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Maldives 1900-1922
Shamsudeen, Ibrahim Didi and HCP Bell

prepared from a variety of sources, including H.C.P.Bell’s (and W. L. de Silva’s) The Maldive Islands, British Public Record Office documents, and Bethia and Heather Bell's H.C.P. BELL - Archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives.

  maldives king and courtiers 1890s
Imadudeen IV with courtiers and attendants, 1890s

1900 King Imadudeen VI leaves for haj in Arabia, demanding an oath of loyalty from important chiefs before his departure.

Former chief minister Ibrahim Didi (Bodu Doshimeyna Kilegefan) moves to Colombo and does not return until recalled by the new king in 1903.

1901 Imadudeen returns to Male' from haj.

After receiving petitions from Borah traders in Male' protesting the actions of Imadudeen VI, the British administration in Ceylon refuses to intervene.

The second scientific expedition to Maldives arrives led by the American Alexander Agassiz. The first expedition, organised by Cambridge university in UK and led by Stanley Gardiner, had visited Maldives in 1899.

1902 A committee appointed by Imadudeen begins work on the compliation of a collection of Maldivian historical records. The result is an updated version of the Dhivehi Tareek, which is not published until nearly 80 years later in 1981.

In November, Imadudeen leaves Maldives for Egypt to marry Sharifa Hanim, the daughter of the Persian (Iranian) consul in Egypt, Abdurahman Kami Bey. The couple later have a daughter.

1903 Shamsudeen III is enthroned in Maldives, but the British governor of Ceylon refuses to recognise him.

Shamsudeen and his ministers demand an inquiry by the British into ex-king Imadudeen VI. Lieutenant-governor E. F. im Thurn visits Male' to investigate complaints against the former king. Imadudeen VI also sails for Male' but does not reach the capital until the day after Thurn has completed his inquiry and left for Colombo. Imadudeen VI decides not land in Male' and instead returns to Colombo to petition the British for support. His efforts prove unsuccessful when the British governor accepts Thurn's report which recommends recognition of king Shamsudeen.

The SS Umona is wrecked on Maamutaa island, north of Viligili on northeastern Huvadhu atoll, en route from Calcutta to South Africa. Nine passengers and 500 'Indian coolies' aboard were well-treated by Maldivians and transported to Colombo on the SS Umra.

maldives king early twentieth century
Mohamed Shamsudeen III

1904 After Imadudeen VI's state debts and an annual allowances of Rp9,125 per year have been arranged, the British recognise Shamsudeen III.

Ibrahim Didi (Bodu Doshimeyna Kilegefan) is appointed as chief minister and holds this post until his death in 1925. His sons and half-brother assist him during his administration.

During the following decades, his half-brother Abdulla Didi reorganises and commands the militia and the palace guard, while his eldest son Ahmed Didi (Kuda Doshimeyna Kilegefan) becomes royal secretary and controls the customs and post office. Ibrahim Didi's second son Abdul Majeed Didi becomes treasurer and controller of revenue, and his third son Abdul Hameed Didi controls customs from 1905-1908 and then transfers to Colombo to be the Maldivian Government Representative in Ceylon.

1905 An official British party visits to Male' for Shamsudeen's 'Assumption of the State Sword' ceremony, equivalent to a formal coronation. Following an ancient tradition, the chief of Kelaa island on Haa Alifu atoll and the chief of Isdhoo island on Laamu atoll, as representatives of the northern and southern atolls, give their public support and approval to king Shamsudeen. Abdul Majeed Didi is the leading organiser of this ceremony.

The SS Crusader is wrecked on Maldives. Lloyd's Agents seek clarification of the salvage law for Maldives, and the British administration backs the prevailing Maldive law at that time, which gives half the salvaged items to the Maldive government and the Maldivians who save the goods, and half to the original owners.

  rebels in maldives early 1900s
The Velanage Manikfan Malinge Hassan Didi (seated). He was once chief admiral of the naval militia. Standing, from left, is his younger son Ibrahim Didi; their relative Ismail Didi and Malinge Hassan Didi's elder son Mohamed Didi.

Malinge Hassan Didi (Velanage Manikfan) and his sons Mohamed and Ibrahim Didi escape to Colombo in November from Laamu atoll where they had been exiled for treason against Shamsudeen. The British decline to assist them and warn the family against political action in Maldives.

