Unguja – People, History, Geography, Economy and More

Unguja – People, History, Geography, Economy and More

Unguja (also known as “Zanzibar Island” or just “Zanzibar”, to Ancient Greek: Μενουθιάς, to Romans: Menuthias – as indicated in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea) is the biggest island in size and population among Tanzania’s Zanzibar archipelago.


The island is approximately 85km (19m) wide (east to west) at the widest point, with a total area of around 1,666km2 (643m2). It is situated in the northern section of the Zanzibar archipelago, in the Indian Ocean, approximately 59km (37m) south of Pemba, the second biggest island. The Zanzibar Channel separates Unguja from mainland Tanzania.

Various tiny islands and islets surround Ugunja, with just two, Tumbatu and Uzi, inhabited. Other smaller islands near Unguja are Changuu, Bawe,  Kizingo, Chapwani, Chumbe, Kwale, Mautani,Latham, Mnemba, Miwi,Mwana wa Mwana, Popo, Nianembe, Ukanga, and Pungume.

Local Government

Unguja and the nearby islands are split into three sections: Zanzibar Urban/West (city capital: Zanzibar City), Zanzibar North (city: Mkokotoni), Zanzibar Central/South (city: Koani). Unguja is part of Zanzibar, defined according to the Tanzanian Constitution as “a part” of the country having a high degree of independence. Stone Town on Unguja’s west coast is the base of the local Zanzibari government.


According to the 2012 census, Unguja’s total population was 896,721, mainly concentrated in the urban region of Zanzibar. The principal settlement here is Zanzibar City, which serves as Zanzibar’s central city and is home to the renowned historical Stone Town and other populated areas like Michenzani. More significant settlements on Unguja are Mangapwani, Nungwi, Chwaka, and Mbweni.

Stone Town of Zanzibar also known as Mji Mkongwe
Stone Town of Zanzibar also known as Mji Mkongwe

People mostly speak Kiunguja (“the language of Unguja”) from Unguja, a Swahili language dialect used as the most significant model to define standard Swahili. 


Unguja island on the Zanzibar Archipelago has the most developed tourism sector. This contributes a substantial amount to Unguja’s economy. Cultivation (such as producing spices like cloves) and fishing are additional relevant activities. All along the east coast, many villages on the east coast rely on seaweed farming. 

Ecology of Unguja

Mammal species on the Unguja island worth noting include the African palm civet, Zanzibar red colobus, and Zanzibar servaline genet. By June 2018, a camera caught a leopard here, regardless of prior information that it’s considered extinct for the past yield.

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