HISTORY OF THE MALDIVES
CONTRIBUTION FROM: DEVOTEE RICK
THE LEGEND & THE MYSTERY
Our islands (the islands of Maldives) were born in the tumult of great geological change. Millions of years ago a great range of volcanoes rose from the floor of the Indian Ocean and burst through its surface. Gradually, when the years pass-by, the tumult lessened and the volcanoes sank back into the depths leaving only small coral reefs in the vast expanse of sea. Thus, forming a glittering necklace of gems stretching across the equator, covering the coral reefs with whitish sand and lush green of coconut palms and hardy shrubs, which were completely deserted. Yet as sailors, ever adventurous, sailed further and further in search of conquest and wealth, they drifted upon them. In some far-off times now remembered only in distant folklore, a strange race of seagoing giants were among the first people to make their homes on these remote and distant islands.
After sometime, still thousands of years ago, the "Phoenicians" sailed through the islands and in the centuries that followed came Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Roman and Sri Lankan manners. One legend from those misty, long-ago times before the arrival of Islam was that a single dynasty ruled this nation of scattered islands. The story goes:
"Once upon a time, a Prince of Royal birth named Koimala Kaloa, who had married the Ceylon King's daughter, made a voyage with her in two vessels from Serendib Island. As soon as they reach Maldives they rested a while at "Rasgetheemu Island" in North Maalosmadulu Atoll. "The Maldive Islanders learning that the two chief visitors were of Ceylon Royal descent, invited them to remain; and ultimately proclaimed Koimala their King at Rasgetheemu, the original "King's Island". Subsequently Koimala and his spouse migrated to Male' and settled there with the consent of the aborigines of Giraavaru Island, then the most important community of Male Atoll".
A mixture of fact and fable, such tales as these lend to the mystery of Maldives before the arrival of Islam in the twelfth century. "The story continues with the king's order for two of his ships to return home and bring back other people of the "Lion Race", where upon his son reigned as a Buddhist for twelve years, and was then converted to Islam, ruling for thirteen years more before he finally departed for Mecca. As the legend goes, the king was succeeded by his daughter, who reigned as nominal sultana until her son married a lady of the country. From then the subsequent Rulers of the Maldives were descended".
Although official Maldivian history only begins in the twelfth century, literary it works and archaeological remains provide clues to earlier pre-Islamic eras. Maldives was a stopping-off point for many great seafaring civilizations which roamed the high seas long before European maritime history began . Since it was the Egyptians who taught the Romans how to cross the Indian Ocean, it may not be too fanciful to imagine the proud Egyptian papyrus ships with their colorful square sails navigating through the Equatorial Channel along the highway of the sun. Perhaps the Maldivian men modeled the elegant curved bows of their boats from the Egyptians, and the women the beautifully embroidered collar pieces of their dresses.
These ancient seafarers made fairly accurate, estimates of the number of islands in the archipelago. The first reference to Maldives is in the second-century writings of the Greek astronomer, mathematician and geographer, "Ptolemy". He refers to it as "1,378 little islands" west of Taprobane (Sri Lanka). Pappus of Alexandria, who lived at the end of the 4th century, follows Ptolemy with a mention of Taprobane and "1,370 adjacent islands". Scholasticus, the Theban who lived about the same time and visited the Malabar Coast, mentions "A Thousand Islands" and their treacherous nature since they had "loadstone rocks which attract iron-bound vessels to their destruction".
The great Arab travelers who crossed the Indian Ocean was the Persian merchant Sulaiman, who lived in the 9th Century. "In the sea known as "Sea of Herkend". He wrote; "there are nearly 1,900 islands, adding that the ruler of these islands is a woman and that their wealth consisted of cowries". Al Mas'udi, the Arab traveler who visited Sri Lanka at the beginning of the twelfth century, claimed that between the "Sea of Herkend" and the "Sea of Lar" there were many separate islands: "There are 2,000 counted islands here. To be more accurate there are 1,900 islands here."
