Pemba Island – History, Economy, Archaeology, Transport and More

Pemba Island – History, Economy, Archaeology, Transport and More

Pemba Island in Swahili: means “Pemba kisiwa,” in Arabic: “الجزيرة الخضراء‎ al-Jazīra al-khadrā,” meaning “The Green Island”; it is an island in Tanzanian which forms part of Zanzibar’s extension of islands, and lies within the Swahili shoreline in the beautiful Indian Ocean.


With a surface area of 988 sq kilometers (381 sq miles), it is located about 50 km [31 miles] northward of Unguja Island, the largest of the archipelago groups. In 1964, the Unity of Tanganyika and Zanzibar gave birth to Tanzania. It is situated 50 km east of the coast of Tanzania, just across the Pemba Passage. Bonded together with the Mafia islet (southwards of Unguja island), these two islands create the Spice Islets (not to be mistaken with the Maluku Budget of Indonesia).  Farming predominates on most of the island, which is more hilly and fertile than Unguja. Cash crops such as cloves are produced in large quantities as well.

Pemba was hardly ever visited in years due to lack of roads and a neck for political savagery, except those who believe that the island was the center for witchcraft and traditional medicine collection. Migration has led to a significant Arab community presence on the island from Oman mixed with the original Swahili people. Also, a substantial majority of the inhabitants identify as Shirazi people.

Pemba has the three most populous towns in the region: Chake-Chake [the Capital], Mkoani, and Wete, the largest city. On a mound, Chake-Chake sits overlooking a bay and the island of Misali, where the tides dictate when a rowboat can enter the local harbor. With exception for a narrow strip of land along its eastern coast, Pemba is a very fruitful place: in addition to clove trees, the people cultivate bananas, rice, coconut, and redish beans “called maharagwe’’ in Swahili.

Dive sites are abundant in Pemba, with steep drop-offs, untouched corals, and diverse marine life.

Pemba location on Tanzania map
Pemba location on Tanzania map

Important Bird Area

Birdlife International has recognized Pemba as an Important Bird Area [IBA] because it inhabits the green pigeons, scops owls, white –eye birds, and sunbirds on the islet


Tanzania’s mainland has a tropical climate, but Pemba’s is milder than Unguja island and tender than the mainland. The Köppen-Geiger climate system classifies this climate as “Aw.”. Chake Chake the Capital enjoys a typical summer temperature of 25.5 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit).

Rainfall is about 1,364 millimeters on average per year. The average temperature usually is between 24 – 27.4 degrees Celsius (75 °F – 81 °F) during the month. Between April and May are the rainiest months, while November and December bring more little rainfall. January through February are the driest months, and June through October are the longest.

Pemba climate data
Pemba climate data


Archaeological survey on Pemba has brought to light its evenness and connection to the Swahili coastline trading system before 600 AD. On the northern coastlines, urban cities at Chwaka later evolved and flourished from the 11th century to 1500 AD.

Some of the best-preserved and early ruins on the Island “Ndagoni ruins,” probably around the 14th century, can be located just West of Pemba’s Capital, stretching along the Peninsula called Ras Mkumbuu.

One can see the Mkama Ndume ruins east of Chake-Chake, near Pujini village just south of the airport. With an easy drive from Chake-Chake Mkama Ndume or the airport. This fortification[Mkama Ndume Ruins] dates back to the fifteenth century on the Swahili coast.


According to a geographer of Arabic heritage Yakut, in the middle of the 13th century, two independent sultans ruled over parts of Pemba Islet.

In a statement provided to Reuters on 24 June 2016, Australia’s Minister for Transport, Infrastructure, and Regional Development, Darren Chester, said they found scraps from the missing Malaysia Airlines Plane 370 on Pemba island.

Old Portuguese Fort in Chake Chake
Old Portuguese Fort in Chake Chake


Pemba is part of the semi-independent Revolutionary Regime of Zanzibar. It has two regions, namely North Pemba (Pemba Kaskazini) with Capital at Wete, and South Pemba (Pemba Kusini) with Capital at Mkoani. Although Chake Chake serves as Pemba’s Capital because it is closer to the airport and places host to both the High Court and the Presidential residence of the President of Zanzibar.



Pemba is also significantly famous for its fertile fishing grounds. Between the mainland and the island is a total 50 kilometer deep Pemba Channel, which serves as the most significant fishing ground for game anglers on the Swahili coastline.

Farming and Agriculture

Except for a strip of land along its eastern coast, Pemba is ideal for global agriculture.

Cash Crops

A significant amount of Zanzibar export money comes from cloves production, with an enormous portion of clove trees in Zanzibar located on Pemba [3.5 million trees], due to better conditions on the island compared to Unguja island. Clove trees grow as high as 10- 15 meters tall and can last over 50 years of harvesting.

Farming predominates on most of the island, which is more hilly and fertile than Unguja. Pemba is a very fruitful place: in addition to clove trees, the locals grow bananas, rice, coconut, and red beans “called maharagwe in Swahili.” as well as cassava.

Land Surveying

A map with tourist guides and directions has been published by Chake-Chake’s Department of Surveys and Mapping since 1992 to promote tourism.



The cities of Arusha, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar City can be reached via Pemba Airport, also known as Wawi Airport or Karume Airport.

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