Pemba consists of gentle, undulating hills and deep verdant valleys which are all covered with a dense cover of clove, coconut and mango plantation. A more fertile land it is difficult to imagine. But it is not just the landscape that gives Pemba its magical reputation.
Pemba is brilliant and renowned for deep sea diving and snorkeling.
Whilst on the island, one can make day trips to the following places of interest:
These are the ruins of a fortress, dating from the 13th century, constructed in a style otherwise unknown on the East Coast of Africa. There are many conflicting stories relating to the founder of this town, but most name him as Mohammad bin Abdulrahman. He is said to have exerted his influence on the mainland from Pate to Kilwa and out into the Indian Ocean as far as the Comoros. He was a great boat-builder, favouring the matempe style, a prodigious builder of mosques and a fine bowman. During an extremely successful life as a merchant and pirate in the region, he decided to site his capital at Pujini, in a location on top of a hill, with only distant access to the sea, in order that he might defend his great wealth from raiders. The citadel was constructed with a massive earth rampart and moat and the walls were built with stone carried 40 km by porters from the North of the island. The site could be reached by sea, but only after careful navigation through the reefs and then up a twisting mangrove creek and a narrow canal.
The line of the outer walls of the fortress, which were about one metre thick by five metres high, can still be discerned. A large stairway can be seen at the location of the access point to the sea canal. At the North West corner a pile of rubble is all that remains of the watch tower. Inside the defensive walls the mosques and houses have mostly disintegrated, although the remains of an underground chamber and shrine can still be seen. A two-chambered well can be seen, reputedly divided so that his two wives, who were incredibly jealous of one another, could fetch water without meeting. This well seems to get easily filled in with silt and may not be visible.
Whilst a visit to this site will always make an enjoyable trip, the visitor will be generally disappointed by the state of disrepair of the ruins, especially after having read the stories of its history. The site is regularly cleared, but still it takes some imagination to envisage what the place must have been like in its heyday. There is little left standing and no information or relics on show.
The largest town on Pemba, its capital and its administrative centre is Chake Chake, located about half way down the Western coast of the island at the head of a narrow creek. The old town is set on a ridge, from where it is possible to look down through the early morning mists over the rusty tin roofs to the silted creek below, where only the occasional dhow now ventures when the tides will allow.
Chake Chake Fortress
The oldest surviving building in the town is the Old Fortress, which is thought to date back at least to the eighteenth century and possibly as far back as the Portuguese occupation (1499 to 1698). Records dating back to the early 19th century describe the fortress as being rectangular in plan, with two square and two round towers at the corners, topped by thatched roofs. Round towers are typical of the Arab and Swahili architecture of the time, but the square towers are unusual and indicate possible Portuguese influence.
The fortress stands by the gate of the main hospital in town, overlooking the creek. It is unfortunate that at the beginning of the 20th century the most part of the building was demolished to make way for the new hospital. The section that remains were used firstly as a prison and then as a police barracks until the 1950's. More recently it has been used as an extension to the hospital.
The ruins of the ancient town of Ras Mkumbuu are located at the head of the peninsula to the North of Chake Chake creek. Sited just above the beach, the town must have commanded a wide panorama of the surrounding area and the sea out past Mesali Island to the mainland beyond.
The town of Ras Mkumbuu is referred to in Arabic writings as being one of the major trading cities on the East African coast from at least the 10th century (Yakut bin Abdulla al Rumi, an Arab geographer of the 13th century), although the ruins that occupy the site date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The remains tell of a substantial mosque, with an arched mirhab, minaret and a ceiling supported by 12 pillars and of 14 tombs, also pillared and many decorated with Chinese porcelain (a testament to the range of early trading networks). There are also remains of houses and wells. Excavations on the site revealed earlier remains below the surface, including those of a 10th century mosque.
Whilst visiting Ras Mkumbuu by boat, it is just a short diversion to Mesali Island, allegedly a hideout of the legendary pirate Captain Kidd, who is said to have left buried treasure here in 1698. The island has an idyllic beach and is famed for the quality of its diving. It is claimed that 40 of the 60 coral genera are represented, along with around 240 different species of fish.
