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The Indian Ocean archipelago of Mayotte consists of a main island, a smaller island, and several islets. It is located in the Mozambique Channel off the southeast coast of Africa, between Madagascar and Mozambique.

Mayotte is in the African region, although its residents have chosen to remain a region of France rather than to seek independence as a separate country, or to become part of Comoros.

Geologically, its largest island, Grande Terre (Maore) is the oldest of the Comoros chain of islands. In fact, the capital of Mayotte, Dzaoudzi, was the capital of colonial Comoros until the 1970s. When Comoros voted to become independent of France, the residents of Comoros chose to remain French. Mayotte became an overseas department of France in 2011, and an outer region of the European Union in 2014.

The largest island in the group is known as Grande Terre in French, or as Maore in Swahili, which is sometimes spelled Mahore. The name, Maore (Mahore) may also be used to refer to the entire group of islands. To reduce confusion here, we will refer to the island group as Mayotte, and to its largest island as Grande Terre.

Grande Terre is 24 miles long and 14 miles wide, and its highest point (Mount Benara) is 2,165 feet above sea level. Its soil is rich in some areas, and the island is mostly surrounded by a coral reef. Mayotte's capital city is situated on its second largest island of Petite Terre (Pamanzi), which has a land area of four square miles. Mayotte's airport is also located on Petite Terre.

Slightly more than 60% of the people living in Mayotte are natives of Mayotte, while nearly 30% are immigrants from Comoros, and the remainder came from mainland France, Madagascar, or other countries. This includes a large illegal immigrant population. Most of its residents are ethnic Comorans, who are themselves a blend of settlers from other places: Iran, mainland Africa, various Arabian countries, and Malagasy.

The official language of Mayotte is French, and that is the language used in administration and education, and most often used in television and radio broadcasts, but fluency in French is lower in Mayotte than in any other French territory. Approximately 60% of the population is not fluent in French. The most commonly spoken language is Shimaore, a Comorian language derived from Swahili.

Nearly everyone in Mayotte adheres to Islam, and most of its children attend Koranic schools to learn Koranic text, often at the expense of other subjects. Nearly 30% of adults are known to enter into trance states, in which they maintain that they are possessed by Djinn, an Islamic spirit believed to be both spiritual and physical in nature. Djinn is the term that has been anglicized as genies. There is also a small Roman Catholic population in Mayotte.

The people of Mayotte have ethnic and family ties to the people of the other Comorian islands, where the standard of living is lower, but the people of Mayotte chose to remain French in order to preserve social status and in fear of being cut off of financial aid, of which they are a large recipient.

The status of Mayotte as a French region is yet uncertain. Comoros has not relinquished its claim to the islands. In 1976, a United Nations resolution recognizing the sovereignty of Comoros over Mayotte was supported by eleven of the fifteen members of the Council, but was vetoed by France and by France alone.

France intends to gradually abolish the traditional Islamic Sharia Law that has been in place in Mayotte, replacing it with the French Civil Code, and to apply French taxes and social welfare systems to Mayotte. This may prove to be unpopular, complicated by its population's lack of fluency in French. It is possible that the will of the people to remain French may change at some point.

People from France make up less than 4% of the population, but are generally in the positions of authority and civil service. The higher economic status and inability to communicate with the non-French populations reinforces their separation from the majority.

In Mayotte, as in many other places, the chief basis for social distinction is education and wealth. With few exceptions, the French comprise the leisure class, along with local elected officials, successful merchants, and some salaried workers. Some of the older families and religious figures enjoy the respect of the citizenry, and Indian merchants have developed a network of relationships that are as much based on family ties as on business.

The standard of living in Mayotte is higher than in some of the surrounding regions, but Mayotte remains economically poor, with a wide economic gap between its local population and French expatriates. At the same time, Mayotte is heavily dependent upon imports, so prices are high, even more so than in France.



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