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THE MALDIVE ISLANDS
Philip Crowe 1954
First published as chapter 16 in Crowe, Philip K, Diversions of a Diplomat in Ceylon, New York: D. Van Nostrand Company Ltd 1956



the buggalow, illustration by P. E. P. DeraniyagalaIllustration: P. E. P. Deraniyagala


Some four hundred miles south-west of Ceylon, in the blue expanse of the Indian Ocean, lie a dozen clusters of coral atolls known as the Maldive Islands. Though the inhabited land area is only about a hundred and fifteen square miles, the two thousand plus islands of the archipelago are scattered, like the Milky Way, over fifty thousand square miles of sea, and the populated islands, by recent count numbering two hundred and fifteen, range from Addu Atoll on the Equator to Tiladumnati Atoll at 7 degrees North latitude, a distance of more than four hundred and seventy miles.

So remote are the Maldives that most map-makers designate them, incorrectly, as possessions of either the United Kingdom or of Ceylon. In fact the islands are fully independent, although by treaty they are under the protection of Her Majesty the Queen and their foreign relations are conducted through the British High Commissioner in Ceylon. This arrangement, which in no way affects the internal affairs of the Maldives, was originally defined in an exchange of letters between Queen Victoria and the Sultan, Mohamed Muin-ud-din II, in 1887, and has since been renewed several times.

Even the traditional 'tribute', which the Sultans used to send as a graceful gesture to the King of England, was done away with in 1950. This tribute, consisting of rolls of Maldivian mats, lacquer-work, sweetmeats, shells and a small quantity of ambergris, was presented, in Colombo, in November and was an occasion for old-world pageantry and pomp. An exchange of compliments took place between the Maldivian representative and the Governor and a letter from the Sultan was ceremoniously presented. The Governor, in his turn, sent back to the Sultan many of the products of Ceylon and a similar letter of felicitations.

The first settlers of the archipelago are said to have migrated from Ceylon about the time of Christ, and crumbling dagobas, on some of the islands, clearly indicate that the people were formerly Buddhists. Later, they were converted to Islam in the twelfth century and today's eighty thousand inhabitants are all Moslems of the strict Sunni sect. Perhaps because of their firm faith and perhaps because of their isolation, there has never been a case on record of Communist penetration.

Among the few outsiders who visited the Maldives and left records of their journeys was the famous Arabian explorer Ibn Battuta (1325-1354), who lived for a number of years at Male, the capital, and in fact married three wives there. Next to visit the islands were the Portuguese who held them for a brief period before they were finally driven out in 1650 during the reign of Sultan Iskandar Ibrahim I.
The Frenchman Pyrard, who was shipwrecked for five years on the Maldives in the early years of the seventeenth century, left us a vivid account of the islanders' life. Basically, there appears to be little change in the life of these hardy fishermen since that time.
The standard work is, of course, that of H. C. P. Bell, late of the Ceylon Civil Service, who devoted many years to his monumental monograph on the Maldives. Lighter but also rewarding reading is The Two Thousand Isles by T. W. Hockley, an Englishman still living in Ceylon, who took a trip to the Maldives by buggalow twenty years ago.

The political history of the islands has been far from serene and a goodly number of the ninety-two Sultans and Sultanas who from time to time have ruled at Male were exiled or otherwise disposed of. The Sultanate form of government lasted until late in 1952, even though it had been an elected office since 1930.
In the spring of 1952, the last Sultan designate, H.H. Amir Abdul Majid Didi, died in Ceylon, and Amir Amin Didi, the Prime Minister, who had actually been running the government anyway, proposed that the islands become a republic and he was subsequently elected president by an almost unanimous vote. At this point it might be well to add that, since time immemorial, the government of the islands has been in the hands of the nobility of Male, most of whom hold the title of 'Didi'. The inauguration of the new republic was held on January 1, 1953, at Male, and was attended by Sir Cecil Syers, High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Ceylon, as well as by a representative of the Ceylon Government.
Curiously enough, an examination of the new constitution revealed that, unlike its predecessor, it made little or no reference to the rights of the people.

By any standards Amin Didi was a remarkable man and, by Maldivian standards, a veritable superman. He wanted to project his country from the fifteenth to the twentieth century in the shortest possible time and firmly believed that all means to this end were justified. As a member of a family that has supplied all the Maldivian Sultans since 1759, he had no difficulties in getting the people to go along with him, and certainly his initial reforms were good for the country. He reorganized the school system, extended the franchise to women, built an electrical generating plant that furnished power to the capital, made Male one of the cleanest cities in the world and retained a first class Ceylonese doctor to attack the health problem.

