The Comoro Archipelago is situated at the head of the Mozambique Channel, midway between Cape Amber and Cape Delgado. The largest of the four islands, Great Comoro (or Grande Comore), 175 miles from Mozambique, is the northernmost island in the group. Mayotte (or Mayotta), the first of the islands to become a French colony, and the southernmost in the group, is the closest to Madagascar. To the northwest of Mayotte is Anjouan (or Johanna), referred to by authors, both ancient and modern, because of its fertility, as the “Pearl of the Comoro Islands”; immediately to the south of Great Comoro, and almost parallel with Anjouan, is Mohilla (or Moheli), the smallest island in the group.
The population of the islands is a mixture of African, Arab, and Malagasy, numbering over 170,000 people, with the heaviest concentration on Anjouan. The exportation of agricultural products has always been the chief industry of the archipelago. Its location at the head of the Mozambique Channel, and the wide range of food products available, made the Comoro Islands a popular supply stop for ships bound for India and the Far East via the Mozambique Channel; for the ships of the British antislavery squadron; and for whalers fishing in the southern Indian Ocean. European technological progress and the opening of the Suez Canal combined to render this function obsolete. During the last half of the nineteenth century, Mayotte, which became a French colony in 1841, was a moderately successful sugar colony. Plantations were also opened on Anjouan and Mohilla, but it was not until after the establishment of a French protectorate over the other two islands in 1886 that plantation economies and new crops were introduced to the rest of the archipelago. Ylang-Ylang, a perfume essence, is the major export crop; sisal, vanilla, cocoa, and coffee are also exported. Coconuts are the only export commodity which has survived from the precolonial economy.