Mafia Island

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Tanzania Mafia district wards map.png
Administrative map (divisions, wards, and villages)
Mafia Island is located in Tanzania
Mafia Island
Mafia Island
Location of Mafia Island
Coordinates7°51′S 39°47′E / 7.850°S 39.783°E / -7.850; 39.783Coordinates: 7°51′S 39°47′E / 7.850°S 39.783°E / -7.850; 39.783
Area435 km2 (168 sq mi)
Length49 km (30.4 mi)
Width17 km (10.6 mi)
Highest elevation53 m (174 ft)
Highest pointunnamed hill
Largest settlementKilindoni (pop. 11,696)
Population46,850 (2012)
Additional information
Time zone

Mafia Island (Kisiwa cha Mafia) is an island off the coast of Tanzania. The island is the third largest of the extended Zanzibar Archipelago,[1] but is not administratively included within the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, which has been politically separate since 1890. Mafia Island forms the major part of Mafia District, one of the six administrative districts in the Pwani coastal region. The local archipelago and the main island are sometimes called Chole shamba in Swahili, hinterlands of the former maintown of Chole on Mafia Bay.[2]

The island's population is over 40,000.[3][4][5] The economy is based on fishing, subsistence agriculture and the market in Kilindoni. The island attracts some tourists, mainly scuba divers, birdwatchers, game fishermen, and people wanting relaxation.[6][7]


Mafia Island, (394 km2 (152 sq mi)), lies off the east coast of Tanzania opposite the delta of the Rufiji River.[1] The 20 kilometres (12 mi) wide stretch of water between the delta and the island is called the Mafia Channel. Mafia Island is part of a small archipelago with several much smaller islands, some of which are inhabited. The main town on Mafia is Kilindoni on the west coast. On the east coast is Chole Bay, Mafia's protected deep-water anchorage and original harbour. The bay is studded with islets, sandbanks and beaches, and is protected from the east by reefs and Juani Island.

The northernmost point on the island is a coral cliff rising approximately 4.5 metres (15 ft) above the sea called Ras Mkumbi, beyond the cliff the land gradually rises to 24 metres (79 ft).[8] There is a lighthouse at Ras Mkumbi.


Mafia Island, and the associated archipelago were formed by rifting and uplift of part of the continental shelf during the Pleistocene.[1][9]


The main ecosystems on the island are Mangrove swamps, coastal forests, scrublands, and grasslands.[1]


A 115,000 ha area, encompassing Chole Bay, the southern coastline of Mafia and its associated smaller islands, along with the intervening marine waters, has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports populations of western reef egrets, Terek sandpipers and crab plovers.[10]


Mafia Island is home to fruitbats (flying foxes) of the genus Pteropus.[1]


Mafia island has a tropical climate. This climate is classified as "Aw" by the Köppen-Geiger system. The average temperature in town of Kilindoni is 26.7 °C (80.1 °F). The average annual rainfall is 1,705 mm. The monthly average temperatures are usually between 24.8–28.3 °C (76.6–82.9 °F). There is one major rain season, with most rainfall coming between March and May. Dry season spans between July to October.

Climate data for Kilindoni
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 31.3
Daily mean °C (°F) 28.3
Average low °C (°F) 25.3
Average precipitation mm (inches) 134
Source: Climate-Data.ORG[11]


Mafia Island is mentioned at least as early as the 8th century. The island once played a major role in ancient trade between the people of East Asia and East Africa. It was a regular stop for Arab boats. On the tiny island of Chole Mjini, just offshore in Chole Bay, once stood a settlement that constituted one of the most important towns controlling trade from the silver mines of Eastern Zimbabwe, which reached the town via the old ports of Kilwa and Michangani.[12]

In the mid-1820s, the town of Kua on Juani Island was attacked by Sakalava cannibals arriving from Madagascar with 80 canoes, who ate many of the locals and took the rest into slavery.[12]

A 3D documentation of the Kua Ruins on Juani Island was carried out in 2018 by the Zamani Project.[13]

Under a treaty of 1890, Germany took control of Mafia and constructed the buildings still evident on Chole. Germany paid Sultan Sayyid Ali bin Said al-Said of Zanzibar M 4 million for both the island and part of the mainland coast. On January 12, 1915, Mafia was taken by British troops as a base for the air and sea assault on the light cruiser Königsberg.

The name "Mafia" derives from the Arabic morfiyeh, meaning "group" or "archipelago"[citation needed], or from the Swahili mahali pa afya, meaning "a healthy dwelling-place".

