Minicoy Maldives history royal royaltyMaldives Minicoy Mahl Dhivehi
Maldives: Ancient Titles, Offices, Ranks and Surnames

Proclamation read by the Garter King of Arms at the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the last Empress of India

Thus it hath pleased Almighty God to take out of this transitory life unto His Divine Mercy the late Most High, Most Mighty and Most Excellent Princess Elizabeth, Queen Dowager and Queen Mother, Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Lady of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, Grand Master and Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order upon whom had been conferred the Royal Victorian Chain, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John, Relict of His Majesty King George the Sixth and Mother of Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth The Second by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, whom may God preserve and bless with long life, health and honour and all worldly blessings

| Introduction | Titles | Offices | Ranks | Surnames |


In the thirty or so years since the monarchy was abolished, the facts about the aristocracy and ancient titles, offices and ranks have been forgotten. Such things were deliberately left out of written records because it was politically incorrect to talk about such "barbaric" customs of the past. However people are still very much class conscious. Those who have been vocal against the old "barbaric" ways (what they call the "beyfulhaa ways") are the ones who are now interested in re-imposing the class system. They now see themselves as the "upper classes". The much despised upper-level of speech and address are now being shamelessly mimicked by those who have condemned it most in the past. The reality is that they still have difficulties with the subtleties and semantics of that system and have grossly bastardised it. Those who try to mimic give themselves away quite easily.

The Royal Jetty in Male.
Currently there is an imitation of this

Recently a host of material on the subject has been published which is not entirely accurate. A quick search of the Internet produced very interesting material such as this link. The author of the link thinks that:

"............Traditionally the upper class, with names like Don Seedi, Don Kaloa, Ibrahim Fulu, Ibrahim Maniku and Moosa Didi, were close friends and relatives of the sultan and his family. Yet even among these families there were marked differences..........".

In fact none of the above names belonged to the upper classes That was why the author of the link had difficulty explaining the apparent "marked differences" among those families. Names such as Don Seedi and Mossa Didi may have belonged to the upper class if the bearers of such names were married into royalty or Kilege nobles, or were kilege nobles or their descendants themselves. Otherwise the bearers of such names were of the upper middle class. The bearer of a name such as Ibrahim Maniku would have been of the lower middle class. Bearers of names such as Don Kalo, Ibrahim Fulu were definitely of the lower class and would have not been even admitted to the presence of the royalty and the nobility unless they were servants or officials. It was unlikely that a person called Don Kalo would have even been admitted to the presence of royalty at all. If such a person were recruited as a servant or official, he or she would have been given a new name ending with Fulu.

It is not my intention to hurt the sensitivities and feelings of any individual. I am aware that people could be very sensitive about their backgrounds. This is purely an historical document without any ridicule intended.

| Introduction | Titles | Offices | Ranks | Surnames |

Ancient Titles

The highest title awarded by the sultans and sultanas of the Maldives was that of the kilege. In the last four to five centuries of the monarchy, the following titles have been awarded: To both men and women; Ras Kilege. To men only; Faarhanaa Kilege, Rannabandeyri Kilege, Dorhimeyna Kilege, Faamuladeyri Kilege, Maafaiy Kilege, Kaulannaa Kilege, Oliginaa Kilege, Daharada Kilege, Kuda Rannabandeyri Kilege and Kuda Dorhimeyna Kilege. To women were bestowed only Rani Kilege, Maavaa Kilege, Kambaadi Kilege and Maanayaa Kilege. The optional and honorific suffix of fan had been added to the word kilege over the last couple of hundred years.

Northern esplanade called Dhedhoraarhi Dheythere within the outer perimeter of the Etherekolilu (King's Court)

The Ras Kilege was ex-officio, the king-sultan or the queen-sultana. The other kileges were sometimes known as amirs or commanders of the realm and must not be confused with kaleygefan (or kaleyfan) which is either a very low rank or an honorific way of addressing or referring to saintly people. The elevation to the title of kilege raises a person and his or her immediate family to the level of the aristocracy. However, there were no hereditary titles. It was in republican times, as late as 1976, that the last three kileges were created. Since then, the titles have been abolished by Act of Parliament and the then living four kileges were stripped of their titles.

A lower title was that of kangathi; these titles were not suffixed by the word kangathi. These were usually awarded to prominent provincial subjects, or sometimes to members of Malé ís middle classes. The recipients were not regarded as aristocrats, unlike the kilege nobles. The kangathi titles included: Maafahaiy, Meynaa, Ranahamaanthi, Gadahamaanthi, Hirihamaanthi, Fenna, Wathabandeyri, Kaannaa, Daannaa and Fandiaiy. There is no record of a woman being awarded with a kangathi title. In 1976, when the then living kilege nobles were stripped of their titles, the then living single kangathi was allowed to keep his.