Sir Cecil Syers, who knew him at this time, described him as an intelligent, progressive, liberal-minded man of forty-two, who threw himself wholeheartedly into every phase of Maldivian life, even to playing centre-forward in the football team. This opinion was shared, with only one exception, by everyone with whom I talked who knew him during this period. There is reason to believe, in fact, that he had a Jekyll and Hyde personality that he was careful to guard from foreigners, and it was only by chance that Joe Brown, the Time correspondent who went along with the High Commissioner's party, got an inkling of the less pleasant side of his strange character.

At the same time that Amin Didi was instituting the worth-while reforms, he was embarking on a series of other radical changes that were eventually to drive him from the presidency. Like most dictators, he could brook no opposition and, in order to impress this simple fact on the people, he restored the ancient Islamic penal code which allowed for the cutting-off of hands for theft. Several such operations were personally supervised by the president.
When told by his doctor not to smoke, he forbade the import of tobacco on pain of banishment and gave his people a year to stop smoking for good.

These were minor irritations, however, and it was not until the president embarked on road-building on a wide scale that he earned the real hatred of the populace. As can well be imagined, there is not the slightest reason to build roads on tropical islands, most of which are less than a mile long and half a mile wide. Shady paths between the coconut and breadfruit trees are all that the people want or need. Amin Didi, however, liked good broad avenues of the Champs Elysees style and gave orders that every inhabited island must have such a boulevard. As a result, thousands of precious food-bearing trees were cut down and, in place of the cool lanes of former days, the people were faced with a vast dusty swath stretching from one shore of their island to the other.

Not only did the islanders lose their fruit but the work entailed in chopping down the trees took the men from fishing, their main source of livelihood. Bonito, caught by rod and reel, dried and shipped to Ceylon as 'Maldive fish', a popular condiment in curries, is the base of the Maldivian economy. The proceeds of these fish sales are used to buy rice, and when the catch is reduced the islands experience dire privation. After the road-building spree, several thousand people were reported to be on the edge of starvation and would undoubtedly have perished if the Pakistan Government had not generously given the islands 7,000 bags of rice.

The inevitable result of this sad state of affairs was the non-violent revolution of September 4, 1953. The president was away in India for his health when the people gathered at Male and requested Mr. Ibrahim A.H. Didi, Minister without portfolio, and Mr. Mohamed Didi, vicepresident, to suspend the constitution and take over the government. On Amin Didi's return, he was arrested on his aircraft and sent in protective custody to the nearby island of Doonidu, in order to save him from the population of Male.

Such was the situation when I requested my friend, the Acting High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Ceylon, to arrange for my wife and me to meet Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi who was then staying at the Maldivian representative's house in Colombo. The Joint Chief of State turned out to be a charming old-world gentleman who most courteously said he would do all in his power to facilitate our trip to the islands.
Although the Maldives are in the consular district of the American Embassy, I told Mr. Didi that the purpose of the trip was purely for pleasure and that I would appreciate it if he would consider it an unofficial visit.
The usual way to reach Male, the capital of the Maldives, however, was by buggalow, native schooners, whose voyages, depending on the monsoons, could take from a week to more than a month. Flying was the obvious answer and we were lucky enough to find that a Royal Air Force Sunderland flying boat was about to visit the islands to bring back Mr. Charles Cruickshank, the British Trade Commissioner in Ceylon, who was studying the economic difficulties of the islands at the invitation of the Maldivian Government. Air Commodore Joseph Cox, O.B.E., D.F.C., was kind enough to offer my wife and me seats in the aircraft.
Accordingly, on Monday, December 14, 1953, our party boarded the Sunderland at the China Bay dock of the British naval base at Trincomalee. The captain, Flight-Lieutenant Donald Brian Robinson, had his crew lined up smartly on the wing. I rose and took the salute. We took off at nine-thirty and had some bad weather for the first two hours of the flight. Then the clouds cleared and we sailed along over a deep-blue ocean.
An excellent breakfast and light luncheon were served on board. At twelve-thirty we made a landfall on Mirupiri Island, then coasted down the reef to Male. The approach was a glorious sight: many shades of green, ranging from aquamarine on the outer reefs to the lightest of jewel jade nearer the islands themselves. We flew over many small atolls, most of which appeared to be uninhabited.

By one p.m. we were over Male and after circling several times came down for a fine landing just outside the breakwater. The state barge, rowed by twelve blue-turbaned oarsmen, came alongside. In the stern sheets were Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi and Mr. Cruickshank. Landing at the wharf, we were met by Mr. Mohamed Didi and other principal members of the Government, while crowds of islanders peered from every available vantage point. Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi then escorted us to two waiting cars, the only two on the island or, for that matter, on the Maldives, and we were driven to the new palace, a trip of not more than a quarter of a mile.

