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The story of 20th century 'famines' in Maldives Part 2
Mohamed Ameen and the failure of the First republic
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 mohamed ameen on parade with women
Mohamed Ameen marching with daughter Ameena (right) and Jameela Ibrahim Didi (left)

The war ended in 1945, and due to Mohamed Ameen's failure to follow the British Lieutenant Walker's advice, the Maldive people experienced extreme hardship. Many people migrated from Gulhi island in Male' atoll, but others died. This was what happened in many islands.

Meanwhile 25,000 rupees a month in foreign currency was sent overseas to pay for the living expenses of Abdul Majeed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan, his younger son and associates, and about half a dozen elderly people with them. This arrangement continued for a long time. There is no reason why the leaders of the country should escape responsibility for people starving to death during WW2 in Maldives.

Abdul Majeed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan had gone off and settled in Egypt in 1933. Immediately after the end of the war, he went to Colombo because Hassan Fareed had died without a child, and as Fareed's father, Majeed had become the owner of Fareed's property in Kandy. He sold it and bought a large three storey building in Colombo which contained six shops. It is on the junction of Banksal street and the second cross street on the sea-side corner. It was named the Fareed Building. From the rent it earned, 300 rupees were given to Sheikh Ali Hussein Didi, and the remainder was for Mohamed Fareed and Ibrahim Fareed.

Thus the 60,000 rupees that Hassan Fareed had taken to buy rice when he left in the Fathul Bari (after WW2 began), had now become a building. And it was just as the people in the north said – we never saw the rice. Hassan Fareed's wife, Aminath Mohamed Didi, was paid 25,000 Maldivian rupees, as was her rightful claim. And she was given a house originally built by Abdullah Didi (Athireege Abdullah Didi). He had no children and his properties were inherited by Athireege family elders.

Very briefly, this is the story of the Second World War.

For twenty years (after WW1) there had been peace, and during that time the wealth generated around the world was at a historically record level. Then the Second World War began. According to Honourable Ibrahim Rasheed of Karankaage house, a trustworthy and reliable gentleman, a certain number of people did die of starvation during WW2, and this is corroborated by many elderly people. And people suffered from malnutrition too. Ali Hussein of Novelty said that people in other Maldivian islands ate the inside of papaya tree trunks. But people did not starve to death as they did later in the Ameenee Big Famine.

Addu atoll and Fua Mulaku did not suffer any effects of the famine. Fua Mulaku had enough vegetables and fruit growing on the island. Addu atoll had foodstuffs that were imported in large amounts for the British soldiers who occupied the atoll with their Pakistani and Indian labourers. Ameen Didi issued feeble instructions that the people of Addu should not have easier access to food than other Maldivians.

The Ameenee Republican Big Famine

maldives mohamed ameen and Ibrahim Faamuladheyri Kilegefan in Male' in 1948
Mohamed Ameen and Ibrahim Faamuladheyri Kilegefan 1948

The British-Maldivian agreement was prepared by Mohamed Ameen and he decided to hold the signing ceremony in Male'. The British High Commissioner W. Henkinson came to Male' from Sri Lanka, and signing on behalf of Maldives on 24 April 1948 were the two members of the Council of Regency, Mohamed Ameen and Ibrahim Ali Didi (Faamudheyri Kilegefaan). Abdul Majeed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan was there and he was saying the signing of the agreement was a great service for the country. Then, on 29 April 1948 we witnessed a koli being held for Mohamed Ameen, proclaiming him Dhoshimeynaa Kilege (Grand Defender of the country).

Mohamed Ameen had become a particularly highly honoured gentleman. His name was now Al-Amir Hajj Mohamed Ameen Dhoshimeynaa Kilegefaan. On the day the agreement was signed, Mohamed Ameen announced that the money owed by the islands for food they received, had been absolved by Abdul Majeed.

Ameen seizes Addu compensation money

Maldives Yaahunbaraahu vedi from addu atoll, destroyed in 1944

In 1947, Mohamed Ameen received £300,000 from the British, which was originally obtained from the Japanese by the Allies as compensation of the deaths and property losses caused by the sinking of the 'Yaahunbaraahu'.

