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The United Suvadive Islands Republic
Michael O'Shea
Suvadive Republic 1959-1963, part 7

Abdullah Afeef established a People's Council from elected representatives in each of Addu's five island townships - Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Feydhoo, Meedhoo and Hulhudhoo. As president, Afeef proved to be honest and hardworking. Public services were provided for the first time, the run-down schools revitalised by administrative appointments and imported teachers from Ceylon, and an English medium school established in Hithadhoo. The schools' prize day ceremonies became public functions attended even by the British officers. These significant achievements in education were part of a continuing process of administrative innovation. According to local historian Abdullah Didi from Maradhoo:
The new government placed a tax of five percent on the income of those who worked at Gan and the rice portion of the wages was only handed over after the tax was paid,' according to local historian Abdullah Didi from Maradhoo. 'This rice ration was discontinued after the republic started importing its own. For the first six months after the revolt, there was no cash for the Gan workers, just vouchers. They could be used at the NAAFI store on Gan. People thought it was magic. Then the pound sterling was used, it continued in use even after the end of the republic in 1963, until the British left in 1976.

Moosaji, an Indian businessman from Ceylon already importing goods for the base, began to import goods on behalf of the republic. He used the old warehouse on Maradhoo which had been a British communication centre during WW2. Furniture could be imported to order! Individuals paid sterling into new People's Bank of Addu and Moosaji could supply whatever they wanted. Moosaji was the bank's managing director but the day-to-day manager was a Ceylonese, Mr Panjabsaram, who worked successfully with a local staff. All government workers were being paid properly and promptly. Teachers received 7 pounds a month. At this time, the exchange rate was Rf 100 for one pound, and a 100kg sack of rice was only Rf 30.

The new police force of twenty men wore smart uniforms, a blue sarong and a white shirt with an armband. They carried sticks painted white in the middle with bright red at either end. The usual punishments were imprisonment with feet in stocks, and sometimes whipping. People were sometimes hit for crowd control purposes and there was house arrest and exile to islands across the atoll.

Other changes made by Afeef's government included the registration of land, and the levying of a Rf 50 fine to discourage divorce.

The British, through Major Phillips and other senior RAF officers on Gan, co-operated closely with Afeef. The burnt out section of the vandalised Maaran'ga building at the base was restored and became Afeef's communications centre. Most importantly, the British protected the nascent republic against military attack by the Male' government.

The Huvadhu Revolt of 1959
News of the apparently successful revolt on Addu spread quickly into the other two southern atolls, Fua Mulaku and Huvadhu. Some of their men were already working at Gan base, and there had always been friendly family links between these atolls. After Nasir became Prime Minister at the end of 1957, he removed the ex-prime minister's political ally, Hirihamaaz, from his position as Huvadhu atoll chief and sent him into exile. A Male' appointee took his place. The atoll office was in Thinadhoo where Hirihamaaz's family lived and inevitably there was friction. Hirihamaaz had operated a lucrative trading operation in Huvadhu. A single room in his house is reliably reported to have contained more gold than the Male' treasury. Hirihamaaz and his supporters in Thinadhoo and other islands resisted the regulations and trading restrictions that Nasir's new atoll chief attempted to impose. They were already attracted to separatist ideas, and the booming economy in Addu was an overwhelming attraction. Within two weeks of the sacking of Maaran'ga, they had seized the opportunity and expelled all Male' officials from Thinadhoo.

Abdullah Afeef in Addu acted immediately to seek an alliance with the Huvadhu secessionists and sent a senior negotiating party. They arrived in Thinadhoo where two headmen from each of Huvadhu's inhabited islands had gathered. Encouraged by the friendly reception to the concept of a united republic, Afeef's representatives sailed across to Gaddhoo on the opposite side of the atoll. This island's headman, Ali Kaleyfaan, was loyal to the Male' government. Cunningly, he learnt what he could from the USIR negotiators, invited them to a large dinner of specially prepared chicken and while everyone was eating he left in a dhoani secretly for Male'. His men remaining on Gaddhoo tied up the astonished visitors and kept them under house arrest for a few hours until Ali Kaleyfaan was safely away. It is widely believed on Huvadhu that the Gaddhoo headman's report in Male' confirmed that support for the republic in Huvadhu was not unanimous, and that the British were not extending military protection outside of Addu.