In 1995 Mafia Island had financial help from the WWF to make a natural marine wildlife centre which led to establishment of the first Marine Park in Tanzania. The organization continued to provide support to the Island under Rufiji-Mafia-Kilwa (RUMAKI)[14] seascape project to improve socio-economic well-being of the communities through the sustainable, participatory and equitable utilization and protection of their natural resources. Under the current EU-WWF Fisheries Co-management Project,[15] the organization aims at building effective long-term fisheries co-management through establishment of 10 Beach Management Units and to continue supporting Village Community Banks (VICOBA) in the Island to generate optimal, sustainable and equitable livelihood benefits, and which provide a source of lesson-learning for other coastal communities. The WWF Mafia office is under three technical staff - Paul Kugopya (Mafia Fisheries Co-management Officer), Marko Gideon[16] (EU-WWF Fisheries Co-management Project Communication/Awareness Officer) and Renatus Rwamugira (Project Accountant for Mafia).

Tanzania's first multi-user marine park at Mafia Island was established in 1995 following management recommendations and data from surveys conducted by the Society for Environmental Exploration.[17]

In August 2016, a diver, Alan Sutton, from Seaunseen, who had originally been looking for the remains of an old fort rumoured to have been washed away to sea, instead came across the remains of a wall stretching almost 4 km off Mafia Island. The discovery was detailed in a blog post by Sutton, with images showing remnants of the wall.[18]


An aerial view of Mafia Island airport.


The island can be reached from Dar es Salaam by flights operated by Auric Air[19] and Coastal Aviation.[20]

Port of Mafia Island[edit]

Boats depart daily from the village of Nyamisati on the mainland to Kilindoni on Mafia island. As of 2019 the departure from Nyamisati is 5 a.m. with a roll call between 3-4a.m. The journey takes approximately 4.5 hours. Tickets are purchased beforehand in Nyamisati at a cost of 6000 Tsh one way.

Mafia Island's airport is situated in the town of Kilindoni.

See also[edit]




  1. ^ a b c d e Kock, Dieter; Stanley, William T. (2009). "Mammals of Mafia Island, Tanzania". Mammalia. 73 (4): 339–352. doi:10.1515/MAMM.2009.046.
  2. ^ "Mafia in Detail: History". Lonely Planet. Archived from the original on 24 March 2021.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-10. Retrieved 2016-02-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Administrator. "Policies". Archived from the original on 2012-04-25.
  5. ^ Office of Chief Government Statistician (2016). "Pwani Region: Basic Demographic and Socio-Economic Profile (2012 Population and Housing Census)". National Bureau of Statistics (Tanzania).
  6. ^ "Mafia Island". The Africa Specialists. Archived from the original on 5 August 2020.
  7. ^ Kingdom, Sarah (22 November 2020). "Why You Should Add Mafia Island To Your Travel Bucket List". Travel Awaits. Archived from the original on 26 January 2021.
  8. ^ "Mafia Island". Sailing Directions (enroute) for East Africa and the South Indian Ocean. Hydrographic/Topographic Center, Defense Mapping Agency (US). 1983. p. 95.
  9. ^ Sii, Petrus; Underhill, John R. (2015). "Role of Punctuated Subsidence and Structural Inversion in Creating East African Spice Islands". 77th EAGE Conference and Exhibition. European Association of Geoscientists & Engineers. pp. 1–5. doi:10.3997/2214-4609.201412973. OCLC 7378154858.
  10. ^ "Mafia Island". BirdLife Data Zone. BirdLife International. 2021. Retrieved 28 February 2021.
  11. ^ "Kilindoni". Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  12. ^ a b "Mafia Island – Indian Ocean, Tanzania". Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  13. ^ "Kua Ruins - Remains from a medieval Swahili town on Juani Island, Tanzania". Zamani Project. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
  14. ^ "WWF - Rufiji-Mafia-Kilwa Seascape Programme, Tanzania".
  15. ^ "European Union". Archived from the original on 2016-03-16. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
  16. ^ Mark Shekalaghe. "Tembelea Tanzania".
  17. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". 12 October 2007. Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Cite uses generic title (help)CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  18. ^ Osborne, Hannah (13 May 2016). "Diver in Tanzania discovers ancient city submerged beneath the sea off Mafia Island".
  19. ^ "Auric Air". Auric Air Services Ltd. March 30, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  20. ^ "Coastal Aviation". August 5, 2017.
  • Chami, F. A. 1999. “The Early Iron Age on Mafia island and its relationship with the mainland.” Azania Vol. XXXIV 1999, pp. 1–10.
  • Chami, Felix A. 2002. “The Graeco-Romans and Paanchea/Azania: sailing in the Erythraean Sea” by Felix A. Chami. From: Red Sea Trade and Travel. The British Museum. Organised by The Society for Arabian Studies. Downloaded on 20 July 2003 from (archive)

External links[edit]