The recipients of kilege and kangathi titles kept them for life. There was no mechanism, even at the disposal of the sultan or the sultana to revoke these titles. Therefore, on several occasions, kileges or kangathis had been convicted of high treason and yet held on to their titles.

The titles of kilege and kangathi were granted by the gong ceremony.

| Introduction | Titles | Offices | Ranks | Surnames |

Ancient Offices

Offices, as opposed to titles, were obviously more functional and the recipients did not keep them for life. The highest offices were those of the furadaana. Most of the furadaana offices were similar in name to those of the kilege titles; the difference being the omission of the suffix of kilege (fan). Furadaana offices included Faarhanaa, Rannabandeyri, Dorhimeyna, Faamuladeyri, Maafaiy and Handeygiri or Handeygirin. The prime minister (Bodu Vizier) was traditionally one of the furadaana. However, on many occasions there have been Prime Ministers who were either kileges or one who did not hold any other office. The most likely prime ministerial candidates among the furadaana would have been the Faarhanaa, the Rannabandeyri or the Handeygirin. The Dorhimeyna was usually the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Below the furadaana in precedence at the court of the sultans and the sultanas were the vazierun or ministers. In later centuries, the distinction between the furadaana and the ministers often became somewhat vague. Both the furadaana and the ministers tended to be lumped together, with the term furadaana falling out of everyday use, and the term bodu muskulin being used instead. The ministers included the Velaanaa (or the Velaanaa-Shahbandar) who was the admiral-in-chief and foreign minister, the Hakuraa who was the minister of public works, the Bodubandeyri who was the chief treasurer, the Maabandeyri who was the chief of palace staff and keeper of the royal seal called the Kattiri Mudi, and the Daharaa (or Daharada) who was the commander of the land forces. There were several minor offices below the ministers such as that of the Meerubahuru (derived from amir-el-bahr, Arabic for commander of the sea, which is the origin of the word admiral) who was in charge of the port of Malé and immigration. There was also the Faiylia or the chief scribe and keeper of public records.

The office of the Uttama Fandiyaaru or the chief justice took precedence over the furadaana. The chief justice was responsible for civil and ecclesiastical justice and the up-keep of mosques, burial sites charitable trusts, religious rituals and the sanctioning of marriage and divorce. He was also the recorder of the state chronicle called the Tarikh. Criminal justice was the joint responsibility of the Bandaara Naibu or the Attorney General and the Chief Justice.

In the outlying atolls, the atoluverin or the provincial governors represented the sultan or the sultana. [Atoll (atolu) in the Maldive Language, from which the word has passed into English, does not mean a coral reef surrounding a lagoon; it means province. The Maldivian equivalent of the anglicised word atoll is eterevari. In this document, the word atoll is used in its original Maldivian meaning]. The sultan or the sultana was represented on each individual inhabited island or village by the kateeb, who was (and still is) the chief temporal and spiritual authority. The atoluverin and the kateebs enforced criminal justice and collected the vaaru (poll tax) and the varuvaa (land tax) on behalf of the bodubandeyri or the chief treasurer. In Malé , the functions of the atoluverin and the temporal duties of the provincial kateebs were carried out by the avarhuverin of Henveyru, Maafannu, Macchangoli and Galollu. The avarhuverin were the chief civic officials and were responsible for law and order, criminal justice and the upkeep of public lands in Malé. The kateebs of Malé were purely religious functionaries.

A member of the royal household staff with the rank of kakaa circa 1955

On every island there was a naibu (now called Qadi or Gazi) who was the representative of the chief justice. The naibu was responsible for civil and ecclesiastical justice and for sentencing criminals. He also sanctioned marriages and divorce and administered charitable trusts called waqf. The chief justice was also represented on each island by a mudimu who was responsible for the upkeep of mosques and burial sites.

The offices of the ministers, chief justice attorney general, atoluverin, kateeb, gazi and mudimu have survived into republican times. Their functions remain largely as they were under the sultans and the sultanas, although the chief justice and the gazis are no longer responsible for religious functions, burial sites and charitable trusts. They now preside over civil, ecclesiastical as well as criminal cases. The attorney general is now purely the chief prosecutor and the mudimus are now only callers to prayer and prayer-leaders at mosques.

