Mafia Island

From Academic Kids

Mafia Island ("Chole Shamba") is part of the Tanzanian Spice Islands, which consists also of Zanzibar and Pemba. Mafia is part of the Coast Province and is governed from the mainland (not Zanzibar). Mafia has never been part of Zanzibar.

People of Mafia Island are mainly fishermen; they combine their fishing activities with small scale cultivation of foods.

The island is a good retreat for adventure divers, game fishermen and those seeking simple relaxation.

Map Of Spice Islands (Zanzibar, Pemba, Mafia)


The island comprises of one large (Chole, 394km²) and a number of inhabited and uninhabited off-shore islands around it. Chole Bay, Mafia's protected deep-water anchorage and the original harbour, is studded with islands, sandbanks and beaches. The main town is Kilindoni.


Mafia Island's history goes back to 8th century. The island once played a major role in ancient trade, between the people of Far East and mainland Tanzania. It was a regular stop for Arab and Persian boats. On the tiny island of Chole Mjini, just offshore in Chole Bay once stood a settlement, which was one of the most important towns controlling trade from the silver mines of Eastern Zimbabwe, via the old ports of Kilwa and Michangani.

In the mid 1820s, the town of Kua on Juani Island was attacked by 80 canoes filled with Sakalava cannibals from Madagascar, who ate many of the locals and took the rest into slavery.

Under a treaty of 1890 Germany took control of Mafia and constructed the buildings still evident on Chole. Germany paid Sultan Sayyid Ali bin Said al-Said of Oman DM 4 million for the island and part of the mainland coast. In January 1915 Mafia was taken by British troops as a base for the air and sea assault on the cruiser Königsberg.

Although the Cosa Nostra have, of late, been moving into the East African coast as a new avenue for money-laundering, the name Mafia probably derives from the Arabic morfiyeh, meaning “group” or "archipelago", or from the Ki-Swahili "mahali pa afya", meaning "a healthy dwelling-place".


  • Chami, F. A. 1999. “The Early Iron Age on Mafia island and its relationship with the mainland.” Azania Vol. XXXIV 1999, pp. 1-10.
  • Chami, Felix A. 2002. “The Graeco-Romans and Paanchea/Azania: sailing in the Erythraean Sea” by Felix A. Chami. From: Red Sea Trade and Travel. The British Museum. Organised by The Society for Arabian Studies. Downloaded on 20 July, 2003 from:

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