Maldives Culture -
Maldives Culture - maldives island
Latest Updates arrow Pyrard - Maldives 1602-1607 arrow Pyrard - Maldives - Vol.1 - Chapter 15
Latest Updates
Advanced Search
Free Dhivehi-English Dictionary
Presidency of Mohamed Nasheed
Gayyoom's Dictatorship 1978-2008
Buddhism and Islam
Ibn Battuta 1343-45
Pyrard 1602-07
Rosset 1885
Maldives 1900-1922
Maldives 1924-1953
Majlis rule 1954-57
Suvadive Republic 1959-1963
President Nasir 1969-1978
Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik
Maldives History
Maldives Art
Scripts of Maldives
Maps of Maldives
Traditional Stories
Magic - Fanditha
Photographs - Modern
Photographs - Historic
Ships of the Indian Ocean
Social Customs
Modern Stories
PDF Print E-mail
The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas and Brazil
Francois Pyrard de Laval
translated into English in 1887 from the third French edition of 1619 by Albert Gray assisted by H.C.P. Bell

Vol.1 Chapter 15

Orders of the people - of the nobility, the great offices and dignities, and their rank.

As for the orders and distinctions of the whole people, according to their condition and quality, be it remarked there are four sorts of persons. In the first are understood to be the king, called 'raskan' (or 'rasgefanu'), the queen, called 'rani kilegefanu', and those who are of his race and of the lineage of former kings; princes, called 'kalafanu' (footnote 1887: The sultan of Pyrard's time is still known by this title, specially applied), princesses, 'kamanafanu', and great lords. (Footnote 1887: Rani kilegefanu would seem to be the title of a reigning queen or princess regent, as of the queen Amina (1754). The sultan's wives are called 'rasgefanu anbikabalun')

The second is the order of dignities, offices, and rank granted by the king, in which precedence is likewise carefully observed. The third is the nobility; the fourth, the common people.

The Nobility
I will begin with the third, that being the rank conferred by birth, and separating its possessors from the common people. Dignities and offices are casualties independent of this rank. There are a great number of nobles here and there throughout the islands. Such as are not nobles dare not sit with them, nor even in the presence of a nobleman so long as he is standing; and should they see one how far off soever coming behind them, they must needs wait and let him pass before them. So, if one has a cloth or anything else thrown over his shoulder, he takes it down.

Noble women, though married to men of inferior condition, lose not their rank: even the children the issue of such marriages are noble by virtue of the mother's estate, even were the father of the lowest order. So women of low quality married to nobles are not ennobled by their husbands, but retain their former rank; everyone keeps his own place, and there is no confusion on this subject.

But besides the nobility by birth, the king ennobles whom he will. When that happens, the king, besides a grant of letters patent, sends one of his officers, specially appointed for this duty, to make publication thereof throughout the island to the sound of a kind of bell, which is a plate of metal struck with a hammer.

The Dignitaries
As for the dignities, hear which are the principal, and the rank of them. After the king come the princes of his blood, and such as are descended from other kings, his predecessors; these, though of a different line, are all held in honour and respect. Next, the great officers of the realm, to wit, the 'Kilege', whom we might call the king's lieutenant-general, because, next to the king, and in his absence, he is the most powerful in the government of the state, and without his authority nothing is done. So, if the king wills to do, observe, or execute anything, he is the first to be deputed and to receive his commands. There is next to him another of great authority, called the 'Faruna' or 'Fashina'; then a 'Handeygiri', whose office is to be ever by the king, and to counsel him on all occasions and in all matters.

Next, be that has charge of the marine, called the 'Velaanaa', as we should say the admiral: I have said something of him above. He it is who keeps watch over all ships which arrive, and what merchandise they carry, having the care of lodging strangers, and representing their wants; in general, he has an eye to all that concerns the shipping, and what comes by the sea. He is wont to board ships as they arrive, even the smallest barques, to take their rudders and have them borne to the king's house, for fear they should depart without leave.

Under him are two sergeants, called 'Miru baharu', who keep watch over ships arriving, and render him an account of them, and otherwise carry out his orders and those of the king among the country people. These sergeants are known by reason that they carry in their hand a thick baton of Bengal cane, which others than they durst not bear.