1906 A post office is established for the first time in Male'.

In November, Shamsudeen notifies the British in Ceylon that Hassan Didi and his sons have hired 'Karachi Pathans' at Trincomalee (eastern Ceylon) under the leadership of a soldier, Amir Khan. Arms had been collected, according to Shamsudeen, and the steamer Jaffna had been hired to transport the rebels and mercenaries from the coast of India and land in Male' at night. The British police in Madras investigate the Jaffna, which is harboured there, and report nothing suspicious.

1907 Abdulla Didi and Ali Didi former treasurer of Imadudeen VI, the brothers of Ekgamuge Ahmed Didi (Hakura Manikfan), escape to Colombo from banishment for treason. They tell the British that their brother Ahmed Didi had been brought back from exile in Maamigili to Male' and tortured.

Shamsudeen tells British that in April a conspiracy was discovered and the traitors had been exiled. Abdulla Didi was ordered to Huraa island north of Male' where his brother Ali was already exiled. Shamsudeen says both brothers escaped in a small boat at night. Captain C. S. Hickley of the HMS Highflyer is asked to make a report on the possible torture of Ahmed Didi. He finds the allegations are 'without foundation'. Nevertheless, the British warn Shamsudeen against the use of torture.

After the death of Malinge Hassan Didi in Civil Hospital Colombo, his sons Mohamed and Ibrahim Didi visit Calicut and Minicoy island, and in early October they land with armed Indian mercenaries on three northern islands in Maldives. The Male' militia sails to attack them, and invaders retreat to the Laccadives.

1908 The British receive information that ex-king Imadudeen VI, using the alias Mohamed Iskander, had landed incognito at Bombay in August with two Frenchmen. He later identified himself as the king of Maldives and then sailed to Calicut carrying valuable jewellery and accompanied by one of the Frenchmen. Imadudeen and this man were arrested by the British in Calicut, pending instructions from Ceylon. The Calicut police were ordered to prevent Imadudeen from traveling to Maldives and to threaten him with loss of pension and allowances if he did not return immediately to Suez.

Imadudeen leaves Calicut and sails for Suez via Bombay in October, after his unsuccessful attempt to regain throne of Maldives.

1909 The British governor of Ceylon makes an official visit to Male'.

In December, Mohamed and Ibrahim Didi, the sons of Malinge Hassan Didi, and Abdulla Didi, related by marriage to Imadudeen VI, lead armed expedition from Karachi and land in Hinnavaru island on Lhaviyani atoll. They move on to Kagi island in Male' atoll and then occupy Bandos just north of the capital. The Indians surrender on Bandos to the Male' militia, and the three Maldivian rebels are soon arrested. Mohamed, Ibrahim and Abdulla Didi are exiled and the Indians are pardoned and returned to India at government expense.

1911 Ex-king Imadudeen's Maldivian wife joins him in Egypt and his total allowance is increased to Rp11,680 per year.

1914 At the start of World War 1, imported food and other goods in Male' increase suddenly in price. Trade in the capital is controlled by Borahs, Indian nationals resident in Male'. The government in Male' sends grain to the atolls to alleviate the food shortages, and famine does not occur in Maldives. Male' and other islands are full of huge breadfruit trees and in the capital there are many mango trees. Papayas, sweet potatoes and pumpkins grow throughout the islands.

The construction of Shamsudeen's Mulee-aage palace begins. It is completed in 1919.

1917 Government accounts for the period 1917-1922 show that spending on chiefs and militia is half of total government expenditure.

During WW1, a mine washes onto the beach at Kudarikilu island in Baa atoll. Twelve people find it when they are fishing. One of them hits it with a stick and it explodes. The people near the bomb are blown to pieces, and pieces of skin and bone are plastered on the trunks of surrounding coconut trees.

In April 1917, a British military seaplane is wrecked near Filitheyo island on Faafu atoll. Pilots are rescued by fishing boats from Fieeali and Bileiydhoo islands. The seaplane was with two warships, British and French, sheltering between Ari and Male' atolls.

During September and October, the German warship Wolf hides in the southern atolls with a captured Japanese ship and reconnoiters by seaplane.

1920 The British, travelling to Maldives in the Comus, present Shamsudeen with the 'Warrant and Insignia of Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George' in a formal presentation ceremony in Male'. The Order is presented to Shamsudeen seated in the state chair. The mission's messages are discussed - translated from Dhivehi through Hindustani and Tamil to English, and vice versa. In the Durbar Hall, Shamsudeen is described by a British observer as having a face clean-shaven save for a short moustache, placid in expression but brightening when interested, 'dressed in a rich under-garment, covered modo Arabico by a long robe of rose-flowered silk, bordered in heavy gold lace', with a white turban 'terminating in a small spike-ornament of gold'.

