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Friday, 15 July 2016

342) Currency of the Comoros Islands: Comorian Franc and Centimes:

342) Currency of the Comoros Islands: Comorian Franc and Centimes:

About the Comoros Archipelago:

The Comoros is a sovereign volcanic archipelago off Africa’s East coast in the Indian Ocean waters off the Mozambique Channel. The Nation State’s largest island, Grande-Comore (Ngazidja) is ringed by beaches and old lava from the active volcano – Mt. Karthala. Near Comoros lies Tanzania to the northwest and Seychelles to the North East. The major islands are still known by their French names – Grande–Comore (Ngazidja),  Moheil (Mwali), Anjouan (Nzani) and Mayotte (Maore) – whose sovereignty is still under dispute and is  presently, French occupation/administration).

The capital of the Comoros is Moroni located on Grande Comore. With a population of about 800,000, it has a predominantly Arab heritage which is evident on its intricately carved doors and the white colonnaded “Ancienne Mosquee du Vendredi”.

The archipelago has a diverse culture and history.

Initially, it was inhabited by the Bantu people from East Africa, followed by Aram and Australasian immigration.

According to a pre-Islamic myth, a Djinn” (spirit) dropped a jewel, which formed a great circular inferno, which gave rise to the Karthala volcano, molten lava flows from which formed the archipelago of Comoros.
There is an abundance of life in the sea around the Comoros. One can find everything from giant whales, sharks, big manta rays, sailfish, sunfish to lobsters, crabs and shrimp. Deep water close to the islands, coral reefs, miles of sandy beaches, fresh water streams ans shoreline springs provide multiple habitats for marine life.

Early trade from the Comoros was with the Muslim traders, sailors and merchants frequenting the Islamic Trade Routes, particularly from Oman and Zanzibar came to the archipelago searching for coral, ambergris, ivory, tortoiseshell, gold and slaves. They also set up mosques in several places, as trade increased.

From the 9th to 10th Century AD, each inhabited island consisted of a single village.

From the 11th to 15th Centuries, trade with the island of Madagascar and merchants from the Middle-East brought about development and expansion into satellite village and towns. As such, many indigenous people claim descent from the people of Yemen and Oman.

In 1503, the Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to arrive in the Archipelago having heard about the trade from the Comoros. By the time of their arrival, the Islanders were well placed to take advantage of the Europeans requirements with goods and slaves for their plantations. Indigenous commodities exported were coconuts, cattle and tortoiseshell.

French settlers, French-owned companies and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that used up one-third of the land for export crops.

The Comoros by now had developed into a “way station” for merchants sailing to the Far East and India until the opening of the Suez Canal significantly reduced shipping traffic passing through the Mozambique Channel.

In 1886, at the instance of its Sultan Mardjani Abdou Cheikh, the Comoros archipelago came under French protection and became a part of the French Colonial Empire. In return, the French were to support his claim to the entire islands under him.

The Islands were unified under a single administration (Colonie de Mayotte et dependances) and placed under the The French set up sugar plantations in Mayotte (an island that they administer to the present day). In other islands, they set up major crop plantations of ylang-ylang, vanilla, coffee, cocoa beans and sisal.

In 1890, coins denominated in Francs and Centimes, which were inscribed entirely in Arabic, were minted and circulated.

In 1909, Sultan Said Muhamed of Anjouan abdicated in favour of French rule.

In 1912, the Colony and the Protectorates were abolished and the Islands became a province of the colony of Madagascar, which was under French control.

In 1945, the Comoros became a separate French territory.

Formerly, the Comoros was a dependency of Madagascar and achieved its self-government only in 1961.

From 1964, the Comoros issued its own coins but with an effigy of Marianne, the French “Lady Liberty” and palm trees. The inscription on these coins was still “REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE” with the year of issue “1964”.
Obverse of a coin issued in 1964, showing Marianne facing left with the Cornucopia mint mark of the "Monnaie de Paris" on both sides of the year of issue

In 1973, an agreement was signed with France for the Comoros to become independent in 1978. Referendum was held   and three Islands voted in favour of Independence, while Mayotte voted in favour of staying a French colony.

