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The story of 20th century 'famines' in Maldives Part 1
by Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik
Everyglory house, Machangoli ward
Male', Maldives 1999
translated by Fareesha Abdulla, with assistance from Majid Abdul-Wahhab and Michael O'Shea

maldives_abdul majeed rannaban'dheyri kilegefaan
Abdul Majeed

The First World War started in 1914, and ended with the defeat of Germany in 1919. During this time Athireege Abdul Majeed Didi was the political leader of the country. Later he became known as Abdul Majeed Rannaban'deyri Kilegefaan.

Binbi (finger millet) and kudhibaiy (common millet) were commonly cultivated in the Maldives, and binbi can be stored for a long time. At the treasury building, a very large warehouse was built. This was a time when tax was collected on agriculture by the government, and all the binbi collected as tax was stored in the warehouse.

Long before the start of the war, the the Maldive importing and exporting trade was in the hands of the Borah traders. The largest shop in the Male' bazaar was E. G. Adam Ali's main shop, and the manager was Ibrahim Didi. He was popularly known as Baburu Ibrahim Didi.

The writer of this document (Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik) was born on 16 April 1916, during the first world war. My father was working at the treasury building. Although it was under the ultimate control of Abdul Majeed Didi, the treasury building was run by Abdullah Didi, the son of Holhudhoo Navin Dhon Manik. The manager of the warehouses was Hussein Manik, the son of Kalhu Ali Manik.

At this time, the population of Maldives was about 70,000. Male' and other islands were full of huge breadfruit trees and in Male' there were many mango trees. Papayas, sweet potatoes and pumpkins grew throughout the islands, and the people needed only a limited amount of extra food.

The Borah traders acted meanly during the first world war, though the war itself never reached the Suez canal. Even so, the price of a 150lb sack of Rangoon rice was raised to 50 rupees. When news of the war first reached Male', the price of a sack of rice was between 6½ and 7½ rupees. My father said that the manager, Ibrahim Didi, used his hands to measure out the rice. One and half naalhi measures were sold for one rupee. (One naalhi is approximately 2lb, so one and half naalhi is about 3lb.) With a sack weighing 150lb, this meant it was sold for 50 rupees. In the same way, the price of sugar also went up. In those days it was cane sugar. Beet sugar had not yet been introduced to Maldives.

The government did nothing to control the prices. Instead they sent binbi grain to some of the atolls to alleviate the rice shortage.

The writers who have claimed that Maldives' first major famine occurred at this time are being grossly deceptive. They are claiming this is the one of two major famines that occurred in Maldives during wartimes, although they know very well that these claims are false.

In WW1, British warships came to Maldives. They asked if a German ship had stopped here, and then they left. It was during the war that a buoy-like thing (probably a mine) was washed onto the beach at Kudarikilu island in Baa atoll. Twelve people fishing found it. One of them hit it with a stick and it exploded. The people near the bomb were blown to pieces, and it was said that bits of skin and bone were plastered on the trunks of coconut trees.

maldives_mohamed ameen didi
Mohamed Ameen

Mohamed Ameen, and others who falsify history, talk about people starving during this war, and have written about it. In addition, Mohamed Ameen wrote that his father Ahmed Kuda Doshimeynaa Kilegefaan went to Colombo to procure rice. This is something that the Borah traders, and Maldivians who are aware of what was happening at that time, will not accept at all.

Ibrahim Dhoshimeynaa Kilegefaan and his older son Ahmed Kuda Dhoshimeynaa Kilegefaan received help from E. G. Adam Ali in their attempt to end the political independence of Maldives, and overthrow of the monarchy of Haji Imadhudheen. Therefore, the father and son would not act in any way against the financial interests of E. G. Adam Ali, regardless of any advantage that might come to the people of Maldives. This matter was made very clear by Mohamed Ismail Didi's book, 'Memories of a Son'.

At the age of seven, Hassan Fareed left Maldives to study, and Mohamed Ameen wrote in his book 'Gratitude of a Son', that the first world war started before the government trading boat carrying Fareed entered Colombo harbour in Sri Lanka.

Mohamed Ismail Didi's 'Memories of a Son' clearly explains the depth of the relationship between E. G. Adam Ali and this father and son.

Abdul Majeed (later Rannaban'deyri Kilegefaan) was partly opposed to the Borahs and the British. It was Abdul Majeed Didi who ordered E. G. Adam's shop torn down after the death of Majeed's father, Ibrahim Dhoshimeynaa Kilegefaan. In the same place, he had the Big Store built. These events show that Abdul Majeed was not in complete agreement with his father and older brother.

