Climate Change and Adaptation in Pemba Island, Zanzibar: Environmental History – Pre-colonial Period to 1840

Sarah N. Seme, Narriman Jiddawi, Oswald Masebo


Despite vast research on climate change and adaptation in Pemba Island, and Zanzibar at large, little is still known about past climate changes and community adaptation to the ensuing hazards. Existing scholarship on climate change and community adaptation have generally focused on the most recent changes and adaptations. This paper intends to provide a historical understanding of past climate changes and community adaptation to contribute to the current scholarship. It relied on archival data, archaeological and historical reports, observation of existing sucked sites and existing oral traditions to reconstruct climate change adaptation history in the Island. The study found that climate changes have been happening in the Island since time immemorial. The Island experienced fluctuating rainfalls and temperatures that generated long- and short-term changes from wet to dry climatic conditions. The study further found that, for centuries, local communities in the Island suffered the impacts of climate change and innovated varied adaptations to survive. The strategies ranged from prayers to small-scale irrigation. It is argued that although the mechanism driving global climate change today are different from those in the past, the understanding of past adaptations to climate change offers some valuable insights into dealing with current and anticipated future climate changes.

Keywords: climate change, adaptation, local knowledge, Pemba Island, precolonial period

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