Meanwhile, on 06.07.1975, the Comorian Parliament passed a unilateral resolution declaring their Independence from the French and the Comoros became a Federal Islamic Republic and introduced coins inscribed in Arabic and French with the four stars and crescent emblem with pictorial Reverses.

Since its Independence, the country has faced around 20 coups d’├ętat or attempted coups, with assassinations of various Heads of state. The country has a vast income inequality, with almost half the population lives below the International Poverty Line.

The Republic/Union of Comoros has three official languages – Comorian or “Shikomori”, Arabic and French. A Malagasy language – Kibushi – is also spoken by about one-third of the people of Comoros. About 98% of the population is Muslim.

The Comorian Franc:

The Franc is the official currency of Comoros, subdivided into 100 Centimes.

In 1886, the French Franc became the currency of the Comoros when the Islands became a French Protectorate.

In 1891, Sultan said Ali Bin Said Omar of Grande Comore, Ngazidja issued coins denominated in Francs and Centimes to circulate alongside the French currency in the Comoros.

In 1912, when the Comoros became a province of Madagascar, which was under French control, French Banknotes began circulating in the Colony.

In 1920, an emergency issue of small change Banknotes was resorted to, for circulating alongside the French currency.

Till 1925, thereafter, the French currency circulated on a standalone basis.

On 01.07.1925, the French government authorised the “Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas” to create the “Banque de Madagascar” which had its headquarters in Paris.  Under its charter, the “Banque de Madagascar” was authorised to issue the “Malagasy Franc” or the “Franc Malgache” (in French) which was at par with the French Franc, which circulated in Madagascar.

In 1945, when the Comoros became a separate French territory, the name of the issuing Bank was changed to the “Banque de Madagascar et des Comoros”.

In 1953, a Branch office was opened in Comoros. While the Banknotes were changed to depict the new status of the Comoros, which were now titled “Madagascar Comoros CFA Franc”, the coins still bore the name of Madagascar only.

In 1950, the French Government took complete majority control of the “Banque de Madagascar et des Comores”.

On 26.06.1960, Madagascar gained its Independence from France and the “Institut d’Emission Malgache”, with its Headquarters in Antananarivo was set up to issue currency for Madagascar only.

On 01.07.1973, Madagascar left the CFA zone.

On 23.11.1979, Comoros executed an agreement with the French government – the “Accord de cooperation monetaire entre la Republique Francaise et la Republique federale islamique des Comores”, which made the Comoros a part of the Franc Zone, but not a part of the CFA Franc Zone.

Until 1994, the Comorian Franc was pegged to the French Franc at an exchange rate of 50 Comorian Francs to 1 French Franc.

In January 1999, the creation of the Euro led to the Comorian Franc being pegged at the prevailing rate to the Euro.

The Central Bank of the Comoros or “Banque Centrale des Comores”:

In 1981, the Central Bank of the Comoros or “Banque Centrale des Comores” (BCC) was established with its headquarters in Moroni.

The Central Bank of the Comores, apart from its monetary regulation functions and supervising the issue of circulating currency, also approves the establishment of new Banks on all three islands of the Union of Comoros – Grande-Comore, Anjouan and Moheil.

Presently, six Banks operate in the Comoros – the “Banque pour et pour le Commerce-Comores (BIC-C), the “Banque de Developpement des Comores” (BDC), the “Banque Federale de Commerce” (BFC), the Exim Bank of Comores Ltd. and the “Societe Nationale des Postes et des Services Financiers” (SNPSF), in addition to two mutual savings banks – SANDUK and MECK. 

 Coins of the Comoros:

In 1890, coins in the denominations of 5 and 10 Centimes (both in Bronze) and 5 Francs (Silver) were issued for circulation in the Comoros, all struck in Paris with the same specifications as the corresponding French coins. All three denominations bore similar inscriptions, including the date “1308 AH” (corresponding to the Gregorian calendar years “1890/91 AD”.

In 1912, all three coin denominations ceased to be legal tender, nevertheless, the bronze coins of 5 and 10 Centimes were occasionally used by the public till 1930.