A relatively new building, the palace has every modern convenience from comfortable furniture to bathrooms. In the main hall are pictures of the Sultans, the various outstanding Didis, the British monarchs, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and a signed photograph of President Roosevelt in appreciation of the kindness shown by the Maldivians to American merchant marines torpedoed during the late war.
There is also a fine new throne and a musical box.

After we had had a nap, Mohamed Ibrahim Didi, son of the Joint Chief of State and Postmaster General in his own right, took us for a personally conducted tour. The town of Male is only about a mile long by half a mile wide and occupies the entire island. It is the cleanest metropolis I have ever seen. No domestic animals, except cats, are allowed in the town proper; it is forbidden to import dogs and the small herd of Government-owned cows and goats are kept in an outlying field. The streets all have numbers and are made of white sand. The bases of the street lights are old Portuguese cannon. The town is divided into four wards and each ward has its own football field and clubhouse.
In one such recreation building I saw a heated game of table tennis. The water-front is picturesque with many native fishing boats moored inside the breakwater.
Fish are so plentiful that several fishermen were hauling in a small type of silver smelt from the harbour itself. They used no bait, simply jigged bare hooks on the ends of their lines.
We visited the graves of the two major Moslem saints and the old Portuguese fort at the harbour mouth, whose cannon bore the arms of the Portuguese kings. Everywhere we went, the people gathered in orderly crowds and stared. They seldom smiled but did not appear in any sense sullen.

The women wear dresses, not saris. Occasionally we saw quite pretty young girls. Our guide told me that only the upper classes still observe purdah and that the great majority of the inhabitants of Male have one wife only. Men of the lower classes wear a sarong from the waist down and either a cotton singlet or nothing above. Most wear a cotton cloth twisted in their hair as a protection against the sun. They never wear shoes nor carry an umbrella; these appurtenances were formerly considered the privileges of rank along with the wearing of black silk or alpaca cloth coats and the taboo still seems to be observed. The upper classes wear more ornate sarongs and European-type shirts with the tails worn outside and gold studs instead of buttons. Everyone of any pretensions wears a Moslem cap made of dyed wool at all times; wrist-watches and Parker pens are also much in evidence among the richer men.

The car came for us at the old Portuguese wall at the far end of the island and drove us home. Despite the fact that there was only one other car on the island and a very remote chance that that car would be coming behind us, the chauffeur invariably put out the turning marker when he rounded a corner.

On our tour I was particularly impressed by the number of graveyards and shrines, or ziarets. They seemed to take up much of the available housing space. They are neatly maintained, however, with white flags floating over many of them. The tombstones of the men have pointed ends and those of women rounded ones. The mosques have beautiful blue screens in the windows. All the houses are enclosed behind whitewashed coral walls of about five feet in height.

One of the dubious civic improvements inaugurated by Mr. Amin Didi was the construction of four large playingfields, one in each of the wards. In order to make these fields, he ordered several hundred homes to be razed. The people do not particularly like football and, since Mr. Didi's exile, there has been a steadily declining interest in the sport. The indigenous games take only a small amount of space.

Next morning we boarded the Government launch Hyacinth, churned out of the harbour at a steady five knots and headed up the line of islands, inside the reef of Male atoll. A very comfortable launch of sixty feet, built in Devon before the war, the craft, which is the only motor propelled vessel in the Maldives, leads a busy life plying between the far-flung islands. The captain, Mohamed Maniku, let me steer it. Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi, our official guide, young Mohamed Didi, Mr. and Mrs. Cruickshank and my own party made up the expedition.

A glaring example of the road-building activities of Mr. Amin Didi soon loomed up on the starboard side. The island looked as if a giant knife had sliced a clean gash across its middle. On this island alone, I was told, more than five hundred coconut and breadfruit trees had been cut down. So furious were the people at this useless avenue that they never used it if they could help it.

Sitting on the bow, with the clear blue water of the Indian Ocean foaming away on either side, I learned more of the troubles that the people had suffered at the hands of Mr. Amin Didi. I asked specifically about the cutting-off of hands and was told that there were three men whose right hands had been cut off by Mr. Amin Didi's order. The victims, it is true, were caught in a theft, but in all the years of the Sultanate this ancient Islamic punishment had never been invoked. Lashing or exile was usually the sentence for evildoers and I gathered that even this form of retribution was mildly administered. Theft, in fact, was almost unknown on the islands until the recent starvation stimulated it.

Discussing customs, Ibrahim Ali Didi said that on the outlying islands wives shared property equally with their husbands. This is only logical as the women of the islands work as hard as their men. Only in Male, where the women lead idle lives, do the old Moslem inheritance laws of one-eighth prevail. He said that there has never been any real purdah on the islands except in the case of the upper classes. Maldivian 'ladies' still remain indoors.