The shaky alliance named the United Suvadive Islands Republic was officially formed on 13 March 1959, with Huvadhu and Fua Mulaku unrepresented on the People's Council. Huvadhu, a vast sprawling atoll, lacked a leader of the calibre of Afeef and infighting among the atoll's rival cliques led to disorganisation and petty feuding. The rufiyaa was devalued by up to 80% as traders linked with Addu, and staple imported food such as rice became rare and expensive. There was famine in some islands and more Huvadhu men left their wives and families to work in Gan.

Nasir attacks
Meanwhile in Male', prime minister Nasir organised a referendum which returned a resounding vote of confidence in his right to suppress the revolt in the southern atolls. An attempt was made to land Maldivian government officials on Fua Mulaku. The islanders pelted the men with sticks and stones when they tried to come ashore, and shooting erupted from the ship seriously wounding four people. Large sandbanks prevented the rifle fire from being more effective and the ship had to leave with its passengers still aboard.

Nasir decided to lead the next expedition himself and in July 1959, he cruised into Huvadhu atoll with rifles and hundreds of men collected from Male'. First stop was the island of Gaddhoo, on the eastern side of Huvadhu.

Gaddhoo was known as a rallying point for those opposed to the USIR, but in Ali Kaleyfaan's absence the pro-USIR faction had managed to raise their flag on the island. Speaking through an amplifier on the Maldive Star, Nasir ordered the flag lowered and replaced with the Maldivian emblem. Someone obeyed. Others swam out to the ship and Nasir warned them that people had to surrender or risk being sent off their island. Gaddhoo capitulated, and the leaders of the USIR faction were arrested and taken aboard. Moving across the lagoon to Thinadhoo, Nasir then attacked what he saw as the core of the Huvadhu revolt - the wealth and influence of Hirihamaaz Kaleyfaan.

Eyewitnesses in Thinadhoo in 1997 told the story of the attack on their island by Nasir.
From Gaddhoo, a person slipped away to warn people in Thinadhoo that Nasir was coming next day. That night people made sand bags to stop the bullets. When the Maldive Star arrived, Nasir ordered the people to surrender and raise the Maldivian flag. We refused. Then he started shooting. Two people were injured and died later of gangrene. There was nothing we could do to stop the Male' forces landing. Over the amplifier, Nasir announced that police officers would be going to people's houses.

Some men and boys used weapons such as sticks and balls of lime to attack the officers. Two odis in the harbour had returned from Ceylon. They were burnt by Nasir. Two houses were wrecked. One was the home of Hirihamaaz Kaleyfaan and the other belonged to Abdullah Katheeb, Hirihamaaz's son. These houses were full of valuable goods because they also contained storerooms. Hirihamaaz had a lot of gold. Everything was confiscated and taken aboard the Maldive Star.

People were being arrested as Nasir read out a list of names and called them 'criminals'. Their forearms and legs were tied with ropes. These people were taken to Male' where they were thrown into the harbour near the sewerage pipes and hit and kicked as they struggled to the prison. The men were locked up and fed one small piece of bread, three times a day. They had to eat the grass growing in the cell among the coconut fronds on the floor! A lot of people died in gaol. Those who didn't die were released.

The people in Male' who prepared the prisoners' bodies for burial said the faces were badly damaged and almost unrecognisable. Their arms were injured and appeared to have been tied behind their backs. The prisoners had been thrown into powdered lime and died by suffocation. Hirihamaaz and two of his sons were among the many dead.

The ruthless torture and murders in Male' prison were matched by the methods used to pacify and control Thinadhoo. Nasir's officials established the new atoll office in the looted houses owned by Hirihamaaz's family. Public shops were opened but poorly stocked, and the schools were closed. 'The new policemen from Male' behaved badly,' said old women in Huvadhu in 1997.'They wore shorts and drank alcoholic toddy. A woman couldn't even go to the mosque to get water without being harassed! People were arrested and assaulted and women were often raped. Some were made pregnant.'

Food shortages, chronic malnutrition and famine continued to afflict Huvadhu.

The reaction in Addu
Back in Addu, the immediate effect of Nasir's 1959 campaign in Huvadhu and Fua Mulaku was a state of high alert. The British had been conducting arms drill and target practice for their own men since April, after a farcical reaction in March to a false invasion alarm. The Gan base record keeper was bemused: 'It must be appreciated that at the present time service personnel are very thin on the ground and members of all sections had to be formed into the defence force. The most unlikely people were therefore seen clambering into landing craft armed to repel the aggressor.'