Interestingly, in the 1920s, a shortage of coins led to “private tokens” (made of Aluminium and/or Bronze) being issued by the principal colonial company on Ngazidja and a sugar plantation on Mayotte, in the denominations of 25 and 50 Centimes and 1 and 2 Francs.

In 1964, coins were introduced in the denominations of 1, 2 and 5 Francs (all denominations in Aluminium) and 10 and 20 Francs (both denominations in Aluminium Bronze) specifically for circulation in the Comoros, replacing the Madagascar coins earlier in circulation.

In 1975, 50 Francs coins (Nickel) were circulated.
 An image of the 50 Francs coin issued in 1975. It shows the denomination of the coin "50 Francs" in the centre, the year of issue as 1975, the cornucopia mint mark of the "Monnaie de Paris" on both sides of the year of issue. The coin has been issued by the "INSTITUT D'EMISSION DES COMORES". On top is the crescent emblem with the four arrowheads pointing inwards

In 1977, 100 Francs coins (Nickel) were introduced.
 In this 100 Francs coin issued in 1977, the emblem has changed to a crescent with four stars, which is still used present day

Between 1975 and 1977, the “Institut d’Emission des Comores” issued the general circulation coins.

In 1981, 25 Francs coins (Nickel) were issued.

Since 1981, the Central Bank of the Comoros or “Banque Centrale des Comores” (BCC) has been issuing coins meant for general circulation.

After 1990, the metallic composition on Nickel was replaced by Nickel plated Steel.


Minting of coins is done by “Monnaie de Paris” which has a “Cornucopia mint mark” (a Cornucopia is a symbol of plenty, consisting of a goat’s horn overflowing with flowers, fruit and corn and sometimes spilling out coins). The minting takes place the Mint facility at Pessac Gironde.

Nicknames on the Comoros coins:

The 5 Francs coin is nicknamed “Reali” (which refers to the Spanish Real), the 2 Francs coin is nicknamed “Nusu” (meaning “half”), the 1 Franc coin is nicknamed “Robo” (meaning “quarter”). Coins upto 10 Francs have almost gone out of circulation because of their almost negligible value.

Presently circulating coins:

After 2013, Coins in the denominations of 25, 50 and 100 Francs which are in circulation are being minted in stainless steel and not in Nickel and nickel plated steel as was being done earlier

                        Presently circulating coins
In addition, a new circulating bimetallic coin in the denomination of 250 Francs has been introduced which has been in circulation from January 2014 onwards.

Nicknames on the Comoros coins:

The 5 Francs coin is nicknamed “Reali” (which refers to the Spanish Real), the 2 Francs coin is nicknamed “Nusu” (meaning “half”), the 1 Franc coin is nicknamed “Robo” (meaning “quarter”). Coins upto 10 Francs have almost gone out of circulation because of their almost negligible value.

Some Commemorative Coins:

The Coelacanth, a species of fish that existed 400 million years ago and pre-dated the dinosaurs, was believed to be extinct log ago, but in 1938, a live specimen was found off the Comoros.
An ichthyologist learnt that Comorian fishermen regularly caught coelacanths in the deep waters surrounding the islands of Ngazidja (Grand Comore) and Nzwani (Anjouan).
Its discovery put the Comoros at the centre of the scientific world for a long time. Several specimens have since been preserved and can now be seen in museums around the world.

In 1984, this “living fossil” was depicted on a 5 Francs coin of the Comores, to mark the World Fisheries Conference. The coin carries an inscription “Conference Mondiale sur les Peches” (meaning “World Conference on Fishing”), which is a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) initiative. 

                              This coin was again issued in 1992.

Gold and Silver coins were issued as part of the “Comoros Independence Series” depicting Said Mohamed Cheikh to celebrate the Comores’ Independence.

Banknotes of the Comoros:

In 1920, the first Comorian Banknotes were issued, which were in the nature of an emergency issue of Madagascar postage stamps affixed on cards to uses them as circulation money. The denominations in circulation were 50 Centimes and 1 Franc.

Thereafter, in 1962, the “Banque de Madagascar et des Comores” began issuing Banknotes for the Comoros, after Madagascar began issuing its own currency.

