Last Century in Mafia Island

The inhabitants of Mafia are recorded in the Kilwa Chronicles as the Mwera, who were ruled SongoSongo by Muslim settlers (Yemeni?) prior to the arrival of Bashat. But what of the first 1,000 years AD? Who were the people and what was the government of Mafia? Dr. Felix Chami of the University of Dar es Salaam believes that the first settlers were Early Iron Working and farming Bantu people, who crossed from the mainland and settled the islands, probably for their marine resources. This culture existed in 200-400 AD and was followed by a later native culture recognised as Triangular Iron Ware, which was extant with the settlement and domination from Arabia. The coast of Tanzania is known to have been originally settled by Late Stone Age people.

The defeat of the Portuguese by Oman in Mombasa in 1698 ended what had been a troubled and cruel Portuguese rule and gave the Sultan of Oman control of the coast from Lamu to Kilwa.

In 1829 Kua was destroyed by Sakalava cannibals from Madagascar and in 1872 Kisimani Mafia was destroyed in a cyclone. By then the seat of power had moved to Chole Island. The arrival of the Sakalava prompted the Sultan of Zanzibar to send a punitive expedition that included some of his personal Baluchi regiment. Descendants of these Pakistani people are to be found settled mainly in the area of Kitoni near Kisimani Mafia. There is also evidence for settlement of Mafia by Madagascans, Chinese, Malay and Indonesian peoples (who first settled Madagascar about 1,600 years ago). Pottery and coins indicate trade took place from at least the 8th Century.

Under a treaty in 1890 Germany took control of Mafia and in 1892 the first German Resident arrived and constructed the buildings still evident on Chole. Germany paid Sultan Ali ben Saad of Oman DM 4 million for Mafia and part of the mainland coast. In January 1915 Mafia was taken by British troops as a base for the air and sea assault on the cruiser Konigsberg. It was not until late 1922 that control of Mafia passed from Zanzibar to Tanganyika Territory, ending the martial law of WW1.

The population of Mafia is estimated to be 50.000, located in fishing and farming villages and homesteads all over the main island, Jibondo, Juani and Chole. Mafia is now part of the Coast Province of the Republic of Tanzania and is governed from the mainland (not Zanzibar).

The farmers on Mafia are smallholders, growing plots of cassava, rice, pigeon pea, pineapples, pawpaws and beans. It is typical to also find cashew, coconut and mango trees on each household’s land. Large areas of the island are planted to coconuts, mostly by pre-World War II German settlers and descendants of Arab and Shirazi pioneers. Farmed areas are usually surrounded by woodland, grassland or coconut plantations.

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