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Ya bani Mahaldeeb

Composed on 17 September 1988

Are you the same who were called yaalu in Sarandeeb

Ya bani Mahaldeeb?

Were you not long ago enslaved by the wicked Portuguese?

O children of Mahaldeeb?

Did you not yesterday sail the high seas in tiny odis of wood and reed?

O children of Mahaldeeb?

Were you not utterly helpless when the Borahs wouldn’t let you feed

O children of Mahaldeeb?

Did you not, once upon a time, shiver at the mention of a name like Farid?

O children of Mahaldeeb?

Few in the land before could argue in a foreign tongue or read

O children of Mahaldeeb?

And now you sit in the council of nations and speak

O children of Mahaldeeb?

I could no longer recognise my land or her kateeb

O children of Mahaldeeb?

Are you now in a Diaspora like the bani Israel

O children of Mahaldeeb?

Are you the same that were once called yaalu in Sarandeeb

Ya bani Mahaldeeb?

Author’s Annotation:

Yaalu, which literally meant "mate" was a term used by the Singalese of Sri Lanka to refer to Maldivians, particularly traders. Figuratively, the word apparently meant "a person of no consequence", when it was used to refer to Maldivians. It was meant as a racially derogatory term. Scores of trading vessels called odi, mainly from the southern atolls, used to sail to Colombo and Galle in Sri Lanka, were the traders sold their dried fish, finely woven mats, textiles, coconut honey and a sweetmeat called bondi and brought back gems, rice, spices and medicinal herbs.

Mahaldeeb or "Dhibat el-Mahal" was what mediaeval Arab traders called the Maldives. The modern Arabic word for the Maldives is "Maladeef". The Arabs must have borrowed the word from ancient Indians who called the Maldives "Mahila Dipaka" (Straits Islands) or Mahila Rattam" (Straits Kingdom). Indian mariners regarded the channels between the Maldive atolls as straits. The current Maldive word for the Maldives is "Divehi Raajje" (literally means "Insular Kingdom") and the formal name of State in republican times is "Divehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyya" (literally means the Republic of the Insular Kingdom". Obviously the reference to kingdom survived the transition to a republic, as the modern word for kingdom is "raskan", as opposed to the archaic term of raajje). The phrase "Ya bani Mahaldeeb" means "O Children of the Maldives" and rhymes with the frequent Koranic phrase "Ya bani Israel".

Borahs were Ismaili Moslem Indians of Gujarati extraction from the British province of Bombay, who first came to the Maldives as traders in the early 19th century. Maldivians called them "Bumbaa meehun", which meant "Bombay people". Soon they monopolised virtually all, external trade in and out of Malé. They were expelled in the early 1960’s.

Farid refers to the brothers Mohamed and Hassan Farid Didi. The former was to become the last Sultan of the Maldives, reigning from 1954 to 1968. The latter was the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior and virtual dictator in the first government under a written constitution. He was married to my paternal Aunt Tuttudon Goma and was presumed drowned when a Japanese submarine attacked the British warship in which he was travelling

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