Comment: Maldivian history a mockery of past and present

Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

In an isolated country such as ours, with a culture that goes back thousands of years, history has become twisted beyond all recognition and ended up as an unnavigable tangle of myths and falsehoods. And it appears we are not done yet.

An unreliable history

The story goes that in the mid-16th century, the Maldives was dominated for a period of 15 years by the Portuguese who – for reasons lost to history – attempted to forcibly pour alcohol down pious Maldivian throats.

Three brothers from the island of Utheemu – Mohamed, Ali and Hasan Thakurufaanu – then intervened heroically, in a tale of cunning and tact, to overthrow the infidel Portuguese, and became heroes of Islam who saved our pious nation from the alcoholic, Christian invaders.

This grand, sanitised version of the story, where an Islamic hero defends the faith of the Maldivians from evil infidels would prove very useful for later rulers of the country, like Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who constantly stoked fears of evil Christian missionaries trying to take over the Maldivians precious Islamic faith – a tactic that persists to this day. In 2009, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found a paranoid Maldives to be among the world’s Top Ten most religiously intolerant nations.

Over time, it became apparent that it was not just foreign invaders that threatened to take away our Islamic faith, but our own dead forefathers whose entire rich Buddhist culture was swept under the carpet so tidily that to this day, it cannot be properly acknowledged – much less celebrated.

As much as we tried to erase it from memory, a vexatious history kept throwing at us evidence of a rich pre-Islamic cultural past in the form of statues, Buddhist stupas and ancient coral stone engravings uncovered from all parts of the country that became impossible to entirely ignore.

Thus, a legend came into existence; a fantastical story of a sea-demon, the Rannamaari, who came from the oceanic depths and had to be appeased by a virgin sacrifice every month. Then, Abul Barakat, a Berber scholar from Morocco arrived in the country in the early 12th century and heard of the story from a grieving family.

When it was time for the next girl to be sacrificed, Abul Barakat volunteered to step in. He stood vigil throughout the night, reciting from the Qur’an at the idol-house where the virgins were left every month to be ravished and killed. That night, the sea-demon rose from the depths and drew close, only to plunge again beneath the waves upon hearing the holy recitation which continued till dawn. In the morning, the islanders rejoiced, and upon hearing this, the King was pleased and instantly converted to Islam – willingly followed by the entire population of the country who discarded their idols and got enlightened overnight.

This happy outcome continues to be the version of history taught in schools today, although local historians have since discovered copper plate inscriptions from the 12th Century that describes a much more blood-soaked process of conversion – with Buddhist priests being summoned to Male’ and beheaded. Many terrified islanders buried their beautiful coral stone idols in the sand, covered with palm leaves, to protect it from the King’s men.

The idols survived the king’s men. But they could not survive the religious paranoia of their descendants, who are left with a toxic relationship with reality, having been brought up on a diet of distorted history.

In December 2011, this writer wrote a piece mentioning the statue of Gautama Buddha recovered from the island of Thoddoo in 1959, that was decapitated and soon afterwards had its body smashed to bits by paranoid Islanders, leaving behind only its serenely smiling head.

Less than two months after the piece was published, Islamic radicals vandalised the National Museum, and completed the job by destroying the head in a fervour to protect their Islamic faith from this perceived historical threat.

An embellished past

As far as stories go, the tale of the demon Rannamaari is only slightly more embellished a truth than the tale of a model Islamic hero overthrowing the Portuguese who were trying to force alcohol down our throats.

Maldives chronicler Abdul Majid points out that Buraara Koi, an ancient narrator of history, described Mohamed Thakurufaanu as “an adulterer, a necromancer, a cheat and someone who enjoyed trapping birds into his extended adolescence” – characteristics unworthy of an Islamic hero.

To set right this historical glitch, Hussain Salahuddin, a conservative twentieth century chief justice and a former royal commissioner of history, “openly purged the traditional versions of ‘objectionable’ events and accounts and inserted politically correct material in their place – some of it fabricated by his own admission”.

While no authoritative version of our history could survive our endless assault on facts, the end result of both these tales – the Rannamaari and the Portuguese invasion – is very politically convenient. In both cases, the tale inextricably weds our national identity with Islam in a grand, exaggerated and sanitised recalling of past events, while simultaneously assigning our history to be as much as an enemy of our identity as any foreign invader.

