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The wedge-shaped island is 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) long but only 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) wide at its widest point (in the south). It is surrounded by a reef, making it somewhat isolated from the rest of Zanzibar, even though its southern shore is only 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from Mkokotoni on Unguja Island.
The island has two towns in the south, Jongowe and Kichangani.
Historically, the island is of interest. Islanders who belong to the Shirazi ethnic group claim descent from Persian royalty that reputedly arrived in the ninth century. Important ruins at Makutani in the south-east of the island were one of Zanzibar's main settlements.
The late medieval city (13th century) was described in a chronicle known as the "Tumbatu Manuscript". This unique manuscript was apparently burned in a big fire in the village circa 1938. Nevertheless, it inspired Dutch maritime anthropologist and ethnohistorian A. H. J. Prins to visit the island by dhow from Zanzibar and identify the ancient Shirazi port city's ruins in June 1957.
- Prins, A. H. J. (1967) The Swahili-Speaking Peoplesof Zanzibar and the East African Coast (Arabs, Shirazi and Swahili). London: International Africa Institute.
- Finke, J. (2006) The Rough Guide to Zanzibar (2nd edition). New York: Rough Guides.
- For additional background on Tumbatu people and culture, see Prins 1967; See also newspaper article "Groningse Geleerde ontdekte een oude Perzische Stad in Kenya" ('Trouw', December 1957)