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Pemba Island


Pemba Island

Native name: Al Jazeera al Khadra (the green island)
The main islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago: Unguja (left) and Pemba (right)
Pemba Island is located in Tanzania
Location in Tanzania
Location Indian Ocean
Area 988 km2 (381 sq mi)
Region Zanzibar
Largest settlement Wete
Population 406,808 (as of census 2012)
Density 428 /km2 (1,109 /sq mi)

Pemba Island, known as "The Green Island" in Arabic (الجزيرة الخضراء), is an island forming part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, lying within the Swahili Coast in the Indian Ocean.


  • Geography 1
  • Archaeology 2
  • History 3
  • Economy 4
  • Transport 5
  • Photo gallery 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


With a land area of 988 square kilometres (381 sq mi)[1] it is situated about 50 kilometres (31 mi) to the north of Unguja, the largest island of the archipelago. In 1964, Zanzibar was united with the former colony of Tanganyika to form Tanzania. It lies 50 kilometres (31 mi) east of mainland Tanzania, across the Pemba Channel. Together with Mafia Island (south of Unguja), these islands form the Spice Islands (not to be confused with the Maluku Islands of Indonesia).

Ndagoni Ruins at Ras Mkumbuu

Most of the island, which is hillier and more fertile than Unguja, is dominated by small scale farming. There is also large scale farming of cash crops such as cloves.

In previous years the island was seldom visited due to inaccessibility and a reputation for political violence, with the notable exception of those drawn by its reputation as a center for traditional medicine and witchcraft. There is a quite large Arab community on the island who immigrated from Oman. The population is a mix of Arab and original Waswahili inhabitants of the island. A significant portion of the population also identifies as Shirazi people.

The most important towns in Pemba are Chake-Chake (the capital), Mkoani, and Wete which is the largest city. The centrally located Chake-Chake is perched on a mound with a view to the west on a bay and the tiny Misali island, where the tides determine when a dhow can enter the local harbour. Pemba is, with the exception of a strip of land along its eastern coast, a very fertile place: besides clove trees, the locals grow mainly rice, coconut, bananas, cassava and red beans (called maharagwe in the Swahili language).

Pemba is also becoming well known for its dive sites, with steep drop-offs, untouched coral and very abundant marine life.[2][3]


Mkama Ndume Ruins at Pujini village

Recent archaeological research on Pemba has shown its centrality to the Swahili coast trading system as early as 600 AD.[4] Along the northern coast, urban settlements at Chwaka later developed and flourished from the eleventh century to ~1500 AD.[5]

West of Pemba's capital Chake-Chake, on a long stretched peninsula called Ras Mkumbuu, one can find some of the oldest and best preserved series of early ruins on the islands (Ndagoni ruins, probably 14th century).[6]

East of Chake-Chake one can find the Mkama Ndume ruins at Pujini village (south of the airport) within easy reach by road from Chake-Chake. This is the only known early fortification on the whole Swahili Coast; it is dated to the fifteenth century.[7]


According to the Arab geographer Yakut, in the mid-13th century there were two independent sultans ruling over parts of Pemba Island.[8]


Pemba is also famous for its rich fishing grounds. Between the island and the mainland there is the deep 50 kilometre wide Pemba channel, which is one of the most profitable fishing grounds for game fishing on the Swahili Coast.[9]

A large proportion of the Zanzibar export earnings comes from cloves. The greatest concentration of clove trees is found on Pemba (3.5 million trees) as growing conditions here are superior to those on Unguja island. Clove trees grow to the height of around 10 to 15 metres and can produce crops for over 50 years.

More recently with the booming tourism industry in neighbouring Zanzibar, more adventurous travellers are seeking out the less-crowded Pemba, led by dive tourists seeking the uncrowded and un-spoiled reefs the island offers the experienced diver.[10]

For the promotion of tourism the department of Surveys and Mapping at Chake-Chake is publishing a map with tourist guide since 1992.[11]


Pemba Airport is also known as Wawi Airport or Karume Airport and connects the island to Arusha, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.

Photo gallery

See also


  1. ^ Tanzania in figures 2012, National Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Finance, June 2013, page 7
  2. ^ "Africa: Dive of a lifetime on Pemba Island". web page (London). 2 March 2010. Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  3. ^ "Divernet: Fun at Fundu". web page. Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  4. ^ Fleisher, Jeffrey; LaViolette, Adria (2013). "The early Swahili trade village of Tumbe, Pemba Island, Tanzania, AD 600–950". Antiquity 87 (338): 1151–1168. 
  5. ^ LaViolette, Adria; Fleisher, Jeffrey (2009). "The Urban History of a Rural Place: Swahili Archaeology on Pemba Island, Tanzania, 700-1500 AD". International Journal of African Historical Studies 42 (3): 433–455. 
  6. ^ Kirkman, James S. "Excavations at Ras Mkumbuu on the island of Pemba." Tanganyika Notes and Records 53 (1959): 161-78.
  7. ^ LaViolette, Adria (2004). Swahili archaeology and history on Pemba, Tanzania: A critique and case study of the use of written and oral sources in archaeology. In Reid, Andrew M. and Paul J. Lane, eds. African Historical Archaeologies, pp. 125-162.
  8. ^ Marina Tolmacheva, The Pate Chronicle (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1993) p. 6
  9. ^ "The Pemba Channel Fishing Club". web page. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  10. ^ "Spice and easy: Rory Bremner visits Zanzibar and Pemba". web page (London). 12 February 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  11. ^ Pemba - The clove island 1:100,000, Map & Guide, 3rd edition, 2013, Dept. of Surveys and Mapping, Box 235, Chake-Chake

External links

  • (English) Watch a short documentary about Pemba Island on YouTube
  • (English) Audio interview with Pemba Island resident about life on Pemba Island
  • Fundu Lagoon, a resort and dive site on Pemba Island.
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