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Iyye, Yesterday - Chapter 5
Many people starved to death due to Mohamed Ameen's rule
Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik
10 August 1997

translated by Fareesha Abdulla with assistance from Majid Abdul-Wahhab and Michael O'Shea
Notes from U.K. Public Records Office added by Maldives Culture
Photographs and graphics below have been added by Maldives Culture from various sources.

Two verses from Faiza's poem

Below is an essay published in Malas 37, starting on page 196. It is by Ibrahim Shihab who was an eyewitness to the events. He provided the title as well:

Consider - Rf35,000 has become Rf8,000, and there are more discrepancies...
To whom does the nation and its society of believers belong? I do not have the slightest doubt. Every ummah and every nation belongs to each individual person who makes up the population. These things are the object of each person's most important and faithful love. Therefore it cannot be anything but a person's most happy and important duty to study and consider the history of their nation and government.

British Maldives report 1942
Daily Sketch in July 1942 claimed the Japanese have landed in the Maldives, and instructions were coming from a secret radio station in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). It appealed to Maldivians in local dialects, but Maldivians don't have radios.

On 8 July 1942, British wanted the sultan to facilitate the passing of emergency legislation.

On 4 August 1942, the governor told the Secretary of State that the sultan had assumed power to make emergency legislation with two principal ministers. Hussein Hilmy Didi in Colombo was delegated with similar authority to legislate for Addu atoll.

There was no problem with Maldives co-operation with the British.
Public Records office

British Maldives report 1943
From a letter written by A.M. Tayabally, a Gujarati trader in Male'.

The Maldivian government is controlling all goods. Rationing is in force and there is no rice, only wheat and flour.

A certain tribe known as the Kurdukuri are united against government. The Kaverkuris joined them and they began saying maulood prayers which are forbidden. They demanded an end to rationing and wanted the Maldive government to stop trading in its own name. Merchants must control the fish business. The tribes also demanded to be allowed to say maulood prayers from one village to another, as before.

In Male', 5-6,000 people demanded:
1. Majlis meeting according to the population's wish
2. Reinstatement of the old sultan (Noorudeen)
3. Allow merchants to take fish
4. Reduce customs fees
5. Freedom to visit villages whenever they liked

Ameen Didi handled the situation, and told them to await a special official meeting. Ameen called people from the villages. Later, he said their demands could not be met and threatened to shoot them if necessary.

Ameen met the leader of deputation, and 'coaxed' or 'bribed' him. The demands for the majlis meeting and freedom to visit villages were granted. The other three demands were to be reconsidered when the World War was over.

After about a week, other leaders were still agitating and they were beaten and deported for periods of six, seven, and 11 years.

The report then includes a quote from the text of governor Gordon's letter from 23 Dec 1887 when Maldives was forced to become a protectorate of Britain:
'I engage in Her Majesty's name to interfere in no manner in the local affairs of the Maldive Islands, in either the framing or the administration of the laws, or in any other matter of purely internal concern nor will I allow anyone under any authority so to meddle.'

In 1943, the order was given by the British that no person was to travel to Maldives from Ceylon without written permission from the chief secretary.

On 25 March 1943, the sultan replaced Hussein Hilmy Didi with Hassan Fareed as the Maldive government representative in Ceylon. Governor Caldecott accepted the appointment.

On 14 May 1943, the governor sent a telegram to the Consul General in Alexandria. He gave the address of Abdul Majeed as 14 Shari El Dawadar, Hadaig El Cubbah, Cairo. The governor asked the consul to delay Majeed's return to Maldives, and also wanted any other information on him.

On 16 May 1943, the governor reminded the sultan that prime minister Mohamed Fareed cannot sign official communiques to the governor.

On 24 May 1943, details from a secret governor's report said the removal of Hilmy was due to profiteering from food supplies to Maldives. Also, the ministers were considering removing the sultan and replacing him with Majeed.

On 21 June 1943, governor sent a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies: The sultan has resigned and become president of a council of regency. Majeed was invited to return as sultan and Male' was saying the governor had assented to this.