I asked about the various types of boats I had seen in the harbour. Largest is the buggalow, a two-masted, lateen-rigged vessel of about a hundred tons. These are made in India and sail to Ceylon with Maldive fish. Next in size is the battely, which is a smaller, island-built version of the buggalow. They also sail to Ceylon. The two types of fishing boats are the ody, a lateen-rigged, single-masted craft, and the dhoni, a smaller version of the ody. On most islands are shipwrights who make the vessels out of local timber. Three of the best kinds of wood for ships are kirdu, cani and madoti. Wooden nails are used. Up to sixty years ago the sails were of rattan, but since then sail-cloth has been imported from abroad.

Four types of bonito are used in the preparation of 'Maldive fish': the canely, a fish with no stripes; the ragony, a spotted variety somewhat smaller than the canely ; the catibilo, the true bonito; and the lati, closely resembling the catibilo but having a narrower tail. Only these four species are dried and exported as 'Maldive fish'. Swordfish, marlin and tuna are all caught in the Maldives, the larger varieties being harpooned. Some whales are harpooned in the central group of atolls.

The fishing is never good all over the 470-mile chain of islands at the same time. During the south-west monsoon it is good in the central group, and during the north-east monsoon in the northern and southern groups. There is some migration between islands for the purpose of following the fish.

At noon we landed at the island of Hura, a coral strip about half a mile long by perhaps a quarter of a mile wide. Hura is a famous island as it is the place from which came the family of the islands' last line of Sultans and also of Mr. Ibrahim All Didi himself. Due to shallowing water, we had to anchor the Hyacinth far out and we were rowed in by a six-oared dhoni. I took the helm from the headman, Hussein. The population of 190 souls was down on the beach to meet us. Unlike the somewhat effete types of Male, they were a virile-looking lot but obviously poorly fed. When we were half-way to the beach, it started pouring, and by the time we landed we were soaked and so repaired immediately to a boatshed to dry out ; there we were presented with some lovely cowries, the shells which were once used for money throughout the islands and in lower India. I asked to see a fishing-rod and hook and was shown a most serviceable outfit. The pole was bamboo, light but strong, the line was made of jute and the hook was home-bent iron. There was no barb as this type of hook is used for jigging. The haft is elongated and painted with lime to simulate a small fish.

The dhoni that fetched us to the beach was a new one and had been made on the island. The nails were made from the corady tree, a very hard type of wood. About thirty feet long and about six feet in the beam, the boat was beautifully finished ; the prow was high in the manner of a Viking ship and there was a high rear platform for the passengers to sit on.

In addition to dried fish, the islanders export small quantities of coir rope which they weave from coconut husks. So strong is this rope that it stands up to strains better than manila and so has a good market in southern India and Ceylon. Small amounts of lacquer-work and some ambergris are also exported. The ambergris, which is a valuable perfume base, is vomited up by sperm whales and is found either floating or cast up on the beaches. A monopoly of the Government, it is all sold in Bombay.

In bygone days the Maldives were an important source of pearls but the art of diving for them has died out.

Amin Didi's order to cut a straight path through the middle of all islands was frustrated on this one by a substantial rest-house built by the last Sultan. Not even the president dared order the house to be destroyed, so only half of the avenue was completed. Many other substantial coral houses were torn down, however, and the stumps of coconut and breadfruit trees testify to the folly of the late president's scheme.

We proceeded through the showers to the Sultan's house and were given glasses of delicious toddy by the headman. Great bunches of green coconuts were presented to us, despite Mr. Didi's and my own request that they save their food. The islanders obviously held the old gentleman in great esteem and seemed genuinely happy to see him again.

Hima-furi, the next island we visited, was one of those where the famine had been very severe and the children still showed signs of malnutrition. An epidemic of influenza was raging and the inmates of many of the houses lay coughing on their raised rattan couches. Musa, the headman, was a most intelligent-looking old man. When I say headman, I mean the senior or religious leader of the village. There is also in every village an administrative headman who ranks as deputy leader. The religious headman, or khateeb, is also the judge as he is the man most familiar with Moslem law.

While we were walking down the shore under the leaning trunks of the coconut palms, I noticed two duck-like birds pinwheel in and land on the lagoon. They were, in fact, a type of pintail which during the north-west monsoon migrates from India to the Maldives. The islanders have no guns but have evolved a unique manner of taking the quarry. They fashion a type of basket which fits over their heads and then stalk the birds under this camouflage, being careful never to show any of their persons above water. The ducks are used to seeing fishing baskets anchored on the tidal flats and pay no attention to them. When the islanders have approached within grabbing distance, they reach up under the water and, seizing the ducks by the feet, pull them under the water and drown them. A good morning's duck-stalking can account for a dozen birds.