There is also a general over all the militia, called the Dhoshimeyna, who has a lieutenant, called the Hakuru. Besides these, there is the Chancellor, called 'Maafaiy', who applies to all letters the king's seal, which is nothing but his name in Arabic, graven in silver, dipped in ink, and pressed upon the paper.

The secretary is called 'Karani'; the director of finance, 'Masbandeyri'; the treasurer, 'Ranabandeyri'; and besides these are various other minor offices which it were superfluous to describe in detail. Be it noted that all these above-mentioned great officers are often summoned to give counsel to the king, when he desires it, along with six persons of age and experience, and of the highest rank and learning, called Muskulhin, that is, elders, of whom I have already spoken. They are nominated by the king, chosen and deputed by the other grandees to assist the king, and give advice on all occasions, to avoid the necessity of calling together the whole council on every matter; in short, they manage all kinds of business, and are ready at all times to carry out the king's pleasure.

It is the six elders, too, who administer justice in the palace to such as have appealed to the king, not being satisfied with the judgments of the naibs and the Fandiyaru. They have command of six companies of men-at-arms, each his own.

Many other dignities there are of various degrees, which the king grants unto such of the nobles as he hath a favour to, assigning to them certain islands for pension and salary, as he doth to all the above named, more or less, according to the rank and quality of each; we might say they are like the dignities of Count, Marquis, Baron, etc. with us. But besides the revenues of certain islands apportioned to these officers, the king also gives them rice for their maintenance, as he doth to the soldiers for their pay, with the tolls and dues from the barques and vessels that come to traffic at the Maldives: these the king allows to them for their support, besides some little presents which he gives them on certain days.

The highest honour in that land is to eat the king's rice, and to be of the number of his officers; wanting that, a man is but little thought of, noble though he be; insomuch that, after the office bearers, the soldiers get the most honour and privilege, and a gentleman is of but small account if he be not enrolled in the militia.

The Male' Militia
This militia consists of soldiers of the king's guard to the number of six hundred, divided into six companies, and commanded by the six muskulhin or elders; ten other great companies are also kept up. These ten companies have each for its captain one of the greatest lords in the kingdom. These latter do not keep the guard, but serve the king when he requires them, not only as soldiers to march and fight, but also to do whatsoever he bids them, as to launch a ship, or to haul it ashore, or to do other heavy labour wherein many hands are needed, even to build the king's palace, if occasion required, or to construct any other work or building for the king.

They are called out by the sound of the bell of which I have spoken. They are divided into two regiments, for there are five companies which are more honourable, the nobles only being admitted to them; they also get more pay than the rest. As for the other five, they are of all sorts of people, and are less esteemed. The revenue of many islands is set apart for the payment of these companies. They have many privileges; among others, none dare strike them; and it is permitted to them to habit themselves differently from the rest, to wear a thick gold ring on the finger to assist them in drawing the bow, which others may not wear; in a word, to be more brave and fine in their dress.

So there are few men of means but choose to join; albeit, they must have the permission of the king; and it costs them sixty larins to enter, whereof twenty go to the king for permission, and forty to be divided among the company which one desires to join. Slaves cannot enter them, nor may those whose business it is to gather and draw the produce of the coconut tree, nor other sorts of mean labouring men, nor such as know not to read or write, nor those who serve others.

For the rest, most of the offices are bought of the king, and are much sought after by the rich for the sake of the honour, power, and authority which they get thereby over their fellows; but they may not sell them again, or transfer them to others.

All the islanders have but a single name apiece, without any surname or family name, those in most common use being Mahomed, Ali, Hussein,,Hanssan, Ibrahim, and the like; but for the sake of distinction the name of their rank is added to their name: for instance, the nobles in blood add to their names Thakuru, which shows who they are, and their wives, Bibi; and besides that they add the name of the island which belongs to them.

Such as are noble only by office or rank are called Kaloge, and their wives and daughters, Kamulo. This name is used not only by the officers whom I have named, and others in actual service and pay, but also by many others who obtain sinecure rank from the king, so as to be distinguished from the common herd, and so to have a certain position and be respected accordingly.