The Chinese were also among the early great navigators. Dating perhaps from the fifth century BC, the Shu-Ching or Classic History records "Weak Waters" in the area. Fah-Hian, who visited Sri Lanka about the year AD 412, mentions the small islands of Maldives. Ma Huan, who traveled with Cheng Ho's great expedition to East Africa in 1433, states in The Overall Survey of the Ocean's shores that Maldives is the "Three Thousand Weak Waters" referred to by tradition. He also identifies some of the islands and tells how foreign ships travel from far to purchase ropes. At the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Chinese were certainly familiar with the archipelago. They called the sub-merged mountain chain Liu-Shan (Liu-Mountains) and wrote about its geographical position, climate, products and customs .
One of the copper plate books called "Laomaafaanu" Records the early Islamic Dynasties.In comparison with Eastern civilizations Europeans were latecomers to the Indian Ocean. "Vasco da Gama" was the first to reach the eastern waters in 1498. Nine years later "Dom Lourenco de Almeida" discovered Maldives for Portugal. When the French brothers, Jean and Raoul l'armentier, aboard the Pensee and Sacre', landed on the southern island of Fuah Mulaku in the equatorial Channel, they were warmly welcomed. In particular the headman impressed them with his geography: "The chief Priest, who was a man of much discretion and knowledge showed the Captain in what quarters lay the countries of Adam [Mesopotamia], where Christians placed the Garden of [Eden], Persia, Ormus, Calicut, Muluque, and Sumatra; and proved himself to be both learned and well-traveled." Such knowledge clearly reflects the extent of Maldives' trading connections at the time. These early literary references present a tantalizing glimpse into Maldives' ancient past, but only recently has a more substantial picture begun to emerge.
Recorded Maldivian history begins about the time of the islands' conversion to Islam in the year 583 of the Holy Prophet (AD 1153). History before this date was long suppressed and most pre-Muslim artifacts destroyed. In such a conservative Islamic society, the general feeling was that it was better not to unearth what was buried. Now a new generation of Maldivian historians, encouraged by politicians and religious leaders, has begun to explore Maldives' pre-Islamic past in search of a greater understanding of their country. While its recorded history is short, Maldives takes pride in the fact that its actual history is as old as that of its neighbors on the Indian subcontinent.
The first person to study pre-Islamic history in Maldives was the British civil servant "H.C.P. Bell", who arrived on the wreckage of his ship in 1879. He returned twice to investigate "the pre-existence of Buddhism in the Group". The monographs of this commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service show a great love of his subject; "Ancient Ceremonial bath with closely fitting stones dressed in a manner known to a few pre-European civilization". During the early 1920s, Bell recorded many archaeological sites in the outlying atolls. In particular, he came across many large rounded mounds of coral stone and rubble, known locally as "hawittas", which he thought were the remains of ancient stupas similar to the Buddhist Dagoba temples in Sri Lanka. With local help, he excavated some of the hawittas and found many Buddhist statues, which confirmed his view that Maldives must have been Buddhist before its conversion to Islam. He also came across Hindu statues of Shiva and other artifacts in the southern islands, which suggest that Hinduism from south India was influential there. Although Bell was little more than an amateur, he left a unique record containing much curious archaeological, historical and cultural data. Most of the hawittas that Bell recorded still stand, but as local villagers use the stone for building, many are now half their size. On some islands the mounds are also called "hatteli", meaning "Seven Pots", which probably refers to the spires that resemble seven superimposed kettles also found on Buddhist dagobas in Sri Lanka. When asked who they think built the hawittas, the islanders inevitably reply "the Redin". Although no one seems to know exactly who the Redin were, some suggest that they were large people with light skin, brown hair and hooked noses. They may well have mixed with visiting sailors during the centuries. Whoever they were, they put an enormous amount of effort skill and wealth into the temples that they built throughout these remote islands. According to legend, they were also phenomenal sailors. One story tells how the mythical Redin would cook their food on an island in the north only to travel to another island in the south to eat it.
