NOVEMBER 2002




NOVEMBER 2002 Contents


 South Asian Travels


 Arrival in Kabul
 Spirit of the city
 Cultural Suicide
 Panjsher Valley 


 Natural Heritage

Sundarbans of Bangladesh


 Recognising Depression

 Real Issues

 Bonded Labour of South Asia


 Letter from Pakistan

 From the pages of History

 Maldive Islands - in 1884


 'Rudraksha' - a review
 Artiste: poumi

 Around us

 Coffee break



 South Asian Events in
 London & Washington DC

 November   8 - Nov 14
 November 15 - Nov 21


 the craft shop

 the print gallery


 Silk Road on Wheels

 The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

 Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh





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The Maldive Islands

By  C. W. Rosset

(This article originally appeared in The Graphic  Oct. 16, 1886)

maldive trading boats.jpg (78277 bytes) House of PM 1884 -Maldives.jpg (81797 bytes)

The preparations for my visit to these islands were commenced in the spring of 1884 will as it had been my intentions to proceed here in October of that year; but the combination of accidents prevented my departure from Colombo at the appointed time, and I had therefore 12 months for another opportunity. This delay was unavoidable owing to the fact that dividend total dividend could have done highly seen which prevails around the islands during the southwest monsoon makes a landing gear a rather dangerous matter, especially if one is cumbered wooden boxes of instruments and stories. It was necessary for me to arrive in after the setting the end of the North East monsoon about the middle of October, so as to have as long a spell of fine weather as possible.

Seeing that the Maldives were a dependency of the Government of Ceylon before that colony passed into the hands of the English in 1796, it cannot but be a matter of some surprise that the information possessed concerning them should be of such meagre description. The Maldivians have long been known as a peaceful and hospitable race, though shy and suspicious with strangers until they have satisfied themselves of the latterís friendly intentions: they are not too conservative to oppose the adoption of new ideas if these are properly introduced: nor are they deficient in commercial aptitude. One cause of the islands having been so much neglected is undoubtedly to be found in the bad reputation acquired by the climate: and another is probably a certain reluctance on the part of the Ceylon Government to meddle, or appear to meddle, with the affairs of the Maldivians.

I am not by any means the first European who has paid a visit to the Maldives; but I can justly claim to be the first who has undertaken a systematic exploration of the groups, and who for that purpose has taken up abode his abode among and associated with the people. By the courtesy of the English Government I had been given a passage in the steamer Ceylon, the vessel in which Captain Wilding makes his periodical visits to the lighthouses of Minicoy and the Basses. It was arranged that, as she was to proceed to Bombay to have some repairs effected, I should be left on the way at Male, and that she should return and fetch me away in two monthsí time.

At length, on the morning of the 25th October, 1885, the Ceylon steamed out of Colombo harbour and shaped her course for Male, the capital of the Maldive group, situated on the island of the same name, at the southern end of North Male Atol, exactly in the centre of the group. We sighted land about 9 AM on the morning of the 29th, being then between four and five miles distant; but there were no landmarks to indicate which of the twelve thousand islands which constitute the Maldive group was then before us. Soon a number of fishing boats could be seen approaching and the engines were stopped to enable us to get a pilot on board, from whom we learned that we had shaped our course correctly, and had arrived directly opposite to the island of Male. The panorama, which was now spread out before us, was beautiful in the extreme. The low shore, marked by the thin white line of the beach, was covered to the height of about seven feet with a thick growth of jungle, above which waved the graceful heads of thousands of cocoa-nut trees, to which the slight breeze then blowing imparted a scarcely perceptible motion. As I leant over the bulwarks, admiring the scene, I suddenly became aware of a painfully pestilential odour, which at once dissipated the romantic thoughts, which the beauty of the scene had conjured up. This was the much-dreaded fever-laden breath of the lagoons, the cause of the deadly Maldive fever. This stench is due to a peculiarity in the Atols, or clusters of islands and reefs which constitute the Maldive group. Most of the islands are small, varying from a hundred yards to a mile in length and breadth, and are seldom more than six feet above the level of the sea. In many cases the islands form part of a ring of coral rock without any opening, the consequence being that when the sea is aclm, the enclosed water becomes rapidly putrid under the action of sunís rays, and emits the odours to which I have referred. Indeed, many of the islands are quite uninhabitable, owing to the coral ring having grown to a height sufficient to exclude any but the highest waves; others, again, are only unhealthy during the hot season, the outside sea being able to beat over the barrier during the time that the south-west monsoon is blowing, and thus to constantly renew the water within. I discovered afterwards that the lagoons which emitted the odours did not affect the town, or island of Male.

When we had arrived within five hundred yards of the shore the Turkish flag, which floated from the flagstaff in the northern corner of the old Portuguese fort, was lowered in salute, the Ceylon returning the compliment by dipping her ensign three times. The anchor was dropped shortly afterwards, at about two hundred and fifty yards from the beach, as foreign vessels are not allowed to enter the harbour of Male without having first obtained the Sultanís permission.




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