Pemba Island has been separated from the mainland of Tanzania and Zanzibar for decades, leaving an untouched and pristine island of great beauty and fertility. The mosaic of forests, swamps, mangroves, hidden beaches and lagoons is scattered with the ruins of mosques and tombs mostly reclaimed by the forest – sites that date back to Arab domination when Pemba Island was seized by the Sultan of Muscat (Oman) in the 17th century. He loved the Spice Islands and established his court in Zanzibar and ruled Muscat from there.
Pemba is still the predominant global producer of cloves yielding around 70% of all the world’s cloves, but now plays its more traditional role of being an island paradise with small inter-island trade. Pemba Island also has a strong reputation as a ‘magic’ island, a centre for ju-ju traditions of medicine and wizardry.
How can such a beautiful place be so devoid of visitors?
On an island with a population of 300,000 there are rarely more than a couple of dozen foreigners. It is as though the people of Pemba have a secret that they refuse to share. Traveling in Pemba is discovering untouched territory. Villagers are eager to talk to anyone who passes and small children will give you their biggest and whites smiles as the yell “bye-bye!” as you pass them by. You will be called over in markets by the stallholders to sit you down to try their fruits, waiting paitiently for your reaction.
Chake Chake harbour is mainly used for swimming & fishing. When the Western Colonial powers came to East Africa the British forced the Sultanates of Muscat and Zanzibar to separate and then administered the Spice Islands in the name of the Sultan.
Historically the huge traditional trading vessels, or “dhows”, followed the monsoons down from the Arabian Peninsula to East Africa. Following the winds they transported cloves to India, textiles to the Arab countries and silver and wood back to the Spice Islands of Unguja and Pemba.
The dhows have remained a constant emblem throughout the history of Pemba. To this day the dhows sail from Wete to Shimoni in Kenya and then plough through to northern Mozambique when the winds become favourable.
Pemba is a magical island. Unlike Unguja (Zanzibar), Pemba is hilly. Gentle, undulating hills and deep verdant valleys are all covered with a dense cover of clove, coconut, mango and other fruit and crop plantations. A more fertile land is difficult to imagine.