The governor said this was untrue and Abdul Majeed was to be informed of this lie by the British Consul in Cairo. The governor said the election of Abdul Majeed was unconstitutional.

On 24 July 1943, governor sent a letter to the secretary of state for the colonies:
Majeed 'intends to make no pretensions to throne which has been irregularly offered to him'. The council of regency was functioning adequately (it is made up of the ex-sultan and three ministers). Majeed would not do anything until after discussions with the governor. He had lived in Egypt for 10 years, educating his son. He lived quietly at Koubbeh Gardens. British Security officials had nothing on him.

Public Records Office

Regarding the suitability of Abdul Majeed as sultan:
'No doubt that Amir (Prince) Abdul does belong to one of the noble families and this satisfies his qualification for election to the sultanate. The council of regency is now properly constituted under the amended article.'

Public Records Office

Scholars and other intellectuals have expressed this truth, and we repeatedly experience the veracity of it. Progress cannot proceed normally if a nation's people do not think honestly about their government and community, and examine how things are done and strive determinedly to bring about honest reform. So let's not fall behind in our consideration about our nation.

For sure, it has been a while since we began to improve the daily life of Maldivians from what it had been in the past. Let us consider the changes and reforms that have been made over what is really a short period of time.

Firstly and most importantly, I would like to draw the attention of each Dhivehi individual to the economic changes. No doubt, there is no need to mention any further the depth of the well of debt the country had fallen into, and the high cost incurred through wastage of resources. In Male' and overseas, even crawling babies knew of the expenses incurred in the Maldivian government's name. The real figures were shockingly high.

Under such conditions, first priority must be given to minimising those expenses. This procedure involved scratching a sensitive pulse from both inside and outside, and who would not be aware that the remedy must be implemented gently? Some substantive steps were taken, for example one of the debts for 35,000 rufiyaa was decreased to 8,000, but that was not enough. It was one of the 'outside' expenses.

The readers of Sarukaaruge Khabaru may not have been aware until now that the average cost of maintaining the residence of the Maldivian Representative in Sri Lanka was between 30,000 and 35,000 rufiyaa per month. After government reforms, the cost is now between 7,000 and 8,000 rufiyaa per month. That is quite a difference, isn't it? In one way, the savings will also lower the cost of providing food and clothing to the Maldives.

There is no doubt that by reducing its expenses in Sri Lanka, the government lifted a substantial burden of the costs that were being incurred in its name.

The other important economic factor we should examine is the huge debt owed by the Maldivian government to the government of Sri Lanka. Although I don't have the detailed accounts in front of me right now, steps are being taken to slowly but surely to pay off that debt in an organised way.

The other thing that needed careful examination was the provision of food, fuel and clothing. This issue is the most stressful and difficult, the bane of our lives. I believe the actions taken on these matters made a difference that no Dhivehi individual can deny. Who doesn't remember the way we responded to Ramadan this year, compared to the previous two years? Due to the greatness and grace of God, even the poorest islands outside Male' shared a new fasting experience. Praise and gratitude are due to the possessor of blessings, holy God.

There is not a suspicion of a doubt that the ummah is dependent on political centres for reform. When we think along these lines, there is only a small difference between yesterday's Maldives and the Maldives of today. Yesterday we were in the shocking political condition of not knowing who our leader was. We were in the midst of a current of disbelief, swimming out of sight of the shore of independence.

Today, things are very different. Yes! A majestic king is on the Dhivehi throne, accepting our affection and respect. Honest born and bred Maldivians are steering the wheel of the nation's ship and leading us forward. A group of people have been elected to pass on the wishes of the people to the government leaders. There is a constitution that the Dhivehi ummah can respect because it is formulated in accordance with the conventions of the Islamic religion. There is no doubt that a solid foundation has been laid for Maldive political life.

There are high hopes that as soon as the Maldive prime minister arrives in Male', the reforms that have to be taken, will be carried out one after the other.