This vessel was an odi owned by Ali Didi, the son of Elha Didi. Only two people escaped death on this odi, Mohamed Manikufaan of Sikkage, and Ibrahim Didi, the son of Abbeyaa. These two were imprisoned in Singapore by the Japanese after the odi was gunned and sunk. Later, when the British recaptured Singapore they were sent back to Maldives with clear details of the ship's accounts, handed to them by their British rescuers. Mohamed Ameen summoned them to the Home Ministry and ordered them to hand over the documents they'd received. I was given this information on 9 February 1998 during a telephone conversation with Mohamed Manikufaan of Sikkage.

maldives mohamed ameen on parade with British in Male'

Without any sense of decency, or care and sympathy for the widowed wives and children who had lost fathers among the many men killed, Mohamed Ameen deceived them and misappropriated their rightful property. Regardless of the fact that Ali Didi was wealthy, his son Mohamed Didi had been killed and he had lost the odi. Mohamed Ameen was required to pay this compensation money to Ali Didi. However, he acted terribly by committing this great deception, and at the same time he was accepting the title 'Ameenul Gaum' (Head of State).

There is no question that as soon as Hassan Fareed was missing (April 1944), Mohamed Ameen became the leader of the country. His behaviour wasn't too bad then. When the Japanese were defeated, foodstuffs and clothing were delivered to private businesses and the National Company. Prices were really cheap, and this continued up to the signing of the agreement in 1948. After that, Mohamed Ameen's manners began to deteriorate. His father-in-law Salahuddhine and Ali Kuda Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan had died. Abdul Majeed was happy to go with the flow. As long as he received money, Majeed was happy.

T. A. J. Noorbahi was the man who wrote the amounts on the board of all the fish that were brought into the Big Store. One day he would accept all the fish, and then on the next day all the fish would be taken to the Nagariya shop. All the people acting on behalf of the other shops would complain as they left the Big Store with empty hessian bags.

Mohamed Ameen was using this fish to borrow money in Colombo, via confidential letters, at the rate of one rupee for eight Maldivian rupees. The money lent to him in Colombo was from secret funds that had avoided tax. The money was being laundered into legal money. Thus Mohamed Ameen was paid illegal money that he could spend on whatever he liked. When this scam started, the amount of goods being imported into the country began to decrease.

Mohamed Ameen was suffering from two chronic diseases – diabetes and high blood pressure. His tonsils were always infected and he often had a high temperature. He regularly took dispirin and other stronger medication. He was always being admitted and treated in the best Sri Lankan hospital, the Nursing Home. It was on High street, adjacent to the land-side of Galle Road. The managing director of T. A. J. Noorbahi's company Baseer Ali and Mohamed Ameen were both students at St Joseph's College, and very close friends. Once as he lay sick in bed, Mohamed Ameen sent a letter to Baseer Ali asking him for an immediate loan of 300,000 rupees and promising to pay in fish after returning to Male'. I think this money was borrowed in 1951. I have seen the letter, but that was after Mohamed Ameen's death.

As mentioned before, Hassan Fareed's disappearance in 1944 meant Mohamed Ameen inherited the leadership. The first large house he built with government money was Sosunge, for Annabeela Ameenath Hussein. Then he built the beautiful Orchidmaage for Annabeela Fathmath Ibrahim Didi. After this he built Billoorijehige for a very beautiful young woman who was studying in the Convent of the Holy Family in Colombo. Her name was Miss Fathmath Abdul-Wahhab. Mohamed Ameen also built a very large two storey house inside the grounds of King Ali's palace for his second wife Annabeela Zubaida Mohamed Didi.

The Athireege compound as it exists now was all built with government money except the part that extends from east to west. A solid house (now called Vadige) was built for Vadi Dhon Manik, and a house (known today as Finifenmaage) was constructed for Masodi Mohamed Kaleygefaan. A very small house that belonged to Beyruge Yusuf Fulhu was rebuilt for Ameenath Faiza and renamed Daisymaage. After obtaining consent from Faiza's father, Yusuf Fulhu, the land and house were registered in Faiza's name. As well, another large block of land known as Daisy Fehi was given to Faiza. However, after Faiza became the wife of Sayyid Abbas, no building was constructed there. At that time, an immense amount of money flowed into the market to finance the building of these houses. All the houses were built from material purchased at any price from the market . Teak, and other good quality timber that had accumulated in government hands from the days when Abdul Majeed was in charge, were used in the construction of these buildings.

Now the period of the Republic was imminent. Abdul Majeed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan left Egypt and travelled to Sri Lanka. Shortly afterwards, he died on 21 February 1952.

