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The Maldive Islands, Dhibat-ul-Mahal part 3
Chapter 16 from the English translation by Dr. Mahdi Husain
The Rehla of Ibn Battuta - India, Maldive Islands and Ceylon - translation and commentary
Oriental Institute, Baroda, India 1976



My arrival in these islands and the vicissitudes of my condition there
When I reached there I disembarked at the island of Kannalus [Kinolhas island in Raa atoll], a beautiful island in which there are numerous mosques. I put up at the house of one of its pious inhabitants where I was received hospitably by the jurist Ali. He was an accomplished man and had sons who pursued the study of sciences. There I met a man named Muhammad, a native of Dhofar (Zafar-ul-humuz), who entertained me and told me, 'When you enter the island Mahal [Male'], the vezir will detain you, for the people there have no judge.'

But I had planned to travel from these islands to Ma'bar, to Sarendib, to Bengal and finally to China. I had reached the Maldive islands on the ship of Captain Umar of Hinawr, who was one of the learned pilgrims. After our arrival in Kannalus, he remained there ten days. Then he hired a small boat in order to proceed to the island of Mahal with a present for the queen and her husband. I wanted to travel with him; but he said, 'The boat will not hold you and your comrades. If, however, you intend to travel alone without them, you can do so.'

I refused to do that and he departed. But the wind was unfavourable and adverse; so he returned to us after four days having endured hardships. He expressed his regret and urged me to travel with him along with my comrades. We sailed in the morning, landed about midday at an island, which we then left and spent the night on the next island. Thus, after a voyage of four days we arrived in the region of Taim of which the governor was called Hilaal. He greeted me, entertained me, and visited me in company with four men - two of whom carried on their shoulders a stick to which four fowls were fastened, while the two others carried a similar stick to which were tied about ten coconuts. I was surprised at the value they put on this miserable gift, but I was informed that they did this only out of respect and esteem.

We left these people and disembarked on the sixth day at the island of Usman, who was an excellent man and the best of the lot. He welcomed us and entertained us. On the eighth day we landed at an island of a vezir named Talmadi and on the tenth day we arrived at the island of Mahal, the headquarters of the sultana and her husband.

We cast anchor in the harbour of Mahal. There it is customary that nobody can go inland from the harbour except by their permission, which we obtained and I desired to go to a mosque. But the servants of the vezir, who were on the shore, prevented me and said, 'It is absolutely necessary for you to visit the vezir.'

And I had advised the captain that if anyone asked him about me, he should say, 'I don't know him,' lest anyone should detain me. I did not know that an indiscreet person had written to them introducing me as a qazi of Delhi.

When we arrived in the council hall - that is, the daar - we sat down in the lobbies near the third entrance. Qazi Isa, the Yemenite, came along and greeted me and I greeted the vezir. Then came captain Ibrahim. He brought ten garments, bowed in the direction of the queen (sultana) and threw one of the garments down. Then he bowed to the grand vezir and likewise threw another garment down; subsequently he threw the rest. They asked him about me; but he said, 'I do not know him.' Then they brought us betel and rosewater which is a mark of honour with them. The grand vezir lodged us in a house and sent us a repast consisting of a large bowl of rice surrounded by dishes of salted meat, fowl, quail and fish.

The next morning with captain Ibrahim and qazi Isa of Yemen, I went in order to visit a hospice at the further end of the island which the pious Shaikh Najib had built. We returned by night.

Early next morning, the vezir sent me a garment and a repast consisting of rice, quail, salted meat, coconuts and a syrup which is made from this fruit and which they call qurbani meaning sugar water; they also brought me one hundred thousand cowries for my expenses.

After ten days, a ship came from Ceylon (Saylan) carrying Arab and Persian fakirs who knew me and who acquainted the grand vezir with my affairs. This increased his joy at my being there. In the beginning of Ramazan he sent for me and I found the amirs and vezirs together with the food served before them on tables at each of which a number of guests were assembled. The grand vezir made me sit by his side and with him were qazi Isa, the vezir famaldari and the vezir Umar Dahard, that is, the army commander.

Their diet consists of rice, fowl, turnstone (the Ruddy Turnstone migratory bird), fish, salted meat and cooked bananas and subsequently they drink coconut syrup mixed with aromatics, which facilitates digestion.