This is bought of the king dearly enough, yet such names and qualities are limited in number, to the end that the honour, being granted to but a few, may be more prized nor soon degraded. The common folk are called by the name Kalo, along with their own names, besides which is added the craft or condition of which each is. Their wives and daughters are called Kamulo.

Footnotes 1887:

Karani - finance director
The word may have reached the Maldives from any part of India, where it was in general use for 'a clerk'. Ibn Battuta, twice, at least, uses 'kirani' for a ship's clerk, and 'cranny' is modern Anglo-Indian for a clerk or copyist.

The title of Takurufanu is, in these latter days, sold. Takuru is probably the Sanskrit, Thakur, which survives in Bengal as Tagore. Also Thakoor.

Class distinctions
It will be observed that the first, third, and fourth classes are distinctions settled by birth; the second so-called class includes all dignities and titles of honour granted by the king.

1. Persons of the blood royal are termed Bandara, the term applied also to the children of the Sinhalese kings. By including the 'great lords' in this first class, Pyrard probably refers to the titles of 'Manipulu', assumed only by the nearest relations of the sultan, and 'Didi', applied to remoter scions of the royal house and descendants of former sultans.

2. The second class of dignities, namely, those conferred on individuals, include the officers of state and titles conferred out of court favour or bought. The highest is that of Kilegefanu, formerly confined to the regent acting in the absence of the sultan, but now given to several grandees. Among titles independent of office are Kalegefanu and Takurufanu, the former of which can be purchased for a few rupees. Masters of vessels get the titles of Nakhuda, Nevi, and Malimi, as implying skill and experience in seamanship.

3. The third class is that of the aristocracy generally, namely, the Maniku. The wife of a maniku man is termed manike (cf. the common Singalese name, menika). When a maniku man receives a title of honour, he is called manikufanu. Some of this class preserve the relics of Portuguese influence, and call themselves Don Maniku. Either Pyrard is wrong in stating that children's status comes from the mother, or the law is now changed. Mr. Bell is informed by the highest Maldive authorities that the status of the father governs; e.g., a maniku woman marries a Didi, the children are Didi. It may be noted here that Pyrard also states that nobility comes 'from the mother as well as from the father'.

4. The common people are termed Kalo (fem. Kamulo). He does not here speak of the slaves, 'alhu'; nor does he refer to the handicraft castes.

Historic form of the Maldives government
We are fortunate enough to possess tolerably full lists of the ministers composing the 'Cabinet' of the Sultan, at periods covering the last five hundred years; and it will be seen that the offices and their respective status have been altered, probably from the like causes of the necessities of the times, as our own high offices of state.

The authorities as to those offices are the same as for other events of Maldive history, viz., Ibn Batuta (A.D. 1344), Pyrard (1602-7), Christopher (1835), and Mr. Bell at the present day (1887).

Ibn Batuta gives the following offices:
1. Calaky - Grand Vizier or Sultan's Lieutenant.
2. Fandayarkalou - The Kadi.
3. Hendidjery - Preacher.
4. Fameldary - Chief of the Treasury.
5. Mafacalou - Receiver General of Revenue.
6. Fitnayec - Minister of Police.
7. Manayec - Admiral.
8. Deherd - General of the Army.
After describing the offices of the first seven, he says, 'All these have the title of Vizier.' The eighth is mentioned incidentally in his subsequent narrative as a Vizier.

Pyrard's list of dignities is as follows: 1. Kilege). Same as Ibn Bat.
2. Faruna, and in southern atolls, more correctly, Farhina. Not traced in other lists; no distinctive duties assigned. The title is now given to the Regent or Lieut-General.
3. Handeygiri. The same in title, but not in functions, as Ibn. Bat.
4. Velaanaa. Admiral: under him (a) two deputies called Miru Baharu.
5. Dhoshimeyna). General of the Militia. (a) Hakuraa, his lieutenant.
6. Maafaiy. Chancellor; cf. Ibn Bat.
7. Karani. Secretary.
8. Mas bandeyri. Intendant of Finance; probably corresponding to the Auditor-General of British colonies.
9. Rana bandery. Treasurer.