Many girls were taken to Sri Lanka for their education and because they were friends of Mohamed Ameen Didi. The students stayed in the upper storey of Fehige in Colombo with Ameena Mohamed Ameen. Mohamed's 'friends' stayed in Cosy Corner. In India, Mohamed Ameen had a very close girlfriend called Sheila. It was rumoured that she was one of the beautiful film stars in India. Through her, Mohamed Ameen met many film stars in Bombay. He reserved many rooms in five-star hotels and it seems that the compensation money for the loss of the Yaahunbaraahu was spent on these film women. None of the Maldivian girls received a single cent of those funds, that's for sure.

maldives Male' street scene 1947
Male' street 1947

During the last half of 1951, Male' was decorated in preparation for the announcement of a Republic. At that time the classrooms of the House of Learning (later, the Majeediyya school hall) were under construction. The on-site superviser was Nakhuda Hassan Kaleygefaan and Mundu Kuda Futhu. The outer perimeter walls of Majeedee Magu road were lowered to a height of 4 ft. and finished off with rounded coping.

It became difficult to borrow money from overseas, until a loan of 700,000 rupees was granted by the Sri Lankan government. I believe the debt, in the account of the government agent P.B. Umbichchi & Sons, had become too high. (The public became aware of this loan after the end of the Republic). With proper records being kept, a loan of 80,000 rupees was taken from a company owned by M. S. Hibathulla Bahi. I don't know when this money was borrowed.

From this time on, a terrible famine began to spread all over the outer islands. People starved to death. This was because foodstuffs were not being imported. Fehige and Cosy Corner were full of female students and girlfriends. When the republic ended, it was discovered that about 50,000 rupees a month was being spent on these places.

People were dying of starvation and there wasn't even any cloth to cover the dead. The junior island chief of Ribidhoo said he used a hessian bag to cover his nakedness. Mohamed Saleem, the son of the famous poet Adam Saleem of Hoarafushi island, told me over the telephone that his father told him that 12 people died on his island on one day. The sails of a grounded odi that was no longer suitable for fishing, were used to shroud the dead. Vashafaru Adam Abdul Rahman said that Ahmed Shafeeg, who was then an atoll chief, said to him that he had seen a dead mother and two dead children . The young ones had their mouths on her breasts. All three had starved to death in Felidhoo island, Felidhoo atoll. He wouldn't admit that now.

Shaviyani atoll Kan'ditheem Katheeb was sitting in K. D. M. Shop No:2, and during a conversation he said that anyone who said magoo (scaevola taccada) leaves made good food, was given a Kaleyfaan title. It was also said that in some islands the shortage of cloth and weakness of the people resulted in the dead being covered in coconut frond thatch and buried in the soft sand near the beach.

Those who were able to go fishing were prohibited from taking a stove aboard, so they cooked fish in the sail. In complete secrecy, they brought the bits and pieces of food to their houses. If anyone was caught doing this, they were put in stocks and exposed to the sun and rain. There were stories that some people were hanged and fires lit under them. These acts were carried out by those atoll chiefs who were backing Mohamed Ameen. Some of the islands chiefs also joined them. According to reliable people, in Naifaru island the atoll chief Kaannaa Kaleyfaan distributed magoo leaves from uninhabited islands as food.

Here I will quote extracts from Essays II, by Honourable Al-Usthaz Ibrahim Shihab, Malas 37, NCLHR, 1992:
'Maldives was starved in every meaning of the word. People ate leaves, and islands were in total darkness. The people were in a state of nakedness.'
'People were suffering in this way, while in Male' there were dances, silk clothes, tea drinking and feasts. Yes! We are now understanding the taste of it all..' p.146
'Yes! In Male' some people were flying, living at the highest level of prosperity and happiness. But for many of the poverty stricken people in the islands, their food for that day was leaves from bushes.' p.189
'The treasury had become the property of those in power, their share depending on the extent of that power.' p.194
'The huge debt we owe to Sri Lanka is the other important economic issue we have to face.' p.198

Republic Day

Nevertheless, Male' was still being prepared and was nearly ready for the republic celebrations. The day of the announcement was imminent, and it was to be 1 January 1953.

On the morning of this day, ministers and men and women from the gentry were in official dress, and men and women delegates were brought from the other islands. All these people gathered in the conference hall at the House of Learning. The British officials from Sri Lanka arrived at the venue. They included the High Commissioner Sir Cecil Sawyer, Dr Sir Ivor Jennings, Royal Ceylon Navy Commander Royce de Mel, and the Member of Parliament for Jaailaa and former student of St Joseph College, Peris Perera.

The meeting began at nine o'clock. Right on cue, the 'Head of State' appeared in a military commander's dress, and wearing a brimmed hat. Beside him, but one step behind, was Mohamed Zaki in similar attire. When he called out 'Head of State', everyone stood up. Maldive men who were not from Male', had to wear a white turban on their heads. Kaanaa Kaleyfaan, Meynaa Kaleyfaan and Fenna Manikfan were also forced to wear the turban on their heads. During the republic celebrations, these gentlemen were given the titles reserved for non-Male' Maldivians . Malin Moosa was given the title of 'Maafahaiy', and Nakhuda Hassan Kaleyfaan was made Ranahamadhi. Other titles were also proclaimed.