The official visit was also to facilitate the Maldivian Census of 1921, and to help alleviate the serious shortage of rice caused by the prices charged by Indian middlemen and by the lack of Maldive government ships.

The British Maldives specialist, archaeologist, historian and linguist H.C.P. Bell accompanies the visiting party to Male'. Bell has known chief minister Ibrahim Didi for forty years, since one of his periods of exile in Galle Ceylon decades earlier, and they have remained friends throughout their lives.

Bell is also friendly with Didi's powerful sons. He has been instructed to revise his 'Report on the Maldive Islands' prepared for the Ceylon government in 1881 and to locate the historical records known as the Tareek in Shamsudeen's archives. Bell is also ordered to investigate the history and archaeological remains of Buddhism in Maldives. He is given three weeks for these tasks. Ahmed Didi, who is interpreting, gives extra help to Bell. He arranges for a survey and plan of Male', and Bell includes the plan in his 1920 report. Ahmed Didi also writes his own connected account of Male'; of harbour and bazaar, mosques, fortifications, palace, streets and buildings, giving a tour of the four wards and describing the inhabitants. Ahmed and his brother Abdul Majid show Bell an elaborate and complex genealogical table giving the pedigrees of sultans and nobility back to the seventeenth century. This belongs to their father Ibrahim.

During his stay in Male', Bell is lent by Abdul Majid an excellent well-built house, with its own garden and a bathroom with a bathing-pool. It was not far from a mosque, the Hukuru Miskit. Bell explores various sights of interest: the old ordnance at the bastion, which includes a cannon bearing Portuguese Royal Arms and a Dutch one made in 1600 at Amsterdam. Near the Munnaru tower is an oblong 'sun-dial' slab which helps time the Muslim hours of prayer. Bell examines the largest and probably oldest bathing tank on Male' Island, called 'Ma-Veyo'. In spite of its close proximity to a mosque, this almost square tank reminds him of the Kuttam Pokuna, or ancient Buddhist 'Twin Baths' at Anuradhapura.

Bell watches fine lacquer work being done by the only skilled workman in Male'. He is taken over the Henveru Gaduvaru, the fine new palace whose garden had even a small white rose in bloom, intended for the young prince Izudeen (Shamsudeen's son) due to arrive from Ceylon. Hassan Izz-ud-din, eighteen years old, has been away seven years for education, partly at the Royal College Colombo. To welcome him a 'sea pageant' is being prepared, organised by Harbour Master Ismail Didi. The jetty is decorated with fruit, foliage, streamers, and 'welcome' placards. When the ship Lady McCallum arrives with the prince, it also offloads 8,000 bags of rice.

1922 An influenza epidemic erupts in Male' leaving 300 dead.

In February, H.C.P. Bell leaves Ceylon for a long official research trip to Maldives. It is his third visit, and he has the help of W. L. de Silva (Sinhalese) and a Malay servant.

Bell and the captain and officers of the HMS Comus meet Shamsudeen, then the Comus cruises in the northern atolls for 6 days while Bell remains in Male'. Bell and his staff, accompanied by Ismail Didi, then cruise directly to Addu atoll where the Comus captain Sneyd has Admiralty work to do.

ruins of dagaba on fua mulak island, maldives, 1922
Ruins of a dagaba on Fua Mulak island Maldives 1922

Bell's party examines Buddhist remains in Gan island, and an old coral rock fort on Hithadhoo. Their visit to Fua Mulak, just north of Addu atoll, is brief because Prince Izudeen wants the Comus to take him to Colombo. On Hitadhoo, Bell watches men hand-weaving. On Fua Mulak, Bell sees some of its products and receives 'the quaint present of half-a-dozen most creditable cakes of stamped soap, also made locally'. The soap is made from ashes, coral-lime, and coconut oil, and the cakes came in three colours - cream, mauve, pink; the shapes oblong or oval. Women in the south are less shy and willing to be photographed, unlike women in Male'. During this short trip in the south, Bell is shown old inscriptions and documents.

Back in Male', Bell and his staff remain while the Comus transports Shamsudeen's son prince Izudeen to Ceylon. Izudeen is returning to Ceylon to pay homage to the Prince of Wales during his Indian tour, but Shamsudeen's son does not come back to Male' until 1924.

maldives government ship fathul-majeed in hadumati lagoon 1922
Fathul-Majeed, Maldives government schooner in Laamu lagoon Maldives 1922

Shamsudeen grants Bell use of the Maldive government schooner Fathul-Majeed, and Ismail Didi accompanies the expedition again. The Fathul-Majeed is a two-masted schooner, 68 ft. 2 in. long, with a small cabin. The malim or captain, Ali Koya Fulu, has a boatswain and eleven sailors.