More light was cast on the enigma of Maldivian history in the early 1980s when President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom invited the explorer and author "Thor Heyerdahl", of Kon Tiki fame, to investigate some archaeological sites. Heyerdahl, who visited many of the areas recorded by Bell. He discovered some new sites by following local advice. Heyerdahl found some superb craftsmanship. On the island of Fua Mulaku, near the equator, walls made from carefully cut and fitted stones reflect techniques known only to a few pre-European civilizations. The dressed stones in one sunken ceremonial bath fitted so closely that a knife blade could not slide between them.
Historians have argued that Maldivians are a mixture of Dravidians from south India and Sinhalese from Sri Lanka. But recent evidence suggests a more complex picture. There may be links with the Naga and Yakka people who developed the pre-buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka, as well as Dravidians from south India. It is also thought that Aryans from North West India settled in Maldives two and half millennia ago, colonizing Sri Lanka at the same time. Sinhalese Buddhists undoubtedly came from Sri Lanka at a later date . Although the principal cultural affinities of Maldivians are Sinhalese, there is a Tamil substratum. A man-beast myth in Maldives that explains the origin of the people is similar to the Sinhalese myth of the "Lion People".
same time the "Giraavaru" people, who believe themselves to be the
aborigines of the islands, claim descent from the Tamils. While the Dhivehi
language resembles early Sinhala, most words relating to the sea and the family
have a Tamil root. Whatever the exact pattern of settlement - and historians
may never know - the great variety of physical types in Maldives suggests that
different groups reached these remote islands independently in prehistoric times.
Later, Indonesians, Malays, Arabs and Africans all added to the racial and cultural
melting pot. The history of Maldives after the arrival of Islam in the twelth
century is clearer but there are few records. The Koimala legend of the founding
of the royal dynasty in Maldives, foreshortened by many centuries, underlies
the close link with Sri Lanka and recognizes the existence of Buddhism in the
archipelago before the arrival of Islam. The official story is taken up in the
Tarikh, a history of Maldivian sultans from AD 1153 (the date of the Islamic
conversion) to 1821. There exists, however, a copperplate book, the "Isdhoo
Loamaafaanu", which begins in the year AD 1105, when "the great King,
Sri Maanaabarana of the house of Theemu, the Lord of the Lunar Dynasty became
the King of this country". It lists the names
of the four Buddhist kings before Islam and the length of each ruler's reign.
At this time the Arabs, who plied the Indian Ocean centuries before Vasco da Gama first rounded the tip of Africa, most Maldivian cowries have been found as far north as the Arctic Circle in Norway and as far west as Mali, influenced Maldivian history. Maldives, or Dibajat as they called it, was a strategic center pot on the sea routes to Malacca and China. The Arab seafarers, who landed for water, dried fish and coconuts, often stayed for long periods of time. The Arabs also collected sacks of cowrie shells, which could be found in abundance on the shores of the islands, as ballast. In medieval times cowries were used throughout the Indian Ocean as small change.
According to legend, an Arab converted the Buddhist king, Theemugey Maha Kaliminja to Islam. The story goes that when Abu al-Barakat arrived in AD 1153 he found a "colony of ignorant idolaters". By exorcizing the demon god "Rannamaari", who came from the sea on Male' Island every full moon to rape and kill a local virgin offered as a sacrifice, he won the gratitude and admiration of all. He did this by dressing as a girl and spending all night reading aloud the Qur'an. It was all too much for the sea monster, who departed forever.
The Maldivian ruler was so impressed that he converted to Islam and persuaded his subjects to do the same. The old idols were broken and the temples razed. The famous Arab traveler Ibn Battuta, who relates the story, read the hero's name from the carved inscription in the Friday Mosque in Male' as "Abu-al-Barakat Yusuf al-Barbari" from Berber land in North Africa thereby identifying him as one of his compatriots. Modern scholars, however, argue that it reads "Al Tabreezi" from Tabriz in the Persian Gulf. It has also been suggested that it could refer to Beruwela in Sri Lanka. Such esoteric debate in no way diminishes the veneration accorded to the bringer of Islam, whose grave on Male is a holy shrine. A political interpretation suggests that Maldives adopted Islam because the ruling elite were unable to hold Buddhist Sri Lanka at arm's length without the support of their powerful Islamic neighbors in the Indian Ocean.