Many girls were brought to Male' for the beauty contest. These girls were staying at Buchaage house, which was almost directly in front of Athireege house (Mohamed Ameen's residence). There were about twenty of them, and their food was chicken curry, fish curry and boiled long-grained rice. They drank condensed milk tea and ate 'Golden Pop' biscuits. They wore 'Number 3' dresses, made of London fabric. [This was one the few designs that women were allowed to wear. The government gave permission for the wearing of three types of dresses. This permission was granted in May 1942]. The Republic was proclaimed and then the carnival began.

About twenty people from both sexes were in charge of this carnival. Among them were Mohamed Ameen and Velaanaage Ibrahim Didi, and other people of lesser status. Tea was arranged for them at Naadhee and the snacks available included deepfried fish balls, fish patties and savoury cake. This food was prepared at Athamaage house. The carnival days continued until at one o'clock each morning.

Abdul Latheef's wife was Dhondhi. At the end of the carnival, Latheef was paid 600 rupees for the preparation of the snack food. Chicken samosa was made at a house in Henveiru ward. I believe they made about 1000 rupees by the time the carnival was over. It ran for ten days. For a year before the proclamation of the republic, Gulhi island (in South Male' atoll) was where many people died of starvation. While the official teas and feasts were being served at the carnival, Gulhi island was becoming uninhabited. The situation was the same in the islands of Felidhoo atoll. Many people died because they were unable to walk without support, and couldn't find anything to eat. Most people died in the small fishing islands. Shihab writes:
'The president of the country seemed to have forgotten that he was a human being.' Malas 37 p.194.

Tobacco banned and hands amputated
Well, it wasn't surprising really. The constitution presented to the people had contained no rights for them. The Privileges Committee ruled with great power. Its chairman was Mohamed Ameen, and his anger could be intense. In a short time even the people in Male' began to greatly disapprove of Ameen Didi.

Rice was rationed in Male' to a half cup per person, and then there was the smuggling of tobacco into the country by some members of the Kandaa family from Maafannu ward. When the smuggling became public knowledge, orders were given for fifty people from each ward to gather at Naadhee (the public servants' club) at eight o'clock in the evening. Everyone attended, and Mohamed Ameen said that all the people from Maafannu were thieves.

maldives hakeem and others accused of plotting to murder Mohamed Ameen
Hakeem Didi and fellow conspirators from Viligili island in Huvadhu atoll. They were accused of murdering the Huvadhu atoll chief, and plotting the murder of Mohamed Ameen using black magic.

And then there was the issue of the execution of Hakeem Didi, and the amputation of the hands of thieves. Among the people who's hands were amputated were Hussein Didi of Badi Alibey house, and Sidi (also known as Ibrahim Waheed) the son of Kalhu Sidi. These two gentlemen were members of the gentry. Bodu Fenvalhuge Sidi went to see Mohamed Ameen and asked him not to amputate Hussein Didi's hand.

'All the gold has been recovered,' argued Bodu Fenvalhuge Sidi. 'The owners have no more complaints. Since it was a first offence, then in accordance with the law of the Shafii sect, the hand cannot be amputated.'
'I have to execute a sentence given by the Honourable Chief Justice,' replied Ameen.

On behalf of another person sentenced to amputation, Ibrahim Faamuladheyri Kilegefaan went to intercede with Mohamed Ameen. Faamuladheyri Kilegefan was closely related to Sidi on his father's side. His appeals were also rejected.

The third person whose hand was chopped off was a commoner.

Anyway, all three men had their hands amputated at the wrist. The Sri Lankan doctor who was in Male' at the time, John Ratnam, also asked Ameen Didi not to cut off hands. He showed Ameen a photo of a large machine and asked to be allowed to use it to dislocate the joint before the amputation, if it had to be done at all. He also wanted to administer a tetanus injection and anaesthetise the hand before the sentence was carried out. Kuda Ahmed Manik overheard these discussions and secretly told many people. There was growing anger among the population. People also heard about the protests of Velaanaage Ibrahim Didi, the vice-president, and this also became a commonly known secret.

As (Ibrahim Waheed) Sidi's hand was about to be cut off, Velaanaage Ibrahim Didi suddenly fainted where he was in the forest in Hulhulé island. He lay on the ground until he regained consciousness, and people believed he had collapsed because he was humane and kind.

