The New York Times, March 10, 1884, p.2:|
HERMITS OF THE OCEANTHE NINETEEN ATOLLS THAT FORM THE MALDIVE ISLES.
CURIOUS WAYS OF EXISTENCE THERE—
GENERAL IGNORANCE OF THE GROUP
AND SOME FACTS FROM THEIR HISTORY.
MALDIVE ISLANDS, Indian Ocean, Dec. 13.—My last letter was dated from Acheen [the extreme northwest point of Sumatra], but our present surroundings have a stronger because a newer interest than even the Montenegro of Sumatra.
There are certain places—many of which are quite as well worth seeing as their neighbors—that the world appears to ignore or to forget as if by common consent. No one would have remembered, save by a chance perusal of oneof the least popular of Capt. Marryat's [Captain Frederick Marryat 1792-1848] novels, that there was such a place as Tristan da Cunha, had not the fearful tragedy which left three haggard, ghastly spectres the sole survivors of a ship's company of 476 souls forced it into a terrible though short-lived prominence eight years ago. Not one man in a hundred, even among the traveling world, has heard of the Keeling Isles or the Chagos Archipelago. The Faroe Isles, though actually within two days' sail of Great Britain itself, call up in most minds only a vague idea of some connection with the place where Pharaoh was drowned in the Red Sea. Equally unjust has mankind been to these strange little hermitages of the sea among which we find ourselves this morning.
The Maldive Islands lie right in the main thoroughfare between Europe and Eastern Asia. Thousands upon thousands of vessels pass and repass them every year. Both they and their neighbors the Laccadives [Lakshadweep] (which lie a little further to the north) flank the famous "Eight Degree" [Maliku Kandu] and "Nine Degree" channels, which form, as it were, the Broadway of the Indian Ocean.
Yet no one ever pays them a visit, no one manifests any curiousity about them, no one even mentions them, except when some short-tempered Captain, picking his way among them in the dark, levels a hearty nautical curse at them for being there at all.
In a word, both groups are a sadly complete realization of the neglected geniuses described by Will Waterproof:
Who sweep the crossings, wet or dry,|
And all the world goes by 'em.
This universal neglectis all the more unpardonable, inasmuch as the islands, apart altogether from their dainty tropical beauty and picturesque surroundings, and the quaint, primitive customs of their population, have a physical structure so peculiar as to make them almost unique of their kind. The whole archipelago, in fact, is composed not of single islets but of separate groups. Each of the 19 Atolls (coral rings) forming the Maldive Isles represents a complete circle of white coral, inclosing a lake of comparatively shallow water in the midst of a seemingly fathomless ocean. Those parts of the circle that rise above the surface are called islands, while those that lie beneath are called reefs...
Some of the islands, indeed, are barely five or six feet above [the surface], their outer edges going sheer down into depths which no plummet can measure, while a little further in the treacherous reefs lie close to the surface, ready to entrap any unwary vessel.
Midway between the two archipelagos stands the Isle of Minikoy [Minicoy, Maliku], dividing the Eight Degree from the Nine Degree Channel, and apparently belonging to neither group, while claimed by both. Upon this geographical half-caste a light-house, rendered abundantly necessary by its dangerous position, has been building for many years past, and is now, according to the Duke of Edinburgh, completed and in operation, although the latest sailing directions make no mention of it.
When all other parts of the world are exhausted, as they seem to be very shortly, the novelist of the future can always fall back upon a newly manufactured coral islet, and may indeed make two or three not uninteresting chapters out of the process of manufacture itself.
Down in the depths the little mason of the ocean labors at his unseen task month after month and year after year, till at length his coral wall reaches the surface of the sea. Beyond this he cannot go, but what he has already done is quite enough. The ground-work once laid every wave and storm casts something upon it. Simple mosses and lichens grow and die, leaving behind them a thin layer of vegetable soil which grows ever deeper and deeper. Cocoa-nuts washed up by the tide, stray seeds let fall by passing birds, plant themselves in the soil thus prepared, and little by little the bare coral reef is transformed into the picturesque islet of the Pacific or the Indian Ocean...
When you want food in these parts you are surrounded on every side by an inexhaustible supply of fruit, and a sea so abounding with fish that (as an enthusiastic Irishman once said) "they're just shoulderin' one another out of the wather." When you take it into your head to put on some clothes—which may occasionally happen on a Sunday or some great public occasion—a strip of cotton or a mat of twisted palm fibre will equip you in the height of Maldivian fashion without the cost of a cent, and in the warm, shallow lagoons between the coral reefs, you will find "baths ready at all hours" in a more literal sense than the Broadway one.
Let us further suppose that you may be aristocratic enough to want a house to live in, instead of contenting yourself, like a sensible man, with the good old fashion of four poles and a mat. In that case two or three hours' labor will suffice to make you the proud possessor of a two-roomed hut, which has all the dignity of a "brownstone front" in this primitive region. It is true that you may at times be disquieted by finding your hammock the rallying point of a lively excursion party of red ants, or by seeing a big spotted snake literally "drop in upon you" from the palm-leaf thatch. But for the most part this "eligible Summer residence" is quite as comfortable as many hotels in the Malay Archipelago, where the floors are only washed when the river rises, and the tablecloth is changed once a year on the landlord's birthday...
