The Giraavaru people (Tivaru people) are the indigenous people of Giraavaru Island, part of the Maldives. Of Dravidian origin, and the earliest island community of the Maldives, their presence predates Buddhism and the arrival of a Northern kingly dynasty in the archipelago. Their ancestors were Tamils from the Malabar Coast (modern Kerala). Their former status was rather like the toddy-tapping lower castes of Kerala and other Divehis regarded them as impure. They themselves averred that their customs and morals were purer than those of other Divehis.
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 the larger population in the 1940s.
The Giraavaru origins are most probably in fishermen from the Malabar coast of the Indian subcontinent that settled the Maldives in very ancient times. 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 (Gira means eroding and varu could have come from faru meaning reef). Until the 20th century, the Giraavaru people displayed recognizable physical, linguistic and cultural differences to the nearby islands. 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.
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 Giraavaru 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 Giraavaru 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 Giraavaru people did not observe this custom and addressed the Malé nobility as they would usually address themselves. It was believed that the Giraavaru people were mortally scared of toads.
Things changed since 1932 when a written constitution was adopted. The customary rights of the 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.
End of the culture
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 fewer 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.
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.
- Maloney, Clarence. "Maldives People". Retrieved 2008-06-22.
- Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom
- 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