Famine during World War II
The first major famine occurred during the second world war. Unlike WW1, this war spread all over the world. It started in 1939 and ended in 1945. On one side were Germany, Italy and Japan. Britain, America, Russia, China, large and small European countries, and other countries of the world united and became the 'Alliance'. The war ended with the defeat of the German side.

When news arrived in Maldives about the start of the second world war, Hassan Fareed Didi, who was responsible for all matters relating to the war, abandoned the Ministry of the Interior and all the other responsibilities he held. He became a minister of state.

maldives_hassan fareed
Hassan Fareed

Hassan Fareed and his wife, accompanied by twelve guards, left Male' in the royal Fathul Bari ship with sixty thousand silver rupees to buy government rice. Bandhu Moosa Kaleygefaan was in charge of the guards, and the ship went to Cochin. The money was taken from Cochin to Beypore and delivered to P. P. Hassan Koi (or Koya), the owner of the P.B. Umbichchi & Sons. Then Hassan Fareed and his wife, and the guards, went to Colombo by train. They spent sixty thousand rupees buying a property consisting of four hills and a garden with a beautiful small house on one of the hills.

Each morning, Hassan Fareed would commute to Colombo by car. It was a three hour trip. At this time the office of the Maldive Representative was a house on Flower road. It was rented by Hussein Hilmy, and his family lived there with him.

When he left Male', Hassan Fareed took a letter with a signature which allowed him to withdraw money from the office of the P.B. Umbichchi & Sons with the presentation of his own signature. From then on the withdrawal of money on letters from Hussein Hilmy was stopped.

In the very early days of the war, before the Borah traders had heard war had broken out, they were buying a hundredweight of fish for twenty-eight rupees. A hundredweight of fish was bartered for four sacks of Rangoon rice, weighing 150lbs each. A sack of cane sugar weighing two hundredweight was being sold for 13 rupees.

All of a sudden, they began to pay 7 rupees for a hundredweight of fish, and they wanted 10 hundredweight of fish for a sack of rice. At this time, the manager of Old Giraavaru shop, Najar Bahi, known as 'Two-head Najar' bought fish at the rate of seven rupees per hundredweight and stored it in a large, poorly built warehouse made of corrugated iron. The three most prominent Maldive businessmen, Kolige Umar Manik, Buruneege Ibrahim Didi and Hilihilaage Moosa Didi, discussed purchasing fish in the shop owned by Buruneege Ibrahim Didi. The manager at the time was Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik (the writer). Umar Manik decided to buy fish, but the other two declined. Umar paid 7 rupees per hundredweight, and he stored his fish in a warehouse called 'Maajehi' warehouse. It was built with brick and mortar, and inside was dry and clean. White sand covered the floor. The warehouse was filled with 800 hundredweight of fish.
Mohamed Ameen Didi did not write about this.

During the early days of the war, Representative Hussein Hilmy Didi arrived in a chartered cargo boat loaded with foodstuffs. There were 4,700 sacks of rice, 2400 sacks of unhusked rice, and 150 sacks of flour – 7,250 sacks in total. This is referred to on page 151 of 'Maldives under a Cloud of War' (by Mohamed Ameen Didi).

The boat left carrying 400 sacks of dried fish owned by Kolige Umar Manik and another 400 sacks of fish that Umar had sold to Hibathulla Bahi's shop at a rate of 14 rupees (per hundredweight), with the money to be paid in Colombo. The fish stored in the warehouse used by Old Giraavaru shop was eaten by weevils into a heap of dust. According to discussion in the bazaar, about 2,000 hundredweight of fish were ruined. The massive loss had to be borne by the 'wise' Najar Bahi, the famous 'Two-headed Najar'. From memory, customs officials did not allow that fish to be loaded onto the boat.

The 400 hundredweight of fish owned by Umar Manik fetched 80 rupees per hundredweight in Colombo, and Hibathulla Bahi's fish sold for only 14 rupees per hundredweight. Kolige Umar Manik suddenly became very wealthy.

The Big Store
When the Borahs refused to pay any acceptable price for the dried fish, Mohamed Ameen decided to allow the Big Store (owned by the Maldive government) to open, and buy fish for the government. This building had been strongly constructed by Abdul Majeed Rannabandeyri, specifically for this purpose.

All the Maldive businessmen, and some members of the Majlis, expressly stated that it was not right for the Big Store to buy fish on behalf of the government. These businessmen were Kolige Umar Manik, Ibrahim Hassan Didi, Mohamed Ismail Didi, Hilihilaage Moosa Didi, and Ibrahim Didi. However, the determined Mohamed Ameen proposed a bill to the Majlis to allow the government to buy fish. With the exception of Umar Manik, all of the gentlemen mentioned above and Kuda Dhaharaage Ibrahim Didi, spoke against it, saying the plan was something that should not be embarked on.

