Minicoy Maliku     Status Groups


Progenitors of the status groups
At some time in antiquity two Maldive princesses and their retinue travelled and settled in Minicoy. Very early in the 11th century Male was overrun and the then ruling Solar (Aadeettha) Dynasty displaced by the navy of Raja Rajan the Chola, a Dravidian speaking Indian ruler. It is possible that the two princesses, Koharathu Kamana and Kambo Ranin were of the Royal House of Aadeettha.

Few written records of the period exist. With the Islamic conversion that began in August AD 1127, the systematic destruction of the magnificent pre-Islamic past began in earnest. The result was more profound and devastating than the havoc wreaked by Raja Rajan the Chola a century and a quarter earlier. A vastly superior civilisation than the culture that superseded it was lost for ever.

The present population of Minicoy is supposed to be derived from Koharathu Kamanaa and Kambo Ranin, their direct descendants, and the descendants of their peers and servants.

The descendants of the princesses became the Bodung. The gentry and senior officers of their fleet produced the Niyaming. The descendants of the artisans are the Medhu Kenbing. The royal servants were the ancestors of the Raavering.

Status group
The Princesses Bodung Manikfan Manika Beyfaanu Thaadhafaanu
Gentry/ Pilots Niaming Thakurufaanu Beefaanu Beybe Dhaathifaanu
Artisans Medhukimbing Thakuru Bibee Kaaka Dhaatha
Servants Raaveri - Kambilo Kaaka Dhaatha

Occupations of the status groups
The bodung owned land and the bandu-odies (merchant ships) and they were the vering (rulers)

The niaming were the pilots of the Bandu-odies and while on shore assisted the bodung in administrative and other leadership functions. They were the custodians of property and supervised public work.

The medhukimbing and the raavering were the working classes. The medhukimbing enjoyed a status higher than that of the raavering.

The raavering tapped the coconut palms for toddy. This distinctive beverage is converted into a sweet palm syrup. The vinegar of coconut known as raahuiiy is also produced by the raavering.

Parallels with the Laccadives
Many authors, particularly of Indian origin, have attempted to draw parallels with the status groups of the Laccadive and Amindivi islands and those of Minicoy. The Minicoy and Amindivi islanders are culturally similar to the people of the Malabar coast while Minicoy islanders derive their heritage from the Maldives. The Laccadive Amindivi status groups are the koyas, the maalimis and the melaccherys.

Minicoy islanders insist that no parallel can be drawn between the social groups of their island and those of the Laccadive and Amindivi islands.

Disintegration of the status groups
Following the annexation of Minicoy into the Indian Union in 1956 there has been a drastic change in the social structure of the island. The bodung lost their stranglehold over the administration. A nominal rarhu vering (island ruler) continued in office until recently. The island administration was gradually taken over by Indian government appointed officers.

The change also affected the role of the niaming who had been assisting the bodung in the administration. They became alienated and were compelled to look for other occupations. They appear to have gradually merged with the thakuru class, who were a working class with a higher status than that of the raaveri. The title of thakurufaanu is rarely used now and this may have added to confusion among outside observers and academics. The thakurufaanu class was addressed as beybe in the past.

It appears that some thakurus have usurped the mode of address of beybe whilst others continue to be addressed as kaaka. This has added to the confusion of outside observers and contributed to the blurring of the difference between the thakurufaanus and the thakurus.

Matrilineal heritage
There is much evidence that both the Maldives and Minicoy were matrilineal societies where property, family name and status was passed from mother to offspring rather than from father to offspring. The Maldive royal chronicle the Raadhavalhi records only the maternal lineage of early sovereigns.

Arab colonisation by infiltration starting in 1125 AD has wreaked much social havoc both in the Maldives and Minicoy. The power of the petrodollar since the Oil Crises of the 1970s has accelerated this process. Unlike European colonisation, Arab colonisation in southern Asia has worked through infiltration with the help of local collaborators. (See the article Arabisation of the Maldives).

According to Hadith most of the dwellers of jahannam (the Koranic hell) are women.

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:

Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."

Source: Sahih Bukhari: Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301

A person's Islamic prayers are nullified if a woman, a donkey or a dog walks in front of him.

Narrated 'Aisha:

The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, "Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people)." I said, "You have made us (i.e. women) dogs. I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away. for I disliked to face him."

Source: Sahih Bukhari: Volume 1, Book 9, Number 490

Such vile creatures as women, surely, cannot be allowed to determine the genealogical lineage of men.

"We are not Laccadive and Amindivi"

Minicoy islanders insist that the matrilineal system of Minicoy is different from how inheritance is determined in the Laccadive and Amindivi Islands.

In the Marumakkatthaayam system of the Laccadive and Amindivi Islands, the estate passed to the children of one's sister rather tha to one's own issue. This was derived from the practice of the Namboodhiri and Nair clans of Kerala (India). The Marumakkatthaayam system is still practised in some of the Laccadive and Amindivi Islands.

Matrilineality in the Maldives disappeared a long time ago except in the tiny community of Giraavaru. In the 1960s it was determined by the mullahs that there were not enough adult men in Giraavaru to form a quorum at the Islamic Friday prayers. Such a community has no right to exist. The Giraavaru community was therefore abolished by decree and with them the last vestige of matrilineality in the Maldives was committed to oblivion.

According to Minicoy islanders, the Islamic Sharia code determines personal law of Muslims in Minicoy now. The irony is that it took a secular state with a Hindu majority (India) to impose the Islamic personal law in Minicoy.

In spite of this, the family name or the house name of Minicoy islanders is still passed from mother to sons and daughters rather than from the father. It is fair to note that although the family name passes primarily from mother to offspring, in practice, the children of mixed marriages adopt that of the higher status group. This is in line with the historical practice of the Minicoy islanders' fellow Divehi brethren to the south across the Vangaaru channel.

It is refreshing to know that the Divehi culture battles on in the face of the onslught of Arabisation.