The Christmas holidays are a time for being with family and friends, but also for giving a thought to those who cannot be with their loved ones. Either loss, hardship, service or some other obstacle keeps them alone at the festive time of year. While you are considering what Christmas specials, traditional films or football matches to watch, consider the “Lonely Men of the Coral Command” documentary on YouTube. It is a 36-minute portrayal of the gilded cage posting of the very first Western visitors to the tropical paradise of the Maldives – the British RAF:
“Every day, British airplanes flying between the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia seek out one of the tiniest dots in this remote [island] chain. It lies 600 miles southwest of Ceylon. In some of the deepest waters of the world. Its nearest neighbour due south is the ice mass of the Antarctic. It’s an island at the end of a coral atoll, and people unconnected with the military, are unlikely to ever see it…Its name is Gan.”
Referenced by “Gatecrashing Paradise”, this 1970 documentary, with the wonderfully charming retro-British writing and speaking style, features lots of vintage footage of the earliest years of the Maldives. But at its heart, it is an examination of the loneliness of men stationed there. Isolation not just far from home but the prevailing country attitude of not wanting foreigners into the country so they were prohibited from leaving their island. And the radio operators are on yet another neighbouring island which is even more isolated. Servicemen at Gan can post here for a single year versus the conventional tour of 3 years “accompanied” by family somewhere else. The much shorter duration owing to the proportional hardship of the confined sequestration. The film also introduced the bizarre situation of the single woman posted there for a range of counselling and support duties.
May your holidays be filled with warmth and companionship!
World Heritage Day celebrates the sites and monuments around the world which capture and preserve bits of the local history. Shangri-La Villingili has so many such relics that they have assembled a little guide history tour of their island. It starts with the dhoni displayed (see photo above) near the entrance to the resort:
“This Maldivian dhoni was shipwrecked on the Villingili island reef during stormy weather in the late 1940s.”
But Villignili also shared the RAF heritage of the Addu atoll as an extension to the neighbouring Gan outpost. Garrison. The historical buildings include a RAF building (see photo directly below) as well as a defensive pill box (see photo bottom):
“Administrative building of the 1st Royal Marine Coast Defense Regiment manning the shore batteries on Villingili Island, ca. 1942. In August 1941, the netlayer HMS Guardian landed Royal Navy construction crews on Addu Atoll in the Maldives Islands to begin work on a secret naval base for Britain’s eastern fleet. The British eastern fleet had left more of its base facilities in Singapore, including dry docks and repair sheds In the event of Singapore’s loss, it was to fall back on Trincomalee on Ceylon’s eastern coast. The British fleet commander wanted an alternative base somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Addu Atoll, which became known as ‘Port T.’ The 1st Royal Marine Coast Defense Regiment was dispatched to secure the atoll.”
Historically, when it came to the rest of the world first visiting the Maldives, Gan was the centre of the map, in fact the very heart of navigation and in the whole Indian Ocean area. The Addu Island has a proud aeronautical legacy that goes back decades and continues to this very day. And for a cargo plane full of fun facts that I picked up during my stay there this summer as well as some follow up research, check out Maldivian Holidays’ latest issue features a piece on Gan by yours truly. You can read their online version, and (appropriately enough) it is also distributed as an in-flight magazine in the Maldives.
As it happens, Equator Village welcomed the latest resort manager, Mohamed Waheed, this past week. May this resort fly high for many years to come.
Long before the Maldives was the ultimate destination of the world’s wealthy; it was the ultimate origination of the world’s wealth. The Maldives was the veritable Fort Knox of the nascent global currency system.
The key to value is scarcity – gold, Bitcoins (based on hard to solve problems) – are all premised by the difficulty of counterfeiting because simply can’t magic up more of the stuff easily. It turns out that one of the earliest forms of currency were cowries shells from the Maldives. They were quite distinctive in shape and look and back in ancient times you couldn’t just waltz over the Maldives to gather up a few more.