From 01.04.1962, Madagascar banknotes over-stamped “COMORES” began circulating in the Comoros. These Banknotes were in the denominations of 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 5000 Francs.

On 31.12.1964, Banknotes other than the over-stamped ones ceased to be legal tender.

Until 1976, the over-stamped Banknotes were in circulation, when 500, 1000 and 5000 Francs Banknotes were introduced by the “Institut d’Emission des Comoros”, while the 50 and 100 francs Banknotes were replaced by coins of similar denominations.

In 1984, the Central Bank of the Comoros took over issue of paper money in the denominations of 500, 1,000 and 5,000 Francs.

In 1997, Banknotes in the denominations of 2,500 and 10,000 Francs were introduced.

On 31.01.2007, the 2,500 denomination Banknotes were demonetised.

Comorian Banknotes are printed by the “Banque de France” at their paper mill in Vic-le-Comte and their printing works in Chamalieres, both in Puy-de-Dome, Auvergne.

Presently circulating Banknotes (introduced in 2005):

The presently circulating Banknotes are in the denominations of 500, 1000, 5000 and 10000 Francs.
                     The Front of the 500 Comorian Franc Banknote

On the Front of the 500 Francs or "Cinq Cents Francs" Banknote is depicted a Lemur in the centre.

Lemur: Lemurs are primates endemic to the island of Madagascar. The name “Lemur” derives from the word "lemures” (meaning “ghosts or spirits”) deriving from Roman mythology and was first used to describe a slender Loris due to its nocturnal habits and slow pace, but now applies to the primates of Madagascar. Due to Madagascar’s highly seasonal climate, lemur evolution has taken place at a high pace in Madagascar.
                             An image of a Lemur

Before the advent of humans on the Islands some 2,000 years ago, lemurs could reach a size as large as a male gorilla. Presently, some 100 species of lemurs have inhabited the islands of Madagascar and the Comoros. Lemurs were also used in scientific research because they yielded insights on primate and human evolution. Nevertheless, due to illegal logging, widespread poverty and habitat degradation, deforestation etc. the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed almost 90% of all lemur species as the most endangered mammals.

The extremely popular animation film Series “Madagascar” estimated to have been viewed by over 300 million people world-wide brought attention to the Lemurs of Madagascar and nearby Islands, as did a 24-episode series called “Lemur Kingdom” (in the USA) and “Lemur Kingdom (in the UK and Canada), earlier aired in 2008 on Animal Planet.

                 The Back of the 500 Francs Banknote
On the Back of the 500 Francs or "Cinq Cents Francs" Banknote are depicted flowers.

Security features include a Security Thread, Registration Device, Watermark of four stars and a crescent moon and EURion Constellation et al.

The colour of this Banknote is pink, blue, green and multi-coloured. This banknote was first issued in September 2006.
                            The Front of the 1000 Francs Banknote

On the Front of the 1,000 Francs or "Mille Francs" Banknote is depicted a Coelacanth, a pre-historic fish, long thought to be extinct, but discovered in the waters off Comoros in 1938. Below this piscine curiosity is an aerial view of several islands in the Comoros Archipelago.

Also seen on the Front is a verse on the lower left which translates into English as:

“From our feelings, what you expect I understood

 For it is a love that is so absolutely exclusive

That, not to lose you, I hereby consent,

Truthfully, it will be a love,

That our times have never seen”

(This verse is continued on the Back of the Banknote)

                 The Back of the 1000 Francs Banknote
On the Back of the 1,000 Francs or "Mille Francs" Banknote is depicted a Comoron man in a canoe with stylised “ripples” forming around the canoe, surrounded by red and blue designs of differing character.

The verse in front is continued at the back as:

“I claim these different names which are ours

And if I speak the rainbow

It is to better greet our Indian Ocean sea-mother

Whose waves of pleasures brings

To insularity abundance and joy”

The final line below the verse identifies the author, Mab Elhad, a Comoron policeman and the book in which his verse appears: “Kaulu la Mwando” (meaning “First Word in the Comoron Language”). The book was first published in 2004 and the verses celebrate his Comoron life and Nationality.