Apart from ducks, there are green pigeon on some of the islands and, strangely enough, both rabbits and hares. No one seems to know where the rabbits came from. The hares are indigenous to India and explainable. The islanders trap both species.

After dinner in Male that evening, I strolled down the main street and called on Dr. R. E. W. Jehoratnam, the Government physician. He proved to be a courteous and intelligent Tamil from Jaffna, Ceylon, and was able to give me a great deal of information on the health situation.

I had been told by various officers of the Government that the rice ration consisted of 7.5 measures per adult per month. Everyone over three is considered an adult. Since there are roughly 1.5 pounds to the measure, this meant that the ration amounted to 11.25 pounds of rice per month. The doctor told me that he considered the minimum rice ration for a working fisherman, and his equally hardworking wife, to be a half-measure or three-quarters of a pound of rice per meal. As the people eat only two meals per day, this means that to stay reasonably fit they should receive a pound and a half of rice per day, or approximately 45 pounds per month. They were getting less than a quarter of this amount.

He also said that there is a serious vegetable deficiency in their present diet, which results in many cases of scurvy and beri-beri. Mothers are almost universally unable to suckle their babies, and as there are no dairy animals and no canned milk, the babies must subsist as best they can on congey, a type of fish soup, and unfermented toddy. The retarded growth of many of the children that I saw bore sad testimony to the truth of his remarks.
He was most anxious to secure vitamins and canned milk from the World Health Organization and I promised him to do what I could to promote speedy results. He also wanted to borrow some of our U.S. Information Service films for teaching purposes and I agreed to send them. Fighting a good battle for the health of the islanders, I felt he should get all the help I could give him.

There is some malaria on the islands and a good deal of tuberculosis; both of these diseases, the doctor felt, only became really dangerous when the health of the people became undermined by starvation, as was the case during the past two years. He added that the corrugated-tin roofs, with which many of the island huts are covered, contribute to tuberculosis. The old thatch roofs allowed the earthen floors under them to dry, but the tin roofs effectually hold out the sun, with the result that the ground is always damp. Tuberculosis is more common among the well-to-do classes of Male who keep their women and children inside, than among the islanders who spend most of their time out in the sun.

Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi's fears that the morals of the nation were heading downwards were supported by the doctor, who said that the venereal disease rate was relatively high. There was little outright prostitution but considerable playing around among the lower classes, where the women are not kept in purdah and where the long absences of husbands on fishing trips led to temptation. Incidentally, any babies born during a husband's absences are legally his, no matter how long he stays away. Divorce is quite common and can be had by either party for a nominal sum if the religious head of the island feels it is warranted. It is always necessary, however, to wait three months before granting any divorce, to see whether or not the woman is pregnant. If she is, a divorce cannot be granted until the arrival of the child. The doctor said that more girl babies are born than males and attributed this to waning vitality in the men, due to malnutrition.

As there are too few houses for the population, many families consist of not only the head of the house and his wife but his younger brothers and their wives also. This overcrowding has, of course, a bad effect on health. There are a few cases of leprosy but they are concentrated on two of the islands. All houses belong to the Government but are passed from father to son, with the permission of the governing authority.

The doctor treated Mr. Amin Didi for high blood pressure and his consequent stroke. It was not until after he had recovered from the stroke that Mr. Didi did the things which were ultimately to cost him his position as president. The doctor said that a person often becomes very sentimental during the time he has a stroke and can veer to near sadism when he recovers from it. Mr. Amin Didi's orders to cut off the hands of the thieves followed almost immediately on his recovery.

The doctor himself is a most interesting man. Educated at St. John's College in Jaffna and the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Calcutta, he practised for twenty years in Jaffna. Then he suffered a bad broken leg and was laid up for two years. Following his recovery he decided to accept Mr. Amin Didi's invitation to come to the Maldives on a five-year contract as the Government doctor. He has now been in Male three years and says that his ideas have changed radically. Instead of trying to change everything he sees, he acknowledges that there is considerable virtue in many of the ayurvedic practices of the native doctors; he tries, in fact, to fuse his knowledge of Western medicine with that of the ayurvedic system which he learned in the Hindu University, Benares, and the arts of indigenous medicine practised by the islanders.

In the bright light of the tropical morning, we set sail in a dhoni for an inspection of the shipping. There were two brigs belonging to the Maldivian Government and three buggalows. We boarded the Faith Hulbari, an hermaphrodite-rigged ship of perhaps five hundred tons. She lacked paint but was clean as a whistle, and the captain received us at the gangway in a manner that would have done credit to Her Majesty's Navy. She carried a crew of nineteen and was loading for a trip to Ceylon.

