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Pemba Island

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 Unguja, more commonly (and incorrectly) known as Zanzibar. In the 1960s Zanzibar was united with the former colony of Tanganyika to formTanzania. 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 regarded to be 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 inacessibility and a reputation for political violence, with the notable exception of those drawn by its reputation as a center for traditional medicine and witchcraft. People come from as far away as Zaire to seek spiritual and physical healers. There is a very large Arab community on the island who immigrated from Oman. The population is a mix of Arab and original Swahili inhabitants of the island.

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.

The most important towns in Pemba are Chake Chake, Mkoani, and Wete. The north of Pemba is a very fertile place; the locals grow mainly rice and red beans called maharagwe in Kiswahili. In very small quantities they also grow coffee on the island.

The Portuguese introduced bullfights in the 17th century, which are still held to this day in more humane, modified Islamic form, during which the animals are tied to a post and challenged to a chase by brave youths. Pemba is also starting to get known for its dive sites, with vertiginous drop-offs, untouched coral and very abundant marine life.

Chake Chake is located on a hill with a view on the bay where the tides determine when a dhow can enter the harbour. East of this place, on a peninsula, you can find the Ras Mkumbu that houses the oldest ruins of the island (14th century). Pemba is also famous for its rich fishing grounds. Between the island and the mainland there is the 20 miles wide Pemba channel, which is one of the most profitable fishing grounds for game fishing on the East African coast.

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