twelfth-century Arabs were received with great hospitality and some were appointed
gazis (chief judges of the Islamic law) as well as sultans. King Kaliminja became
Sultan Dharmas Mohamed Ibn Abdulla. During the next thirteen years of his reign
he set about introducing Islamic law throughout the islands before sailing away
on a pilgrimage to Mecca, never to be heard of again. Almost sixty years elapsed
before the conversion to Islam was complete. Indeed, according to the Isdhoo
loamaafaana, the next King, who came to power in AD 1179, sent an expedition
to the southern island of Dhabidhoo in Laamu Atoll to bring the Buddhists to
heel. "The Great King, Srimat
Gadanaditya, an ornament to the Lunar Dynasty, resplendent as gold, firm as an Asala [stone pillar], defender of the entire hundred thousand of islands, brilliant as the sun, moon and stars, virtuous in every manner, lord of love, mine of jewels, adorned with a crown set with gems, - On the fourth year of his becoming the sole monarch he, having destroyed the shrine erected previously by the infidel Kings of Dhanbidu, uprooted the Buddha images, and caused the infidel Kings to read the Shahadat [a Muslim creed]."
Women have always played a significant part in Maldivian society and matrilineal inheritance was well-established in early times. The country may also have been ruled by matriarchy. At the turn of the 10th century both Sulaiman the Merchant and Al-Mas'udi record the fact that the Maldive islands were ruled by a queen. And at the beginning of the twelfth century Al-Adrisi wrote:-
"It has always been a custom with them that a woman arbitrate, a custom from which they do not depart. This queen was called, Dmhra. She wears garments of woven gold, and her headwear is a crown of gold studded with various kinds of rubies and precious stones. She wears gold sandals. In these islands nobody wears sandals, except this queen alone, and if anyone is found wearing sandals, his feet are amputated. On ceremonial occasions, and the feast days of her sect, this queen rides with her slave-girls behind her, in full procession of elephants, banners and trumpets, while the king and all other ministers follow her at a distance".
In Islamic convention no woman can be a religious leader. Nevertheless, unlike other Muslim states, Maldives continued to be ruled by a succession of sultanas. Sultana Khadeeja Rehendhi Kabaidhi Kilege, who ruled on three separate occasions between 1342 and 1380, was one of the most memorable. Many people believe she came to power after murdering her young brother, and when she was overthrown by her husband in 1363 she killed him as well. In 1373, her position was usurped by her second husband. He suffered the same supposed fate as his predecessor. Triumphant over the dead bodies of her treacherous husbands, she ruled alone until she died in 1380.
It was during the reign of "Khadeeja Rehendhi" that "Ibn Battuta" came to the islands, one of many Arab traders landing in 1344 for provisions and the cowrie shells that served as currency throughout south India and Africa. His writings give the earliest descriptive account of Maldives and its inhabitants. Ibn Battuta declared that the islands were the most agreeable he had ever seen and "One of the wonders of the world" - quite a statement from a man who had visited 92 countries.
Ibn Battuta remained in Male' for about ten months and left a detailed record about the country, its form of government, customs and religion, painting a favorable picture. "The people of Maldives are upright and pious, sound in belief and sincere in thought; their bodies are weak, they are unused to fighting, and their armor is prayer". "Once when I ordered a thief's hand to be cut off, a number of those in the room fainted". The Indian pirates do not raid or molest them, as they have learned from experience that anyone who seizes anything from them speedily meets misfortune.
Since they were such bad soldiers, the sultana's army of about 1,000 men were mainly mercenaries from neighboring islands paid in rice each month. Ibn Battuta found the women particularly attractive and made full use of the custom that "any newcomer could marry if he so desired, then on leaving he simply repudiated his wife". It was easy to get married in these islands, he noted, "on account of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasure of their women's society. When ships arrive, the crew take the women as wives, and when they are about to set sail they divorce them. It is really a sort of temporary marriage. The women never leave the country." It was common for young girls to hire themselves out as servants to the wealthier families. There were also slave-concubines, Battuta was given two. Although well-received at first, eventually Battuta fell out with the sultana's husband who, as the wazir (prime minister), feared Battuta's growing influence and resented his haughty independence.