We then boarded the Government buggalow Ganga Fathurradam and were received by Captain Mohamed Jaman. His vessel was low in the water with cargo for Colombo, consisting of 2,000 bags of 126 pounds each, containing dried fish. The trip usually takes about twelve days. The buggalow, built in India, was eighty feet long by about twenty feet in the beam and was rigged with two huge lateen sails; she carried a crew of twenty-one. The only modem instrument I could find on her was a compass at the wheel.

Following the inspections, we sailed over to Hulule island where a battely was being built; nine carpenters under a head carpenter were working on her. The construction job was nearly finished and had taken eleven months. Built entirely of teak, she was a beautiful job.

Smaller than a buggalow, but the largest vessel built in the Maldives, the battely runs to less than a hundred tons but is an imposing-looking craft with adequate cabin room and efficient-looking holds. The head shipwright received thirty rupees per month (five Maldivian rupees equal one Ceylon rupee or about four U.S. cents or twopence). The junior workers get twenty Maldivian rupees per month.
Hulule island is inhabited by only about sixty people, as it is a Government island used primarily for the growing of coconut and breadfruit. Despite this fact, Mr. Amin Didi caused his workmen to cut a great east-west road across it, although many valuable food trees were cut down in the process. He also had a football field constructed, but both the field and the road are now rapidly growing up in jungle. Later we swam in the limpid waters of the lagoon and gathered lovely sea shells. Fresh coconuts quenched our thirst and Irene got some wonderful pictures of the boatbuilding.

In the early afternoon we drove to the bazaar. I have mentioned already that Male is less than a mile long and the bazaar is only a few hundred yards from the palace, but whenever we ventured out the faithful Mohamed Didi was ready with both cars for the journey. The bazaar is run mainly by several hundred borahs, or Indian merchants.

At three o'clock Mr. Ibrahim AH Didi met us and escorted us to the old Sultan's Palace, part of which had been turned into a museum by Mr. Amin Didi. Most interesting were the old thrones, burnished copper guns and fine examples of ancient lacquer-work. The palace, known as Mathige or the house of two stories, is a really fascinating pile. Built over two hundred years ago in the reign of Sultan Mu'in-ud-din, it is constructed entirely of teak with a copper roof. The main bathroom, reserved for the Sultan's personal use, consists of a graceful pool with steps down into it and a stone seat in the middle of the water. There are two audience halls, one for state occasions and another for receiving lesser fry.

While walking through the old halls, I asked Mr. Ibrahim AH Didi the name of the last Sultan to occupy the palace and found that it was the same Hassein Nuradin who abdicated during the late war and is still living in Male. He abdicated because he could not stomach the reforms of Mr. Amin Didi, the then Prime Minister!

In the courtyard was drawn up the Maldivian band, and a most impressive sight it was. Under the aegis of a seventy-four-year-old band-leader named Hadji Adam Halafan were seven quaintly garbed musicians: two played upon curious trumpet-shaped horns with holes in them like flutes; two were armed with equally antique types of clarinets and there were three drummers. The drums were beautifully lacquered instruments of considerable size and powerful resonance. They played the national anthem and then several old Maldivian songs. Last they played the war march, the same martial music that preceded the famous battle with the Portuguese in 1573 when the islanders rose and massacred the garrison to a man.

Mr. Ibrahim Ah Didi then led us to an open court where he had ordered the artisans to show us how lacquerwork is done. The goblets and vases were turned on hand lathes; one man pulled ropes which turned the article and another handled the cutting tool. The colours were applied in the same manner from sticks of local pigment.

In the late afternoon I inspected the Male schools. There are four primary schools, one for each ward of the city, and a high school. The boys study from nine to eleven and from two to five, and the girls use the same buildings from seven to ten at night. Up to the time of Mr. Amin Didi, there was no education for girls. The schools are free and bright children from the outer islands are brought to Male for their high school education. Ten subjects are taught, ranging from sacred studies of the Koran to 'general knowledge'. In one of the schools, a youth of seventeen was teaching this latter subject. The schools are very clean and the boys of each ward wear different-coloured caps on their little heads. On the whole the children are small, a boy of ten being about the size of an American child of six.
After dinner we re-inspected the same five schools, but this time they were full of girls. In most cases the same men teachers were taking the classes but there were a few school-marms added. Prominent among these was the daughter of Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi, who was educated in Cairo and speaks excellent English, The students ranged from tiny little girls to almost the marriageable age. Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi told me that formerly girls were married at fourteen but now there is a law prohibiting marriage under the age of eighteen. Married women who receive their husband's permission may attend the school, but I saw no such matrons in any of the classrooms.

The Maldivian women wear a curious type of old-fashioned, longsleeved dress, not a sari ; it has a broad white collar, is fitted at the waist and has no belt. On festive occasions, a chain of old silver coins is added. Although the Maldivian women of the lower classes have never been in purdah, they are not supposed to smile at strange men ; only the little girls risked outright smiles. Everyone was in their best clothes for the occasion and appeared delighted when Irene and Cruickshank took flash-bulb pictures of them.

