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Fanditha in selected writings of Francois Pyrard and H.C.P. Bell
Maldives Culture 2000


Francois Pyrard was shipwrecked northeast of Male' in 1602. He survived political intrigues and malaria, and traded successfully in Male' for five years until he escaped during the chaos of a Bengali raid.

The book of his travels sold well in France in the early 17th century, and there are some sections apparently written by others. However the Maldivian section seems to have a single author and it is the best written section of the book, exhibiting a subtle and objective analysis of the Maldivian people of that time. Maldivian historians have been offended by Pyrard's Christian prejudice against Islam, but his observations of life on Male' are profound and rise above this obstacle to understanding.

Below are some quotations and notes from the 1887 English translation of Pyrard, by Albert Grey and H.C.P. Bell. Words and comments in [] brackets are by the website authors.

During times of heavy weather and high tides Male' can be surrounded by a wall of sea foam which provided the conditions for mass visions and hallucinations: "... it is a fearful thing, even to the most hardy, to approach this reef, and to see the billows from afar come on and break with fury all around; for I assure you, as a thing which I have seen an infinity of times, that the crests and foam of the breakers rise higher than a house, of the whiteness of cotton, so that you see around you, as it were, a wall of exceeding whiteness, chiefly when the sea is high."

"... [Maldivians] keep with care the cuttings of their hair and nails , without letting any drop; these they are careful to bury in their cemeteries with a little water; for they would not for the world tread upon them nor cast them in the fire, for they say that they are part of the body, and demand burial as it does; and indeed, they fold them neatly in cotton; and most of them like to be shaved at the gates of temples [probably important tombs] and mosques."

Powers of the wind and sea were individually worshipped. In Pyrard's time the King of the Winds was the most important, with the semi-deity's shrines located in remote corners of the islands. "Those who have escaped from danger come to make offering daily of little boats and ships fashioned on purpose, and filled with perfumes, gums, flowers, and odiferous woods. The perfumes are set on fire, the little boats cast upon the sea, and they float until they are burned....this they say is so the King of the Winds may accept them."

"... when they have any difficulty in launching their ships or galleys, they kill some cocks and hens, and cast them into the sea in face of the ship or boat which they desire to launch. Like wise they believe in a King of the sea, to whom ... they make prayers and ceremonies while on voyages; or when they go a-fishing, they dread above all things to offend the kings of the winds and of the sea. So, too, when they are at sea, they durst not spit not throw anything to windward for fear lest he should be offended, and with like intent they never look abaft.... All boats, barques, and vessels are dedicated to these powers of the winds and of the sea; and, indeed, they treat their boats with as much respect as their temples, keeping them exceedingly clean, and abstaining from all filthy or indecent actions on board."

"Mr Bell informs me that some of this demon worship exists in the southern atolls, though the natives are loth to give him information on the subject. He has, however, obtained the names of the following ten devils."

  1. Gharaguginni Rannamari (King of Winds)
  2. Nabajahage
  3. Aku-isanja javja
  4. Lajjigavisanavi
  5. Galigoti
  6. Jajjalu
  7. Habboraza
  8. Dihaborajani
  9. Kosmoyazabadu
  10. Laggitudi
"They lay great store by certain charms, called Tavidu, which they carry under their dress, enclosed in little boxes, which the rich have made of gold and silver. They wear these either on their arms, neck, or waist, or even at the feet... they serve all purposes, as well offensive as defensive...loving ... gaining love... raising hatred... curing... making sick. The magicians and sorcerers sell them for money, and say that they bring good luck, and will heal or preserve one from many a sickness... these magicians and sorcerers are their only doctors... They (Maldivians) all believe that evil is brought by the devil... he is the sole cause of death and sickness. They invoke his accordingly, and offer him flowers, and prepare a banquet of all sorts of meats and drinks, which they place in a secret spot and leave to be wasted, unless... some poor folk take them away. With the same design, they kill some cocks and hens, turning themselves towards the sepulchre of Muhammad, and then leave them, praying the devil to accept them, and to take himself off and leave the sick person at ease: they call this sorcery Kanveri."

"Bell gives two examples of ... mantras from the southern atolls, remarking that they come under the Sanskrit category of "Stambhana", or of "Vibhishana", i.e. intended to procure illicit intercourse and effect discord:

1. To completely estrange a desirable woman from her husband, make a teak nail and an image of both persons, mutter "hadduru harruli nuva gihi badili elagodi" (unintelligible) and drive in the nail. [ These words appear to be from the southern Dhivehi dialects, then unknown to H.C.P. Bell. The incantation seems to translate roughly into a call for great distance and enmity between the couple, and a plea for the piece of wood to crack their bonded hearts. The magic numbers 7 and 9 are also mentioned.]

2. Write the name of a desirable woman, pluck an unopened bud of the screw-pine flower; sharpen a new knife; on one side of this flower write Al Kadr Sura; on the other side write Vajahatu; make an image out of this flower; write particulars of the horoscope; write Al Rahman Sura from beginning to end; tie the image in five places with left-hand twisted coir; cut the throat of a bloodsucker lizard; smear it blood on the image; place it on a loft; dry it for three days; then take it and enter the sea - if you go in knee deep she will send you a message; if you go in to the waist she will come."

"Mathematics are taught and much cultivated, especially astrology..."

"... astrologers are consulted at every turn... when they have to do building, whether in wood and stone...the same if it be building a ship... a different day or hour for a ship of war, for a merchantman, and for a fishing boat. ...when they undertake a voyage or any other enterprise... if anything untoward befalls them they attribute it to the day, and accept it with patience, saying that the will of God has been done."

In the attempt to find and then settle the Chagos Archipelago [400km south of Maldives] "They took with them some sorcerers and magicians to treat with the devil and come to terms with him, for they know not how to conjure him: they only pray him to do something, and promise him their vows, and offer gifts and banquets."

"[During] a great eclipse of the sun at high noon... 1605, which lasted three hours. All the people were greatly astonished and cried and howled in strange fashion, saying that it was an evil omen and signified that they should lose the greatest of them."












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