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Bodufenvalhugey Seedi - poet, judge and linguist
by Majid Abdul-Wahhab




Bodufenvalhugey Seedi 1888-1970


In 1925, an attempt was made to depose Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddine III in favour of Prince Abdulla Imaduddine, son of the deposed king, Sultan Mohamed Imaduddine VI. The deposed king, who was my father's uncle, was in exile in Egypt. Abdulla Imaduddine was on a visit to Male' from Egypt. The attempt was foiled on 9 February 1925 and Abdulla Imaduddine was deported back to Egypt and the other conspirators were banished to various atolls.

Bodufenvalugey Seedi was accused of masterminding the plot, a charge he denied. He was certainly the most educated and widely respected of the conspirators. According to Seedi, the plot was clumsily hatched and organised by his cousin Medu Seedeege Seedi who was married to my paternal aunt, Maandoogey Don Goma. Medu Seedeege Seedi's indiscretion, apparently, resulted in the plot being foiled. Although sympathetic to the cause, Bodufenvalhugey Seedi claimed that he advised strongly against the timing and the modus operandi.

Seedi on hunger strike
It is said that at the court of inquiry, in characteristic defiance, Seedi was on a hunger strike as he refused to answer any questions saying that he had done nothing wrong. After he agreed to take food, he insisted that it was delivered from his residence. This wish was granted and at every meal time his brother-in-law Berugey Yoosuf Fulu turned up with his meals and sat there while he ate. Seedi was implying that he did not trust the authorities.

Usually the authorities meted out summary justice in cases such as that. The victim would be taken outside and given a good flogging with a cat-o-nine-tails until he was covered in blood, then chilli paste appllied to his wounds and banished to a remote island. In Seedi's case, they were reluctant to do that because the British had become aware of the situation. The Maldives was then under the protection of the British Crown even though the British were treaty-bound not to interfere in the country's internal affairs.

Prince Abdulla Imaduddine had just arrived in Colombo on his way to exile in Egypt. The Maldivian leaders worried that he may ask the British to inquire about his detained associates in Male. There was always the fear that the British would recognise the claims of a member of the deposed sultan's family. That was why Seedi escaped a good old-fashioned flogging and was able to dictate his eating arrangements.

Such intransigence was hard to bear for the old Prime Minister Athireegey Ibrahim Dorhimeyna Kilegefan, who in spite of his advanced age and ailing health, was present at the interrogation.

I have heard two versions of the exchanges between Athireegey Ibrahim Dorhimeyna Kilegefan and Bodufenvalugey Seedi on the night Seedi was exiled. The first version is attributed to Seedi's niece Faiza in a book called Malas-64 published in Male' in 1999. This version says:
'At the conclusion of the interrogation, the Kilegefan personally went to the waterfront to make sure Seedi was despatched to a remote island. The Kilegefan fumbled across the jetty to Seedi, who was about to board a boat, struck him across the fac, and said, 'You heartless ass!' As Seedi embarked without looking back, he heard something collapse on the jetty.'

The 'old codger' slaps Seedi
The second version is the one I had always heard from my mother and others. Since I read the official version as attributed to Faiza, someone has sent me the following version of events, which agrees with what I had heard. This version was related by Seedi's half brother and my mother's uncle Bodufenvalugey Ibrahim Didi to my source, who chooses to remain anonymous at this stage. My mother's uncle was known for his good memory and his ability to communicate accurately. I had heard this version directly from my mother's uncle several times, and is likely to be the more authentic than the Malas-64 version.

Bodufenvalugey Ibrahim Didi said of his brother Bodufenvalugey Seedi:


Athireegey Ibrahim Dorhimeyna Kilegefan
'the old codger'



'When Dorhimeyna Kilegefan questioned my brother he did not answer as expected and soon my brother managed to make the Kilegefan very angry.
As the Kilegefan's anger became uncontrollable, he slapped my brother on the temple and barked: 'Look hear you ass! tell me the truth.'
My brother retorted, addressing the Kilegefan in the lowest level of Maldive speech: 'If you take me up like that, I won't be beaten either. I am a young man who is still not 40. You are an old codger.'
The Kilegefan's slap was so forceful, my brother's cap fell on the floor. At that moment the Kilegefan's son, Ahmed Kudadorhimeyna Kilegefan, who was sitting there exclaimed, 'Oh father! You have just slapped a descendant of the Prophet!'
At this, Dorhimeyna Kilegefan became alarmed and fainted. Later that night, Dorhimeyna Kilegefan collaped in the bathroom at his residence Athireege.'

Other reliable sources have corroborated events as related above by my grandfather's brother. Apparently there are people still alive who have heard that version of events directly from my grandfather. Dorhimeyna Kilegefan had long suffered from severe high blood pressure. The encounter with Bodufenvalugey Seedi was the last straw for the old battleship and he collapsed with a massive stroke. He died a few days later.