Christopher, in 1834, found a Cabinet of six Viziers, whose titles are given here:
1. Dhoshimeyna. Chief or General of the Army.
2. Hakuraa.
3. Velaanaa.
4. Faamuludeyri. Pyrard mentions (ch. xviii) a Faamuludeyri Kaloge as a great lord, but does not place him among the ministers
5. Maafaiy.
6. Daharaa. Pyrard (ch. xix) mentions a Darade Takuru as a 'Count' or 'Duke', but does not place him among the ministers.

Lastly, Mr. Bell (1879) finds that the Sultan now employs only three chief ministers:
1. Handeygiri, or Bodu Bandeyri, 'Chief Treasurer of the realm'.
2. Daharaa.
3. Miru Baharu

The Handeygiri (preacher in Ibn Batuta's time, a lord privy councillor in Pyrard's, and now chief treasurer), though not placed by Christopher among the six ministers, was a high officer in his day, as he says he 'is vested with authority to enforce the payment of revenue when complaint is made to him by the atolhuveri.
Mr. Bell says, 'He seems to rank above the other two ministers, and to possess greater influence in the community. A staff of accountants and clerks are employed to assist him in the revenue duties at Male'.'

The Daharaa, Mr. Bell observes, 'has no specific department of public business to supervise. But for a certain voice in the military and municipal affairs, his office would be a titular sinecure.'

The Miru baharu, according to the same authority, 'is the Port Doctor and Master Attendant of Male'. He visits all vessels that arrive, and refuses permission to land until it has been ascertained to his satisfaction that there is no sickness on board.'

Generally speaking, the entire management and control of all public business not falling within the province of the Handeygiri, and distributed a few years back among the six Viziers, devolve now on the Miru baharu and the Daharaa.'

It will be observed that the Fandiyaru, or Kadi, is included in Ibn Batuta's, but in no subsequent list. Although in Pyrard's time, as at present, he was supreme in ecclesiastical and judicial affairs, he was not supposed to interfere in the executive government.

Mr. Bell considers that a good many of the offices mentioned above may be traced back to the offices in the ancient Sinhalese monarchy, which occur in the Mahawanso: thus, he traces the 'Handeygiri' to the Bhandagariko amachcho, the Lord High Treasurer of Ceylon (Turnour's Mahawanso, pp. 231-3); 'Dhoshimeyna' to the Dvara-nayaka (ib., 260); 'Faamuludeyri' to the Amachcha Pamukha (ib., 69), Sin. pamok, deta; 'Maafaiy' may be derived from maha, 'great', and pati, as in Senapati, Chamupati (Mah. passim); the 'Daharaa' would seem to be the Dovarika (ib., 117); the 'Manayec' of Ibn Bat. is clearly enough the Sinhala 'maha nayaka'.

Ecclesiastical and Judicial Government
These formed one department under the Fandiyaru, who was and still is chief priest and chief justice. Under him were the Naibs, thirteen in number, one for each atoll. These, according to Pyrard, were the sole provincial judges. Under them were the Katibs, of whom there was one in each island containing upwards of forty inhabitants. They were the religious superiors of their respective islands, but in judicial affairs they were 'overseers' only.

There were at Male', a Naib and two Katibs, who assisted the Fandiyaru in both departments. Subordinate again to the Katibs were the Mudims, or incumbents of mosques: every mosque had its Mudim. At Male' there were four 'king's mudims', who were of much greater consequence than ordinary mudims: they were, in fact, royal chaplains, and the Katib of Male' was chosen from among them.

Christopher states that the Naibs were also called Katibs, and intimates that residence in their atolls was not obligatory, six or seven being usually at Male'. He states, in corroboration of Pyrard, that the Naibs were supported by the islanders; but he seems to be wrong in asserting that the Naibs and Katibs were identical, for Mr. Bell confirms the distinction of Pyrard, and states that at Male', the Fandiyaru is now assisted by four Naibs and two Katibs.