By July the British were alert and ready. They knew about arms deliveries to Male' from Ceylon, and using radio interception and aerial reconnaissance they had followed the voyage of the Maldive Star. Afeef was convinced Nasir would attack Addu and in August two boatloads of men from Huvadhu were intercepted and arrested by Afeef's men in the Addu lagoon late at night. They confessed to being an advance invasion force. The British ordered a regiment to Gan from Singapore and surveillance was increased. Although another boatload of Male' supporters was arrested at the end of September, the invasion never materialised. After the obligatory media slanging match between the British and Male', which included a RAF sponsored visit by selected journalists for friendly interviews with Afeef in October, both Nasir and the British settled down to conclude the negotiations over the base.

The 1960 Agreement
The Male' government had lost three atolls and won two back. Now they collected face-saving payments in return for the lease of Gan, and a guarantee from the British that Addu would be returned to their control as soon as possible. The Times in UK reported in February that protocol demanded that payments be received not as part of a lease, which was nominally granted free for thirty years. Instead, the Maldivian government received a 'special grant' of 100,000 pounds and a further 750,000 pounds for specific projects. The British withdrew their regiment from the base that same month with the official signing of the new agreement in Male', and Nasir's government announced that the United Suvadive Islands Republic had been dissolved 'through the good offices of the British government' and replaced by a committee, including Afeef, 'under the sovereign control of the Sultan of Maldives,' reported The Times in March.

Unfortunately for the British and Male', Afeef and his many supporters in Addu refused to budge. The islands around Gan were enjoying an unparalleled lifestyle with services and consumer goods they had never seen before. The events on Huvadhu galvanised Addu opinion against Nasir, and the British knew any direct action against Afeef would totally alienate the atoll against the base.

The British had soothed Male's impatience with a generous lease agreement, while Afeef and his associates were managing an efficient trading operation and assiduously collecting taxes. The tiny rebel republic published a small Dhivehi language newspaper The Addu Times which provided news, educational articles, government announcements, and trading information, as well as admonishing editorials reminding people of their duties to the welfare of the community.

Contrary to propaganda from Male', there was no Christian movement in Addu. Afeef used the government apparatus to collect Islamic taxes when they were due and announced penalties for non-attendance at Friday Prayer.

In March 1961, Afeef used The Addu Times to publicly promote a scheme to buy an expensive Rs 600,000 modern fishing boat with the indomitable trader and bank manager Moosaji providing half the capital and the people of Addu the remainder, at four gold coins per share.

Afeef's political confidence was reinforced by his victory at the People's Council elections a month later. On 11 May, the British Representative now resident at Male', Arthington-Davy, arrived in Gan for several days of sometimes heated and ultimately fruitless talks. The Adduans case was straightforward and heartfelt: 'we want our lives to progress educationally and economically and other ways without any hindrance.' Arthington-Davy was not believed when he told them, 'the government in Male' has totally changed from the way it was before and now wants to help and look after the people of Addu and develop the atoll.' He left empty-handed, granting Afeef two months to consult with his council and reply to a request to 'establish official relations between Addu and Male'.

In Male', the Maldivian government was pressing ahead with long delayed reform. During 1961, a Montessori school and English-medium government school were opened in the capital, and atoll administration was remarkably democratised by the decision in August to establish elected atoll committees as advisory bodies to the central government.

The Huvadhu Revolt of 1961
In the middle of the year, a small delegation of traders from Thinadhoo arrived to speak to Afeef. There had been a good fishing season in Huvadhu and they hoped to organise emergency food supplies from Addu. 'People requested permission to go to Addu and trade,' explained Mohamed Latheef at Thinadhoo in 1997:
There they met Afeef who convinced them to take action to rejoin the USIR. The inefficiency of Male' and the economic benefits of joining Addu were the major things discussed. This led to the June 1961 revolt. A hundred and fifty of us, we rowed five small dhoanis from Addu across the Equatorial channel. Morale was good. The dhoanis were full of juices, cordial, cigarettes, rice, and flour and sugar. Afeef organised everything. The leaders were Hassan Didi and Mohamed Hameed, both from Thinadhoo, and the rest of us were all men from Huvadhu working at Gan. For weapons we had old vehicle axles from the base. The dhoanis moved slowly up the western side of Huvadhu and waited off Thinadhoo until midnight, landing when everyone was asleep. Thinadhoo had a power station installed by Nasir for the government offices and streets. We threw sand into the generator and there was total darkness. Then we attacked the Male' officials, beat them thoroughly and arrested them all. They were taken to Addu. Next morning the USIR flag was raised on Thinadhoo and a crowd sang the USIR anthem.

