Pemba, Tanzania

This article is about the island. Pemba is also a city in Mozambique and a small town in Zambia.

The island of Pemba known as 'Al Jazeera Al Khadra' (the green island, in Arabic) is an island forming part of the Zanzibar archipelago, lying off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. It is situated about 50 kilometres to the north of the island of Zanzibar. In the 1960s Zanzibar was united with the former colony of Tanganyika to form Tanzania. It lies 50 kilometres east of mainland Tanzania. Together with Mafia Island (south of Zanzibar), they form the Spice Islands. In 1988, the estimated population was 265,000, with an area of 980 km².

Most of the island, which is hillier and more fertile than Zanzibar, is dominated by small scale farming. There is large scale farming of cash crops such as cloves — there are over 3 million clove trees.

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.

The most important towns in Pemba are Chake-Chake (the capital), Mkoani, and Wete. Pemba is with the exception of a strip along the east coastal area a very fertile place; beside clove trees the locals grow mainly rice, coconut, bananas¸ cassava and red beans called maharagwe in Kiswahili.

Pemba is also becoming well-known for its dive sites, with vertiginous drop-offs, untouched coral and very abundant marine life. The central town Chake-Chake is located on a hill with a view to the west on the bay and the tiny Misali island where the tides determine when a dhow can enter the harbour.


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).

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 fortification is the only known early fortification on the whole coast of East Africa; it is dated to the fifteenth century.


Pemba is also famous for its rich fishing grounds. Between the island and the mainland there is the deep 20 miles wide Pemba channel, which is one of the most profitable fishing grounds for game fishing on the East African coast.

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.

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