Security features: This denomination includes portions of the design printed in intaglio, imparting a tactile element to the raised ink, along with the latent image created by the BCC embossed above the signatures. Registration Device, Micro-text, inclusion of Omron Rings, Watermark of four stars and a crescent moon and EURion Constellation et al. The Banknote contains an iridescent Band on the Front that can be seen only when the Banknote is tilted at an angle to the light.

The colour of this Banknote is red, blue and multi-coloured and it was first issued in January 2006.

Winner of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS) Award – 2007:

This Banknote was the winner of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS) 2007 IBNS Bank Note of the Year Award, given for the finest Banknote issued in 2006.

(Although this Banknote is dated 2005, it was released into circulation in 2006).

The IBNS Bank Note of the Year Award is given to the Banknote which has a high level of artistic merit, an imaginative design and features that present the best of modern security printing (taking into account the value of the Banknote). The 1,000 francs Comoron Banknote excelled in all parameters with its innovative design, well-balanced colour and sensible use of modern security features.
                   The Front of the 5000 Francs Banknote

On the Front of the 5,000 Francs Banknote is depicted President Said Mohamed Djohar.

Said Mohamed Djohar (22.08.1918-23.02.2006): He was a Comorian politician who served as President of the Comoros during the 1990s. His government was overthrown by a band of mercenaries and he was held prisoner in military barracks for several days.  The French government flew him to Reunion Island for medical treatment, but denied him a return to Comoros till January 1996. He was restored to the Presidency till March 1996. He passed away on 23.02.2006 at the age of 87 years.
                  The Back of the 5000 Francs Banknote

On the Back of the 5,000 Francs Banknote is depicted a weather-beaten tree, a sea-shore and a stylised Nautilus shell design.

Security features include a Solid Security Thread, Registration Device, Omron Rings, Holographic Stripe, Watermark of four stars and a crescent moon and EURion Constellation et al.

The colour of this Banknote is pink and multi-coloured. This banknote was first issued in 2006.
                       The Front of the 10,000 Francs Banknote

On the Front of the 10,000 Francs or "Dix Mille Francs" Banknote are depicted the Friday mosque in Moroni at left and Al-Habib Seyyid O.Bin Sumeit towards the centre.

Al Habib Seyyid O.Bin Sumeit: He was a Sufi Shaikh who was well-versed in the Quran, Hadith, and the bases of Jurisprudence (“Usul- al-Fiqh”) all the four madhhabs (Schools of Islamic thought), as Chief Qadi (Judge) in Zanzibar and his knowledge of the “Fiqh” (Islamic Jurisprudence). His family migrated from Hadramaut to the Comoros Islands in the late 19th Century where he served as a teacher and Qadi in Madagascar & the Comoros. 
                          The Back of the 10,000 Francs Banknote

On the Back of the 10,000 Francs or "Dix Mille Francs" Banknote are depicted the Cananga tree, Ylang-Ylang flowers and a turtle.

Cananga tree or “Cananga odorata”: It is prized for the perfume extracted from its flowers called “Ylang-Ylang” which is an essential oil used in aromatherapy. It is also used to relieve high blood pressure, normalise sebum secretion for skin problems and is considered to be an aphrodisiac. It is also used as flavouring in Madagascar for ice cream.

Ylang-Ylang makes up a substantial portion of the Comoros’ exports.
                                          Ylang Ylang flowers

Security features include a Solid Security Thread, thick Metallic Band, Registration Device, Micro-printing, Watermark of four stars and a crescent moon and EURion Constellation et al.

The colour of this Banknote is yellow, vanilla and multi-coloured. This banknote was first issued in January 2006.

Prevention of counterfeiting (security measures) and statutory warning to counterfeiters:

All denominations of Banknotes contain the EURion Constellation features, alongwith other improved security features like Security Thread, Registration Device, watermark of crescent moon with four stars etc. to “raise the bar” for counterfeiters.

There is also a warning to counterfeiters in French that counterfeiting is a crime punishable by law and attracts rigorous punishment.


(The above Banknotes are from the collection of Jayant Biswas. Banknotes scanned and post researched and written by Rajeev Prasad)