After marrying the sultana's mother-in-law - "one of the best of women" Battuta became gazi and enforced a strict inter-pretation of Islamic Law. He changed the practice of divorced wives remaining in the homes of their former husbands; enforced (on pain of public beating) the observance of Friday prayers; and tried, unsuccessfully, to make women cover the top of their body. As a gazi he received the entire income of three islands. His marriage to three other well-connected wives soon raised the wazir's fears that he was becoming too powerful. These were unfounded, however, for after about ten months Ibn Battuta decided he had had enough and sailed for Malabar. On his way he stopped at Mulaku in Meemu Atoll, and although he was there for only 70 days he found time to marry two wives. Eventually, on 22 August 1344, Battuta left but not without a final sense of regret. Like so many travelers since, he came across a tiny island where a weaver and his family lived alone. "And I swear I envied that man, and wished that the island had been mine, that I might have made it my retreat until the inevitable hour should befall me". Battuta returned only once to Maldives, to see his son, but decided it was best to leave him with his mother.
THE ALI RAJAS
By now trade with the Indian subcontinent was largely in the hands of the Muslim merchants along the south-west coast of India, who were called the "Sea Kings", or the Ali Rajas of Cannanore.
They maintained such a stranglehold over trade that they were also known as the "Lords of the Maldive Islands". After Sultan Kalhu Muhammad was deposed for a second time early in the sixteenth century, he appealed to the "Sea Kings" to reinstate him - which they did in return for a regular tribute. Their monopoly, however, was soon threatened.
The next sultan, Hassan IX, impressed by the Portuguese, traveled to Cochin, India, in 1551 to learn more about Christianity. On New Year's Day, 1552, he was baptized a Christian. Two years later he married a Christian woman from Goa. Keen to convert his ministers and chiefs to Christianity, he invited them to Cochin, but others rebelled and seized two expeditions of loyal subjects which tried to reach him. It was not until 1558 that a third expedition reached Cochin.
WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
The Portuguese returned to take over Maldives from Sultan Ali VI, who had been in power for only two and a half months. His death during the struggle is now a national anniversary celebrated as "Martyr's Day". The Islands came under the rule of the leader of the Portuguese expedition, Captain Andreas Andre, known locally as "Andiri Andiri".
The Tarikh relates: "The Maldivians then submitted to Andiri Andiri, who proclaimed himself Sultan". He sent Christians to take charge in all parts of the Maldives, and enforced submission. The Portuguese ruled most cruelly for 15 years, committing intolerable enormities. "The sea grew red with Muslim blood, the people were sunk in despair". At this juncture God Almighty moved the heart of Khatib Muhammad, son of Khatib Hussain of Utheemu to fight with the infidels and to end the crying wrongs.
Praying to God for wisdom to conquer, he took council with his younger two brothers. The 3 of them (Ali Thakurufaanu, Mohammed Thakurufaanu and Hassan Thakurufaanu) started a guerilla war. Eventually, after 8 years of guerilla war, the three sons of the island chief of Utheemu led a successful rebellion, with the help of the Ali Rajas of Cannanore, Although the eldest of them Ali Thakurufaanu was captured and beheaded. On the eve of the Portuguese deadline for all inhabitants to become Christians or face death penalty the rebels landed on Male', massacring more than 300 Portuguese.
Muhammad Thakurufaanu, the second son of the chief of Utheemu, was declared sultan in 1573, founding the Utheemu dynasty, which reigned for 127 years through 7 sultans. Never again was Maldives ruled by a foreign power. Thakurufaanu is now remembered as a national hero for his role in regaining the country's independence. Not all subsequent rulers, however, were benevolent.