Recently deposed President Nasheed, a self-proclaimed history buff, marked the Independence day by narrating tales of Maldivian history on the radio. He added another spin on this already convoluted story by saying that there isn’t evidence that Islam was ever under threat by the Portuguese – asserting that Maldivians were simply more pious than that.

Nevertheless, the Portuguese, whose archives interestingly seem to record no evidence of direct rule of the Crown over the Maldives, ended up as being yet another incarnation of the Rannamaari;  another woven yarn about a demon that had to be defeated to demonstrate the valour of Islam that finds resonance to this day.

For instance, Umar Naseer – one of the primary actors in the overthrow of the elected government last year – has described his actions as being equivalent of the overthrow of the infidel Portuguese. In the Maldives, anything can become a Rannamaari. Even an elected government.

As a population, we revel in collective myths.

Muddying up the present

President Nasheed is also fond of pointing out the cyclicality of history – and how we are a nation with a long history of subterfuge, conspiracy and coup d’etats.

After all, the first Maldivian republic collapsed in 1954 after President Mohamed Amin Didi was deposed in a coup engineered by his Vice President Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, who in turn was deposed and exiled to make way for the restoration of the monarchy.

Yet, the police and military backed coup in 2012 that installed Waheed in power seemingly came out of the blue. For a nation as fearful and hostile to its own past, learning from history is out of the question and the cyclic nature of events becomes inevitable.

And thus, all the pieces fell into place on Friday night, on the occasion of the country’s Independence day, for a farce so gigantic that one could almost hear the giant wheel of history grind in motion.

On that night, Mohamed Waheed, installed in power in last year’s coup d’etat, conferred upon the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the NGIV (Nishan Ghaazeege ‘Izzatheri Veriya, the Most Distinguished Order of Ghazi) – the highest civilian honour recognized by the Maldivian state.

The location chosen for this travesty could not have been more appropriate. It was the very museum hall where the priceless, exquisitely carved coral stone remnants of our Buddhist history were reduced to dust last February as the coup was unfolding. Disregarding expert advice, the surviving artifacts in the museum were moved aside to make way for this momentous sham. Outside, the muscular SO riot police had forcibly shut down the neighbouring Art Gallery and held back protesters.

The coral stone dust of our forgotten past still lingered in the air when Waheed proceeded to essentially give a giant one finger salute to two generations of Maldivians – including, as many point out, his own mother and brothers – who have suffered under the yoke of Gayoom’s tyranny.

As far as this writer is concerned, the title bestowed upon Gayoom is about as legitimate as regime that conferred it upon him – which is to say, not at all.

Nasir spins in his grave

Another President – President Ibrahim Nasir – was conferred the same honour by the Sultan of the time.  However, President Nasir – who introduced modern English medium curriculum, and radio and television and civil aviation and tourism and mechanized fishing boats that breathed life into, and continues to prop up, the Maldivian economy in the decades ever since – was stripped of his kilege and other titles by his successor, the Gayoom regime.

Much like former idols, spirits and sea goddesses were demonised overnight to fit a new historical narrative, former President Nasir was vilified, exiled to Singapore and sentenced in absentia in the early days of the Gayoom regime. Indecent cartoons and songs mocking him were played by the Gayoom regime on the very government radio stations that Nasir introduced.

Today, Nasir’s reputation lies impossibly tangled. On one hand, he is praised as the hero of our national independence and architect of the modern Maldives who was harsh on corruption. On the other hand, he is criticised as a heavy handed autocrat who allegedly stole from the public coffers. He lived out his final years in ignominy and disrepute but, having died just after the fall of the Gayoom regime, was given a hero’s burial in Male’ alongside his royal ancestors.

Whether Nasir was a hero or a villain, we can no longer rely on our muddled history books to tell. Gayoom’s attempt at manipulating history and his muddying his predecessor’s legacy was thus an unqualified success.

And last Friday, Waheed stacked yet another card on the house of cards that we call our nation’s history; another attempt to muddy up the waters, another perversion of history itself in a bid to whitewash Gayoom’s indefensible legacy.

To quote from Hegel’s Philosophy of History, “What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it”.

