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Seafaring Traditions of Minicoy
By Dr. Abdullah Waheed 

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Dr Waheed is a Maldives born medical practitioner who has a deep understanding of southern Asian issues. He has contibuted to this site by offering feedback on the page on Maldive Antiquity. A comment from Dr Waheed will also be found on the page on the Aborigines of Giraavaru

Minicoy and the Maldives are distant neighbors, united by ancestry and divided by history. Today, the 70 miles from the Maldives to Minicoy may seem further than the two thousand miles to Malaysia; but it was not always so.

To most Maldivians of the present generation Minicoy is an abstraction as far removed from reality as a fairy-tale kingdom. But to Maldivians of just a few hundred years back, Minicoy was very real –as much so as Addu, as seen in the old expression ‘Malik-Addu’ that described the length of the territory. However, throughout known history, Minicoy remained a bone of contention between the Maldives and its neighbors. The once-there, once-here territory became finally there when British forces defeated the Arackal Kingdom (ruled by Ali Rajas) of Cannanore in 1783. As fate would have it, at that crucial point in history Minicoy was under the Ali Raja, and so it went under British suzerainty, becoming a directly ruled part of the British Empire in 1908.

Like two brothers separated after childhood, the Maldives and Minicoy shared a common ancestry, spoke the same language, believed the same religion, followed the same trades and sailed the same seas before they went their separate ways. Due to the closed nature of the two territories till recently, it is quite likely that they retain many of the original commonalties. This is more likely to be true of Minicoy that has remained in relative isolation up to the present. Minicoy therefore could be a mirror that reflects the Maldives of a bygone era.

Minicoy dhoni race
Minicoy dhoni race
Note the distinctive bow unique
to the Minicoy-Maldive archipelago
During early twentieth century, the bandodis of Minicoy sailed to Sri Lanka, the Andamans, Calcutta and Burma. The choice of these ports was partly influenced by the fact that the islanders required no passports to visit them under British rule. Minicoyans engaged in inter-port trade between these ports to supplement their income from fish exports. The main products of Minicoy were mas and rihaakuru. The islanders were experts in the technique of pole-and-line fishing.

Bandodis were sea-worthy two-mast vessels about 70 tons in size. Local carpenters built them with native timbers such as aani, funa and bread-fruit. Manikfans owned the bandodis and operated them with the help of malmis and khalasis.

The sailing season in Minicoy began in mid-August or early September and went up to early May, when the onset of the Monsoon was expected. Bandodis first sailed to Sri Lanka with fish and copra, taking about six to seven days to reach Colombo or Gally. From there they sailed eastwards with textiles reaching Nicobar in 12 to 13 days. While based in Nicobar they made several round trips to Burma carrying copra on the onward journey and rice on the return journey. Then they sailed to Calcutta with copra and shells. Finally the bandodis returned to Minicoy with rice and provisions taking about 25 days on the sea.

Bandodis also made shorter trips to the Indian mainland for provisions. But always, the malmis made sure that they returned home before the onset of monsoons, a powerful force that had continued to dominate their lives from time immemorial.


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