United Suvadive Republic

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United Suvadive Republic
އެކުވެރި ސުވާދީބު ޖުމްހޫރިއްޔާ
Unrecognized state

1959–1963
Flag Coat of arms
Capital Hithadhoo
Languages Dhivehia
Religion Islam
Government Republic
President Abdullah Afeef Didi
Historical era Cold War
 -  Independence declared January 3, 1959
 -  Disestablished September 23, 1963
a. Mostly Addu / Huvadhu / Fuvahmulaku dialects.

The United Suvadive Republic (Dhivehi: އެކުވެރި ސުވާދީބު ޖުމްހޫރިއްޔާ) or Suvadive Islands was a short-lived breakaway nation in the remote southern atolls of the Maldive Islands (Addu Atoll, Huvadhu Atoll and Fuvahmulah) that constitute the Suvadive archipelago.

Originally, "Suvadive" (Dhivehi: ސުވާދީބު) was an ancient name for the three southernmost atolls of the archipelago, derived from a name for the largest of the three, Huvadhu Atoll.[1] The early seventeenth-century French navigator François Pyrard referred to Huvadhu as "Suadou"[2] and it was marked as "Suvadina" on maps of the Dutch Empire.[citation needed]

The Suvadive secession occurred within the context of the struggle of the Maldives' emergence as a modern nation still shackled by feudal and autocratic structures. The alleged causes were the centralistic policies of the Maldivian government and the recent independence of its neighbors India and Ceylon.

The Suvadives declared independence on January 3, 1959. They capitulated, rejoining the rest of the nation, on September 23, 1963.

Historical background[edit]

Lack of government-promoted communication[edit]

Since ancient times there was a lack of communication between the administrative capital Malé and the most distant atolls (North and South) of the Maldive chain. The government of the Maldive Islands never had a scheduled shipping line that could have provided regular communication with the distant Southern Atolls. Forgotten by the capital, there was not even a regular mail service to this remote end of the country.

The result was a chronic lack of elementary needs in the distant atolls, such as certain essential food and clothing supplies, and even, when there were epidemics, a lack of medical assistance and medicines urgently required.[3] In the face of the capital's inability to provide these basic services, the people in the Southern Atolls were left to fend for themselves.

Traditionally, the void left by this lack of necessary trade and communication was filled by affluent merchant families from the three Southern atolls. Using special large sailships (odi or vedi), they conducted direct external trade with neighboring countries. Thus they used to make a yearly trip to a harbour in Ceylon or South India without going through the Sultan's capital city.

It was certainly easier for the heavy trading ships of the Southern Maldives to sail straight across the open ocean to India or Ceylon, where the Pax Britannica provided a safeguard and a common sense of belonging, than to make a difficult passage northwards through the treacherous reefs of the long atoll chain to sail to the capital. Malé was, after all, a small trading post compared to harbors like Colombo, Cochin or Tuticorin. However, in practice this meant that the Sultan's central government had little control over the import trade conducted within the country. There was no conflict as long as all the countries involved were under the protection of the British Empire, and so this status quo was maintained until after World War II.

Imposition of trade restrictions[edit]

When the British began to withdraw from the Indian subcontinent the situation changed drastically. In 1947, the year of the Partition and independence of India and Pakistan, the Maldive government, in full control of the islands' internal affairs but operating under a British protectorate, took the first steps towards controlling some external affairs also, backed by disgruntled Malé merchants who wished for a privileged share of the trade with the Southerners. Thus the Maldive Government, with the co-operation of the British authorities, imposed the requirement to carry passports and visas to travel to Sri Lanka and India on the captains and crews of the Southern trading ships. The new travel documents for the Southern Maldivian traders and sailors were to be issued in Malé. However, the government and the traders of the capital aimed to attain control and revenue from this lucrative trade without consulting with representatives of the concerned Southern traders. This unilateral action proved detrimental to the harmony of existing traditions concerning autonomous trade, and it was perceived as in the South as high handed and contemptuous.

Insurrection[edit]

British troops had been stationed in the islands of Gan and Hithadhoo in the Addu atoll since the time of the Second World War. However, the Maldive central government denied the neighboring islanders any chance of bartering with them. Furthermore, after the introduction of the harsh new measures to control the import and export trade, the central government went on to stipulate other measures of control, such as a poll tax and a land tax.

In addition, the government of the Maldive Islands posted its own militiamen in the atoll to ensure that no trade was carried on without the government's knowledge. The arrest and physical assault of a son of a wealthy family (possibly for a breach of one of the new restrictions) by one of these militiamen led to the first revolt, in which a mob rose against the authorities. Surprisingly, the man was given sanctuary by the British until the situation calmed down, and when the government prosecuted the alleged conspirators, based on the militiaman's account of events, the men were convicted and reportedly subjected to humiliating forms of punishment such as public flogging.

