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Abdullah Afeef and the Addu uprising of 1944
Michael O'Shea
Suvadive Republic 1959-1963, part 4

One of the most enduring myths of modern Maldivian history surrounds the alleged treachery of an educated Hithadhoo man, Abdullah Afeef who led the United Suvadive Republic. Many written records claim he is guilty of colluding with the British against the interests of the Maldivian state and leading revolts at Hithadhoo in 1944 and 1959. A member of Hithadhoo's most influential family, Abdullah Afeef was appointed as one of the government translators for Addu atoll during the wartime British occupation. He had been privately educated in Egypt before the war, and his gentle intellectual personality and command of the English language brought him close to the British, not only in his paid capacity as a government translator but also as a key mediator among the Addu clans.

Stationed in Hithadhoo during the Second World War were two policemen from Male', Buchaa Hassan Kaleyfaan and Dada Kasim Kaleyfaan. These two men violently suppressed any trade, however petty, between Maldivians and the British/Indian forces and generally terrorised the population. Maldives historian, Mohamed Luthufee, who was actually working on Addu at that time as a young official, claimed in an interview in 1997 that Buchaa and his officers were personally responsible for inciting the wartime revolt:
'Sometimes the British threw things away and the islanders wanted them; sometimes they even gave things to them. There were people from Minicoy who spoke Dhivehi, and Indians and Bengalis on the British ships who naturally wanted to trade for fish with rice or anything else the Maldivians wanted. There was no money involved, just an easy-going barter system without set values.

'Fishermen also supplied betel, areca nut, coconuts, and hens. Fishing boats were passing regularly in front of Gan through the Gan kandu. It was no big deal, more a humanitarian thing. However Buchaa and Dada saw this as illegal activity so they started investigating…. There were 1000 to 1500 Maldivian men working at Gan. They were not used to that sort of labour - cleaning etc. The wages were very little, and often they received small presents like cardboard boxes. The Maldivian police took everything away. The first time they'd give a warning, second time there'd be floggings and bashings, and the third time, prison. Of course people were very upset by this oppression. The six other Maldivian officers working under Buchaa and Dada also misbehaved. They ordered women to their offices and abused them. This led to a highly explosive situation and a lot of public complaints. Those days, communication with Male' was very bad. A letter took two or three months to travel from Gan to the Maldivian government representative's office in Colombo and then to Male'. Whatever the person in charge said was seen as the absolute truth by the senior officials and they refused to act against the abuses. The atoll was boiling.'

Buchaa and Dadaa's campaign against illegal trading brought them into direct conflict with many of the atoll's tough and hard-working fishing families who bore the brunt of the floggings and bashings the policemen inflicted. The sadistic Buchaa had converted his kitchen at a Hithadhoo house into a jail. Anyone caught illegally trading was beaten with a dhurraa - a leather strap studded with metal bolts. Buchaa himself would take part in these beatings. He grew a long nail on his right thumb and enjoyed poking it deep into the sides of his prisoners' skulls.

Moosabe Kokko
Moosabe Kokko was a young and spirited fisherman and trader at that time who along with other members of his family, experienced imprisonment, assault and torture at the hands of Buchaa and his men. Before World War 2, Kokko sailed to Colombo in Ceylon once a year, carrying Maldive fish, copra, coir rope, and cowries. Maldivian shipping could stay in the harbour for two months without charges. The goods bought in Ceylon had to last until the following year, so great care was taken with fishing gear and kerosene. Five gallons of kerosene, used to light lamps, would be rationed to last for twelve months.

The war stopped even this limited trade, so Kokko fished and traded with the British warships when he sailed back through the lagoon to Hithadhoo. He was arrested for bartering fresh fish for rice and received forty nine lashes with the dhurraa, and a sentence of imprisonment inside a thatched hut on the lagoon shore near the atoll chief's residence in Maradhoo. With twenty other men, Kokko had to sleep on the ground and was fed half a large coconut and 100gm of flour each day. At night, the prisoners' feet were locked in wooden stocks, a painful and uncomfortable experience which made it impossible to sleep on their sides. Describing his captors as 'people who had no respect for human beings', Moosabe Kokko insists that 'this kind of treatment which was experienced by many people at the hands of officials, resulted in the first people's rebellion in 1944.'

Moosabe Kokko was an active participant in the 1944 uprising against Buchaa, and he claims that Abdullah Afeef had no direct involvement. Kokko says that Buchaa had arrested one of Abdullah Afeef's uncles, Elhedidi Ahmed Didi, for illegal trading and hit him in the face, knocking him to the ground. The people of Hithadhoo were shocked.

