Event — Webinar - IIAS Book Talks Series

Islands in a Cosmopolitan Sea: A History of the Comoros

An online book talk by Iain Walker author of Islands in a Cosmopolitan Sea: A History of the Comoros, organised by the Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies.

Discussants: Anne Bang (University of Bergen, Norway); Kai Kresse (Free University Berlin, Germany)

This webinar will take place from 12:30 - 14:00 p.m. Amsterdam Time (Central European Summer Time, CEST).


Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies (Leiden University, KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and IIAS).

Book information

Source: Oxford University Press

Iain Walker, Islands in a Cosmopolitan Sea: A History of the Comoros

Many people today have never heard of the Comoros, but these islands were once part of a prosperous economic system that stretched halfway around the world. A key node in the trading networks of the Indian Ocean, the Comoros thrived by exchanging slaves and commodities with African, Arab and Indian merchants. By the seventeenth century, the archipelago had become an important supply point on the route from Europe to Asia, and developed a special relationship with the English. The twentieth century brought French colonial rule and a plantation economy based on perfumes and spices. In 1975, following decades of neglect, the Comoros declared independence from France, only to be blighted by a series of coups, a radical revolutionary government and a mercenary regime. Today, the island nation suffers chronic mismanagement and relies on foreign aid and remittances from a diasporic community in France. Nonetheless, the Comoros are largely peaceful and culturally vibrant—connected to the outside world in the internet age, but, at the same time, still slightly apart. Iain Walker traces the history and unique culture of these enigmatic islands, from their first settlement by Africans, Arabs and Austronesians, through their heyday within the greater Swahili world and their decline as a forgotten outpost of the French colonial empire, to their contemporary status as an independent state in the Indian Ocean.

The Speaker (author)

Iain Walker is Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, in Halle, Germany. He has been working on the Comoros since the late 1980s and has conducted fieldwork on all islands as well as with the Comorian community of Zanzibar. His doctoral thesis, later published as "Becoming the Other, Being Oneself: Constructing Identities in a Connected World", was on mimesis on Ngazidja, while more recently he has been working on identities on Mayotte.

Discussants: Anne Bang (University of Bergen, Norway); Kai Kresse (Free University Berlin, Germany)

The Webinar

The speaker will answer questions after the talk.