Archaeology and History


Mafia Island is home to a rich archaeological and historical heritage, and it is known for its beautiful beaches, coral reefs, and marine life.

The earliest evidence of human occupation on Mafia Island dates to the Stone Age, around 10,000 years ago. These people were hunter-gatherers who subsisted on a diet of seafood, wild fruits, and vegetables.

During the Copper Age, which began around 3,000 years ago, people on Mafia Island began to develop agriculture and trade, but they also built permanent settlements and began to produce copper tools and jewelry.


Thank to Archaeological excavations on Mafia Island it has been revealed numerous Iron Age settlements, dating from around 400 to 800 AD. These settlements were located along the coast and in the interior of the island. 

The people who lived in these settlements were farmers and fishermen. They also traded with people from the mainland of East Africa and from other parts of the Indian Ocean.

The first people to reach Mafia Island during the Copper and Iron Ages are believed to have been Bantu-speaking people who migrated from the mainland of East Africa. However, there is also evidence that Cushitic-speaking people from the Horn of Africa may have settled on the island during this time.

When in the 16th century, Mafia Island became a possession of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, the island was used as a trading post and a base for slave traders.

In the 19th century, Mafia Island became a British protectorate and the British abolished slavery on the island and established a plantation economy.

In the 20th century, Mafia Island became part of Tanzania, and the island has since the early forties become a popular tourist destination, mainly for game fishing.


Archaeological Research on Mafia Island

Mafia Island Archaeological research began in the early 1900s. However, it was not until the 1970s that systematic archaeological surveys and excavations were carried out.

One of the most important archaeological projects was Mafia Island Archaeological and Historical Project, which was conducted by the University of Dar es Salaam from 1975 to 1980. Mafia Island Archaeological and Historical Project excavated a number of Iron Age settlements on the island and provided important insights into the lives of the people who lived on Mafia Island during this time.

Mafia Island Archaeological Sites:

  • Chole Island: Chole Island is home to the ruins of a number of Swahili mosques and tombs. Chole Island was also a base for Arab slave traders in the 19th century.
  • The ruins of Kua cover a large area of Juani Island. The ruins include mosques, palaces, houses, and a cemetery. The ruins are made of coral rag, which is a type of limestone.
  • Kisimani Slave Pen: Kisimani Slave Pen was a slave pen used to hold slaves before they were shipped to other parts of the world.

Source data

Mafia Island Name

The name “Mafia Island” is thought to have two possible origins:

  • Swahili: The Swahili word “mahali pa afya” means “a healthy dwelling-place.” This may be a reference to the island’s healthy climate and its abundance of natural resources.
  • Arabic: The Arabic word “morfiyeh” means “group” or “archipelago.” This may be a reference to the fact that Mafia Island is part of the Mafia Archipelago, which consists of several small islands.

It is also possible that the name “Mafia Island” is a combination of both Swahili and Arabic words.

The name “Mafia Island” has been used for centuries. It appears on maps dating back to the 16th century.

In the early 20th century, the British colonial government considered changing the name of Mafia Island to “Chole Island.” However, this proposal was met with opposition from the local people, and the name “Mafia Island” was retained.

Today, the name “Mafia Island” is still used to refer to the island. It is a popular tourist destination, known for its beautiful beaches, coral reefs, and marine life