The offices of uttama fandiyaaru, bandaara naibu, furadaana and ministers were granted by the gong ceremony. The offices of avarhuverin, atoluverin and kateeb were granted by royal warrant, while those of the naibu and mudimu were granted by warrant of the chief justice

The kangathi title-holders and officials, from the uttama fandiyaaru down to the kateeb and mudimu had their personal names suffixed with the name of his title or office. In common usage, this would have itself been suffixed by a cognomen indicating rank by birth; a custom carried over, probably from the castes of the pre-Islamic eras. These cognomen would have ranged as follows: Children and grandchildren of kileges, members of previous royal dynasties and Seedis (supposed descendants of the prophet Mohamed) would have had the names of their offices suffixed with Manikfan; the middle classes would have had theirs suffixed with Thakurufan or Takkhan, the lower classes would have had theirs suffixed with Kaleyfan or Kaleyge. For example, if a chief justice by the name of Ibrahim were of upper class birth, he would have been known as Ibrahim Uttama Fandiyaaru Manikfan; if he were of lower class birth, he would have been known as Ibrahim Uttama Fandiyaaru Kaleygefan. Irrespective of birth, he would have been referred to in all royal warrants, writs and ceremonies as Ibrahim Uttama Fandiyaaru Alla, or the Subject Chief Justice Ibrahim.

Maandhoogey Tuttudon Goma and Maandhoogey Titti Goma, Majid's paternal aunts, circa 1930

The exceptions to this convention were the kileges, whose names were suffixed only by their kilege titles, irrespective of rank by birth. The kilege title superseded any rank by birth and elevated the recipient and his or her family to the ranks of the aristocracy.

Members of the royal family had their names (or more often, some diminutive term of endearment such as Tuttu, Don, Titti or Dorhy) suffixed with Manippulu, if they were princes and Goma if they were princesses. Manippulu was a fairly recent term. Until about the early nineteenth century, both princes and princesses had been referred to as goma. More correctly, a prince was kalaa and princess, kambaa. Until very recently, members of the royal (patrilinear) line of the ruling dynasty did not fill any public office.


Maldivians have always been mystified by the surname. There is an array of reasons for this.

Sri Lanka Naming conventions: The traditional Maldive naming convention seems to be remarkably similar to the Sri Lankan Sinhala naming convention. As a result of contact with other Sri Lankan peoples and various Indian ethnicities such as Chola and Bengali, what Maldivians have as a naming convention can best be described as a lack of a uniforn convention.| details |

Firstly, the Maldivian word for surname, vanan, is the same as that for nickname. Evidently the prophet Mohamed frowned upon nicknames, or so many Islamic scholars taught in the Maldives. Consequently it was believed that surnames were sinful.

Secondly, as in many oriental traditions such as the Chinese, the Maldivian surname was positioned before the given names. For instance in the names Deng Zhaoping and Guifuku Don Kalo, Deng and Guifuku are respectively the Chinese and Maldivian surnames. In the Middle Eastern and Western traditions, the surname comes after the given names. In the names, Manyouk el-Kalb and Libby Windsor, el-Kalb and Windsor are respectively the Arabic and English surnames. As Maldivians came increasingly in contact with Middle Eastern and, more recently, Western peoples, they are finding it increasingly difficult to discern the differences among the different systems.

Thirdly, an inherited surname is perhaps regarded as a vehicle of the class system. In spite of the seemingly rigid class structure, the average Maldivian has always been a remarkably egalitarian creature at heart. Unlike many other societies of the Southern Asian region, there has been a tradition of social mobility in the Maldives. After all it was possible for Hilaaly Hassan and Isdu Ali, who were both born peasant to become sultanss, if we are to believe the oral tradition as related by Buraara Koi. The surname has been seen as vehicles of the class structure not only in the Maldives. It has long been the policy of the ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party in Iraq, for instance, to discourage the use of surnames that identified people with traditional communities or localities. To this end, President Saddam Hussain axed his own surname of el-Takriti, which identified him to the Sunni Moslem region of Takrit, and First Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz dropped his surname of Hannah which identified him as a Christian.

On the patio of Sosun Villa a Maldives government-owned residence in Colombo: Standing from left Hussain Habeeb Manippulu and Mr Hassan Ali Didi. Seated from left Abdul Wahhab Manippulu (Majid's father) and Mohamed Amin Dorhimeyna Kilegefan circa 1947

Finally, many Maldivian surnames were rather explicit and colourful in their literal meanings. Guifuku (piece of excrement), Hadi (ugly), Hadibappa (ugly father) and Oofindu (pointed genital) were just a few of the more hilarious examples that come to mind. Families who have had the misfortune of inheriting these surnames, understandably, have been fairly keen to let them lapse. This is perhaps a commentary on the Maldivian psyche. It must be borne in mind that amongst the English there are still families who have no qualms about calling themselves Ramsbottom or Topless, although one must admit that some families have tried to gloss these over to Ramsbotham or Topliss.