I would like to mention one more thing. Today's Dhivehi nation has the freedom, as instructed by the holy religion of Islam, to peacefully and in good faith express opinions about the country. This noble right to express opinions is our biggest political reform.

Next, we should look at business. This matter is very delicate in Maldives for historical reasons, but it is important in the world trading environment. The perception is that the secret to a healthy business sector is a close friendship between the government and the business community. As readers of the newspaper will know, six people among the foreign traders have been receiving monthly food provisions since the revolution, but the business records clearly show that, when compared to the prices they pay for exported fish and receive for imported food, four of these traders have accounts that are completely unbalanced. Therefore, in order to strengthen the country's trade we need to carefully make the appropriate bold lines on the chart of our own experience.

The security of the nation depends completely on the country's public education and discipline. Isn't that so? Yes! There is no debate about the prominence given to education by the previous ruler, but when we consider the role of discipline, we would experience deep regret.

At the same time, in the atolls, the greatness of religious education existed only in the names of the madhrasas. To promote education, capable people working for a new standard. The foundation of education - the reading of the holy Koran from beginning to end, and a broader knowledge of religion - is now being generally accepted. Instead of inflated names for classes, the quality of education is now being given priority. We are attempting to make children into good moslems and honest Maldivians. Whether we are successful or not, we will learn by experience.

The Dhivehi ummah is not only the people of Male'. We all believe that, in the depths of our hearts. Improving the nation means spreading the shades of reform through the length and breadth of the country.

When we think along the line of investment the biggest effort needs to be put into our fishing industry. Whether our fishing inproves or not depends on the availablility of sail-making materials and other essential things. At the request of the Maldive government, and through the efforts of Mr Crookshank who inspected the atolls, there have been positive developments. Yes! The British government has decided to give Rf104,000. No doubt, substantial results will follow.

At this point we should also remember the steps taken to improve the tombs in the atolls, and the food warehouses. We should not forget the efforts being made to revive the undeniable brotherhood that exists among the chiefs of the islands and the people. Yes! There is still much wisdom in the words of doctors when they say: 'One must do an operation only when there is no other way of effecting a cure.' In my opinion the best policy to take towards the issues involving the atolls, is the plan mentioned above.

To recapitulate, in the attempt to change various aspects of the Dhivehi nation for the better and to move towards a more prosperous state than it has been in the past, the rulers and the people face their greatest challenge. The bullet is slowly heading towards the correct target. Yes! First we tackle religious matters, then political and economic concerns, and aspects of trade and social harmony; all to be settled in an appropriate Maldivian way.

I completely agree. We need a lot of reforms and great changes. However, in a country like Maldives with so little self-reliance and power, such changes should occur slowly in a historical sense. Do we have to actually experience the damage and dangers of moving too fast?

I completely agree. After paying the economic debts owed by the country, there is an immense amount of work to be done. A lot of political procedures and positions need to be established. With regard to freedom of business, much work must be done to remove restrictions from atoll trade and other areas so our economy can stand on its own two feet.

Priority should be given to ensuring monthly food provisions and to providing social freedom, but food supplies come first.

I completely agree. In matters of education, health, and 'imraanee', the Dhivehi ummah has to transform into another ummah. We cannot keep the doors closed on sports and other reforms we need. Yes! There is a long road of honest service in front of us. Instead of feeling frustrated, we should be aware of our tasks and face the future with salubrious and hopeful hearts. For sure, we will then be granted 'heu thaufeeq'.

Everyone will agree that a service performed with honesty will result in a service to the nation. When we set our hearts and minds in this manner, who would not understand their duty then. Yes! Without the slightest doubt, it is the duty of every individual of the Dhivehi nation to accept the ummah as his or her own and to serve it with their bodies and souls. When voices are heard, what is spoken must be weighed on the scales of truth and then valuable decisions can be formulated. We will see a today and tomorrow that is happier and more prosperous than yesterday.

