Maldives Minicoy Mahl Dhivehi
Circular Coinage of the Maldive Islands

by: Raf Van Laere
of Belgium

Raf Van Laere is a member of the board of directors of de Koninklijke Academie voor Oudheidkunde van België or the Royal Academy of Archaeology of Belgium. This is a non-profit organisation founded in 1842. The Academy is registered in Brussels and is placed under the Gracious Protection of His Majesty the King of the Belgians.

This article is extracted from Numismatic Digest of the Numismatic Society of Bombay (India) edited by Dr. Parameshwari Lal Gupta Volume III. June 1979. Part 1. pp 48-57 and reproduced here with the kind permission and encouragement of Raf Van Laere

Page 48


Half läri coin of Mohamed Muinuddine I Iskander 1823

The Republic of Maldives consists of a large number of small islands and atolls situated on the south-west of the Indian Subcontinent1. Only part of these hundreds of islands is inhabited. The capital Male or Mahal2 is located on one of the major islands in the centre of the archipelago. The history of this small republic, which gained independence in 1965, did not preoccupy the minds of modern historians. Apart from some indications spread throughout the main works on world history 3 the man of science will have to be pleased with the stories found in books which are not only difficult to find but also largely out-dated 4.

Before the conversion of the population to Islam, during the twelfth century 5 everything is rather obscure. It has been suggested that the islands were colonised even before the first century AD by the Singhalese. Anyhow the islands were inhabited at that time since Ptolemy 6 mentioned some islands to the south-west of India.

Half läri coin of Mohamed Imaduddine IV Iskander 1860

The racial tripartition of the population of the islands 7 seems to reflect some migration on which written sources do not, or very little inform us. The original population seems to have some ethnical relation either to the Singhalese, or to the Malayans 8. Nowadays they concentrate on the southern atolls. From the beginning of their arrival early in the twelfth century the people of Arabian blood concentrated on the atoll Male.

The Dravidian infiltration in the north seems to have been due to the influence of the successive empires in South India9 and to the incursions of

Footnotes to Page 48

  1. For practical reasons all anno Hegira dates have been converted to anno Domini dates unless specified otherwise.
  2. Mahal is the indigenous form of the Arab Maléa. The inhabitants of the Maldives speak a language which is related to the Singhalese but written in an alphabet that is derived from the Arab alphabetb: see e.g. C.H.B Reynolds, Buddhism and the Maldivian Language. in L. Cousin. (ed). Buddhist studies in honour of I.B. Horner. Dordrecht 1974. p 193 - 198.
  3. e.g.: in Fischer Weltgeschichte, part 17 Indien. published under the direction of Ainslie T. Friedrich Wilhelm. Frankfurt-Main. 1967.
  4. See the bibliography by Tim J. Browder. Maldive Islands Money. Santa Monica 1969. p. 18 - 20 and T.W. Haig. Maldives in L'Encyclopédie de l` Islam....part 3. Leiden and Paris 1936 p. 216.
  5. According to the Chronicles of the Kings of Malé (Fischer Weltgeschichte p 175) the official conversion took place in 1153 A.H. or a little later.c
  6. Ptolemy worked during the years 127 till 144 AD. see e.g. map 1 in R.F. Treharne & Harold Fullard, Muir's historical atlas Ancient and Classical. London 1963.
  7. It goes without saying that none of the "races" on the Maldives is pure. We take only in consideration ethnographical aspects as does e.g. Haig op cit.
  8. Heinrich Berghaus. Allgemeiner ethnographischer Atlas oder Atlas der Völkerkunde. Gotha. 1852. map 14.
  9. During the eleventh century the Maldive Islands were annexed by the Chola Empire (Fischer

Maldives Royal Family Notes to page 48

  1. Malé is the indigenous term for the Maldive capital. Mahal was the Arabic corruption of Malé.
  2. The current Maldive script called Thaana, to which Chris Reynolds referred was not derived from the Arabic alphabet. The first nine consonants were derived from the Arabic numerals, the second nine consonants from the older Maldive Divehi numerals and the rest of the consonants from the these eighteen consonants. The vowels were inspired by the Koranic diacritical marks. The Islamic mullahs intended to replace the Divehi alphabet by Arabic in order to obliterate the Maldive heritage as part of the colonial designs of Arab imperialism. The Thaana alphabet was invented by Maldive civil intellectuals to defy the Islamic mullahs.
  3. The date of conversion of the King Dhovemi (reigned AD 1141 - 1166) whose regnal name was Siri Bavanaadheettha in Malé was AD 1153. Addu atoll and many other islands converted in AD 1127. The Maldive authorities today disregard the latter date as it threatens the supremacy of the Malé government.

