to tradition and the claims of the Giraavaru people, they were the
ancient owners and rulers of the Maldives. Then a visiting foreign
prince (Koimala Kalo)
and his entourage asked for and were given their permission to settle
on the neighbouring island of Male.
Abdullah Waheed MD offered the follwing genetic evidence:
Maldivian population has an 18% thalassemia carrier rate.
But the Giraavaru population has a rate of almost 0. This
shows that they are not only a separate group, but also that
they have managed to preserve their racial characteristics
intact throughout the ages against all odds.
island was much bigger, housing magnificient buildings and temples
in those days, as the surrounding lagoon still testifies. Changing
weather patterns gradually eroded the bulk of the island, which
was once the capital of a proud and civilised people.
island is on the western side of the lagoon of North Male Atoll.
It is not clear whether or not Giraavaru was its original name.
Giraa means "eroding" in the Maldivian language.
It was thought that the island was called Giraavaru because it was
gradually being edoded away into the sea. It is quite possible that
the name preceeded the word. Indeed the word "giraa"
may have been coined as a result of the natural calamity that was
claiming an important island.
by Immigrants: The
descendants of the foreign settlers soon took advantage of the environmental
plight of the Giraavaru people and subjected them to their rule. Until
the twentieth century, the Giraavaru people displayed recognisable
physical, linguistic and cultural differences to the rest of the Maldive
female-dominated monogamous culture in a world of male-dominated
Differences: The most celebrated difference was that
while the rest of the Maldive islanders were polygamous according
to Islamic custom, and boasted the highest
divorce rate in the world, the Giraavaru people
were strictly monogamous and did not permit divorce.
Giraavaru dialect was very unusual for a community that lived only
a few kilometres from Male. They had a slightly different vocabulary
and some consonants were different from the standard Maldive language.
For instance, they used the sound r instaed of the sound
put the accent on different syllables and because of this, the other
Maldivians thought they had shrill voices. Their folklore was preserved
in song and dance. Thier music was audibly different from that of
the other islanders.
attire of the women was similar to the rest of the Maldive islanders,
particularly that of the Male middle classes. However there were
visible differences. They tied thier hair in a bun on the left hand
side, while most of the other Maldive islanders tied theirs on the
right hand side or the back. They wore unusual jewellery.
most distinct items were necklaces of tiny blue beads which no other
Maldive islanders wore. They also wore a number of silver bangles
on both wrists. These were made of strips of metal about 8 millimetres
in width bent into circular bangles with the ends left without being
soldered together. They wore four to five per wrist.
Giraavaru people were a community headed always by a woman. It was
the only island in the Maldives where the Sultan's civil authority
was deputised always to a woman.
Sultans of the Maldives seemed 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.
the presence of the Male nobility, the Giravaru people were self-assured
and never showed any signs of intimidation as did the lower classes
of Male and the other Maldive islanders. The Giraavaru people had
ready access to those who were in power and thought of themselves
as equals with the ruling elite.
Maldivians were required to address the Male nobility in a different
level of speech. The Giraavaru people did not observe this custom
and addressed the Male nobility as they would address themselves.
The nobility did not challenge this attitude and always chose to
ignore it. Any other lesser Maldivian who displayed this type of
self-assured confidence would have found him or herself in deep
citizens of Male, who regarded the Giraavaru people as an inferior
race, seemed to resent the apparent privileges enjoyed by them under
the Sultans, and mocked them mercilessly. It was believed that the
Giraavaru people were mortally scared of frogs. In order to tease
and victimise them, Male folk would throw frogs at them.
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.
1968 they were forced to abandon their Island under an Islamic regulation
that did not recognise communities with less than 40 adult males
who could form a quorum at the Friday prayers. The Giraavaru people
were ferried across the lagoon to Hullule island. When the airport
there was extended they were shifted across to Male and housed in
a few blocks in newly reclaimed areas in the Maafanu district.
proud Giraavaru elders tried very hard to preserve their culture,
but their youth very quickly lost their sense of identity and were
soon assimilated into the Male culture. The former headwoman (Fooruma-dhaita)
of Giraavaru lamented to me when I was visiting Male in 1977, that
the first ever Giraavaru divorce was registered recently. She was
appalled. An ancient and proud culture was thus wiped out of the
face of the earth in the latter years of the Twentieth Century.
island of Giraavaru is now a tourist resort.
by Abdul Rasheed on the Giraavaru people