Recent attempts to develop the island as an exclusive tourist resort have been rejected and it is hoped that the island and surrounding reef will be made a marine park in the near future.
The ruins of an 18th century town thought to be the capital of Pemba during a period when the island came under the control of the Mazrui Arabs of Mombasa. The town included a substantial mosque and fort and the remains of six tombs of members of the Mazrui family including one inscribed with the name "Mbarouk bin Khatib" and a date of 1807. The Mazrui were overthrown by Seyyid bin Said and his Busaidi Arabs during the early 19th century and the town fell into decay.
A path around the edge of the valley, leads to the 20 hectare site of a 15th century town. This place is said to have been the seat of Harun bin Ali, who was either a Nabahani Arab from Paje (in modern Kenya) or was the son of the legendary Mkana Ndune of Pujini (see page 214). Tradition tells of this connection and claims that Harun was as cold-blooded as his father, being known as 'Mvunja Pau' or 'the breaker of the pole'.
Tradition also claims that in this town there was a fort, reception halls, mosques and an iron works, with a harbour in the small creek nearby. All that remains today are the lower walls of the large Friday mosque, with some interesting architectural features, including a fine mirhab and a long central area, originally supported on square columns. Amongst the ten tombs to be found is a single pillared structure, claimed to be the tomb of Haroun himself and with glazed tiles and plaster reliefs. A second smaller mosque is known as the 'Msikiti Chooko' or 'mosque of the green grain', a name that relates to stories of it having been built by Harun's wife Mwana wa Chwaka with mortar mixed with green grain, to make the mortar harder.
Ngesi Forest Reserve
Three kilometres past Konde, the tar road quite suddenly comes to an end at the Ngesi Park Ranger Post and a dirt track enters a tunnel of dense forest. Immediately the air cools and the sounds of the jungle echo and reverberate around about. The forest is true double canopy, with an upper layer of majestic mgulele (antiarus), mwavi (erythrophloem), mtondoo (Alexandrian laurel) and mvule (milicia) trees towering up to 30 and 40 metres. From the junctions on their huge trunks grow tropical lianas and parasitical plants, whilst high up in the canopy, troupes of the Pemba vervet monkey bark and play. Below this is a second level of vegetation, mainly consisting of smaller immature trees and large shrubs. Everywhere there is the tangle of a true tropical forest.
Ngesi is the last significant area of moist forest surviving on Pemba and although the reserve covers 1440 hectares, only 550 hectares are actually forest, the remainder being evergreen thicket. Nevertheless it constitutes an invaluable resource, for it contains a number of unique and endangered species. Mammals of interest include the Pemba vervet monkey, the Pemba blue duiker and the Pemba flying fox. The latter is actually a large fruit-eating bat and a roost of over 200 is known to exist deep within the forest. Also present is a large troupe of Kirk's colobus monkey, which were settled here from Josani in the sixties in an attempt to increase their range. The most interesting trees are the three globally rare species of mjoho (odyendea zimmermanni), chrystalido pembanus and ensete proboscoideum. It is also thought that there are likely to exist a number of unique small plant and insect species, which have not yet been recorded. Ngesi will hopefully be soon upgraded to the status of National Park in order that this pool of unique genes will be saved for future generations. In the meantime, the forest seems quite well protected, although there are reports of limited raiding by local people in search of firewood and other forest products. The staff at the ranger post run a nature trail, but it's the sandy road that passes through the best sections of the forest.
Mkia wa Ng'ombe
The track leaves the forest as suddenly as it entered and passes into an area of light cultivation, of cassava fields planted under shady trees. Immediately a right turn leads to the village of Tondooni, so named after the mtondoo or Alexandrian laurel tree, which is common in the area. From here a small track leads cross-country to the site of Mkia wa Ng'ombe, where there are the remains of a mosque, thirteen tombs and a number of houses, dating from the 12th to 15th centuries. The site is more easily reached by boat from Wete.