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Maldives - British protectorate
Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik
Introduction by Michael O'Shea
Translation by Fareesha Abdullah

The unique geography of the Maldives combined with its centralised and rigid administration, and Islamic social system, to create an insular and psychologically self-sufficient and defensive Maldivian people. In their natural ocean fortress of potentially lethal hidden reefs and malarial islands, conversing in their own language and writing in their own script, superstitious and pious, wary to the point of timidity, for centuries Moslem Maldivians avoided the unwanted currents of infidel European civilisation that swept the seas and continents around them. Possessing little natural wealth or strategic significance, the islands were virtually ignored by the most confident and powerful of Indian Ocean colonisers - the British.

Unlike its colonised neighbours, the Maldives was relatively unaffected by the British Raj, and entered the twentieth century without hospitals, schools or harbours. The Maldivian government had paid a ritual annual tribute, first to the Portuguese, and later to the 'rulers of Ceylon' - the Dutch, then the British. This tribute was purely ceremonial, and often ineffectual, but it was not until 1887 that the Maldives was forced to accept formal protectorate status; and then only after the government had been crippled by bankruptcy, politically motivated arson campaigns in Malé, and blatant gunboat diplomacy from the British. Maldivian historian, Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik, uses eyewitness accounts in his record of this incident, first published in 1966:

'The United Kingdom, which always wanted to colonise Maldives with the co-operation of the Athireege family, finally came to Malé in the form of the HMS Britain, on 22 Feb 1887. The captain of this ship was Rodney M Lloyd. As a representative of the Governor of Ceylon came Rear Admiral Fredrick W M Richard. Accompanying them were Athireege Annabeel Ahmed Didi, and Abdul Kareem Mudhuliar.

This delegation went upstairs in the Palace and asked Sultan Mohamed Mueenudheen III, the Prime Minister Sumuvvul Amir Mohamed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan, and the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu to write an agreement between the English and Maldivian governments which would provide 'protection' to the Maldives. According to this agreement Maldives would become a colony of the English.

The whole of Maldives opposed this. This proposal to become the protected servant of anyone other than the Great Allah was rejected by the Sultan, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu, the military, and the people. About six days later the ship returned to Colombo.

There, in Ceylon, the British and their Maldivian friends arranged for Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib to write a letter of agreement in Arabic in which Maldives would become a full colony, or at the very least, a country which came under colonial authority. It was written in such a way that the Sultan seemingly requested British protection on his own initiative, and made the annual tribute ceremony the formal recognition of this new relationship. In the document, the Sultan was given a voice of abject humility, admitting weakness and an inability to stabilise the country.

The delegation, this time with the addition of Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib, then returned to Malé in two large warships. The British delegation went upstairs again to Mathige. This time the document, which the Chief Justice had refused to write, had already been written and only the signing remained. The Sultan, the Prime Minister, the military, and the people… all refused.

The delegation returned to their warships and the guns were aimed at Malé, and the people ran to the edge of the reef. The British and their friends came ashore once again and said if the agreement went unsigned, then Malé would be smashed to pieces. The Sultan and the prominent people agreed to sign the agreement to escape from death. The Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu said that Maldivians should prefer to be martyred rather than accept that thing.'

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