The Maldivian Government was delaying the ratification of a 100-year lease of the islands of Gan and Maamendoo, which greatly distressed the British. Some time later, under a new agreement with the Maldives government, the Addu people were allowed to seek employment in the British bases, enabling them to obtain rewarding incomes and lavish goods while relishing the idea of less dependence.

In 1957, the sultan appointed Ibrahim Nasir as the prime minister of the sultanate; Nasir ordered the British to cease all construction undertakings in Addu.

Secession of the Suvadives[edit]

Among those who were involved in the uprising against the militiamen of the central government was a young, educated and well-respected individual known as Abdullah Afeef, who served as a translator to the British during their post. His local name was Elha Didige Ali Didige Afifu. The new prime minister appointed him as the liaison officer between the British and the locals. Shortly afterward, in December 1958, the government announced plans for a new tax on boats. This caused riots throughout the atoll, leading to several attacks on government buildings. Once again, the officials of the Government of the Maldive Islands were forced to retreat to the safety of the British barracks. The fact is that they owed their lives to Afeef, who warned them of the impending unrest.[4]

Four days later, on January 3, 1959 a delegation of the Addu people arrived on Gan and declared their independence to the British. The delegation also insisted that Afeef be their leader. Afeef was chosen to lead the nascent Suvadive government because of British insistence that a trustworthy leader whom they were familiar with be chosen, as a precondition for them being able to back the secession[5] It is said that Afeef initially refused, and that he accepted the role of becoming the executive head of the new state only under heavy pressure.

The newly formed republic was born in southernmost Addu Atoll with high expectations. Soon, hoping to share in their neighbor's newly found independence, the atolls of Huvadhu and Fuvahmulah joined Addu to form the United Suvadive Republic. However, the Maldive government reacted by sending a fully armed gunboat to Huvadhu, commanded by prime minister Ibrahim Nasir himself, and threatened the secessionist leaders and the notables of various islands in that large atoll. Finally, the initial separatist movement in that atoll was suppressed by June 1959.

However, the other two small atolls were spared the Maldive government's reaction. Addu Atoll was protected by British intervention, with the deployment a regiment from Peninsular Malaysia. Lacking a harbor, Fuvahmulah was inaccessible to the attacks of the Maldive government gunboat.

Parliament of the United Suvadives Republic[edit]

The following is a list of the Addu Atoll members of the Parliament of the United Suvadive Islands Republic. Due to military action by the Malè government, elections could not be held in the other two constituent Atolls of the Republic - Huvadhu and Fuvahmulah. Democratic elections were held in Addu Atoll and the votes each member polled are given beside his name.

Hithadhoo - 17 members

Votes
851 Moosa Ali Didi
843 Ahmed Salih Ali Didi
840 Moosa Ahmed Didi
761 Ibrahim Abdul Hameed Didi
750 Hussain 
734 Kalhaage Ali Manikaa
596 Moosa Musthafaa
589 Mohamed Saeed
589 Abdulla Habeeb
579 Mohamed Ibrahim Didi
524 Hussein Ahmed
523 Ali Muruthalaa
506 Abdul Majeed Saleem
487 Abdulla Moosa Didi
483 Abdulla Azeez
457 Abdulla Ali
422 Abbeyyaage Ibrahim Didi

Meedhoo - 7 members

Votes
187 Mohamed Naseem
186 Abdullah Nafiz
185 Ibrahim Fahmy Didi
182 Abdulla Bagir
157 Mohamed Waheed
144 Mudhin Didige Mohamed Didi
90 Kadhaa Didige Abdulla Didi

Hulhudhoo - 8 members

Votes
192 Mudhin Thakhaanu
174 Mohamed Thaafeeq
173 Mohamed Ibrahim
172 Thakhaanuge Ali Thakhaan
171 Rekididige Waheed
170 Thakhaanuge Mohamed Thakhaan
170 Gaumaathage Mohamed Thakurufan
151 Ali Manikfan Kudhufokolhuge

Gan Feydhoo - 10 members

Votes
362 Dhonrahaa Khatheeb
350 Abdullah Manikfan Khatheeb
350 Dhonthuththu Khatheeb
344 Hussein Manikfan Khatheeb
343 Eedugaluge Ibrahim Manikfan
336 Eedugaluge Ahmed Manikfan
298 Beyruge Ahmed Manikfan
295 Eedugaluge Ali Manikfan
198 Zakariya Mohamed
187 Hussein Manikfan Moosa Rahaage

Maradhoo Feydhoo - 3 members

Votes
135 Ahmed Zahir Khatheeb
85 Ahmed Moosa
70 Ahmed Wafir Khatheeb

Maradhoo - 6 members

Votes
218 Moosa Khatheeb
205 Mohamed Waheed Khatheeb
189 Hassan Saeed
169 Abdullah Saeed
140 Vakarugey Dhonrahaa
121 Moosa Wajdee

