Pemba Island is located in the Indan Ocean. Whereas Zanzibar is a low-lying coral atoll with broad sandy beaches, Pemba is a proper island with incredibly fertile hilly terrain and spectacular deepwater drop-offs for divers.
Despite its proximity Pemba is really off the beaten track, getting less than 1% of its neighbour’s visitor traffic. Those who do venture here are rewarded with an incredibly authentic Swahili Coast experience. Regular flights make getting here relatively easy these days, but the choice of accommodation remains unbelievably thin …
At the top of the price range is the very stylish Fundu Lagoon, certainly one of the top half dozen beach lodges in East Africa and a long term favourite with a cool, outdoorsy and relatively affluent clientele.
To the north, The Manta perhaps enjoys an even better beach location and is considerably lower cost, but has had such a chequered past that we are finding it difficult to re-engage with it since the new owners took over.
Pemba island has been overshadowed by the popularity of its sister island of Unguja. However, it has a very long history but fortunately not as eventful as that of Unguja since it has never been the centre of any ruling empire. Except for the cruelty of Mkama Ndume, who was the local ruler with his headquarters at Pujini, Pemba was always ruled by proxy. The Portuguese had established an administrative centre at Chake Chake but generally, their rule was connected to other parts of East Africa. The Mazruis of Mombasa ruled Pemba for a great period but were overpowered by Sayyid Said, who again ruled Pemba from Unguja. The tendency of Pemba being ruled from Unguja continued from the period of Sayyid Said up to the present times and due to its subordinate role, it has always been sidelined by what is happening at the metropole.
The popularity of Pemba stems mainly from the clove industry (Read on Zanzibar’s economy and View Zanzibar Album for photos on Zanzibar and cloves). More than 70% of the Zanzibar’s harvest of cloves is produced in the island of Pemba.
During the clove blooming season, visitors are welcomed by the scents of cloves or marashi ya karafuu and the songs of honey bees looking for nectar. Because of higher rainfall, it receives annually and the dense clove plantations, Pemba is always green. The Arabs called it “ Jaziiratul Khadhraa” or (The Green Island) and it was once termed “the granary of Mombasa” during the Mazrui rule.
Unlike Unguja, Pemba does not enjoy the easy accessibility to the external world. Its important business, the clove industry, is largely controlled by the government leading to poor growth of the private sector. Marine transportation has not been stimulated by the poor, controlled economy and the turbulence of the Pemba Channel has discouraged light sea vessels from making regular visits to Pemba ports. Therefore, its nice landscape and white sandy beaches have not been exploited to their potential. Pemba is largely untouched, green, and to say the least, still virgin.
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