Mafia Island Overprints

April 11, 2023

During WWI a small island at the mouth of the Rufiji River leased by Zanzibar to Germany formed part of German East Africa Territory and was occupied by British forces as a base against Allied shipping raiders.

The postal facilities were restored by Jan 1915 along established lines of using the FPOs for military mail and overprinting local stocks of stamps for civilian mail. (In this case stamps of German east Africa ovptd “G.R.I. MAFIA”).

All mail passed through the Zanzibar Post Office and initially the overprints were done with amateur printing sets in very blurry characters in violet, this was later changed to black after complaints from the Zanzibar authorities. Still disgruntled, in May they sent out an overprinting die inscribed “G.R. /Post/ 6 Cents/Mafia” which was placed on all values to 3r. This ovpt was subsequently applied to a small stock of Germania stamps discoved later on in July.

By the end of July 1915 stocks of German/Colonial stamps for overprinting were exhausted and German Fiscal stamps overprinted “OHBMS/Mafia” in a circle were produced and used until later in the month stocks of Indian I.E.F. stamps became available. These were overprinted with the die provided from Zanzibar with the “6 cents” removed.

Between September and October a change of command ensued together with some muddled thinking on the postal service which was finally resolved by the continued use of I.E.F. stamps but with a new overprint die. Finally in August 1918 the island was placed under the administration of Tanganyika.

These issues have always provoked much interest and discussion as to their status. There is almost no genuine civilian mail and most covers are addressed to military personel (or family members), many never travelled or are heavilly over-franked.

There is some evidence of Military personell being involved in supplying the philatelic trade (this would follow- on directly from the Boer War tradition), however the numbers issued are indeed minimal and the stamps are rare.

The following table of numbers issued illustrates their scarcity:

1915 (Jan) 1st issue – 40 each of the heller values (10 of each in violet) Rupee numbers very limited.

1915 (July) 6 cent ovpts up to 50 of each of the heller values, 1r 6, 2r 4, 3r 4.

1915 (Sept) on Fiscal Stamps – numbers unknown bhut minimal.

1915 Sept) IEF issue ovptd from 10,300 of the 1a to 200 of the 8a and 159 of the 1r.

1915 (Oct) ex Zanzibar ovpt from 8,000 for the ½a 500 for the 3a, 200 of the 8a and 230 of the1r.

Because of their crude production techniques, rarity and popularity it is no surprise that forgeries abound!

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