The traditional Maldivian name was made up of three components. Examples of such names include Guifuku Don Kalo, Oofindu Kaiydaa Fulu, Maakana Kudatuttu Didi, Dhoondeyri Ali Manikfan and so on. The first component was the surname; the second component was the given name or a term of endearment such as Tuttu, Kuda, Don or a combination of such a term and a given name such as Kuda Hussain or Don Mariyambu. The optional third component indicated rank and or cognomen by birth or association. The traditional birth ranks and or cognomen included Manippulu, Goma, Kalaa, Kambaa, Rahaa, Manikfan, Didi, Seedi, Sitti, Maniku, Manike, Thakurufan, Thakuru, Kalo, Soru, Manje and so on. Some of them probably corresponded with the castes of the pre-Islamic cultures of the Maldives. Fulu was a rank by association. It indicated possession by a person of noble birth. That is to say that a person called Ahmed Fulu was a slave or a descendant of a slave or a servant of the royal families. People of the humblest birth who entered the service of royal households or foreign slaves purchased by the great nobles in the ancient slave markets of Arabia and brought back to the Maldives acquired the rank of Fulu. Such slaves were typically Negroes from Africa or Slavs from the many Eastern European territories held by the Ottomans. Whatever their true ethnic origin, Eastern European slaves were referred to as Charukeysi (Circasian). Families that bore the surnames Charukeysi or Baburu (Negro) were definitely of slave origin. Very often, Negroid and Eastern European slaves in the service of royalty and nobility were raised to prominent offices. Their descendants sometimes took as their surnames the given names of their slave progenitors. For example a family called Yaagoot was descended from a Negro slave of that name who served a Diyamigily sultan in the Eighteenth Century. A family called Heyna was descended from an African Negro slave of that name who was owned by Sultan Mohamed Imaduddine IV in the Nineteenth Century.

Many Maldivian surnames, not unlike English ones, described a place of ancestral abode or a trade. Names such as Kakaagey, Athireegey, Huraagey, and so on described places of abode in much the same way as did Millhouse, Wellington, and Kilmister. Names such as Kamburu (Blacksmith), Vadi (Carpenter), Sikka (Mint Master), Koli (Gong Officer) and so on described an ancestral vocation. Occasionally there were surnames that referred to a foreign nationality, in which case it was more likely that an ancestor up the line had a business association with, or was an employee of, a group of foreign merchants rather than actual foreign descent. Examples of such surnames were Turuki (Turkish), Seenu (Chinese), Ingireysi (English), Holhi (Southern Indian) and Solhiyaa (Sri Lankan Moslem).

The king's procession emerging from the Eterekoilu on to Meduziyaaraiy Magu. The musketeers and the lancers followed by the pipers drummers and trumpeters and finally the king and courtiers. Circa 1920 in the reign of King Siri Kula Sundhura Katthiri Bavana (Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddine III)

Transmission of the family surname was mostly patrilinear. However, it was not uncommon to find matrilinear transmission of surnames. This depended on which parent had the better social and financial standing. If the mother was endowed with more material assets and was better connected than the father, then the traditionally materialistic Maldivians would have passed on the mother's surname to the offspring. There is some evidence that in pre-Islamic times, as a rule, children acquired their mother's surname. In the royal chronicle, the Raadavali, the early Lunar Dynasty rulers had only their matrilinear pedigrees listed. Maldivian women traditionally kept their surnames or what passed as surnames upon marriage. Even now, it is illegal in the Maldives for one to change one's surname by virtue of marriage.

The Maldivian surname is definitely in crisis. The desire to be free of a potentially rigid class-based structure or embarrassment arising from the semantics of the name itself or plain ignorance and confusion arising from contact with a variety of foreign naming systems have meant that the traditional surname and indeed the naming format has disappeared. Maldivians these days find it very difficult to comprehend the very concept of the surname, Maldivian or otherwise.

Currently there is a hopeless jumble of naming systems, if they can be called systems at all. Occasionally one comes across an older person who still has (if his good sense has not already persuaded him to change it) a name in the traditional format. Invariably the offspring of such living relics do not follow the same tradition.

| Introduction | Titles | Offices | Ranks | Surnames |