By Julien Durup a student of history.
Abdullah Afeef, (also known as Abdullah Affif Didi), was born in 1916 in Hithadhoo, Addu Atoll, the southernmost atoll in the Maldives. However, his local name was Elha Didige Ali Didige Afifu, and he is still remembered warmheartedly by the southerners as “our Afeefu”. Didi does not seem to be a southerner’s name. Afeefu became the first and only president of the breakaway nation of United Suvadive Islands from 1959 to 1963. He arrived in the Seychelles on 4 October 1963, where he died on 13 July 1993, after spending 30 years of exile.
Archival records now prove that Afeefu indirectly conspired with the British for the interests of his impoverished people against the dictatorial Maldivian State in the two following revolts, 1944 and 1958. During the first revolt he was convicted in July 1944 for exchanging letters with the British. Afeefu and other members of his family were taken to Malé where he was convicted, along with his followers. Tied prostrate face-down on the ground, he was publicly flogged with a long rod of several rattan canes. Chilli powder was poured into the open cuts, leaving lifelong scars on his body. Apparently, he was the only one not to scream because he had stuffed a handkerchief into his mouth. He was then exiled for 7 years to another atoll.
The new authoritarian Prime Minister, Ibrahim Nasir of the Maldives, was appointed in 1957. He assumed that Afeefu had repented and appointed him liaison officer between the locals and the British. In 1958 the tax plans of Nasir triggered off riots throughout Addu Atoll. While the revolt started, Afeefu and the Maldivian representative were speedily taken for their safety by the British to the RAF station and then on to the SS Matheran, a cargo ship that was unloading concrete beams, heavy lifts, and general cargo, for the base on Gan. During the revolt the Government office was burnt to the ground. After the unrest, a delegation of the Addu people arrived on Gan and declared their independence to the British. Afeefu was chosen as their leader, and only after the British insisted that a reliable leader whom they were familiar with should be chosen. This was a requirement for them to back the secession.
Afeefu the President United Suvadive Islands holding a microphone assuring a crowd
of Adduans that he had no intention of abandoning the Addu cause and going abroad.
Her Majesty's serviceman in the background.
Before taking his new post, Afeefu demanded and obtained a secret letter of protection from the British. He then promised to lead the new government, provided the people of Addu gave him their loyalty and support. He swore to lead the rebel movement and promised that he would be the last to desert the new republic.
Soon after, two Southern Atolls, Huvadu and Fua Mulakau, joined them. After a year in office, Afeefu pleaded in vain for support and recognition from Britain. However, he received only cool support. And Britain broke her promised by signing a treaty with the Maldivian government without involving Afeefu. Following that, the Maldivian government imposed an economic embargo and regularly sent gunboats to attack Suvadive insurgence. Without the support of the British the uprising was about to collapse. Finally, the British in 1963, unceremoniously dismantled the new insurgence and lowered their flag.
On 30 September 1963 Afeefu and his immediate family boarded HMS Loch Lomond, the guard ship of Gan, and headed for exile in the Seychelles. Before embarking on the frigate
Afeefu demanded that he would like to be exiled only to Muslim countries in the world. However, he arrived in early October 1963 in the Seychelles, the land of the kafir, “infidel” (term use nowadays by Muslim extremists referring to all none Muslims), escorted by Mr. Hitie, a Seychellois who was working at the RAF base at Gan.
During his first trial Afeefu, a fervent Muslim, was portrayed in the Malé press as an “infidel”. History does not say whether he asked the British during his exile to be moved to a Muslim country, or if he personally made such a request to a foreign Muslim nation. But we doubt that he ever did so. From the letter he wrote on 25 May 1959, his Muslim country was in a dire state. He said that there was no medical doctor, nor medical supplies, people were undernourished, no schools, no means of communication, no public utilities and that they were suffering from many diseases. The appeal he made for help and remedy was refused by the authorities in Malé. The authorities told him that the only remedy was to go on reading the Koran. Thus, the Seychelles, his new domicile, had all the amenities that he was looking for, and when he became sick he went to see a doctor, his children went to school, and his remittance was paid regularly. Because of that, the Seychelles became a little paradise for him and his family. During his exile in the Seychelles he remained an ardent supporter of British rule. And he seemed to have not been subjected to any restriction imposed by the British colonial power.