Mohamed Didi, in his capacity of Postmaster General, presented each of us with all the stamps ever issued by the Maldive Government. Collectors would be delighted with them and I suggested that, instead of merely two issues, he should put out many and sell them like the Principality of Liechtenstein.

While the girls took some more photographs of the town, Mohamed and I visited some of the ministries. Our first call was at the Ministry of Communications. The Minister himself was an appointee of Mr. Amin Didi and thence was in exile on one of the outlying islands, but the Number Two showed us around. The ministry has two main activities running the radio and organizing the telephone system. There are two radio operators whose only apparent work is to send regular weather reports to Colombo and to notify the Maldivian Trading Corporation there of the arrival of the fish buggalows. A good deal of money could be made by allowing the borah merchants to use the set commercially while charging them a good price. Mr. Amin Didi, however, did not like the Indian merchants and did not let them use his radio facilities.

There are seventeen telephone receivers which link the various Government departments as well as the houses of a few of the nobility. Since none of the departments are more than a block away from each other, this is an entirely unwarranted extravagance, but Mr. Amin Didi put them in.

Next call was at the Government printing office where all types of Government work, including the two official publications, are printed. The press is an ancient flat-bed affair made by Waterlow & Son of London in 1900, but it is still quite able to cope with the islands' press problems. The newspaper comes out once a month ; the editor is Mr. Ibrahim AH Didi but the actual work is done by the managing editor, Mr. Mohamed Jameel Didi. Subjects covered are religious news, sports, foreign news and 'small fictions'. There are about twenty contributors from all the islands. The managing editor told me that he could print the paper as often as once a week if he had the paper. There is also a literary magazine which comes out every two months. All the school books are also printed at the plant.

Across a courtyard from the printing office is the courthouse where a lively divorce case was in progress. The chief justice, or qazi, was in exile, by request of the new Government, but the acting chief justice was most kind and told me something of his work. Evidently crime is much more prevalent in Male than one would think; he admitted being far behind on his calendar. The Moslem code of laws is rigidly followed in most cases and the punishment for adultery consists of whipping the guilty person with a thong. This instrument of retribution is called the durra and is made up of three layers of leather bolted together by flat brass studs. It is about two-and-a-half feet long and can inflict a severe beating. While the durra is usually administered to lady sinners it can also be applied to men.

Mr. Amin Didi's unpopular cutting-off of right hands and the death penalty have been rescinded but the scale of punishment is still rather more severe than ours. Exile is the punishment most used and, since this does not include one's family, it works a real hardship.

Sailing out for our morning swim on Hulule island, we passed Doonidu where Mr. Amin Didi was in exile. One of the boatmen had been on Doonidu since the former president was incarcerated there and told me that he was guarded by five soldiers and had six servants to minister to his wants. Contrary to newspaper reports, he had not been allowed to see his family, who were living in Male.
The general opinion seemed to be that he would be exiled for life to Mulaku island in the southern group. This is the island where the recalcitrant Sultans were always sent. It has a population of 1,500 and, next to Male, has probably the most comfortable living in the chain.

The more I saw of Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi, the more I liked and respected him. A doctor of Arab medicine and a deeply religious classical scholar as well, he is one of the finest old-fashioned gentlemen I have ever met. He is genuinely devoted to his people and gave up his dreams of retirement and research in order to try to pull them out of their present dilemma. He is endeavouring to preserve the old arts and is personally responsible for reviving the band.
The old band-leader, by the way, has served under three Sultans and is the only man on the island who remembers the old tunes.

Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi is also fostering the lacquer-work and consulted me several times on possible markets for this fine native handicraft. His basic objective, however, is to restore the character of his people. He said to me that never before, in the eight hundred years of the Sultanate, had his country borrowed money, and that he felt a deep personal shame at this lack of national independence.

He was referring to the million-rupee loan which Mr. Amin Didi negotiated with the Ceylonese Government and which the Maldivian Government has been unable to repay. Amin Didi also discovered the printing press and issued sufficient paper money to thoroughly discredit the currency.

On our last evening I asked to do without my official car and guide and walked alone through the clean wide streets of Male. The Imam chanted his evening prayer from the minaret and the people strolled home from their duties. Down at the port, the last of the dhonis came scudding in from the sea, their sails etched in crimson against the setting sun. A little boy was sitting by the breakwater, catching small silver fish, and out in the harbour the oil lamps of the buggalows were beginning to glow.