Today being National Money Day is an apropos time to check out “Stuff You Should Know” which has a fine good account of Maldives cowrie currency in their podcast “How Currency Works” (mins 9:10 through 6:00 – the counter counts down to time left in podcast…thanks Isley).
I recently highlighted the Maldives’ first archaeologist and one of the subjects she is investigating is this very area. Coincidentally (I means big time “it’s a small world”), Haour and Jaufar explore the links of the cowrie trade between Benin, West Africa. “Benin” is now the name of the county neighbouring Togo to the east, but also the designation for the general area. In Togo’s capital Lomé, I resided at the “Université du Benin” and my residence compound was called the “Village du Benin”.
My time in Togo way back in 1980 was the earliest seeds of Maldives Complete. I was stationed there as an overseas correspondent for a firm doing travel writing. Hence, my initiation into research the obscure and fascinating in exotic destinations.
Below are a few of my mementos from my year there – a cowrie voodoo amulet (top), a cowrie bracelet (middle) and a cowrie money shell (bottom). Maybe these shells from the Grand Marche were my first contact with the Maldives over three decades ago?!
International Museum Day today is a chance to pop down to your local cultural curator. Among the Maldives resorts, the place to go is Loama Resort Maldives at Maamigili. While a number of resorts feature displays of artefacts and heritage, Maamagili has developed a sophisticated museum to showcase an unmatched collection of Maldives masterpieces…
“Loama Museum is the first and only Museum in a Hotel in Maldives licensed under the Government’s Department of Heritage. Our young museum collection spans from the Classical to British Colonial Period. Highlights include artefacts found on the island, items of trade and livelihood from the Early Modern or Colonial Period (1514-1828) and British Colonial Period ( 1828-1965). You will be wowed by an Ancient Bath from the Classical Period (500BCE-1153), Mausoleum foundations from the Medieval Islamic Period (1153-1514). The museum is located at the hotel lobby and extends to the Ancient Bath and a Traditional House which are located at the heritage site. Notable exhibits include Chinese porcelain that could have arrived on this island during the Indian Ocean trade between South East Asia and the Middle East. Other interesting artefacts from the collection, representative of the lifestyle and trade that survived inhabitants of these coral atolls for centuries in the middle of the Indian Ocean, include grain measures, coconut oil and lace making equipment.”
Many pieces in the museum come from Loama’s own archaeological work undertaken during the resort development. Anne Haour, an archaeologist from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK, writes about this work in blog “Cross Roads of Empires”. She is doing a range of fascinating research studies about the Maldives and did a post on the Loama excavation work titled “Maamigili” (see below).
Great to be able to spend the Maldives semicentennial in the Maldives itself. So many come to the Maldives to celebrate their own milestone special occasions (coincidentally, Lori and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary ourselves tomorrow), it’s apropos for everyone to raise a cheer the Maldives’ own golden anniversary.
Or more traditionally, raise a flag. En route here, the Male airport was festooned with flags heralding the event. We are actually at Coco Bodu Hithi (tour report to follow) and they have organised an entire day of celebration starting with a flag raising ceremony with the staff at sunrise (see picture above) and concluding with a sunset soiree by the beach. The resort is also covered in Maldives flags at the entry and on all of the tables (see below).
We “toasted” the occasion with a custom Maldives Flag pancake crafted by their incredibly inventive pancake station (definite “Best of the Maldives” to follow) pictured below.
Maldives National Day today celebrates this triumph of the Maldivians over the Portugese in 1573 in a revolt led by Mohamed Thakurufaaru. His birthplace, “Utheem”, is one of the most notable historical sites in the Maldives and adjacent to the Barefoot resort…
“Utheem (or Utheemu) is consireded the most famous site of Maldives. It is the birthplace of Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu, who fought a war against the Portuguese invasion. The war lasted 8 years (1558-1573) before Mohamed and his brothers rejected the invaders. In Utheem it is possible to visit the wooden palace, Utheemu Ganduvaru, where the Sultan lived, along with some other interesting sites of the island. The excursion is guided by the guides of the EcoHotel along with local guides from Utheem, specialized in the history of the Sultan and his family.”