In a country where gods have morphed into demons, and falsehoods have become the basis of our faith, and myths explain our origins, and history itself is a giant farce – it is clear that Gayoom intends to be remembered not as the vain leader of a corrupt, nepotistic, iron-fisted regime who never faced justice for his decades long crimes – but as someone who can now point to his shiny new medal and count himself among the highest, most distinguished and honourable among our citizens.

And it looks like he just might get away with it, and history will be none the wiser.

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29 thoughts on “Comment: Maldivian history a mockery of past and present”

  1. Last night event was not held in Museum as mentioned in this article and it was held in republic square. This show that this article was pre-written and was not based on actual fact.

    Fishing boats were not mechanized during Nasir regime and go back check when was that done. Here again reporter is wrong.

    English medium was not introduced by Naasir and Naasir introduce Latin to replace our own alphabetic letters.

  2. kuribee,
    it is irrelevant where last nights event was held because I think the writers point is not that. To my knowledge, English medium ws introduced by nasir and also modern fishing boats. So please tell where you get your "facts" from?

  3. @yameen rasheed

    "Whether Nasir was a hero or a villain, we can no longer rely on our muddled history books to tell"

    Are you serious? Have you talked to anyone about what happened in G.Dh.Thinadhoo? Most of them are still alive and you don't need history books to tell.

    I wish you started it off with the last paragraph so i could stop reading any further.

  4. Why are our athiest kaafir bloggers so worried about our history? Why shall they care? The only thing they seems to do well is mock Islam, and make fun of dhivehi people.

    And yes for the record i have met and asked about what Nasir did to Thinadhoo people. I talked to a person who lost 3 sons in the Thinadhoo massacre. Glossing over Nasir's image as a national hero is one of the stupidest thing MDP did. But the problem with MDP is that nobody dares dissent or voice anything against the better judgement of the supreme leader.

  5. @ Writer Yameen Rasheed

    "a country where gods have morphed into demons" ????


    "falsehoods have become the basis of our faith" ?????

    1. Care to elaborate and explain?

    2. Who are the "Gods"??

    3. What is the "falsehood" that is the basis of our faith ie" Islam that you have alleged??

    4.Are you contending that Islam is based on some falsehood?

  6. @thakurube on Sat, 27th Jul 2013 2:52 PM.

    It was Late President Ibrahim Nasir who foresaw the need to mechanise our fishing. In the 70's 4 units of YANMAR diesel two cylinder, inline trunk engines were brought to the Maldives as a pilot installation.

    The first unit was installed on a boat named "UMMEEDHU" belonging to the Late Naifaru Dhon Kaleygefaan.
    This engine however was later brought to Male' and returned to the Ministry of Fisheries, because the fishers went fishing on the boat had belief that the noise of the engine and the propeller would frighten away schools of fish and therefore affect their fishing!

    A second engine was given to a boat builder genius named Late Alifushee Maavadi Thuththubey who never ever had fiddled with, disassembled or overhauled any kind of engine ever in his life.

    After the installation and until his departure, this engine was never given for repairs or overhauling to any workshop or engineer!

    He had methodically counted the number of turns of bolts and nuts, remembered them and tap marked various places while disassembly! If in doubt, he asked people how to overcome them and maintained this engine up until his time was up!

    I am not aware of the other two engines. But after these engines, there were 100 pieces brought to Male'.
    They were stored in the place that used to be called the Saw Mill which is where the MTCC operated many of their business including the YANMAR sales center itself!

    These are fact. Not out of any donkey's mouth!

    As for the history of Maldives, it is pathetic that people like Gayyoom are entertained by the people to be doing what he has done to this country!

    I would not think Late President Nasir would care a damn about Gayyoom being awarded NGIV, because it would be only after him Gayyoom receive it!

    It was surprising that Gayyoom was cunning to declare that he does not deserve it. But he was SHAMELESS to take it home!

    The whole think looked "so ANIMAL FARM like" where it will be the PIGS who will always be awarded!

  7. after living in maldives for a period of 8 years,i want to say that there are many things to be made public,hundreds of secrets to be unravelled.the history of maldives isnt clear but someone has dictated and the other one has just written it on some paper.some educated people of maldives must do a proper research on this topic to help the next generations to know about isnt the age of relying on tell a tale stories,everything demands proof and much more...