Additional comment from Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik
What the honourable Shihab wrote above is true. I happened to be in Colombo about 20 days after Mohamed Ameen was placed in Dhoonidhoo island. The clerks in the Maldivian government representative's office in Colombo told me that not only was Rf35,000 spent there every month, but another Rf15,000 as well, and even that was not enough.

The Borahs
Siddharaj Jayasingha ruled the kingdom of Gujarat from 1093 until 1143. In the popular imagination, Siddharaj was the founder of all the important communities in Gujarat - no less than three Muslim pirs are reported to have converted him to their own particular sect.

The Bohra rawayat tracing the history of their community since its first inceptor, Maulai Abdullah, are common knowledge in the community. Often they form the subject of discourses during the first ten days of Muharram when obligatory meetings are held.

Borah, Kojah and Sunni moslem traditions all seem to arrive in Gujarat in the 12-13th centuries (1100-1300).

The visible head of the Ismaili Borah is the Dai, who is the chief administrator and controller of the community. Originally the spiritual head of the Borah was the hidden Imam whose identity is kept concealed in a tradition that dates back to the fall of the Fatimid dynasty (1171).

In the fifteenth century, Jafar, a student from the sect's school in Ahmedabad went to Yemen without permission and returned three years later. He began to lead prayers and preach against Ismaili doctrines in favour of Sunni beliefs. Jafar's reform movement was very popular and he convinced the rulers of Gujarat to suppress the Borahs. The persecution lasted two years, ending with Jafar's assassination in 1441.

In the following century, the fanatical Sunni Borah scholar Maulana Tahir led a vigorous suppression of the Shia Bohra until he was assassinated in 1578.

The Sunni Bohra were the larger community, and it appears very likely that the character of the Ismaili Bohras as an exclusively trading community stemmed partly from its history of being a discriminated and persecuted community.

The Dai is not chosen through lineage alone, but also other qualifications. This has kept the sect cohesive but major fights and splits are usually about succession.

In first twenty-four Dais were Yemenis, and the first Indian was chosen in 1539. Persecution by the Turks in Yemen led to the sect headquarters being shifted to India in 1567.

State persecution in India became severe in 1682-83 during the rule of Aurangzeb. He attempted to forbid collection money, ban Borah teachings and books, and stop attendance and pilgrimage to tombs. Aurangzeb was told about two tombs in Ahmedabad, visits to which were held to be equivalent to haj by the Ismaili Daudi Borahs, and immediate orders were given to raze them to the ground.

An Ismaili Borah leader in the eighteenth century, Syed Hibtulah, established good relations with the main Indian rulers in the Gujarat region and, most importantly, with the British. He lived for three years in Surat under English protection before his death in 1779.

There was famine in Surat from 1786 to 1787, and rioting between Borahs and other Moslems in 1824 at Mandasore. In 1837, Surat was hit by floods and fire, and the main Borah library burnt down.

In 1840, the Dai was alleged to have been murdered by poisoning with finely ground diamond powder. He was succeeded by Abdul Gadir Najmudeen, an unpopular man who held office corruptly for 45 years.

After his death in 1885, Shia Borah administration and customs were reformed and modernised.

Notes from:
Satish C. Misra
Muslim communities in Gujarat – Preliminary studies in their history and social organisation
Bombay 1964

Rf50,000 was spent in Colombo each month, or Rf100,000 every two months - Rf600,000 a year. Mohamed Ameen got hold of this money by giving fish to the top Borah traders in Male' at an exchange rate, guaranteed in writing, of 8 Maldive rufiya for one Ceylon rupee. The result was an increased amount of Dhivehi rufiya in circulation among businesses in Male'. They were not even paid the full amount! It was to be paid by the Bodu Store.

When Mohamed Ameen's rule came to an end, there were government notices posted at various places, announcing that Maldives owed the government of Ceylon a debt of 700,000 Ceylon rupees.