On the ninth of the month of Ramazan, the son-in-law of the grand vezir died. The widow had been previously married to Sultan Shihabuddin, but neither of her husbands had completed the marriage because of her tender age. So her father took her back to his house and he gave me her house which was one of the most beautiful. I asked him for permission to entertain the fakirs who were returning from their visit to Adam's foot in Ceylon. He gave me permission and sent me five sheep, which are very rare in those parts as they are imported from Ma'bar, Malabar and Mogdishu. He sent me also rice, fowls, butter and spices. All this I sent to the house of the vezir Sulaiman Manayak, who had it cooked very nicely for me and added to it on his own behalf. He also sent me carpets and copper vessels, and we broke the fast according to the custom with the grand vezir in the palace of the queen. I requested him to allow some of the other vezirs to participate in the feast. He said, 'I shall come too.'
I thanked him and returned home; but lo! he had already arrived there, and with him came the vezirs and dignitaries of the state. He sat down on an elevated wooden pavilion. And every amir and vezir who then arrived greeted him and threw an unsewn garment down until about a hundred lay together; these the fakirs subsequently took away. Then dinner was served and consumed; afterwards the reciters read some Quranic verses in beautiful voices. Subsequently they began to sing and dance and I had a fire made and the fakirs went in trampling on it with their feet. Some of them ate the glowing charcoals as one would eat sweets and they did so until the flames were extinguished.

Some of the grand vezir's kindnesses to me
When the night ended, the grand vezir withdrew and I accompanied him. We passed by a garden which belonged to the state. He said to me, 'This garden belongs to you, and I shall have a house built in it as a lodge for you.'
I thanked him for this and wished him well. The next morning he sent me a girl and his servant, who brought her to me, affirmed, - the grand vezir sends this message to you, 'If this girl pleases you, she is yours; if not I shall send you a Marhata girl.'
Since the Marhata girls were to my liking, I replied, 'I want the Marhata girl.'
He then sent me one whose name was Gulistan, that is, flower-garden; as she knew Persian she pleased me very much, for, the inhabitants of these islands speak a language which I did not understand. The next morning he sent me a girl of Ma'bar named Ambari.

The following night after the retiring prayer of isha, the grand vezir visited me with a small suite and entered my house in company with two boy servants. I greeted him, and he enquired after my health, whereupon I expressed my best wishes for him and thanked him. One of the two boy servants threw down before him a buqcha, that is, a bundle from which he took some silk stuffs and a little box containing a pearl and ornaments. The grand vezir presented me with this saying, 'If I had sent you these things with the girl she would have said - this is my property which I have brought from the house of my master. Now, these things are yours. Give them to her. I prayed for him and expressed my gratitude, which he had so well merited. May God bless him!

Alienation of the grand vezir and my resolve to leave the islands and my subsequent stay there
The vezir Sulaiman Manayak had sent me a proposal that I should marry his daughter. I sent word to the grand vezir Jamaluddin seeking his permission for this marriage. The messenger returned saying, 'He does not approve of it for he would like to marry his own daughter to you when her iddat is over. But I declined the offer for fear of the bad omens attaching to her, for she had outlived two husbands before the marriage with either of them had been completed.

Meanwhile, I had an attack of fever which prostrated me - and everyone visiting this island is sure to catch fever; so my resolve to leave the islands was confirmed. I sold some of the ornaments for cowries and hired a ship to take me to Bengal. When I went to take leave of the grand vezir, the qazi approached me saying, 'The vezir has sent word - if you want to leave, you must return to us what we have given you; then you might go.'
I answered him, 'For some of the ornaments I have bought the cowries and they are at your disposal.'
But he returned to me with the following message: 'We gave you gold and not cowries.'
'I will sell them,' I replied, 'and let you have the gold.'
I asked some merchants to purchase the cowries from me, but the grand vezir commanded them not to do so. His whole object was to prevent me from leaving. Then he sent to me one of his special officers who said, the grand vezir says: 'Stay with us and you shall have all you want.'
I said to myself, 'I am in their power; if I do not stay of my own free will, I shall be compelled to stay. It is preferable to do it voluntarily.'
I said to the messenger, 'All right, I shall stay with him.'

Thereupon he returned to the grand vezir, who was delighted at this and sent for me. When I appeared before him, he stood up and embraced me saying, 'We want you to be with us, and you intend to leave us.'
I made some excuses which he accepted; then I added, 'If you want me to remain here, I must make certain conditions.'
He replied, 'We shall accept them; out with your conditions.'
'I cannot travel on foot,' said I.
According to the local custom, however, nobody could ride there except the grand vezir. And when they had given me a horse to ride upon and I rode, the people - men and children - followed me struck with amazement until I complained to the grand vezir about this. A dunqura (small drum) was then beaten and it was proclaimed aloud that no one should follow me. The dunqura is a kind of copper plate which is struck with a piece of iron and can be heard from a considerable distance; when it has been struck, a proclamation is made about the thing intended.
The grand vezir said to me, 'If you desire to ride in the dola well and good. If not, we have a stallion and a mare; you may choose whichever you may prefer.'
I chose the mare which was forthwith brought along with some garments.
'What shall I do,' I asked the grand vezir, 'with the cowries which I have bought?'
'Send one of your comrades to sell them for you in Bengal,' he said in reply.
'On condition,' I answered, 'that you send someone with him to assist him in the sale.'
'Certainly,' said the grand vezir.