Hassan Didi became atoll chief for a week, followed by Mohamed Hameed. Then Shihaab became atoll chief for one night. There was fighting between competing camps for the atoll chief's position, and buying of votes from people. One day Shihaab packed a motorbike into his dhoani with his supporters and said he was going to Addu. When he left through the Gaddhoo kandu, the people aboard realised he was in fact heading to Male'. Some jumped overboard. Shihaab arrived in Male' and was arrested and sent to prison. He died there after his head was crushed between two planks and his eyes popped out.

Despite the disorder in Huvadhu, this new revolt revitalised the United Suvadive Islands Republic. Within a week, Fua Mulaku revolted against Male' as well, and sent a contingent of arrested officials to join their Huvadhu counterparts in temporary detention at a special tent camp supplied by the British on Viligili, adjacent to Gan base. Food and luxuries flowed from Addu into Huvadhu and Fua Mulaku, and a trading company was organised in Thinadhoo with capital of 11,000 pounds.

The resurrection of the rebel movement in Huvadhu embarrassed the British who repatriated the prisoners to Male' in early August and that same month placated the Maldivian government with an airdrop over the capital of vaccine and other medical supplies during a typhoid outbreak. The Hulhule' airport project near Male' was pushed ahead and completed by November, and before the end of the year king Mohamed Fareed received an honorary KCMG.

But for the people of Thinadhoo, there was no escaping Nasir's wrath.

Abdullah Didi, speaking in 1997, was an eyewitness to the events on Huvadhu:
Thuthu Katheeb was island chief of Thinadhoo during the time of the second revolt. He eventually broke away from the USIR faction and went to Male' in late 1961. We thought Thuthu would bring back the Male' people and so they couldn't surprise us, the normal gardening days on nearby islands were changed. These were used to cultivate bananas, taro, sugar cane, chillies and watermelons.

One very rainy day in the late afternoon, it was too wet to tend the taro; people had stopped work and gone for a walk along the beach. Someone saw a boat through the rainstorms; others at first couldn't see it. Finally they all saw it. It was Nasir and Thuthu Katheeb in the Silver Crest, coming to attack. We hurried to the dhoanis and sailed back to Thinadhoo. The Silver Crest approached us on the water and opened fire. There was no real damage, the bullets went straight through the soft dhoani wood, but the woman who owned the dhoani died of shock that night.

In Thinadhoo the USIR flag was still flying defiantly even though it was normally removed at 5.30 pm. Ashore, children were crying and there was a lot of noise and panic. That night nothing happened, the Silver Crest stayed moored in the main harbour with its lights off.

Next morning we all gathered in the town house facing the harbour. Nasir used an amplifier to talk to the people, telling us to abandon the USIR and return to Male' rule. He told us to take down the flag. We didn't move, so the shooting started. A small boat from the Silver Crest had landed at the end of the jetty and the shooting came from there. A spotter used binoculars. One man, who kept poking his head out of the town-house window to look at the Silver Crest, was shot through the head. It split into two halves as he fell outside and the crows picked at his brains. Nobody removed the body because the shooting continued all day. Everyone hid.

At the end, Nasir called out the names of those he wanted. Other people took them towards the Silver Crest. Nasir ordered all those who wanted to be under Male' to go to Maahutta island in their dhoanis. But the tide was too low and it was difficult to reach the boats. Nobody helped anyone else. It was too hard to get to Maahutta so people went to Kaadedhoo and Maagodirehaa instead. There was very heavy rain all night and these uninhabited islands had no houses. So people sat in the rain all night on the grass. One woman delivered a baby. A man and woman on Maagodirehaa died of shock and fear. One person died on Kaadedhoo as well. After three days everyone realised they would not be able to return to Thinadhoo, so they dispersed among the inhabited islands of Huvadhu. The Male' people burnt down houses but nothing much was taken.

Thinadhoo was cleared of all its inhabitants, regardless of their loyalties, and the trading infrastructure of Huvadhu virtually collapsed. As they scattered among the islands, the Thinadhoo people found themselves blamed for Huvadhu's suffering. There were bad fishing seasons and the islanders were too scared to travel. The Male' government did not send adequate food supplies to the atoll. 'The situation was beyond description,' said Abdul Hameed in 1997. 'People from Thinadhoo faced the hatred of others on the islands and many died of hunger. They ate plants and leaves, and the stems of banana plants. Dead bodies and bones were found on uninhabited islands.' The Thinadhoo population was not allowed to return to their island until 1966.

