Pemba Island (1988 est. pop. 265,000), c.380 sq mi (980 sq km), NE Tanzania, in the Indian Ocean just off the E African mainland. Pemba is part of the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar within Tanzania, and is divided into two regions. Wete, Chake Chake, and Mkoani are the island’s main towns. The lush island is the world’s leading producer of cloves. Coconuts are also exported, and fishing is an important industry. Many of the inhabitants of Pemba are partly descended from traders from the Persian Gulf region who settled on the island beginning in the 10th cent. The Portuguese occupied the island in the 16th cent. but were displaced by Omani Arabs in 1698. In 1822 the island was conquered by Sayyid Said (later the sultan of Zanzibar) from the rulers of Mombasa. As part of the sultanate of Zanzibar, Pemba passed under British rule in 1890. The sultanate became independent in 1963. After the sultan was overthrown, a republic was formed, which joined with Tanganyika in 1964 to form Tanzania.
Pemba is geologically much older than Zanzibar and is believed to have been settled at an earlier date, although little is known about its original inhabitants. According to legend, the island was once peopled by giants known as the Magenge. More certain is that Pemba’s first inhabitants migrated from the mainland, perhaps as early as several thousand years ago. The Shirazi presence on Pemba is believed to date from at least the 9th or 10th century, with Shirazi ruins at Ras Mkumbuu, northwest of Chake Chake, indicating that settlements were well established on Pemba by that point.
The Portuguese attacked Pemba in the early 16th century and sought to subjugate its inhabitants by ravaging towns and demanding tributes. As a result, many Pembans fled to Mombasa (Kenya). By the late 17th century the Busaidi family of Omani Arabs had taken over the island and driven away the last remaining Portuguese. Before long, however, the Mazrui, a rival group of Omanis based in Mombasa, gained the upper hand and governed the island until 1822. In 1890 Pemba, together with Zanzibar, became a British protectorate.