People and Traditions

People and Traditions

The population of Mafia was 33,000 at the last census in 1988 and is now over 45,000 (the results of 2002 Census), located in fishing and farming villages and small homesteads all over the main island, and the large islets of Jibondo, Juani and Chole.

The first people to settle Mafia were the waMbwera, from the Rufiji Delta. The excavations in the Rufiji, on Koma Island and the Mafia archipelago conclude that Iron Age settlements were first established between 400 and 800 AD. The present site of Kinasi Lodge is thought to be one of these settlements.

After its occupation by the Sultanate of Kilwa, there was a gradual influx of people from further south as well as slaves owned by the settlers and traders who followed. Excerpts from a passage in Dr Baumann’s famous report on Mafia (Baumann, O. (1896) ‘Mafia Island’ The Geographical Society of Leipzig) best describes the social evolution of Mafia and its extraordinary histroy of cultural inflow:

‘The Wambwera are the oldest of the inhabitants of Mafia, and are similar to the coast Swahilis between Kisiju and the mouth of the Rufiji. The name is derived from the village of Mbwera, situated in the delta, opposite to Kisimani Mafia, whence they emigrated long ago.

‘They are dark coloured, and do not differ in dress and mode of life from the coast Swahilis. They belong to the Sunni sect…..They are a peaceable and contented people, and delight in agriculture and cattle tending. They have known no war for a long time. Even cases of youthful quarrels are rare. They live under petty chiefs.

‘The Shatri are very old inhabitants of Mafia, of which they represent the nobility to an extent. They are the main inhabitants of Chole, and they also live at Kipingwi and Kipandeni, possessing estates all over the island. They call themselves Sharifu (ie descendents of the Prophet) and derive their descent from Hadhramout (Yemen). They are of the same line as the Shatri of Barawa, Siu (near Lamu) and Wasin, with whom they are related by marriage. Their emigration took place several centuries ago, and they are thought to be the Moors referrred to in Shirazi and Portuguese chronicles…..they are a mixture of Arab and Negro types….

‘Their custom is to build mosques on their estates and bury their dead in walled graves with memorials like a type of pyramid.

‘In addition to the above mentioned old settlers,…the slave population plays a great part. A large proportion of these came originally from the Rufiji District where they were sold cheaply owing to locust invasions. They belong to the tribes of the south…..being chiefly Nyasa and Yao. Most of them are the property of the Shatris and a few of the Wambwera.

‘Probably soon after after the occupation of Seyyid Said (Salton of Oman), a number of Muscat Arabs settled on the island. Some of them founded a village near Kisimani Mafia and intermarried with the native women…..A few genuine Muscat Arabs live on Chole Island and near Kirongwe.

‘Since some years Suri fishermen from the Persian Gulf have settled on Mafia.

‘Shihiri and persons from Hadhramout and Makalla are to be found on the island, of whom some are owners of estates, and others shopkeepers on Chole Island.

‘Swahili from Malindi have settled on the south coast near ChemChem for two generations only. They are well off, possess estates and are of similar status to the Shatris.

‘In Baleni there is a small colony of Comorians.

‘……there are 22 Indian traders on the island. They operate only in connection with firms in Zanzibar, and periodically return home with their profits.’

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