The Frenchman, Francois Pyrard de Laval, a purser shipwrecked for five years when the Corbin ran onto a reef in 1602, left a fascinating and detailed account of the sometimes cruel Maldivian ruler of the time. During his captivity he learned Dhivehi, and his three volume work published in 1619 remains a mine of curious information about Maldives and a valuable historic archive. Pyrard finally escaped when a ship from Chittagong in Bengal, intent on salvaging the cannon on board the Corbin, arrived. Armaments at this time were more important than men.
One of the last of the Utheemu dynasty was Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I, who ruled from 1648 to 1687 and repelled several pirate expeditions from south India, raised many fine buildings, and introduced new customs. He came to a sticky end after falling for a beautiful slave girl, Mariam Kabaafaanu. As his concubine she bore him a son. When he was chosen as the sultan's successor, some people believe she poisoned her lover to allow her 6 year-old prince to become sultan. She later seized power for herself and appointed her brother as wazir. She took many lovers, encouraging the women of her court to do the same. Her death was as dramatic as her rise to power: sailing to meet the fleet which had defeated a pirate expedition from Malabar, a spark from the victory salute blew up a powder magazine, destroying the royal vessel. The sultana's body was never recovered and her son died soon after.
THE DUTCH & THE BRITISH
During the 17th Century the Dutch ousted the Portuguese as a principal force in the Indian Ocean. Anxious to befriend the new superpower, in 1645 Maldives established diplomatic ties with the Dutch Governor of Sri Lanka and exchanged tribute a practice which continued for two centuries. In return for cowrie shells the Dutch promised an annual supply of spices, areca nut and ammunition.
In 1796 the British took over from the Dutch in Sri Lanka, and trade between Male' and Colombo increased. At that time the sultan of Maldives took himself very seriously. A letter to the governor of Sri Lanka, asking him not to welcome any enemy but to take care of any shipwreck from Maldives, opens with the words: "Hail! The glorious, renowned, most wise, nobly-born ruler, comparable to the moon and the sun, the heroic warrior Sultan Hasan Nur-ud-din Iskandar, the warrior, the great King of the earth, to the King styled the Governor in Colombo, many thousand greetings from here".
Sri Lanka became the main buyer of Maldives major export dried tuna fish but by the middle of the nineteenth century the archipelago was nearly bankrupt. Bohora merchants, who were invited from India, rapidly dominated the economy. They monopolized the import and export trade, which consisted of rice, sugar, cotton, dried fish, coconuts and tortoise-shell. Eventually one firm "Carimjee Jafferjee and Company" gained complete financial control, creating so much resentment that in 1887 local businessmen set fire to the company's stores and god-owns in Male'. To end the troubles the young Sultan Muhammad Muinuddin II signed a treaty with the British governor of Sri Lanka on 16th December 1887. Maldives became a British Protectorate, but the British promised to refrain from interfering in local affairs and administration.
The turbulent political history of Maldives continued into the 20th Century when plot and counterplot prevailed. In 1932 Muhammad Shamsuddin III, who had been recognized by the British over his rival, was persuaded to accept the first written constitution in Maldivian history. It not only limited his powers but also introduced the principle of elections. When he tried to repudiate it he was replaced by Sultan Hassan Nuruddin II.
outbreak of the Second World War the British established two airstrips, one
at Gan in the south and the other at Kelaa in the north. In 1942, the Maldivian
constitution was again rewritten, but
the Sultan was forced to abdicate the following year. Sultan Abdul Majeed Didi took his place, but he was old and soon retired to Colombo. Prime Minister Muhammad Amin Didi assumed almost complete control of the government, introducing a modernization programmed that included a National Security Service and a government monopoly over the export of fish.
The sultanate was abolished in 1953 when "Amin Didi" was elected as the 1st President of the new Republic. Food shortages and his controversial ban on "Smoking and Importing of Tobacco" led to riots and he died on (Vihamanaafushi) Island now "Kurumba Village Island Resort" soon after his arrest. The instability continued with the abolition of the republican constitution when Muhammad Farid Didi, son of the former Sultan, came to power in 1954 as the country's 94th and the last Sultan.
