Giraavaru people

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Maldivians, Tamils, Malayalis, Sinhalese

The Giraavaru people are the indigenous people of Giraavaru Island, part of the Maldives. They are one of the earliest settlers of the island country. They were relocated due to erosion on their island to other parts of the island, including the Hulhulé Island and the capital city of Malé.[1]


The name Giraavaru is thought to be derived from the words Gira meaning eroding and varu meaning people or islanders.[2]


The Giraavaru origins are descendant of ancient Tamils from southwestern coast of India and northwestern shores of Sri Lanka, who probably settled on the island around the Sangam period (300BC-300AD)[3][4][5] They are mentioned in the legend about the establishment of the capital and kingly rule in Malé, where the Giraavaru people granted permission to a visiting king Koimala Kalo prior to the foundation of his kingdom on Malé.

Although the Giraavaru was much larger and civilized at the time, most of the island has eroded due to changing weather. Until the twentieth century the Giraavaru people displayed recognisable physical, linguistic and cultural differences to the nearby islands. Their culture and language were of clear Tamil-Malayalam substractum.[3]

They were strictly monogamous and prohibited divorce. Their folklore was preserved in song and dance. Their music was audibly different from that of the other islanders. The most distinct items were the necklaces of tiny blue beads which no other Maldivian wore.[6]

It is said that the Giraavaru people were always headed by a woman and that throughout Maldivian history, a woman (foolhuma-dhaitha), represented the Sultan's civil authority in Giravaru Island. The Sultans of the Maldives used to recognise the autonomy of the Giraavaru people and did not apply quite the same laws on them as they did on the rest of their realm. The Giravaru people never seemed to fully recognise the sovereignty of the Sultans. Ordinary Maldivians were required to address the Malé nobility in a different level of speech. However, the Giravaru people did not observe this custom and addressed the Malé nobility as they would usually address themselves. It was believed that the Giravaru people were mortally scared of toads.

Things changed since 1932 when a written constitution was adopted. The customary rights of the indigenous Giraavaru people were not recognised in that document. Any rights they seemed to have enjoyed under the absolute rule of the Sultans were extinguished by default.[6]

End of the culture[edit]

In 1968, due to heavy erosion of the island and as a result, reduction of the community to a few members, they were forced to abandon their island under an Islamic regulation that did not recognise communities with less than 40 adult males, which was the minimum required for the regular performance of Friday prayers. The Giraavaru people were ferried across the atoll lagoon to Hulhulé Island and resettled there. When the airport there was extended they were shifted across to Malé and housed in a few blocks in newly reclaimed areas in the Maafanu district.[1]

The distinct Giraavaru culture swiftly disappeared when the Giraavaru young people were assimilated into the wider Malé society through intermarriage. "Pure" Giraavaru are now thought to be extinct. The Giraavarus were isolated and thus an endogamous society with a relatively low population for more than a millennium. As a result, the population showed a number of heritable genetic disorders when they were forcibly assimilated with a larger population in the forties.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gnanadesikan, Amalia E. (2017-01-28). Dhivehi: The Language of the Maldives. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. ISBN 9781614512349. 
  2. ^ Godfrey, Tim (April 1998). Dive Maldives: a guide to the Maldives Archipelago. Atoll Editions. p. 25. 
  3. ^ a b Countries and Territories of the World. PediaPress. 
  4. ^ Ellis, Royston (2008-01-01). Maldives. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 9781841622668. 
  5. ^ Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom
  6. ^ a b Maloney, Clarence. "Maldives People". Retrieved 2008-06-22. 


  • H. C. P. Bell, The Maldive Islands; Monograph on the History, Archaeology and Epigraphy. Reprint Colombo 1940. Council for Linguistic and Historical Research. Male’ 1989
  • Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom. Barcelona 1999, ISBN 84-7254-801-5