Appointed by the President of the Republic

Mohamed Ibrahim Didi

Abandoned by Britain[edit]

A year later, in 1960, due to the Maldive prime minister's tireless international campaigns, a new accord between the British and Maldivian governments was approved and the former soon announced the termination of their so-called support to the Suvadive separatists. The British, who despite contrary claims made by the Government in Male, had been consistently lukewarm at best in their support of the Suvadives (and who had never formally recognized the country), now fully abandoned the fledgling atoll country to its fate. By special instructions from the British Government, the Suvadive trading ships in Indian and Ceylonese harbors were seized and not allowed to leave port.[6]

However, the withdrawal of British support did not deter the Suvadive republic. In 1961, Huvadhu Atoll seceded again and rejoined the Suvadives in a move locally known as the "Second Revolt". This reversion was met with yet again another personal appeal by the Maldive prime minister who, failing to convince the Huvadhu islanders this time, reacted ruthlessly and ferociously.

This led to an attack on the capital island of Huvadhu Atoll. Another gunboat, the Elizabeth Boyer leased from the Ceylon Navy by prime minister Ibrahim Nasir, anchored off Havaru Thinadhoo on February 4, 1962. Without any attempt at talks, the disembarking soldiers engaged in the systematic and complete destruction of all the houses in Havaru Thinadhoo and the dispersion of all its inhabitants. Most of the rebel leaders were then imprisoned and badly mistreated. Some of them, notables from Huvadhu, died later owing to the injuries they sustained.[7]

The same gunboat with soldiers from Male' sent by the central government went further south to Fua Mulaku and tried to disembark unsuccessfully at Rasgefanno in 1962. But the island people gathered at the beach and threw stones to the soldiers. The soldiers opened fire seriously wounding four people.[8]

Without the support of the British, the Suvadive republic was on the brink of collapse.

Capitulation[edit]

President Afeef Didi with Suvadive flag

The United Suvadive Republic was dismantled by the British authorities without ceremony. On September 22, 1963, a British political agent dictated an ultimatum to the citizens of Maradhoo demanding the immediate removal of the Suvadive flag (The flag was horizontally red, green and blue, with a crescent and star in the center and a star in the upper hoist and lower fly, thus forming a descending line - all in white.) and the hoisting of that of the Maldives. This was done the next day, September 23, 1963.

Abdullah Afeef was forced to resign as president of the Suvadive government and was sent into exile to the Seychelles with his immediate family aboard the British warship HMS Loch Lomond.

The British then announced that they would only employ citizens of the sovereign sultanate of the Maldive Islands as workers at the airbase.

The local Fua Mulaku leaders received the news two days later. The Suvadive flag was then taken down from the mast at Ravverige. This flag, a wooden board with a painted coat-of-arms, documents and other representative items of the defunct republic were taken to a lonely spot in the Northeast of the island. There a pit was dug at a place above the waterline close to the beach and all items were buried. The spot of the burial was similar to the place that would be chosen for a person having died from a dreaded disease, like leprosy or cholera.

Summary[edit]

The Suvadive secession began in the southernmost atoll of Addu in 1959, but the idea of independence was spread to the communities of Fua'mulah and Huvadhu and resulted in their joining the fledgling nation. The situation ended in 1963 with the Suvadive Islands' government being completely dismantled and the exile of its leader Abdullah Afeef, who was granted asylum in the Seychelles. The atolls participating in the secession were duly restored as a region of the Maldive Islands.

The controversy around the Suvadive endures and remains a sensitive issue among Maldivians. Ill feelings towards the British persisted for some, as, on the one hand, the British administration gave hopes to the trusting Suvadive islanders, legitimally afflicted by centralism and neglect. On the other hand, the same British administration made a separate agreement with the government of the Maldive Islands.

Economy[edit]

During the Second World War, the British base in Addu Atoll had acted as a temporary trading point for the Maldives, enabling the Maldivian government to obtain fuel and other necessities.

After the short-lived independence from the central government, the British presence in Addu gave a measure of prosperity to the Suvadivians. They were provided with employment, health facilities and supplies which helped to alleviate the trade boycott imposed by the governments of the Maldive Islands, Ceylon and India.

During the years of the secession, the Suvadive trading boats which had reached the customary harbours in India and Ceylon in their yearly trip, were impounded by the local harbour authorities and their captains and crew were detained. Much needed supplies failed to reach the Suvadive atolls in those years and local islanders remember them as a time of penury, when boats were expected and horizons were scanned in vain.

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

  • The Islands of Maldives by Hasan A. Maniku. Novelty. Male 1983.
  • Divehiraajjege Jōgrafīge Vanavaru by Muhammadu Ibrahim Lutfee. G. Sōsanī. Male' 1999.
  • Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders: A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom. Barcelona 1999, ISBN 84-7254-801-5

External links[edit]