High above me, on a gallery of the old Sultan's Palace, I heard the roll of the sunset drum. Pious Moslems will say that it merely denotes the end of the day, but to many of the islanders it has another and far more ancient significance. It seems that, back in the dim ages of Maldivian history, a great and voracious dragon lived in the harbour of Male. It did not eat people but it did eat fish, which was almost the same thing, as the people soon starved for lack of sustenance. Then a saintly man came to the island and bewitched the dragon so that it became small enough to fit into a bottle. The saint threw the bottle into the sea but warned the people that, unless they beat the drum every evening, the dragon would escape from the bottle to again devour all their fish.

I rose at six on the last day of our stay in Male and went fishing with Mohamed. A dhoni, with a crew of five, was awaiting us at the breakwater and we were soon scudding out to sea before a stiff breeze. The big fellows marlin and swordfish do not like to surface in rough weather and the prospects did not look encouraging. Tackle consisted of native-spun jute lines with a breaking strength, Mohamed told me, of over eighty pounds. Hand-beaten copper leaders were then attached and homemade wire hooks. The bait was an entire small silver fish, inside which the hook was cunningly concealed and then bound to the fish with line. We trailed two lines. As all the marlin I have ever tangled with in Cuba and Mexico could take out line from a huge reciprocal-geared reel at better than sixty miles per hour, I thought it wiser not to try and handle one of these hand lines myself. The islanders have hands as tough as shoe leather, but even they occasionally get cut to the bone by the run of a big fish.

The dhoni is one of the most seaworthy boats ever constructed; it takes the great rolling combers of the Indian Ocean with the ease and assurance of a miniature Queen Mary. Soon after we passed through the channel between the coral reef into the open ocean, the wind blew even harder and it seemed to me that we climbed for minutes almost straight up the foam-flecked green hills and then took a Coney Island roller coaster trip down the yawning abyss on the other side. Such was the skill of the helmsman, however, that we were seldom wet by spray. He handled his single lateen sail perfectly and, even though there was no way to reef it, he was able to pay out the sheet rope and spill enough wind to keep us steady on our course.

Only once did I see the dorsal fin of a big fish riding the waves, but before we could cast bait to it, it was gone. Mohamed told me that, early that week, this crew had hooked and finally pulled aboard, after a four-hour battle, a twelve-foot swordfish. They have no way of weighing their catches but, from the length, I would judge the fish must have been in the neighbourhood of three or four hundred pounds. Harpoons are also carried, but by the time the big fish are close enough to gaff, most of the fight is out of them.

On my arrival back at the palace, I found the porch loaded with presents, the generous gifts of Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi and Mr. Mohamed Didi. There were intricately woven and vividly coloured rush mats from the far southern atolls; scale models of every type of fishing dhoni, complete to the rigging and bone-handled tiller; dozens of examples of the best lacquer-work in the shape of boxes, flower vases and glass-holders. There were models of Male houses, presented by the borah merchants, of such exact scale proportions that tiny pictures were hung on the little porches.

But most beautiful of all were the shells. No wonder the ancients used the Maldivian cowries for money. No more perfect examples of the wonders of the sea could be found: there were big rose-coloured conches, russet and white shells, milk-white shells with green tinges and horn-shaped yellow and brown shells from which the islanders carve their graceful spoons.

At eleven-thirty we proceeded to the harbour and, after thanking everyone, took off in the state barge for the Sunderland. Aloft we made several swings over Male and allowed Irene and Cruickshank to get some fine colour pictures of the town and outlying islands. Then, with real regret, we swung out along the reef on the long trip back to Ceylon.

Since the above was written, two events of far-reaching importance for the islands have occurred at Male. On New Year's Eve, 1953, Amin Didi, assisted by Ibrahim Hilmy Didi and Shashuddeen Hilmy, evaded the custody of his guards on Doonidu island and crossed to Male.

News of his escape spread rapidly and, even though the Government took prompt action to protect him, Amin Didi was badly beaten up by a mob. The shock of this incident undoubtedly aggravated his already poor state of health, and despite constant medical attention he died on January 19, 1954, on the island of Vihamanafuri.

With Amin Didi's demise the last vestiges of the Maldives' first and probably last republican Government passed into history. The people wanted no more of it and on March 7, 1954, the Sultanate, in the person of His Highness Ali Amir Mohamed Farid Didi, eldest son of the last late Sultan Designate, was officially restored. My wife and I were pleased to note that our friend, Mr. Ibrahim Ali Didi, was at the same time proclaimed Prime Minister.

The British Government, acting on recommendations made by Cruickshank in his report on the economy of the islands, has recently undertaken to make a grant towards the purchase of materials and equipment for the rehabilitation of the fishing industry, on which their whole economy depends. It is to be hoped that this assistance will enable the simple and peace-loving Maldivians to regain prosperity after the vicissitudes of recent times and that, in the year ahead, they will find in their remote and unique realm greater prosperity than they have known in their long and eventful history.



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