The end of the United Suvadive Islands Republic
The crushing of the second revolt in Huvadhu was a mortal blow to Afeef's vision of an independent republic of southern atolls. Nasir's willingness to use firepower in the islands was not matched by the Adduans. Afeef had secretly imported some rifles but he refused to issue them,' according to Abdullah Ali speaking in 1997, 'and they were thrown into the sea to prevent further violence.' During the next eighteen months, British attempts to bring together the Male' government and Addu met with hostile demonstrations in Gan making it clear the Male' officials were unwelcome, and that Afeef was still their leader. In Male', there were demonstrations against British inaction against the rebel government and British citizens were evacuated from the capital in November 1962.

By 1963, the British were actively politicking in Addu against Afeef. In defiance of the rebel administration's authority, the Gan political adviser Rounswaite moved independently around the atoll, summoning meetings and speaking with worried businessmen and leaders. In September 1963, 'with feelings running high and many false rumours' a regiment from Butterworth in Malaysia was moved to Gan.

'Rounswaite had a lot of power throughout the atoll,' said eyewitnesses Abdullah Ali and Salih Ali Didi in 1997:
He could walk into any government island office without permission. Mohamed Saeed was his helper and became quite powerful. Mohamed Saeed and Afeef did not get on well. They still talked in public but at the office, things were tense.

In September, Rounswaite organised people from Maradhoo to make the Maldivian national flag. Nobody could remember what it looked like but eventually a design was found in the back of a book. Kubbage Ahmed made the flag and sewed it in the kitchen of Fonimaage in Maradhoo. It was finished in the middle of the night and at two o'clock in the morning on 23 September 1963, Alifuthaa of Elhadhaithaa and Hassan Rahaa's Ahmed climbed up onto the flagpole and tied it onto the post so it could not be lowered. After the dawn prayer the island chief Moosa Katheeb saw the flag and realised it meant trouble. He asked some young boys to cut it down. They refused.

Next day there was an emergency meeting of the People's Council in Hithadhoo.
'Maradhoo had decided to have the Male' flag flying. What are we going to do about it?'
Some were for and some were against it. There was a long discussion. A decision was made not to talk to the British nor to Male', and to continue alone. At lunch, Afeef said the British could not be ignored, because the republic had been close to them from the beginning. A few members wanted someone to make the suggestion that the council accept a peaceful takeover by Male', provided there were no retribution or punishments.

Back at the meeting we agreed to vote on the issue. Afeef was highly disturbed and shaking with anger. One group, which included Moosabe Kokko, said they didn't want the Male' government.
'We should be like men - be strong,' they said.
Another disagreed and said, 'We have to think whether we can stay as we are. So far we have depended on the British, and they are now using force to change the government. Maradhoo is already accepting it. Next the same thing will happen in Meedhoo. Then Hithadhoo men will probably be banned from work at Gan and children will be crying with hunger. Eventually we'll have to go begging. It is much better to surrender with dignity now.'

One man compared Addu's fate to that of flying fish - first chased by sea fish, then chased by the fish in the lagoon, and finally chased onto land where they are taken by humans...

Eventually Afeef accepted the inevitable. With three others, he left for Gan in the launch to meet the commanding officer and his advisers. When they met, a police officer stood between them. The CO asked very coolly who had landed on Gan yesterday without permission. Afeef said that he had no knowledge of a trespass. The CO then asked them what they wanted. The delegation said they were willing to accept Male' rule. They were asked to repeat their words. Rounswaite then advised them to forget all about the Suvadive Republic. The CO asked the other three to leave, so he could talk privately to Afeef. Later all four men had almost arrived back in Hithadhoo when a British speed launch containing armed men came up to the boat. Afeef and the three others were taken back to Gan. The British said they had heard that Feydhoo and Hithadhoo were going to attack Maradhoo people over the flag. Afeef guaranteed it would not happen and returned with the Male' flag on his launch.

Afeef knew that he would always be a rallying point for Addu separatism, and he doubted that the Male' government would honour its pledge to pardon him for his part in the secession movement. He cited the British government's letter of protection and told the RAF of his decision to seek asylum somewhere with a similar climate to Addu. On 30 September 1963, Afeef and his family travelled as passengers aboard the HMS Loch Lomond to settle in the Seychelles.

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