Nevertheless, some members of the Majlis agreed with Mohamed Ameen and the bill to open the Big Store was passed. Mohamed Ameen awarded the title of 'Kaleygefaan' to Moonim Hassan Bahi of Nagariya shop. He agreed to buy a quarter of the fish for the Bodu Store. The other quarter was for the government. That took care of 50% of the fish. The remaining 50% was open to market quotas. Different businessmen took portions, until the quotas were filled.

The Borah traders held a number of meetings, and though they pretended to be kind, they attempted to intimidate Mohamed Ameen. Hilihilaage Moosa Didi was the managing partner of MM Ibrahim Didi's company. At the time, he told this writer that Mohamed Ameen didn't know what was going to happen with the fish, and that the Bombay people [another name for the Borahs who actually from Colombo but considered themselves descendents from Gujerati Borahs] were telling him there was no profit in the trade. The writer was then asked not to talk about the reality of the situation. 'Otherwise we won't be able to buy any fish,' said Moosa. I didn't reply one way or the other.

The Big Store was opened on 10 December 1942, and the first manager was Nakhda Hassan Kaleygefaan. The assistant manager was Kolige Umar Manik. From the beginning, the store bought hundredweights of fish from the middle atolls of Maldives for 28 rupees. From Huvadhu atoll, the price was 32 rupees. In each case, the fish was sold on to the private businessmen at a five rupees profit. I remember well that these were the prices at the opening of the store. Mohamed Ismail Didi quotes the same prices in his book 'Motorboat Revolt'. He also says that Hassan Fareed officiated at the opening of the Big Store. This is incorrect, as he may be well aware, because at that time Hassan Fareed was in Colombo.

Due to the circumstances surrounding the opening of the Big Store, morale was low among businessmen, but the store itself ran very well.

War food rationing and the Northern Uprising
When the war started, Hassan Fareed was in power and he made rationing arrangements from the very beginning so that each person in Male' was to receive a cup of rice per day, while the people in the other islands were given half a cup of rice daily. Mohamed Ameen changed this arrangement, and Male' islanders saw their ration cut to half a cup per day, while people in the outer islands were given only a quarter of a cup.

When we heard the war had started, the market was full to the brim with rice and sugar. At that time, wheat had not been introduced to Maldives, or at least it was very uncommon. But during the war years, wheat became widely available as all the food in the marketplace was taken over by the government at controlled prices.

Due to the changes that Mohamed Ameen introduced, there was a huge revolt called the Northern Uprising. The Chief Khatheeb of Kulhudhuffushi, and Mudhin Kaleyge of Maalhendhoo, Lagodi Maalimee and chiefs from other northern islands, all came together in dhoani and baththeli and filled Male' harbour. This was described in the 'Finihiyaa' magazine of March 1988. But there was something omitted from that account that should be mentioned.

During that revolt, people were arrested in Kulhudhuffushi island, and Mohamed Didi, the son of Maafaiy Kilegefaan, and Mohamed Jameel wrote letters. Mohamed Jameel wrote in 1989 in 'Memories of the Thiladhunmathi trip' (see 'Malas' 21 p.23):
'How are we going to get anything? All the profit is taken and poured into Galle! Once they took away 24,000 rupees, and recently they took another 32,000 rupees! That's why we have nothing, and have to die of starvation.' The Thilandhunmathi people came to Male' on 3 March 1943. Hoarafushi Katheeb Thakurufaan, Usman Ibrahim said, 'If all the ambergris that was washed up on Maldives was sold, and the money from this alone was put in the bank, then this famine would not come to Maldives.' This was the sort of thing being said in Kulhudhuffushi and around the atoll. 'Hassan Fareed, accompanied by soldiers, has left for Cochin in the royal ship Fathul Bari with 60,000 rupees, to buy rice. That rice never came!'

Hoarafushi Katheeb Thakurufaan Dhiddhoo Dhon Ali Haji Kaleygefaan, and Hathifushi Dhon Manik were on the side of the government, but they were accused of lying. This was all written on page 2 of 'Aafathis' newspaper on the 17 March 1993.

Lieutenant Walker was sent to Maldives by the Civil Defence Commission to advise the government on food distribution. He came to Maldives in the S.S. Shenkin on 21 December 1943. Hassan Fareed was also in Male' at that time. Walker advised that every island in Maldives should receive rations of half a cup of rice per person per day, along with sugar and flour at the same measure. He advised that all foodstuffs be kept under government control, and all fish caught in each island should go to the Big Store. Regardless of whether the accounts balanced or not, no one was to die of starvation.