Page 49

pirates from the Malabar coast1. It was probably due to this particular influence that a woman was able to become sultan during the fourteenth centurya. The illustrious Arab historian Ibn Battüta stayed for a year (744 A.H.) in the Maldives and left us a historical treatise which corresponds fairly well with an indigenous royal chronicle. From the seventeenth century on we are much better informed thanks to the travels of some Europeans as e.g. Pyrard de la Val, who was captive on the Maldives for several years.

In 1518 A.D. the Portuguese established a factroy but only in 1645 A.Db. the Maldivians were definitely included into European colonisation. That year, under the pressure of the attacks of pirates, Mäpillas or Mophalas, originating from the Malabar coast, the Sultan of the Twelve Thousand Islands Mohamed Imad-al-Din ibn Aminac (1619-1648 A.D.) put himself under the protection of the Dutch, who were, at that time masters of Sri Lanka. After a time the English succeeded the Dutch but it does not seem that clonization had a impact on daily lives in the interior of the country. Apart some trade factories and the payment of tribute to the colonizers everything was kept the same. The power of the sultan does not seem to have suffered a lot.

It are probably larins from the tribute to the Dutch that have been countermarked JAVA (  ) to make them legal tender in their colonies in Insulinde.2


Before the introduction of coinage, the cowrie, a small white shell with the shape of a coffee bean seems to have been the main currency.3 One supposes that the Maldives were the principal production center of this kind of money that was exported as far as China and West-Africa.4 The transition of this moneyless economyd, in which the cowrie played an extremely important role into a monetary economy was marked by a transitory phase, during

Footnotes to Page 49

  1. Haig op.cit.
  2. Bowder op.cit. fig VI gives a good picture of this countermark. A counter-marked double larin dated 1189 A.H./1775 A.D. was recently sold in U.S.A. by Scott Semans.
  3. For the role of the cowrie in a-monetary societies in Africa and Asia see e.g. A. Hingston Quiggin, A survey of primitive money, New York and London 1970 (rep). Paul Einzig, Primitive money, Oxford e.a. 1966, J. Allen, The coinage of the Maldive Islands with some notes on the cowrie and the lärin NC, 4th ser., 12 (1912), p 313-332 and pl. XX and Fischer Weltgestitche, where Eduardo Barbarosa is quoted, who visited the islands in the sixteenth century. In theory only cypraea moneta was used as money but also other shells of the same family were used sometimes in some a-monatary societies.
  4. Some other production centers existed e.g. the coast of West Africa and Oceania so that the mass of the Maldivian export went to India and China, where the cowrie from the highest antiquity on had a great importance, see A.B. Coole. The influence of the cowrie shell upon the written language. ONS Newsletter 16 (Feb 1972)

Maldives Royal Family Notes to page 49

  1. There were female sovereigns in the Maldives prior to the fourteenth century. At one stage before the Islamic conversion, female rulers were the norm rather than the exception. Until 1964, Maldive law allowed a female sovereign. In 1952, a female sovereign was almost installed but was vetoed by the mullahs who were, by then, gaining power. Under pressure from the mullahs, the constitution of 1964, for the first time, provided that the head of state should be a male.
  2. Van Laere is one of the few writers who have acknowledged the fact, albeit implicitly, that European colonial influence did not begin with the Portuguese. What is now regarded by the Maldive authorities as Portuguese rule in the mid to late 16th century was in fact the reign of a Maldive Christian king. It is now anathema even to acknowledge the historical existence of non-Muslim Maldivians after the Islamic conversion. Present day Maldivians cannot be allowed even to contemplate such a possibility.
  3. Matriarchy is evidenced in the name of this 17th century king. He was named as the son of his mother Amina (ibn Amina) rather than his father Umar. By the 17th century this was the exception but until the thirteenth century the genealogy of almost all sovereigns were recorded on the female line.
    The Maldives was a matriarchal society in which female lineage took precedence. This is still the case in the Maldive-speaking Indian island of Minicoy. Even today, both men and women of Minicoy take the family name of their mothers. Over the years, and particularly since the 1970s oil crisis, this and other indigenous systems are rapidly being phased out. The increasingly powerful Islamic mullahs acting in the interests of their powerful Arab patrons are in the process of stamping out all traces of the Maldive national character and replacing it with the Arab culture.
  4. It is perhaps not correct to call a society that used cowrie exclusively for money as a moneyless society. There is little difference between an extremely durable medium of exhange extracted from the ocean and one that is mined from riverbeds and soil (metal) or for that matter processed wood-pulp with ink-marks (paper money). They are all rather primitive compared to electronic ledger entries (modern money) and electronic funds transfer at the point of sale.