The last officers to be mentioned in this department are the Dheyvaani, who performed, as they still do, the functions of peons, process servers, and executioners. They are assigned to the Naibs as well as to the Fandiyaru. Mr. Bell states that the Fandiyaru has six, 'who for their general services receive a small monthly allowance of rice, and one-twelfth share of the awards and proceeds of sale.'

Pyrard does not state specifically what officer presided over this department; he may have been the Faamuludeyri Kaloge mentioned by him as one of the great lords - and Ibn Batuta's list would lead to this conclusion - or he may have been the same officer as at the present day, namely, the Handeygiri, who embraces the functions of the Treasurer (Pyrard's Ranabandeyri), and probably also those of the Masbandeyri.

Each atoll had, and still has, its collector, called by Pyrard the Varuveri, or as Atolhuveri. They are now appointed by the Sultan on the recommendation of the Handeygiri. 'They do not necessarily live in the respective atolls assigned to them. The majority remain at Male', and employ subagents, vashuveri, who are frequently Katibs. Each atoll has a storehouse, 'varuge', where the Government revenue is temporarily warehoused until required to be transmitted to Male'.

The emoluments of this office must be considerable, as it is held by the relations of the Sultan and chief ministers, and frequently by the ministers themselves. Its tenure lasts for life, or during the Sultan's pleasure; and at the decease of an atoluveri his estate is held liable for any balance due, or alleged to be due, for his division.

The revenue of the different atolls, usually paid in native produce and manufacture, is collected into the treasury, 'bodu bandeyrige', at Male', whence it is shipped in the Sultan's and private vessels, on Government account, to different parts of India and Ceylon.'

It would seem from Christopher's account that the revenue officers have acquired in some measure the judicial powers formerly exercised by the Naibs and Katibs.

Pyrard calls the High Admiral, Velaanaa; and says that he had two subordinates, Mirvaires (Emir-el-Bahr). Christopher calls him Wilono Shabander, and mentions also one Emir-el-Bahr, whom he describes as Master Attendant of Male'.

Mr. Bell, an stated above, finds the Velaanaa gone altogether, and the Emir-el-Bahr, Miru Baharu, elevated to a seat in the Cabinet.

The Maldive militia was under a general, called by Ibn Batuta the Deherd, and by Pyrard, Dhoshimeyna. His lieutenant, not mentioned by Ibn Batuta, is by Pyrard called Hakuraa.
In Christopher's time, the second Vizier retained his title (Hakuraa), with no distinct duties. The gendarmerie of Male' (there appears to have been no military force in the other islands) was divided into six companies, raised in the six wards of the town. The company of each ward, ava, was under one of the six muskulhin or Viziers. Mr. Bell finds the militia still divided into six companies, with a nominal strength of 100 men each. The Sultan's bodyguard of forty men is under a separate officer).
The officer entitled by Ibn Batuta, Fitnayec, or 'Minister of Police', cannot be traced in later times.

The militia
The Maldivians have never been a warlike people. Ibn Batuta says of them, 'In body they are weak, and have no aptitude for combat or for war, and their arms are prayers.' As will be seen hereafter, the military organisation described by Pyrard was totally unfit to meet the Bengal invaders, who slew the king and gave the author his liberty. Here is Mr. Bell's description of the present state of things: 'The sole military force consists of a nondescript militia (Hangu beykalun) at Male', divided into six companies, numbering nominally 100 men each, but with an actual strength at the present day of probably not less than 1,200 all told.

These companies were formerly under the command of the six viziers as captains (Bodu beykalun). The soldiers bear no arms, and are under no sort of discipline beyond that which results from the habit of assembling, without much order or arrangement, when called together. Their duties, according to Christopher, are so anomalous that they often serve as sailors on board the public boats.

A body of forty men (Kudhi beykalun) is required to mount guard in rotation at the Sultan's palace, and is in charge of an officer called Maabandeyri Takurufanu.
These men have certain privileges, and are distinguished from the Hangu beykalun by their head-kerchief. A small bodyguard (Dagedetere beykalun), bearing muskets, escort the Sultan whenever he appears in public.'

<Previous   Next>
top of page

Maldives Culture, Powered by Joomla!; free resources by SG web hosting