MAFIA ISLAND TANZANIA image branding - people of Mafia Island

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Historical Photo gallery

Thematic photo gallery of Mafia Island

There are currently five topics in the Photo Gallery:

1. The sea and ships:

As Mafia is a small island, the sea plays a major part in the lives of most of its inhabitants. People travel by boat to the mainland, and boats are also used for fishing. There are a number of different kinds of boats:

  • Large dhows (jahazi, plural majahazi) with lateen sails, capable of long-distance travel
  • Smaller sailing boats (mashua) used for fishing, and carrying goods and passengers to the mainland
  • Out-rigger canoes (ngalawa) which may also use sails for in-shore fishing
  • Canoes with no out-rigger (tumbwi, plural matumbwi) also for inshore fishing
  • Boats with outboard engines (boti, maboti), many with iceboxes or fridges used to carry fish to Dar es Salaam

All of these are still made locally.

As the Archaeology and History page of this website explains, Mafians have been travelling by sea for many centuries: to the mainland, up and down the East Afrian coast and its islands, to the Persian Gulf, and even further afield in the Indian Ocean.

People also use the resources of the sea without boats: collecting crabs and other shore-dwelling creatures, and, in some parts of Mafia, cultivating seaweed for sale. Another product which has a long history is the collection and sale of sea cucumbers to Chinese merchants.

Boats in harbour, KilindoniThe Chole ferry arrives at UtendeFerry coming into CholeBoats at anchor Kilindoni harbour

2. Children of Mafia

In their early years, children are frequently carried in the arms or on the backs of their mothers and fathers, and later, of older siblings. One major improvement in their life chances in recent years has been the introduction of vaccination for common childhood diseases. The well-being of under-fives is carefully monitored by clinics and mothers to ensure that they are reaching their development targets.

As they become older and acquire more independence, they spend a lot of time in the company of other children both at primary school and Koran school, and playing a variety of games. Children are also expected to help in household tasks such as fetching water, pounding rice and caring for younger siblings.

Older children enjoy playing or watching football, bao (a complicated East African board game), dancing, and dressing up to look their best and impress their peers. They are expected to take increasing responsibility for themselves. Boys often move out of their parents' house and construct their own small houses alongside. Girls will be given increasing responsibilities in the household.

Marriage now takes place much later than it did a few decades ago, giving the majority of boys and girls a period after the end of primary schooling when, in addition to becoming economically active as fishers or cultivators and assisting their parents, they spend time with their friends.

Mothers waiting for the baby clinic, KangaMother and son in clinicBoy pounding riceYouths playing bao

3. Schools on Mafia

a) Nurseries and kindergartens

There is little in the way of formal early education in Mafia, but the Chole Women's Development Society, which was funded by the Norwegian Women's Front (Kvinnefronten), was the first to set up a kindergarten (chekechea) on Chole Island. Here the children engage in a range of activities such as learning rhymes and songs in both English and Swahili , painting and drawing, and receive a mid-day meal. Today there are also a couple of private nursery schools in Kilindoni.

b) Primary schools

Each village on Mafia now has its own primary school where children are taught from standards 1-7. Children are required to start school at the age of seven years, and those who only complete primary school, leave school at 14. At primary school children study Kiswahili, English, maths, history, and geography. At present primary schooling is free but children have to wear uniforms.

Classes are large in most of the schools, with often over 40 children per class. In some schools where there are shortages of teachers and or classrooms, classes have to be run in sessions, with some children attending in the morning and some in the afternoon. Because of the poverty of this area, children have to share desks (often three to a desk) and books, and they have to buy their own exercise books, pens and pencils. Teachers have few teaching aids.

Classrooms are built by villagers themselves, with some financial aid for materials from the government. They are also expected to build a small house for each teacher, since most are posted into the island from elsewhere.

c) Secondary schools

Mafia acquired its first secondary school at Kitomondo, near to the district capital Kilindoni, in the mid 1990s. There are now half a dozen secondary schools on the island. Only a small proportion of primary school leavers makes it to secondary school. They need to pass at a high level in their primary school leaving exams, and their parents need to be willing and able to afford the fees, uniform and other costs. Kitomondo teaches children from Forms 1 to 4 (equivalent to GCSE in the UK) and the subjects include those taught in Primary school, as well as the sciences. There is no Information Technology/Computing taught as even Kitomondo does not have electricity but the school has recently acquired its first purpose built laboratories.