Page 50

Four läri coin of Mohamed Shamsuddine III Iskander 1915

Siri Kula Sundhura Katthiri Bavana
(Mohamed Shamsuddine III Iskander)
King of Twelve Thousand Isles and Sultan of the Maldives
(reigned 1892 and 1903-1933)

which the hairpin lärin made its appearence. Thanks to Pyrard de la Val1 we knew that up to 1602 A.D. lärins were current in the Maldives, this without any doubt under Indian influence.2 The coinage of these primitive lärins even continued after the introduction of circular coins.3 This article is concerned only with the circular coinage of the Maldives.4

Normal coinage or, with other words the minting of circular coins most probably started during the reign of Ibrahim Sikandera I ibn Mohamed (1648-1687 A.D.). The circular lärins that were minted had the same weight as the primitive hairpin lärins (4.8 grammes) and inherited also their name lärï. It is likely that the circular shape was introduced at the demand of the Dutch. They could without a doubt introduce much easier circular coins to their other colonies rather than coins with the shape of a hairpin.


The first circular lärins were, just as their Indian ancestors minted from high quality silver.5 But very soon the quality tended to be neglected and from the second half of the eighteenth century, larins of bronze appear.6 This fall in quality of the monetary metal was probably caused by the constant need for silver for the payment of tribute to the subsequent colonizers. But this was currently not the only reason; even the primitive lärin loses value in this period. 7

Footnotes to Page 50

  1. Quiggin. op.cit. p. 198
  2. The Sultanate of Bijapur at the west coast of India emitted lärins. Especially those of Ali Adil Shah II (1067-1083 a.H/1656-1672 a.D.) are well known. Lärins dated from 1071 a.H. (1660 a.D.) and 1077 a.H. (1666 a.D.) are well known. Lärins dated from 1071 a.H. (1660 a.D.) and 1077 a.H. ((1666 a.D.) are attested (G.P. Taylor, On the Bijaur lar or larin, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Nemismatic supplement 6. 11(1910), p.687-689). Other sultans minted lärins as e.g. Ibrahim Adil Shah (1580-1627) Michael Mitchiner (Oriental coins and their value. The world of Islam, London 1977, p. 315) also mentions lärins from Ali Adil Shah I (1557-1580 A.D.) dated from the year 986 A.H. and from Mohammed Adil Shah (1637-1656 A.D.). One may claim that the lärins were introduced on the Maldive Islands under the influence of the Indian lärins since influence of Indian coinage on the Maldives has always been very large.
  3. Browder, op.cit., fig. C shows a hairpin larin coined with a die of a circular Maldivian coin.
  4. For the hairpin lärins of the Maldives consult Mitchiner, op. cit., (p.316). But the lärin published there may as well be of Ottoman origin, since the name of the sultan is not preserved! In the Revue belge de Numismatique, 124 (1978) we may study two lärins of supposed Maldivian origin. The legend of only one coin was clear enough to confirm the hypothesis of its origin.
  5. On the Primitive larin see R. Van Laere, The larin, a trade money of the Arabian Gulf during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries (conference held during the colloquium Islamic coins in the service of research, London, 1976 (proceeding in press); to that catalogue have to by added the lärins mentioned by Mitchiner, op. cit., p. 313-316.
  6. The double lärins of 1154 A.H. exists in billon and bronze.
  7. R. Van Laere, op. cit., Metal, Weight and value of the larin; W. Hinz comes to the same conclusion in the article Die spätmittelaterlichen Währungen im Bereich des Persischen Golfes, in Festschrift Minorsky (Iran and Islam), 1971, p. 303-314.

Maldives Royal Family Notes to page 50

  1. The name of this king was Ibrahim Iskander or sometimes Iskander Ibrahim. His regnal name was Siri Kula Ran Meeba Katthiri Bavana. Iskander literally means Alexander, and for some unbeknown reason, refers to the ancient Macedonian conqueror of that name. Although Alexander the Great conquered parts of India, there is no evidence that he reached the Maldives. Since Iskander Ibrahim, many Maldive kings until 1943 had taken this as part of their personal names.

End of pages 49-50. Please await pages 51-7