The Second World War ended in 1945. Even before Japan was defeated, the markets of Ceylon were full of imported goods – fabrics, luxury goods and foodstuffs. In those days, a 150 pound bag of rice was available for 42 Ceylon rupees. A sack of high quality Australian wheat flour cost 45 Ceylon rupees. A sack of wheat grain cost about the same, and 112 pound sacks of areca nut were worth 27 Ceylon rupees. A 112 pound block of dates cost 35 rupees. This was the situation then.

If Ameen had ceased his extravagance on the day the war ended, then Maldives would not have experienced the 'Great Republican Famine'. We would not have been forced to eat the leaves of sea lettuce plants.

Abdul Majeed, Hassan Fareed and Mohamed Ameen betrayed Maldives
The three Athireege noblemen had little real interest in Maldives and they betrayed the country. First, there was Abdul Majeed Didi. Long before WW2, he left Maldives to live in Egypt at the expense of the Maldive government. The excuse was that he was educating his son, and the cost to Maldives was Rf25,000 per month.

Control of Maldives was in the hands of Hassan Fareed Didi (Majeed's son) who virtually owned the position when the whiff of war led him to take 60,000 silver rupees and embark on the royal ship for Cochin in India with some of his soldiers. Officially, he was purchasing rice for the country and he was now declared to be only a minister. Mohamed Ameen was made the lawful ruler while Fareed bought a garden in Kandy in Ceylon that included a very large and beautiful house. This was the only 'rice' he bought.

The third nobleman was Mohamed Ameen Didi. It has already been recorded above how he spent money without any care or concern, and without mercy or compassion. In Colombo, the Fehige and Cosy Corner houses remained full of his girlfriends and one of his wives. Shortly after Hassan Fareed arrived in Ceylon, the position of Maldives government representative was transferred to him from Hussein Hilmy Didi. These events took place one year after the Northern revolt in Maldives.

In a previous essay, readers would have learnt that an agreement was signed on 24 April 1948 in Male'. Abdul Majeed Rannabandeyri Kilegefan was present at the ceremony. He sat at the official royal meeting wearing a beautiful abaa kolhu, and we saw him speaking frequently to the British High Commissioner. A short time after the meeting, Mohamed Ameen was ceremoniously proclaimed a Dhoshimeynaa. This occurred on 29 April 1948 and Mohamed Ameen was even more noble than before... but this is about the starvation of Maldives, when people were forced to eat sea lettuce leaves.

When Ameen Didi fell from power, the major Borah traders and shop-owners were owed Rf5,800,000 and another two shops were owed Rf300,000. As well, the government was indebted to the tune of 700,000 Ceylon rupees to the Umbuchi company.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Faamladeyri Kilegefan who headed the next government after Ameen's presidency was unable to settle any of these accounts. But two months after Mohamed Ameen was deposed, Ibrahim imported rice, sugar, flour, areca nut preparations, bidi and western cigarettes and cigars. There were market goods for all Maldivians.

The WW2 famine lasted from 1939 to 1945. The Great Ameen Famine, when Maldivians were eating sea lettuce, became more serious each day after the 24 April 1948. By the time the Ameen Republic was announced, the number of people dying of starvation in the atolls was at a heart-breaking level. In Male' too, the famine was bad. It was not a fantasy, and it should be accepted, even by those who prefer to falsify history and lie when they write or talk about things. They cannot keep it a secret.

Hassan Fareed died in April 1944, when WW2 was in full swing. He had no children, so Fareed's property went to his father Abdul Majeed. As soon as the war ended in 1945, Majeed returned to Male'. He went first to Ceylon and sold the property Fareed had bought in Kandy for over 60,000 Ceylon rupees. With this money he bought a three storey building in Colombo at the corner of Banksel and Second Cross streets on the ocean side. The newly purchased property was named the Fareedi building. The rent was divided in such a way that Sheikh Ali Didi received 300 rupees per month and the remainder was divided between Mohamed and Ibrahim Fareed, the other two sons of Abdul Majeed.

I believe the building still exists, but I don't know if Ibrahim Fareed has sold it or not. But regarding the rent, even that amount of money would have greatly helped the country if it had been spent on food and clothes.

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