There are half a dozen new secondary schools on the island, including, most recently a private secondary school funded by the NGO MIDEF in Bweni which is also attended by children from Kanga and further afield. Like Kitomondo, Bweni school has a hostel for children who need to board.

d) Koran schools (vyuo, madrasa)

In addition to attending ordinary schools, the majority of Muslim children on Mafia attend a Koran school on weekends, in the holidays and sometimes after regular school. There they learn to read the Koran (in Arabic), to write in Arabic script, and are taught the basic tents of the Islamic faith. Most villages have several Koran schools, which are attended by both girls and boys.

girls in the kindergartenPupils in a lesson, Chole PrimaryPupils in classroom KitomondoMafia: kindergarten, primary, secondary and Koran schools

4. Mafia Mats and other objects

Mafia is famous for its mats which are exported all over East Africa. They are of two kinds: coarse mats known as majamvi are usually made by men, are the round mats (vitangaja) used for drying rice in the sun. A similar weave is used for baskets.

Mats for sleeping and sitting on are made by women. The fronds of the raffia palm are cut and dried, then each one is slit. The ensuing thread is plaited into strips, dyed, and then sewn together, and finally given a border. Some strips (known as kazi or 'work') are patterned and here the thread has been dyed before being plaited. The quality of a mat is judged by the amount of patterning, its size, and its evenness of shape. Women also make oval prayer mats, which always contain a centre-piece and a border with patterning. Such mats hang on the wall when not in use.

Women earn most of their cash from the sale of mats. In 2004, a good ordinary mat would fetch around T.Sh. 2,000 (U$2.0) and a prayer mat about half of that from one of the traders in the village, who sells it for at least double that amount in Dar es Salaam. Women make between 6 and 10 mats each year, and use the money to buy clothes for themselves and their children. Women also make mats for their own household use or as gifts, in which case they tend to be larger and finer.

The mats shown here are in the collection of Pat Caplan and most were given as gifts on visits to Kanga village, Mafia, usually at the time of leaving. A few date from the 1960s and have become somewhat faded, others are as recent as 2002 and 2004.

Other objects shown here include the following:

  • White board with Koranic inscription of the kind formerly used by children in Koran school learning to write in Arabic. These were common until recently when they were replaced by exercise books
  • Folding stool with serrated knife (removed for safety reasons) used for grating the coconut which is used to cook rice. This is known as 'mbuzi' or goat
  • Raffia woven baskets
  • Board game of bao, played widely in East Africa
  • Old copper tray probably brought to Mafia from the Gulf by traders in the late 19th or early 20th centuries
  • Small drum made of clay and hide used to accompany singing of taarabu
  • Example of a cloth wrap (khanga) worn by women. Formerly rural women on the coast wore two khanga over a bra and a petticoat. Today they are likely to wear them over a dress or skirt and blouse. Khanga have a 'name' or 'motto' which usually gives a message. This one says 'Two saucepans should not stand on a single stove'; the reference is to a man having two wives or lovers
Mafia matsMafia matsMafia matsMafia mats

5. Chole Society for Women's Development (CSWD)

Chole Island is located in coastal Tanzania in the Mafia group of islands. The region is also the site of the Mafia Island Marine Park, Tanzania's first national marine park which was gazetted in 1995.

The Chole Society for Women's Development (CSWD) is a grassroots organisation which has received financial support since 1997 from Kvinnefronten/Women's Front of Norway through FOKUS, Norway. The funding from the Women's Front has been used to help build and run a health clinic, market, nursery school and adult learning centre. It has also been used to sponsor various activities including adult education programmes aimed primarily at women, savings and loan groups for women, HIV prevention programmes, educational scholarships for girls, and classes in a wide variety of skills ranging from batik to Arabic.

The group now known as the Chole Society for Women's Development first began to be active in early 1997 and was officially registered as an organisation (NGO) in 2000. It has also received support from the Chole hoteliers (Chole Mjini) and the Chole Social Development Society.

Woman grinding coconut, CholemarketCSWD member using one of the sewing machinesWomen selling handicrafts at marketSeaweed farming: planting the seedlings

Video clips of village wedding:
Clip 1 - (QuickTime - 5.3M)
Clip 2 - (QuickTime - 5.3M)