Ameen's finances
At this time, Hilihilaage Moosa Didi had been the deputy at the Home Ministry for two years. Before, Velaanaage Ibrahim Didi had held the position. It became a commonly known secret that Ameen Didi had bought a hundi (financial promissory note) valued at 25,000 Sri Lankan rupees for 200,000 Maldivian rupees, from Moosa Didi's company at a rate of 8 rupees for one Sri Lankan rupee. 22,000 of the rupees from the company were packed into twenty-two boxes and taken by Ameen as diplomatic luggage to Sri Lanka in the M.G.R. Marukaaru. This also became a common knowledge.

Ameen Didi now believed he was all-powerful, enjoying the loyalty of the militia, the customs officials and young people. He distributed unlimited amounts of money to women who joined his supporters, and gave funds to his associates as well. About a hundred households were eating No:1 hard and tasty long white rice. In many other households, only tainted flour was being eaten. This flour had been released onto the market as 'food'. Of the 4,000 people living on Male', only about 200 ate good food.

Hathifushi Ramiza was the daughter of Hathifushi Dhon Manik, and her brother was Hathifushi Ali Manik. The mother of the children was Dhanvaru Aiminah. The father, Dhon Manik, was dead. This Ramiza was the girl who Ameen Didi loved most.
Ninety-eight pounds of sugar and a letter were sent to the atoll chief of Thiladhunmathi from the Ministry of Trade. At that time Thiladhunmathi atoll wasn't divided into Haa Alif and Haa Dhaal. In the same vessel ( which belonged to Kulhudhuffushi Kokko Ahmed) was a letter from Mohamed Ameen along with two sacks of sugar, each weighing a hundredweight, for Vadi Dhon Manik. The letter instructed him to deliver the sugar to Dhanvaru Aiminah. The two consignments of sugar went aboard that same vessel. The writer has a signed handwritten document regarding this matter.

The end of the First Republic
Anyway, the end of the First Republic came near. After being very sick for a while, Ameen went to Colombo for treatment. On the advice of doctors there, he travelled to Madras in India. News of the long trip reached Male'. A group of younger people had the idea of handing the leadership over to the vice-President. Ibrahim Didi agreed. Very quickly, secret meetings were held in two houses in Maafannu and it was decided that they would gather at the parade ground after the Friday prayer on the 11th of the Hajj month, and overthrow Mohamed Ameen. The plan was successful, and it happened on 21 August 1953.

Less than a month had passed after the change of leadership, when Ibrahim Faamuladheyri Kilegefaan went to Colombo and obtained aid from the Sri Lankan government of 3,000 sacks of rice, each weighing 150lbs. From Pakistan, there was aid in the form of 4,000 sacks of long-grained rice, each sack weighing 200lbs. Faamuladheyri Kilegefan hired a boat called 'Safina Thariq' and took this cargo, along with rice, sugar, and flour to Male' for Zaib Ali, the Director of T. A. J. Noor Bahi.

The fish sold to the Big Store were now distributed to businesses in accordance with their rightful quotas, and supplies – rice, sugar, flour, areca nut and betel leaf eating condiments, and spices – all increased very quickly. These goods were transported to the other islands and less than three months after the end of Ameen's rule, the eating of magoo leaves in Maldives ceased.

People had begun to receive decent food, but nothing could be done about the debts. More details about this appear in many of my other writings in the daily newspaper, Aafathis. Goods came into the country regularly after the end of World War 2 in 1945, and seven years went safely by. Then came the Big Famine that Ameen Didi inflicted on the people.

Two widely separated famines have been joined together by certain noble members from Huraage, Ameen Didi's girl-friends and others who would falsify history. Regardless of what they have written, this later famine cannot be connected with World War 2. The term 'ration card disease' (a protruding stomach due to malnutrition) comes from the time of the Ameenee Famine.

Author's note

I, Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik, wrote this document in response to the accounts written, with the approval of the government, which claim that this famine never happened. This falsehood is even being taught in our schools, in the 'Social Studies' curriculum. Also, there are many middle-aged people who talk about this famine, but they pretend they don't know what really happened.

And then there are those who are involved in writing history. One of them is Naibuge Haleem, another is Abdullah Sadiq. Koli Ahmed Manik also ignored this famine in his writing, even though he was very well aware of it. Ahmed Shafeeg, the son of Medhu Gan'duvaru Thuththu Manippulhu, was misleading and lying when he wrote that the Ameenee Big Famine didn't occur. His account has even been published.

This statement is written by
Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik
Everglory house
Machangoalhi ward

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