Two years later the British were given a 100 year lease of Gan air base, but it was revoked in 1957 by the new prime minister, Ibrahim Nasir. This angered the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls who had benefited from the base. In 1959, claiming the government in Male' treated them like serfs, they formed the secessionist state of the "United Suvadive Islands". Abdullaa Afif Didi was elected president, a people's Council was formed and a trading corporation and a bank established. Initially Nasir agreed to a better deal with the British, but in 1962 he sent gunboats to the southern atolls, forcing Abdulla Afif Didi to flew to Seychelles. Other leaders were exiled on outlying islands. Eight years later Ibrahim Nasir was elected President of the second Republic.
Maldives became fully Independent on 26 July 1965, Later the same year on September 21st Maldives became the 117th member state to the United Nations. Following a referendum in 1968 the country adopted another Republican constitution, but a 1972 amendment gave the president far greater powers in an Islamic State. Its English name was changed from "Maldive Islands" to the "Republic of Maldives". The legal code remained based on the Islamic code of Shrari'a. Under the new constitution, Nasir governed with an iron hand.
The main market for Maldives' biggest export dried tuna fish collapsed in 1972 after Sri Lanka imposed foreign currency controls. When the tourist industry was launched in the same year, Nasir was accused of using government cash to set up his own hotel and travel agency. The benefits from the new industry reached few people. After a large crowd gathered to protest against rising prices in 1974, Nasir ordered the police to open fire to disperse the crowd, though no one was killed.
When Ahmed Zaki was elected Prime Minister for a second term, he was banished with other government officials in the hope of forestalling any attempt to remove the president. Nasir declined his nomination for a third term in office, and departed to Singapore with a great deal of the national exchequer in 1978, after Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the first Maldivian ambassador to the United Nations, was elected the new president. Nasir, accused of corruption and theft, was condemned in absentia to twenty-five years banishment.
Highly centralized and hierarchical, the political system of Maldives is based on three tiers. At the bottom is the administration of the inhabited islands, ruled by a local island chief (katheeb) and one or two deputies who work with an island council. At the second level is atoll administration. For convenience, the atolls have been grouped into twenty-six districts, each ruled by an atoll chief (Atholhuverin) and his deputies.
The Atoll Chief (Atholhuverin) is responsible for the economic and political arrangements on the atoll. A gazi (Islamic judge) deals with judicial matters by interpreting and applying the principles of Shrari'a to individual cases. At the top is the legislative body is known as the Citizens' Majlis. It consists of 48 members, two elected from each district and eight nominated by the president.
The president is nominated by the Citizens' Majlis and confirmed by a public referendum. The president holds supreme authority: he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and protector of Islam in the country. He can appoint cabinet ministers who are not necessarily members of parliament.
Change is most profound in the capital and nearby islands, where the influence of the outside world is felt strongly. The days when Maldivians relied on the wily merchants of southern India or Sri Lanka to manage their economy have long gone. They now run their own businesses and there are a growing number of wealthy entrepreneurs on Male. Government officials work in the morning, but do other jobs in the afternoon. As they become more dynamic, they also learn what it is to work under pressure.
In the 1980s the economy grew rapidly. Fishing is still the backbone of the country, employing about 40% of the workforce. Maldives National Ship Management limited handles 60% of the imports and operates 10 cargo and container vessels. The tourism industry has expanded and is now the major foreign exchange earner.
there are new schools and health clinics in the outer atolls, Male' remains
the hub of the scattered archipelago, and while no one goes without food or
shelter, Maldives is one of the poorest countries in the world. Still predominantly
an Islamic seafaring nation, Maldives is rapidly entering the modern world.
In the 1970s the country's ornate doors began to creak open. As tourists continue
to discover this "lost Paradise" in the midst of the Indian Ocean
the ancient ways and rhythms of these unique islands are slowly being disrupted.
With the dawn of the century it is difficult to say what the long term effects
will be. What is certain is that the enigma that is Maldives will remain for
a long time to come.