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 headquarter 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.
- Chake Chake - located at the centre of the island on the western side, about 30 km from Wete and a little less than 28 km from Mkoani. It is the administrative headquarter of the district as well as Pemba South region. In fact, Chake Chake is an unofficial capital of Pemba with most government departments having their head offices in this town. A town of about 22 000 people is the commercial capital of Pemba in spite of its lack of a reliable sea port. It is few kilometers from the only airport on the island, Karume Airport, and is well served with banks, post office, hospitals and other essential services. It is also located close to the oil depot and power generators at Wesha. On its outskirts, there is a clove stem oil distillery at Wawi, which is also engaged in the production of essential oils from lemon grass, eucalyptus, in addition to cloves.
- Mkoani - is the main sea port of Pemba and the administrative centre of the district. Located on the southern part of Pemba, its population of about 11 000 derive their livelihood from mainly agriculture, but there are some who works at the Abdalla Mzee Hospital, post office, government offices and few work at the warf. Abdalla Mzee Hospital is the main referal hospital on the island. Built with Chinese support, it has constantly received medical doctors from China in addition to few locally trained nurses and other health practitioners. Apparently, the presence of the warf has not stimulated businesses in this town and people from surrounding villages often travel to Chake Chake for some of their household requirements.
- Wete - is the second most important urban centre of Pemba. Located about 30 km north of Chake Chake, it is the most populous town in Pemba with about 27 000 people. It has head offices for some government departments and is the headquarter of the district as well as the Pemba North region. The sea port at Wete was once a very important gateway to the island of Pemba but poor maintenance of the jetty and the upgrading of Mkoani warf has dropped down the use of her sea port.
- Konde - located on the nothern part of Pemba about 15 km from Wete. It was for a long time an administrative centre for the present Micheweni district but in the early 1980s, offices were moved to Micheweni, north east of Konde. It is located on the road to Ras Kigomasha, the northern most tip of Pemba Island and Ngezi forest, the most important forest of Pemba. Agriculture is the main activity of its estimated 10 000 inhabitants.
- Micheweni - is the administrative centre for the Micheweni district. It is the only urban centre in Pemba located in the coral rag zone and its population depends on fishing, agriculture and stone quarries.
- Kengeja - located in Mkoani district it was once an important semi-urban centre but most businesses have closed down at the moment with poor prospects of revival. Being far away from the Mkoani - Chake Chake main road, Kengeja has lost much of its activities to Mtambile.
- Mtambile - is an emerging urban centre strategically located about 10 km from Mkoani along the Mkoani - Chake Chake road. Its popularity is boosted by the presence of special make-shift buses, locally known as Kengeja Taxis. Read more about "Kengeja Taxis" here ....
- Fundo - is located few miles from Wete. It is the only inhabited island among the group of islets forming the north-west reef of Pemba. The other islets include Njao , Kashani, Kokota, Funzi, and Uvinje.
- Funzi - lies east of Kokota and south of Uvinje island.
- Kashani - is on the same reef as Fundo but on the southern most tip close to Ras Mkumbuu.
- Kiweni (Shamiani) - located on the south west part of Pemba, it is an uninhabited islet used mainly for farming and livestock grazing. On its southern most tip it has a very fine beach and some prospective investors were building a hotel in the late 1990s.
- Kojani - is the only inhabited island on the western side of Pemba island. It is home to some skilled artisanal fishermen in East Africa who seasonally travel to most parts of the coast in search of schools of fish to catch.
- Kokota - together with Uvinje it is located at the southern mouth of Wete port.
- Kwata - the island is filled with memories of the first major outbreak of cholera in 1978 when travellers were temporarily quranteened at this island before being allowed into Pemba.
- Makoongwe - is few kilometers from Mkoani. It has characteristics similar to the opposite area on the island of Pemba with deep soils and hilly terrain. Makoongwe is inhabited and people do farming and fishing.
- Matumbini - is an islet with dense mangrove forest and popular among fishermen due to the presence of rich coral reef.
- Misali - is the jewel of Pemba. With its rich coral reef, it has been declared a marine reserve.
- Mwangi - is a small islet close to Mtambwe on the main island of Pemba.
- Njao - is the nothern most islet on the Fundo group. It is mainly used for agricultural purposes.
- Panza - is the southern most island in Pemba and in fact is a series of islets but a bridge connects the two main parts of Mtondooni and Panza proper. Its topography is coral on the Panza side and deep soil on the Mtondooni part. Ship wrecks found on the southern part has become an important diving site. Its inhabitants do farming and fishing.
- Uvinje - also in the Fundo group, Uvinje is used for farming.
- Vikunguni - is a small islet close to the north-west group of islands.
- Yombi - is a small islet east of Panza island.
Take a look at our collection of photos from Pemba in our Zanzibar Album pages