Sculpted head found at Gan island Laamu Maldives 1922
Sculpted head found on Gan island Laamu in 1922. Identified by HCP Bell as from a statue of Buddha.

They sail to Gan island on Laam atoll and, with the help of local headmen and volunteers, investigate Buddhist ruins for ten days and discover Buddhist statues and temple carvings. Then they move north to Mundhoo to examine more ruins.

Across the Veymandhoo channel in Guraidhoo on Thaa atoll, Bell sees the traditional grave of king Usman I (late 1300s).

In Kolhufushi island (now joined with an adjacent island and renamed Kolhuvaariyaafushi) on Meemu atoll, Bell is shown an old rusted Portuguese sword believed to have belonged to the sixteenth century Maldive hero Mohamed Bodu Takurufan. The sword was kept at the main island mosque.

Later, in Guraidhoo island on Male' atoll, Bell examines the grave of king Hussein II who died in 1620.

friday mosque fua mulak 1922
Friday mosque on Fua Mulak 1922

ruins of a vihare at gan island laamu atoll maldives
Ruins of a vihare at Gan island Laamu atoll Maldives 1922

Main street, Mulaku island Mulaku atoll maldives 1922
Main street, Mulaku island Mulaku atoll Maldives 1922

Women and children on Mulaku island 1922
Women and children on Mulaku island Maldives 1922

Riding on a kandufati raft at Kolumadulu atoll Maldives 1922
Riding on a kandufati raft at Kolumadulu atoll Maldives 1922

boat with rowers and another under sail off Kolumadulu atoll Maldives 1922
A boat of rowers from Oligiri island and another under sail at Kolumadulu atoll 1922

Back in Male' after a gruelling period of rowing north against contrary winds, Bell and his staff spend five months gathering more information, studying old documents and inscriptions on gravestones and slabs, and on copper plate. Bell revises his hasty summary of the Tareek made in 1920, besides copying three manuscripts, one written in Dives Akuru, two in Thana, of a Radivali (Sinhalese: Rajavaliya), or brief history of Maldive kings and queens from the twelfth to the eighteenth century.

Bell witnesses days of ceremonies, with processions for prayers from one mosque to another, or the paying of respects to the Sultan - bowing to touch the king's feet in 'the salutation to the sandals'.

Before Ramadan there is an annual scouring of the bathing tanks, one of which adjoins his house, that raises offensive smells. Throughout Ramadan, a gun is fired at sunset to mark when each day's fast can be broken. The Hiti Duvas festivals were performed between May 20 and 26 in remembrance of certain saintly personages; for example Sultan Ali VI, who fell defending Male' against the Portuguese in 1558, and Shaikh Yusuf Shams-ud-din of Tabriz, apostle of Islam to the Maldives. The most notable one, the Henveiru Bodu Hiti, is carried out at the Lonu Ziyarat, a promontory to the south-east, on the night of the 22nd of Ramadan.

Bell witnesses the Henveiru Bodu Hiti, guided by Ismail Didi. All day the streets, freshly strewn with dazzling white coral sand, are alive with people, the younger men well dressed and 'the whole air felt charged with social electricity'. At government expense, foods are provided, the caterer spreading out some forty dishes including boiled rice, fish puffs and sweetmeats, 'some in triangular slices made from edible seaweed resembling to sight Turkish delight'. These are carried in wicker-work cages to the ziyarat, where is a cadjan hut for the sultan's band, a banqueting hall, a shed for recitation of the Quran and the Hiti-ge, a tent reserved for royalty. This is lined with felt, the ceiling of rich orange, the inner walls rich green with facades of mosques portrayed.

At 9.30 p.m. the Sultan and his nephew advance along a vista of kerosine lamps, flanked by torch-bearers and escorted by the state band, the militia and the body guard in scarlet and blue. The royal insignia - state umbrella, fan, sword and shield and palanquins - are borne in the procession. Royalty has prayed at ziyarats on the way and again recite the fatiha etc. within the shrine. Then the band, of drums, trumpets and flageolets, played, reinforced by Kakkage Manipulu, who is a brilliant performer on the beru, a drum.

Regarding education in Maldives, Bell notes that children, besides reading the Quran, learn to write Thaana and Arabic. Some further education is available in navigation, and in the Arabic, Urdu and English languages.

Bell leaves Maldives in September, bound for Calcutta.

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