  8. At least Maldivian has the notion that every nation has a history to celebrate. Let poor Maldivian celebrate their concocted history. Everything they have is a mimic of what happens elsewhere in the world mainly happened due to some historical facts, colonization or conquering for economic benefits or to rule the world. What historical fact we have to sanctify Maldivian history? We know that people whose shipwrecked in Maldives were stranded and they had even committed suicide who could not escape their nightmare in these tiny rat holes where the life was impossible, so why on earth any army would be interested to send their troops to invade the ocean with tiny dot with few feeble human species .

    The Portuguese history has no mention of Maldives, so there is no doubt that Maldives never was under Portuguese, there is no single historical evidence to prove the presence of any Portuguese influences in the Maldives. No architecture or artifacts to prove they had any presence in Maldives. If there was any presence of Portuguese as Maldivian claim, it was few pirates who mainly lived on high seas who may have been stranded in Maldives. This few, may be two or three pirates had stayed in Maldives and controlled the Maldivian and ultimately a guy who had some guts may have killed them while they were sleeping.

    When we look at the twisted story of Islam, this story is nothing but simple folklore that has been going for generation. When the Rannamari is a myth how can you relate this to historical facts. Probably the Arab had a deal with the king and he forced on people to convert to Islam and those who rejected would have been killed. The nightmare of genocide would have been in the memories of those who were victimized and fainted away time passed with each generation and became the myth of Rannamari .

  9. Good article, I think the point of this article is that history being deliberately twisted to suit the victors or the people in powers advantage. This was't just the case of recent history, there is also a story of the copper plate recording of pre Koimala rulers, it is said that Suriavansh king was exiled into Addu with the records, long after his death the records were buried deemed a threat.

    There is also interesting tidbits from Pyraards account, he writes his observations of people still practicing vedic rituals.

    On Nasir I would say that introduction of Radio and mechanized boat might be more of opportune time, but I think he aspired big for Dhivehi raajje, despite his heavy handed tactics and corruption. Perhaps the airport project is a example of it.

  10. It is good that this debate has been started! Most of the many statements above are true (except Kuribee about motorised fishing boats and Iliyas nonsense about Islam).
    Let the debate go on..

  11. @Ilyas

    3. Pretty much everything about the belief.

    4. Yes. Absolutely.

    Religion governs over only the poor and uneducated. The upper classes who claim to be religious engage in all kinds of 'kaafir' activities. Just ask one of your 'happy happy' judges.

  12. This is a good report and well written. However the writer failed to provide proof to his claims similar to the rannamaari story. All he does is mentions some claims that some of the maldivians say. If you ask some others they will say different. So dont try to pass your imagination as history as the rannamaari story was done decades ago.

    The writer seems to have an ego as it seems he thinks he is a better than the average maldivian and yet so proof on any of his stories.

    Thank You

  13. Maldives language and the beautiful lifestyle of the people prior to Maumoon is evidence that we had deep cultural roots. But those Gayoom haters, how ever justified their hate is, should not negate our history.

    Whatever fake the stories SEEM to be to new Malaysian graduates, there is genius in the stories

    Yameen Rasheed can move to Sri Lanka to practice Buddism

  14. @thakurube

    Maybe Ibrahim Nasir invented Rihaakuru and Toasted Bread if you two had your way.

    from your quote: "It was Late President Ibrahim Nasir who foresaw the need to mechanise our fishing."

    - think now.

    How about this scenario. Maybe it was a person who saw a mechanized boat who foresaw the need to have it in Maldives. Maldivians foresaw the need to give credit to presidents. Maybe?

    Nasir didn't foresee a mechanized boat. People foresaw the need for mechanized boats a hundred years before they ran one in Maldives. The only time that guy had a challenge , he packed boats full of armed soldiers and wiped out an entire island of unarmed citizens. Not genocide? Don't you think he's psychotic.

    In a world where mechanized boats were the norm, don't you think it'd be a challenge to have sail boats doing half the job when there were sufficient demands for fishing exports. Oh what a genius was he. He foresaw the need to have merchandized boats. Please repeat this over and over again.

    I won't go off-topic but i have a lot in mind.

