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The Diaries of Ahmed Shafeeg bring happiness and sadness to his life
by Ismail Naseer
Huvaas 28 June 2001
translated by Maldives Culture editors
Photos from Huvaas

maldives ahmed shafeeg and diary
Ahmed Shafeeg and his diary

Ahmed was sitting and writing as we entered the house. We said hello and he stood up and greeted us. The first thing he wanted to know was our names and where we lived, and as we introduced ourselves he wrote the information down.

Ahmed Shafeeg, from Shafeeguge house in Malé's Henveiru ward, is a historian. He records each day's events in his diary every morning, and since we arrived on the morning of June 13 we were included straight away.

'You young men aren't upset by this, are you? Am I doing something wrong writing this down? Just tell me. If I do anything you don't like, let me know.' He closed the green book and seemed to be amused.

'I have been keeping a diary since the age of 16. But I wasn't just doing it for my own enjoyment. It's not something just for myself. It belongs to everyone,' says the 75 year old historian.

Shafeeg has archived his diaries, which he has been updating for the last 59 years. He chronicles all the important events occurring in Maldives and around the world. Domestic matters in his household are also included. The diary has become a Shafeeg trademark, that contains the story of his life. The books have become his heart and memory, and when he writes something there he feels happy and fulfilled.

'Most people keep things hidden in their hearts. Instead I keep them hidden in my diary. I write down what I have in my heart, and what I hear each day. It is recorded in point form, and doing it gives me a lot of joy.'

maldives ahmed shafeeg - writer
Shafeeg began his diaries when he was a young student at Saniyya School where the principal helped him with his first efforts. 'He was the father of Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi, and used to tell us to write down the speeches of our leaders and then bring our work to him. My interest developed from there, but it only became a habit after I began full-time work. I was employed as a clerk in the Home Ministry with Hassan Didi N. Th., and it was our job to record everything that happened in Maldives each day. Mohamed Ameen [the first Maldivian president] called our book Eki kan-kan higaa goiy, 'Various Events'. We had to make a note of all government activities. After two years I left the position, but I continued to keep a daily diary.

'Later it became an obsession. Even if I'm sick I get someone to write it down for me. When I go abroad I always keep a notebook in my shirt pocket. Everything I've ever heard is kept in the diaries.' Special diary books were not available when Shafeeg started, and his first compilations were entered in exercise books and pads. When the British were in Addu atoll [until 1975], he wrote on the back of the pieces of paper which they printed and circulated.

Shafeeg says that in his diaries he writes down the stories, news and other important events that he come to his attention. If anyone asks him about the exact time of death of a Maldivian or world leader, he can answer easily. He also knows the dates when particular resorts are opened, and when important dignitaries visit islands for the first time. His diaries benefit writers, school children, historians and the entire community.

'Government departments, media people and many writers contact me asking when such and such an event took place. I ask them to wait ten minutes and then I look it up in my diaries. I can find things easily. It's important work.' Shafeeg almost always wears white shirts, and he says that although he is famous for being an historian, in fact he only writes diaries.

'I don't write history, just the diaries. But they are a source of historical information. It is true that most of what I have written in the diaries is very accurate and truthful. Perhaps that is the problem. But my diary belongs to me, and I should have the liberty to write what I like in there. No one can stop me. It is my nature and I'm addicted to it now.'

Shafeeg has personally experienced the trouble that his diaries can cause. His work never finishes and he is determined to continue for as long as he lives, even though some people are distressed at the idea.

maldives ahmed shafeeg cannot stand due to torture
'My diaries aren't harmful. They aren't printed or circulated. No one sees them except me. No one can read it, so what is the problem? What's the difference between keeping it in my heart and writing it down? Is there any real difference? No one should be afraid because they are mentioned. Today I have recorded your visit to me... it's just my hobby.'

Due to the diaries, Ahmed Shafeeg has faced three serious problems. He has even been imprisoned on one occasion, but he doesn't want to give any details about that. The only diary that he has lost is the diary for 1995, the year he was taken to gaol.

Shafeeg looks frail now, and can no longer stand properly. When he is performing his prayers he cannot bend down. He uses an inhaler because of breathing difficulties brought on when he was left exposed in very chilly conditions. 'Let's leave this subject,' he says, 'and not talk about it anymore. Let's talk about something else.'

In addition to writing diaries, Shafeeg also keeps many photographs, and it doesn't take him long to find any, either. Within a minute he locates an album of photos of traditional Dhivehi dress. 'I keep everything in very particular order. That's why it doesn't take long to find anything.'

Shafeeg has done important and valuable works on Maldives history, Dhivehi language, formation of the Dhivehi script, Maldivian birds, shells, boat-building, national dress, and Maldivian games.

ahmed shafeeg books

In appreciation of his services to history the government gave him a public service award in 1980. He received government recognition again 1990 with an award granted during the 25th anniversary of Maldives independence.

Shafeeg worked for the government for 20 years and receives a pension. He has been an atoll chief seven times, and the most emotional periods recorded in his diaries are when his duties separated him from his wife and children. He refuses to go into any details about this, as well.

Shafeeg says that recently he has had to delay his diary entries, and when that happens he leaves a blank space in the diary and writes in a small notebook instead. The blank space is filled in later. 'I catch up six months later, and write it in akuru fili thaana [an obsolete Dhivehi script]. Not everyone will be able to read it.'

Shafeeg has many historically valuable writings, and at the moment he is recording important events in Maldives in a special book. He has been doing this work since 1987.

Shafeeg plays a very important role in gathering and distributing historical information, and if anyone wants his help he welcomes their request with pleasure. It is not in his nature to refuse, or be too busy. As Shafeeg himself is fond of saying: 'Though these things are in my hands, they are not mine. They belong to all.'

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