Where did the name came from?
This is a question everyone asks, of course…. ! Our research suggests a number of possibilities for “Mafia” or “Maf’a” (pronounced maf ya) as it was probably more accurately spelt.
The Portuguese maps of the coast of East Africa refer to “Monfia” or “Monfiya”; Others use the name Morfiyeh. We believe these to be a corruption of morfi’a (pronounced morfi ya), Arabic for “archipelago”, and this seems likely, since Mafia is an archipelago of nine islands.
Mafia, which is the main island of the archipelago, was once known as Chole Shamba (Chole’s farm or agricultural area) while the main seat of administration and trade was tiny Chole Island, which was called Chole Mjini (Chole the town). However, this may not have been the terminology at the time the Portuguese arrived, as Chole Mjini was not then the seat of power; Kisimani Mafia and Kua existed and were more important.
Mafia must have been named long before the arrival of the Portuguese for the islands were settled by migrants from the Rufiji delta between 400 and 800 AD, and later by the families of the Persian settlers from Kilwa (circa 1,150 AD). And for this reason we favour our own theory, that the archipelago was named after the people who were the earliest traders, the Ma’afir from Merku (Mocha) in present-day Yemen. They were an Arab tribe of Himyaritic stock who are thought to have been the first traders on the coast of Azania and governed the port of Rhapta and its hinterland.
An old Persian word for water could also have derived the name, since Mafia is well watered and was a source of fresh water for passing ships and itinerant fisherman. In places the water pours out into the ocean and rivulets can be seen on the beaches at low tide.
One possibility that has also been offered is the diminutive “mafi” in Arabic refers to waste or rubbish (and this has come into KiSwahili as “mavi” meaning dung), and perhaps Mafia was referred to as “mafi” or useless for any fabulous riches; but this is unlikely, given the desire of the Persians to bring it under their power.
Another name which visitors often wonder about is the term “Shirazi” a term which came to refer to people of Arabic origin. Shiraz is an ancient city in Iran, once the great empire of Persia, and is in the southern province of Fars, near the ancient city of Persepolis.
Kinasi Lodge takes its name from the pass that enters Chole Bay, known as Kinasi Pass…….no-one seems to know where the name comes from and it has no meaning in kiSwahili.