Mafia Island ("Chole Shamba") is part of the Tanzanian Spice Islands, together with Unguja and Pemba. As one of the six districts of the Pwani Region, Mafia Island is governed from the mainland, not from the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, of which it has never been considered to be a part.
The name "Mafia" derives from the Arabic morfiyeh, meaning "group" or "archipelago", or from the Swahili mahali pa afya, meaning "a healthy dwelling-place".
In 1995 Mafia Island had financial help from the WWF to make a natural marine wildlife centre. There are two tourist resorts on the island as well.
Tanzania's first multi-user marine park at Mafia Island was established following management recommendations and data from surveys conducted by the Society for Environmental Exploration.
Mafia Island's history goes back to the 8th century. The island once played a major role in ancient trade between the people of the Far East and East Africa. It was a regular stop for Arab boats. On the tiny island of Chole Mjini, just offshore in Chole Bay, once stood a settlement that constituted one of the most important towns controlling trade from the silver mines of Eastern Zimbabwe, which reached the town via the old ports of Kilwa and Michangani.