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Mayotte is a small island off the coast of Madagascar that is a collectivity of France. The island covers 144 square miles (374 sq. km), and has a population of just under 190,000, making it the 11th most-densely populated territory of nation in the world. It is located in the Mozambique channel in the Comoros island chain, between Madagascar and Mozambique. It consists of one large island, one smaller island, and a number of tiny islets.
The island, like the rest of the Comoros, was first inhabited thousands of years ago by explorers from Polynesia and Indonesia. Over the subsequent centuries, waves of African and Arab settlers arrived and blended their culture with the native culture of the island. In the 15th century Islam was introduced to the Comoros. Sultanates sprang up around the islands, including the Mawuti Maore sultanate on what is now Mayotte.
Mayotte and the Comoros were first visited by Europeans when the Portuguese arrived in the early-16th century, followed soon after by the French. For the next two centuries, however, no Western state would lay claim to the islands. Western pirates, voyaging out from Madagascar, would occasionally visit and raid the islands and the various sultanates.
In the mid-19th century France began to take an interest in the Comoros. Their first act was to annex the Mawuti Maore sultanate, whose name was translated to become the Mayotte protectorate. The rest of the Comoros followed suit, and eventually all of the islands were lumped together and administered under France’s territory in Madagascar. Beginning after World War II the Comoros began to gain more autonomy from France, and began to agitate for independence.
In 1973, France and Comoros agreed that the islands would become independent, but that a transitional period would last until 1978. Two years later the islands declared independence themselves, foregoing the transitional period. The people of Mayotte, however, chose not to separate from France, and in two referendums made their will known. The new Comoros government has since then pushed regularly for France to cede the island to them, but so far the citizens of the island have chosen to remain a part of France, and France has supported their decision, even going so far as to veto a UN Security Council resolution recognizing Comoros sovereignty over the islands.
France includes Mayotte as an overseas community, but because of its unique circumstances, treats it somewhat differently than others. It is a predominantly Muslim region, and as a result, integrating its legislative system seamlessly into that of France presents a number of difficulties. As a result, when the French government passes new laws, it must be explicitly stated that they apply to Mayotte in order for them to. The status of the island continues to evolve in the context of France, in spite of its control being disputed by the Comoros, and as of 2011, the islands will officially become an overseas department, giving it essentially the same status as any of the departments of mainland France.
Like the rest of the Comoros, Mayotte is a beautiful island, steeped in centuries of culture. Arab architecture, French dining, and the lush scenery of coastal Africa make this a truly wonderful vacation spot. The economy of the island is strong, in large part due to its close ties with France, and as a result the tourist infrastructure is extensive.
Planes fly in regularly to the island from nearby Reunion, and from there the island is tied to most of the world. Cruise ships occasionally make port there, and boats connect the island to the rest of the Comoros as well.