The community was already distressed from learning that a Japanese submarine had sunk one of Afeef's family's trading vessels. Afeef's father's odi was destroyed on its way to Ceylon. 'People had been traumatised,' said Mohamed Luthfee in 1997. 'They were doing astrology to discover if there were any survivors. People were arguing — some prayed and sang, went to the tombs to do chants and make vows for the safe return of the men.'

The night of the assault on Ahmed Didi, as currents of outrage swept the small town of Hithadhoo, Kokko blew the conch in the public square — the signal for an important meeting. One of the arrested man's brothers and another of Afeef's uncles, Ibrahim, swore to kill Buchaa and a mob formed. Afeef's father calmed down his brother but other men, including Moosabe Kokko, decided to hunt and murder Buchaa.

Warned of the crowd's intentions, Buchaa retreated to the British sea plane squadron and depot area in southern Hithadhoo, successfully seeking protection there. When his dhoani arrived back without him at the Hithadhoo harbour it was attacked, turned upside down and the keel cut irreparably in three places by vadin, master ship carpenters. Then the mob moved to Buchaa's official residence, in fact owned by relatives of the recently arrested and assaulted Elhedidi Ahmed Didi. Those relatives were among the crowd and they gave permission for the mob to break into the house. The kitchen area, which had been converted into cell, was partially demolished and twelve prisoners were released from the leg stocks. The ransacking of Buchaa's bedroom followed, and Kokko was shocked to discover a forbidden bottle of whisky.

Finished at the house, the angry crowd walked determinedly to the RAF station in south Hithadhoo where they were halted by armed British guards. Their demands for Buchaa to be handed over to them were ignored and the British ordered the mob to disperse and calm down. A delegation of three people were given permission to speak to Buchaa, but the terrified man refused to meet them, and he wept and begged the British to protect him because he was sure the men from Hithadhoo would find a way to kill him. Eventually the crowd dispersed, and Buchaa sheltered with the British until Hassan Fareed, who had moved from Male' to Kandy in Ceylon and appointed himself the Maldivian government representative in Colombo, arrived to supervise the dispute.

With a large English sergeant as his bodyguard, the dictator of Maldives, Hassan Fareed toured Hithadhoo. An eyewitness recalls: 'I saw him walking down the main street. He was dressed in a short sleeve shirt and a plain white sarong. Anyone dressing in this style, apart from the king and his family, would have been arrested.' Hassan Fareed had been ruling Maldives for over ten years. Backed by the political and business interests of his father, the uncrowned king of Maldives Abdul Majeed who was resident in Egypt, Hassan Fareed had dismantled the limited Maldivian education system and banned imports of newspapers and books. His contemporary, Mohamed Ismail Didi describes him as 'a man of few actions and many words' who 'understood Maldivian crowd psychology'. At a public meeting, Fareed assured the Hithadhoo people all was forgiven, and Buchaa left with him in a British naval vessel. The apparently disgraced policeman then had the good fortune to be left on an atoll south of Male' while Hassan Fareed cruised direct to Colombo. Immediately after, the British ship and its officers and crew, and Hassan Fareed were killed in a Japanese submarine attack.

Mohamed Ameen's investigation
One of the first official duties of Home Minister Mohamed Ameen, Hassan Fareed's apparently grief-stricken friend and eager successor, was to visit Addu and assess the unrest for himself. Ameen, a cultured, competitive rake who wrote well, was suffering from recurring bouts of malaria. He was now defacto ruler of Maldives, and in Male' he had listened to Buchaa's version of events.

Enemies of Afeef's family in Hithadhoo were also capitalising on the situation; accusations of threats and black magic rites against Hassan Fareed combined with rumours of letters between the British and Abdullah Afeef discussing Addu's possible succession to Britain. Afeef had formed friendly relationships with the British, and when Ameen demanded to see all correspondence he interpreted Afeef's reticence as a sign of guilt. Abdullah Afeef and other members of his family and friends were taken to Male', convicted, tied prostrate face-down on the ground and publicly flogged with a long rod of several bound rattan canes. Afeef was the only one not to scream because he had stuffed a handkerchief into his mouth. Chilli powder was poured into their open cuts, leaving life-long scars. The men were then exiled to other atolls for years. Afeef spent seven years virtually alone. Agricultural land on Hithadhoo, which had been in Afeef's family for four generations, was split between two of the main informants against them, according to Mohamed Luthfee.

When he returned from exile, Afeef always insisted there had never been any planned revolt in 1944, in fact the idea had never occurred to him and he was totally innocent. Some people in high positions in Male' seemed to agree because Afeef was rehabilitated and appointed to influential government positions in Addu in 1958. Nonetheless, Afeef was embittered by his experience of punishment and exile. To his close friends he said, 'Now I am labelled as a rebel. These scars are the scars of a rebel. I will never forgive. Even on the Day of Judgement I will raise this complaint of mine.'

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