the fifteenth century European influence has also impacted Comorian life.
The Comorians practice a form of marriage that is an adaptation to their involvement in the ancient maritime trade of the Indian Ocean. The preferred form of marriage is matrilocal polygyny. This is a rare combination and, at one time, was thought by social scientists to be impossible. It entails a man having more than one wife and living in the homes of the wives. Their homes are separate residences sometimes in different towns, islands, or even countries. Married life is made possible by the husband visiting his wives and he is expected to spend equal time in each household. He is also expected to treat the wives equally well. For details about this interesting form of marriage and its impact upon the relationships between males and females, see Marriage in Domoni (Ottenheimer 1985, Waveland Press), a book with a detailed description of married life in an ancient trading port on the island of Nzwani (Anjouan).
A bride in Domoni.