All the Borah and Maldive traders who were taking quotas of fish, held a meeting in the Customs building. Walker and Mohamed Ameen were at the meeting. Walker said that from that day on, all foodstuffs imported into Maldives should be sold to the government. The government would not be able to pay for everything at once, so each person would have a government account. The imported food was to be recorded in that account at the controlled price. The fish and other saleable items bought from those islands would be recorded in those same accounts. Some islands would be permanently in debt, but this was not to be taken into consideration. The same applied to the fish that were sent to the Big Store. The government was to take responsibility for the debt. The British government would provide other assistance apart from financial aid.

To facilitate this arrangement, Mohamed Ameen with advice from Hassan Fareed, set up a Food Organisation Committee. It was called the Food Organisation Committee. Mohamed Ameen was its chairman. After making two trips to both ends of Maldives, Hassan Fareed left Addu in a small ship called the H.M.S. Malloy for Sri Lanka. That ship was sunk by the Japanese (in 1944), halfway between Maldives and Sri Lanka. Hassan Fareed and Walker died, along with the entire crew.

Thus Mohamed Ameen was left in control of both the rudder and sail of Maldives.

It was rumoured in Male' that Walker had come to the capital at the instigation of Hussein Hilmy Didi, the Representative in Colombo. But it is more likely that it was the doing of Hassan Fareed. Later, Ameen did not arrange the rationing of the food as he had been advised. Even though they were first cousins, both Fareed and Ameen wanted to be the leader.

I will now write a little about how the food was received.

Although no orders had been sent, P.B. Umbichchi & Sons, who were agents for both government and private businesses, sent 200 sacks of Italian millet, weighing two hundredweight each, to the shop owned by Ibrahim Hassan Didi. The same boat brought another 200 sacks of Italian millet for Ibrahim Didi's shop (Ibrahim Didi and Ibrahim Hassan Didi are two different people). With regard to the pricing of this Italian millet, both shops submitted letters for their accounts at a price of 14 rupees per sack. The matter of payment ended there.

This shipment arrived in 1942, when the writer was manager of Ibrahim Didi's shop. Due to efforts made by Ameen Didi, the SS Shenkin cargo boat, accompanied by a British convoy, brought 4,000 sacks of wheat and rice into the country in April 1944 Again, at the end of May 1944, 4,000 more sacks of wheat and rice were brought to Male' in the SS Shenkin under the protection of a British convoy. This is written in Ameen's 'Maldives under a Cloud of War' on page 285.

At one time, Mohamed Ameen arrived in Colombo when all the Maldive trading boats were anchored in Colombo harbour. He found that the captains and crew were on strike, demanding that their salaries be doubled. His hard work to solve the matter is described in detail in chapter 12 of 'Maldives under a Cloud of War'. The successful Mohamed Ameen returned to Male' via Addu, in the S.S. Maharaja, with 6,000–8,000 sacks of rice, wheat, and wheat flour. That boat left Colombo in August 1944.

Six varieties of grain were brought to all the major Borah traders and to three shops owned by Maldivians. This was the time the Food Organisation Committee was established, near the end of WW2.

In 1944, a lot of flour was brought to Long Shop, owned by T. A. J. Noor Bahi. It was rumoured that 20,000 sacks were delivered by this shop's boat. The government also had a lot of flour. From memory, I think the controlled price of the government stock was 42 rupees per sack. The shop reduced its price to 8 rupees below the controlled price, but Mohamed Ameen was determined not to take any loss, and forced the Food Organisation Committee to gather for a meeting. Some of the members of the committee were Kolige Umar Manik, Hilihilaage Moosa Didi, Ibrahim Hassan Didi, Kuda Dhaharaage Ibrahim Didi, Mohamed Naseer Manik (M. N. M.) and other members. The chairman of the committee was Mohamed Ameen Didi.

The members were expressing their views, when Mohamed Naseer Manik suggested that if there was control over rising prices then there could be control over falling prices. A silence spread over the meeting. Even Ameen Didi smiled involuntarily. Other members were lost for words and Ameen closed the meeting at that point.

The Food Organisation Committee informed the market that those who had brought in the most food during the previous three solar months now had an increased quota in relation to their imports. The managers of the Big Store would remember this. This raised the level of competition, and due to the high profits to be made from fish, and the fact that those importing more food received more fish, even more food was imported.

During the war, a naalhi of rice was available at times on the black market for one rupee 25 laari, and people starved to death on some islands. On others, breadfruit, screwpine fruit, yam, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins were available, but islands devoted to fishing, faced starvation. This was due to what the Borahs did with the fish. Islands that had vegetable gardens were not affected.

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