Afeefu arrived in the Seychelles with his only wife from the Hitadu Island, and with the following children: Ibrahim, aged 9; Mohamed, aged 7, and Hussein, aged 5. And the following three children were later born in the Seychelles: Ahmed, Aminath, and Sarah. All of them later became scholarship laureates of the Seychelles Government; and they have occupied important post in the soi-disant socialist state, where they have instantly turned capitalist. However, they are now part of the privileged few, which remind us of the “Sybil or the two nations”, the novel of Benjamin Disraeli, or better still the words of Plato, the famous Greek philosopher, who said: that each city contains two cities, “one of the poor, the other one of the rich.”
Afeefu and his family as they left to board HMS Loch Lomond
Ebrahim and Mohamed in front and Hussein behind them
I had the privileged of talking to two of his sons, Ibrahim and Hussein. I found Hussein, the French medical scholar, very friendly, intelligent, opened minded, not a yes-man and I liked his simplicity. As for Ibrahim, the former managing Director and Chief Executive of the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation, he was a yes-man, and it is alleged that he was a kas amba; his management style was a bit like that of the two former presidents of his native Maldives, the dictator Abdull Gayoon and the authoritarian Ibrahim Nasir. During his tenure as director a lot of workers left, causing a major drain of trained manpower. It is alleged that he said “Inshallah” ‘I was appointed by the President’ and the reasons for tendering his resignation was also “Inshallah.”
When the Seychelles became an independent Nation in 1976, Afeefu had spent 13 years there. In 1965 he was allowed to accompany his wife for medical treatment to London. During the Constitutional conference in London for the Seychelles independence, the Seychellois delegation remained silent about him and on the deportees Chagossians. The two main parties, SDP and SPUP, never gave their reasons for that. This gave pleasure to the British who would otherwise have had to move him to the England, where the cost for his upkeep would have been much more. And the British would also have had to pay money for the upkeep of the Chagossians in the Seychelles like they did with Mauritius.
During his exile, Afeefu made several requests to Abdoul Gayoon, the dictator of the Maldives, for him to visit his family on his homeland island. Gayoon, who did not want him to set foot in the Maldives again, continually took no notice of his requests. However, in 1989, a year after Afeefu suffered a stroke and was in an uncertain health situation, they allowed him to travel to Addu to bid adieu to his family and friends. Four years later he died and was buried at Mont Fleuri, Mahé. However, it seemed that the Maldivian dictator never granted him an official pardon, in spite of the fact that at first the Maldivian authorities wanted him to be exiled for only six months.
The frail Afeefu in Addu, with his son Ibrahim and families
during his meeting d’adieu
I always thought that ‘our Afeefu’ betrayed his people by not keeping to his word when he promised them that he would be the last one to desert the new republic. In fact he was the first and only one to go to a safe heaven. After reading about the inhuman treatment he received from his Muslim, brutish, brothers, I personally would have done the same in dealing with men that have lost their reasoning. History will remember him as a peaceful man who wanted to improve the appalling, humanitarian conditions of his people and that his rebel movement was the most democratic in the Maldives. During his difficult tenure of office he was an honest and kind person. However, ‘our Afeefu’ always said that he never planned the revolt in 1944, but never said that he was totally innocent. Even at the end of his life, ‘our Afeefu’, was resentful by his experience of punishment in Malé and his first exile. It is alleged that he said to his close friends: “Now I am labelled as a rebel. These scars are the scars of a rebel. I will never forgive. Even on the Day of Judgement I will raise this complaint of mine”.
It is sad that little has been written about how he survived his 37 years of exile; for that we will have to find another Aeschylus, the father of tragedy, to tell us how. And I will end with this famous saying of Pope Gregory VII (1028-1085), which goes very well with him: “J’ai aimé la justice et j’ai haï l’iniquité c’est pour cela que je meurs en exile”
- William McAteer : To Be A Nation, 200.
- Dianna Salabert: Exiles in the Sun, 1994.
- Maldives: www.worldstatemen.org
- Majid’s pages- suvadies photo album.
- RAF. Gan Remembered memories.
- HMS Loch Lomond
- Chapter 4 Abdullah Afeef and the uprising of 1944. www.maldivesculture.com
- Abdullah Afeef, in Wikipedia.