So I sent one of my comrades, Abu Muhammad bin Farhan, and with him they sent a man named Haji Ali. But it so happened that the sea became stormy, and the entire cargo had to be thrown into the waters - even the provisions, the water, the masts and the leather sacks. For sixteen days they remained without sail or rudder or anything. At last they landed on the island of Ceylon after suffering from hunger, thirst and privations. Then came back to me my comrade Abu Muhammad after a year. He had visited Adam's foot, and he visited it later again with me.

Id I witnessed with them
When the month of Ramazan was over, the grand vezir sent me a garment and we went to the place of prayer. The route to be taken by the grand vezir from his dwelling to the place of prayer was decorated; the ground there was carpeted with cloths, and heaps of cowries lay to the right as well as to the left. Each of the amirs and dignitaries, who had a house on this road, had planted small coconut trees, betelnut trees and banana trees in the ground before it. From one tree to another there were stretched ropes on which were fastened green nuts. The master of the house stood at the door and as the grand vezir passed, he threw at his feet the silk or cotton cloth which his slaves picked up together with the cowries which were heaped upon the road.

The grand vezir went on foot and wore an Egyptian cloak of fine goat wool and a large turban. He was girdled with a scarf of silk and over his head were borne four parasols. He wore slippers whilst other people went barefooted. Trumpets, horns, and drums were sounded before him and soldiers preceded and followed him crying 'Allah-o-akbar' until they reached the place of prayer. The prayer over, the grand vezir's son delivered a sermon. Then a litter was brought, and the grand vezir sat in it. The amirs and vezirs bowed to him, and threw garments at his feet in conformity with the custom. He had not ridden a litter before, since kings alone do so. The litter being lifted by the litter carriers, I mounted my horse and we entered the palace.

The grand vezir took his seat on a dais, and near him sat the other vezirs and amirs. The slaves stood by with shields, swords and staves. The repast was brought in, then areca and betel nuts and finally a small dish containing muqasari sandal. As soon as a number of guests had dined, they were anointed with it.

And I saw that day with some of their meals a fish of the sardine species salted but not cooked, which had been sent to them as a present from Quilon. This fish is found in large quantities in Malabar. The grand vezir took a sardine, began to eat it and said to me, 'Have some, for it cannot be had in our country.'
'How should I eat it? It is not cooked,' said I.
'It is cooked,' he answered.
I asserted, 'I know it better because it is abundant in my country.'

My marriage and appointment as qazi
On the 2nd of the month of Shawwal I agreed with the vezir Sulaiman Manayak to many his daughter. Then I sent word to the grand vezir Jamaluddin with a request that the nuptials should take place in the palace in his presence. He gave his consent, and in accordance with the custom, betel as well as sandal was brought. The people assembled but the vezir Sulaiman delayed. He was called but he did not come and when called a second tune he excused himself on the ground that his daughter was ill. The grand vezir, however, said to me secretly, 'His daughter refuses to marry and she is absolutely free to have her own way. But since the people are now assembled, would you like to marry the step-mother of the sultana, the wife of her father - that is, the lady whose daughter was married to the vezir's son.'
'Yes,' I answered.
Then the qazi and witnesses were summoned, and the marriage was solemnized and the grand vezir paid the dower.

After a few days she was brought to me. She was one of the best women and her society was delightful to such an extent that whenever I married another woman she showed the sweetness of her disposition still by anointing me with perfumed ointment and scenting my clothes, smiling all the time and betraying no sign of ill humour.

After this marriage, the grand vezir Jamaluddin compelled me against my will to accept the qazi's post. The reason for this was my criticism of the practice of the then qazi, who appropriated the tenth part of the bequests when assigning them to heirs.
'You are entitled,' I said to him, 'only to the remuneration which might be agreed upon between you and the heirs.'
But he was absolutely no good at anything.

When I became qazi, I strove with all my might to establish the rule of law (shariat). Litigations are not there as in Morocco. The first of the bad customs which I abolished was that requiring the divorced wives to stay in the houses of their erstwhile husbands. The divorced wife had to stay in the house of the man who had divorced her; unti she had married another man. I cut it at the very root. Some twenty-five men were brought before me for acting in that way and I had them whipped and paraded round the bazaars, and I caused the women to be removed from their houses.

Then I pressed for the saying of congregational prayers and ordered that men should hurry through the streets and bazaars after the Friday prayer; those who were found not having attended the prayer were whipped and publicly disgraced.

I bound the imams and muezzins who were receiving fixed salaries to the strict performance of their duties and sent a circular all through the islands to this effect.

Finally I endeavoured to compel women to wear clothes, but I was not able to get this done.

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