    And it's highly likely that the Portuguese, Spanish & the British had control of Maldives. Know why? That's because they had control of territories nearby Maldives. We may not have artifacts - but they might. That's because Maldivians at that time ( nor now ) were fancy of preserving artifacts - The Kings could have sold them all to seafarers for who know what.

    What's really unlikely is Kenyans, Koreans and Martians to not have controls of Maldives.

  15. "However, President Nasir – who introduced modern English medium curriculum, and radio and television and civil aviation and tourism and mechanized fishing boats that breathed life into, and continues to prop up, the Maldivian economy in the decades ever since – was stripped of his kilege and other titles by his successor, the Gayoom regime."

    Look, Yameen Rasheed, there are people alive in this country who can tell you about Nasir and his brutal bloody acts of murder and theft. Gayyoom is no saint, but Nasir was a million times worse than Gayyoom ever was. This is not just 'glorified' history; the evidence is there for those who want to find it.

    As for that cock-n-bull story about the Portuguese, it's just that, cock-n-bull; nothing more. If the Portuguese really were here, they'd have left tell tale signs of their presence, long after they left. That's the pattern wherever they went in the world, including neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka and India. Some Portuguese pirates may have opportunistically setup shop here for a while, and some locals may well have succeeded in murdering them.

    Lastly, I want to mention that history is always written by a "victor" and never by the victim or the victim is never heard. Maldives is not unique in having a decidedly unremarkable and distorted history. The same can be found all over the world.

  16. One more thing that irritates me no end is this "glorification" of Nasir as the hero who brought us Independence. It's as if he fought battles and sacrificed his life and soul to achieve that. The truth couldn't be further.

    We were a sleepy British protectorate for a very long time. In fact, no one living or visiting here would have known that we had anything to do with Britain, because, the British kept us at arms length. This wasn't a valuable asset to them, and they were perfectly happy to sign a piece of paper.

    Nasir made a few trips to Ceylon, had a few cups of tea with the British and viola, we were "independent". The hero returned home and we lived happily ever after. What a load of bollocks!

  17. Loved article, every comment amazing... There was a unit I wanted to do at uni but I missed it, called, the philosophy of history. All YOUR amazing insights (author and every commentor) are teaching me heaps, amazing insights! Thankyou so much for well and truly making up for the unit I missed!

  18. The human brain is an amazing organ. It keeps working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, from you leave the womb, right up until you find Mordis; where presumably 100% people believe in a faith called Islam!!

  19. God loved Maldives so much that, He made it look like a garland in the Indian Ocean!

  20. @ismail on Sun, 28th Jul 2013 7:44 AM

    "possible portugese or caucasian dna in mordis ?"

    Not a chance. Look around; the b***ds are so freaking ugly.

  21. what the hell is this. maldivians are indo aryans. decedents of indus valley civilization. look at genetics. (m17 historic aryan chromsome exists in 5o% of maldivians) maldivians are dark skinned romans!
    our roots lies in our language.the most related language of mladives is german language. we are decendents of proto indo ayriyas. by the way proto= furathama. im not here promoting a race theory. but just let that you people are so ignorant about your origins.

  22. most of maldivians have high foreheads,large ears, non flat noses inherited from indus valley. ofcourse we assimilated aboriginal south indians to form the nation of deevaa maari.

  23. @hassan, you make sense. our actual dhivehi laguage is related to euro languages. for example , the word foreign in our language dhivehi is fredhhi. for foreign lands we call freddhi kara, see the similarities. we have nothing to do with arabs. we are truly indic people who suffered cultural manslaughter due to arabisation.we are one of the oldest countries on earth. we had historical contacts with romans, chineese even much before advent of islam. our real roots in Mesopotamian during prehistoric neolithic times. the dhonies and bookuras are the technolcgy we brought from Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.

  24. Maldives or dhivehi people has some 1 or 2 unknown layer of substrate in migrated people, the boat building architecture differs from north to south, the structures of the larger boats seems to have come from north west coast of south / and the gulf, where in ancient times mesopotamian and Indus/ meluhan civilization were. The later invading indo-aryans must have borrowed, took over and integrated the sea-faring culture and technology from the former to the later's more pastoral culture, they also brought with them new and more advanced technology.

    Also another strange similarity I noticed of boat architecture from ancient Egypt, boats have tall extended curved front keel. This is rarely seen elsewhere.


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