Paralysis, particularly when instantaneous, was believed by Maldivians to be a sure sign of the wrath of Allah. For many people, this was proof of Seedi’s sainthood. After all, was he not a Seedi, a descendant of the prophet? Until his death 45 years later, people from all over Maldives flocked to Seedi with their young, sick and frail, to be blessed with a touch or talisman. Seedi never claimed any supernatural powers and was quietly amused by all this, but always obliged.

Banishment
For conspiring against the sultan, Seedi was banished to Huludeli in a southern atoll. Many of his maternal relatives from Addu atoll regularly stopped at that island for provisions and water on their way to and from Male'. Addu merchants regularly travelled to Ceylon and India directly in their sailing boats called odi.

The authorities became suspicious that Seedi might try to persuade his relatives to help him escape overseas. So they decided to send him to Maa Makunudu, the remotest of the northern islands. A particularly notorious militiaman by the name of Maadoogey Ahmed Kaleyfan was sent to take Seedi from Huludeli to Maa Makunudu. He was under strict orders not to stop the boat anywhere on the way to Maa Makunudu, in case Seedi escaped and fled overseas.

This militia officer wore a set of false teeth, which were still relatively unknown in Maldives. The first night on the non-stop voyage to Maa Makunudu was gloriously moonlit. The militia officer placed his false teeth beside him as he slept. The boat was crossing a channel called 'Baraveli Kandu' which meant 'Hermit-crab Sea'. As the dentures glowed in the moonlight, a crewman thought it was the phantom hermit-crab after which the channel was named trying to attack the officer. The crewman cried out in fear and tossed it into the ocean with a long barge pole. When the militia officer returned to Male' he was minus all his teeth. This was yet another cause for more saintly myths about Seedi.

When a person was banished, it was customary to keep pleading with the sultan for a pardon (this has not changed in present times, only it is the president of the republic one pleads with now). Seedi’s co-conspirators did what they were expected and were all pardoned within four months. Seedi was under a lot of pressure from family and well-wishers in Male' to plead with the Sultan. Under this pressure, he wrote more than one letter of apology, but did not send them. Seedi refused to plead with his ex-brother-in-law the king. Seedi insisted that he had done what every patriot ought to do to remove a 22-year old corrupt and dubious regime that did not have a mandate from the outset.

In Maa Makunudu, Seedi continued to pursue his literary work and wrote much of his early radical poetry. It was there that he adopted his pen name of 'Himaarul Qowm' or 'Donkey of the Nation' in mocking memory of what the late Ibrahim Dorhimeyna Kilegefan had barked at him. He distributed his poetry, banned by the government, to his associates in Male' through an ex-wife, Maavaa Kilegefan Ganduvaru Goma (who was the sultan’s sister) his daughter Fatima Sitti who was by then married to my father, and his sister Bodufenvalugey Don Didi. A courier would carry the folded sheets of poetry in a matchbox hidden in his turban (men from the outer atolls wore turbans in those days) and clandestinely delivered them to the three ladies in Male'. I have in my possession, a few original copies of this poetry in Seedi's own hand writing. The creases on the sheets which were folded to fit a matchbox are still clearly visible.

Chief Justice Seedi
Seedi remained on Maa Makunudu for eight years until he was pardoned in a general amnesty following the forced abdication of King Siri Kula Sundhura Katthiri Bavana (Sultan Shamsuddine). Upon arrival in Male' he was appointed Chief Justice. He was also appointed to the Council of Regency that ruled in the absence of a sultan.

After Seedi returned, he continued to write poetry and a few novels and other books. Best known among his novels were Dillygey Ibrahim Didi ge Vaahaka, and Maa Makunudu Bodu Isa ge Vaahaka. He also published a treatise on Maldive poetry called Divehi Len Hedumuge Masaikaiyterikamuge Ran Taraadu. He was the last known person with a working knowledge of the older Maldive script called Dives Akuru. He wrote and published an instructional manual called Dives Akuru.

He understood the now-forgotten ancient Divehi language in which parts of royal grants, warrants and deeds were written. He learnt the ancient script and language in Addu atoll. Until early in the twentieth century, all government correspondence to and from Addu were written in the ancient Dives script. The Dives script was abandoned in other parts of the Maldives in favour of the modern Taana script in the early seventeenth century.

Apart from a stint in politics as the Minister of Education, Bodufenvalhugey Seedi remained in the legal/ecclesiastical professions. His literary work gradually became less radical and more conventional with age. He died in Male' on 2 June 1970.

Seedi's family background
In about 1830, the teenage king, Sultan Mohamed Imaduddine IV, had to elevate his sweetheart Kuda-Edurugey Zuleykha Fulu's family to the ranks of the nobility before he could marry her. The great nobles objected to their boy king marrying a commoner.