During the trading season you will often see a row of gray spots arise along the horizon, shaping themselves gradually into scores of outward-bound buggalows, (light sailing vessels,) which, with their low bowx and high, square, painted sterns, look just as if they were going down head foremost. A Western bluejacket would be apt to laugh at their rude masts or palm or bamboo, rattan cordage, and mat sails. But clumsy as they appear, these outlandish vessels will go fearlessly over the open sea for hundreds and even thousands of miles, not merely to the Malabar coast and Ceylon [Sri Lanka], but as far as Bengal on one side and the Red Sea on the other.
The various cargoes of these boats are a complete epitome of all the products exports of the Archipelago. One man carries a freight of rush mats woven by the ladies of his tribe, which might tempt you to buy if you had time to look at them, many of the patterns being extremely pretty, and often much more elaborate than one would have expected. Another is loaded with something that looks at first sight like decayed leather, but is really dried fish, not to be rashly approached, its perfume at least being not worth a cent. Cocoanuts form the cargo of a third, tortoise-shells of a fourth. These coils of light brown cordage wherewith the fifth is freighted are the famous "coir rope," twisted out of dried grass, and as stiff and strong as iron wire, while all the remaining space is crammed with those small cowrie [Cowry] shells that pass current as money in not a few parts of the Eastern world.
A few months hence these adventurous voyagers will return with a full cargo of rice, the principal Maldivian import. Should one of them touch at your hermitage on his way to Malé, the island which gives its name to the whole Maldive Archipelago (Malé Diva, Malé Islands) you may take the opportunity of going along with him and being presented at the Maldivian Court...
There is little enough luxury of any kind about the Sultan of Malé. When you go to visit his Majesty, you find him enthroned on a reed mat in a palace very like an overgrown barn, amid the trees of an inclosure defended by a mud wall and two small iron ship-guns. He will accept very graciously your gift of an axe or a jack-knife, will probably ask you a good many questions about your own country and its people, and if he happens to be pleased with you, will squeeze together a ball of rice from the dish before him and pop it into your mouth with his own august fingers.
The island in which this royal Tom Thumb reigns—the easternmost isle of one of the central groups—is a mile long gy half a mile broad, with a population of about 2,000 souls. For the most part they are quiet, easy-going folks, extremely hospitable to shipwrecked sailors, and indeed to strangers of every kind. They are all strict Mussulmans [Muslims] and not yet civilized enough to possess the accomplishments of drunkenness, thieving, and lying. The men are chiefly employed in fishing, the women in weaving rush mats.
Thanks to the Sultan's shrewd enactment that all trading with foreigners shall be carried on in this one island, the little spot is quite brisk and bustling during the season. But is is said to be a very unhealthy for a prolonged residence, and to be even more prejudicial to Asiatics than to Europeans.
North of the Maldives lies the sister archipelago of the Laccadives. Despite the sounding name of Lac Diva, (100,000 isles,) an improvement upon even the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence, there are only eight islands of importance, four of which—Ameni, Kardmut, Kiltan, and Chitlac—have belonged to England since her triumph over Tippoo Sahib of Mysore in 1799, while the four others—Underut, Cabruti, Aucutta, and Kalpeni—are claimed by a royal Hindu lady called the Rani or Bibi of Cannanore. The Mplah [Mappila, Moplah] inhabitants (who are all Mohammedans) number, according to the most reliable estimates, 3,400 in the British islands and 9,980 in those of the Rani.
But even this scanty population has been suddenly and awfully diminished within the memory of living men. To the older islanders who can remember it the very name of the horrible Spring of 1847 still carries with it a weight of horror exceeding that wherewith South Australia recalls the fatal morning of "Black Thursday..." Whither were the wretched inhabitants to fly, with the devouring waves all around them, and the whirlwind howling above? One can fancy the doomed men looking out over those wild waters on that grim April morning... Before the blast of the hurricane tail palms are torn up like grass... and the beautiful island is a voiceless waste of ruin, while 1,800 human lives lie buried in the gulf below...
D. K. [DAVID KER.]
See also: Sri Lanka News - India News|
All of Maldives is
one time zone at GMT+5,
with no Daylight Savings time.
The Maldives was long a sultanate, first under Dutch and then under British protection. It became a republic in 1968, three years after independence.
President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM dominated the islands' political scene for 30 years, elected to six successive terms by single-party referendums. Following riots in the capital Male in August 2004, the president and his government pledged to embark upon democratic reforms including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms. Progress was sluggish, however, and many promised reforms were slow to be realized. Nonetheless, political parties were legalized in 2005.
In June 2008, a constituent assembly - termed the "Special Majlis" - finalized a new constitution, which was ratified by the president in August. The first-ever presidential elections under a multi-candidate, multi-party system were held in October 2008. GAYOOM was defeated in a runoff poll by Mohamed NASHEED, a political activist who had been jailed several years earlier by the former regime.
Challenges facing the new president include strengthening democracy and combating poverty and drug abuse.
CIA World Factbook: Maldives
Area of Maldives:
300 sq km
about 1.7 times the size of Washington, DC
Population of Maldives:
July 2009 estimate
Languages of Maldives:
a Sinhala dialect, w/ script derived from Arabic
English spoken by most government officials
Free Books on Maldives (.pdfs)
West Coast of Hindustan Pilot Taylor 1898
The Voyage of François Pyrard of Laval
to... the Maldives... Pyrard v1 1887
The Voyage of François Pyrard of Laval
to... the Maldives... Pyrard v2 1888
The Maldive Islands Bell 1882
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