Zuleykha Fulu's sister Kuda-Edurugey Aminah Fulu was created Kambaadi Kilege. Aminah Kambaadi Kilegefan married the Chief Justice Ibrahim Majduddine (also known as Fandiyaaru Thakkan) who was native to the island of Midu in Addu Atoll.

Their daughter Zuleykha, also known as Bodufenvalugey Don Manike married Mohamed el-Hussaini Kuda Seedi, son of Ibrahim el-Hussaini Dorhy Kaleygefan, son of Mohamed el-Hussaini Maavarhu Seedi, son of Moosa el-Hussaini of the clan of BaAlawi, an immigrant to Maavarh in Haddummati Atoll from Hadramowt, a region in the south of the Arabian peninsula.

Ibrahim el-Hussaini Dorhy Kaleygefan's mother was Aminah Fan daughter of Mohamed Thakurufan, kateeb and chief judge of Maradoo in Addu Atoll.

Seedis and Sittis, as they were known in the Maldives, were said to be descended from Hussain son of Ali bin Abu-Talib and Fatima daughter of the prophet Mohamed. They were, naturally, accorded special privileges wherever they went to live in the Islamic world. When they moved to a new land, they took with them letters of introduction from the Islamic authorities of the country they left behind. This type of privilege and reverence were evidently prohibited in orthodox Islam.

The privileges of the Seedis and Sittis gradually disappeared in the Maldives in the latter part of the twentieth century. Bodufenvalhugey Seedi's family name of el-Hussaini supposedly indicates that he was a descendant of Hussain son of Ali bin Abu-Talib.

Bodufenvalugey Don Manike and Mohamed Kuda Seedi’s son was Bodufenvalugey Seedi, born on 19 May 1888 as Hussain el-Hussaini. He was a much-celebrated poet and one time chief justice.

He married eight ladies and had five children who survived into adulthood, from four of these marriages. His first wife was Bodugalugey Aysha Didi, daughter of Bodugalugey Latuttu Didi son of Bodugalu Ismail Maniku. Latuttu Didi’s mother was a daughter of Maavaa Ganduvaru Hussain Didi. This Hussain Didi was a great grandson of King Siri Rannava Loka (Sultan Ibrahim Iskander II) of the Diyamigily Dynasty. Hussain Didi sired many daughters, most of whom married into Male'’s notable families.

One of them married Kakaagey Ali Rannabandeyri Kilegefan, an ancestor of my wife Antu's. Bodufenvalhugey Seedi's father Mohamed Kuda Seedi himself was the son of one of these Maavaa Ganduvaru ladies.

Bodugalugey Aysha Didi was my mother's mother. My mother's name was Fatima Sitti.

Bodufenvalhugey Seedi's other wives who bore him children were:
  • Maavaa Kilegefan Ganduvaru Goma daughter of King-Sultan Ibrahim Nooreddine and sister of King Siri Kula Sundhura Katthiri Bavana (Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddine III). Her daughter was Tuttu Goma, more commonly known in her, fairly prominent, public and literary life as Aminath Hussain.
  • Aminah Didi, daughter of Abdulla Didi son of Holhudoonevinge Don Maniku: Her daughter is Ameena Tuttudon Sitti.
  • Hawwa Didi of Maa Makunudu: Seedi was married to this lady for over 40 years until his death. Although she was my step-grandmother, she was the only 'grandmother' I personally knew on my mother's side. She bore him 4 sons Mustafa who lived about 2 weeks, Taha who lived a year and a half and two who grew into adulthood. They are Ahmed Mujuthaba and Mohamed Mustafa, who are both still prominent in their public lives.

Bodufenvalugey Seedi spent several years of his youth in Addu Atoll with his maternal relatives and relatives of his paternal grandfather's maternal side. Addu Atoll was the main centre of learning in the Maldives at that time. He was educated there under a well-known master and relative, Elhagey Abdulla Didi son of Ganduvaru Hassan Didi also known as Don Beyya of Midu.

Outlaw poet
It is worth dwelling upon the career of Bodufenvalugey Seedi, as he was credited with many of the developments in Maldivian poetry in the 20th century. He was the last major poet to write in the poetic style called raivaru and one of the first poets to write in the style called len. Seedi’s career began as a radical and his early poems were mainly political satire such as the following stanza:

When the cauldron boils with tea,
To fill the guts with its nightly fill,
When Huraa Dom Bey swallows his poison,
Does it mean there is no corruption?

Huraa Dom Bey was probably the then acting Prime Minister Athireegey Abdul Majeed Didi (later Rannabandeyri Kilegefan) or his father the then Prime Minister Ibrahim Dorhimeyna Kilegefan.




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