An overview of a rich history (Part 3 of 3) Maldivean royal searches for Yemeni roots [Archives:2003/05/Reportage]

February 4 2003

Excerpts from correspondence
I visited your web site and found it interesting. I lived in the Maldives until part of the way through high school and came here to New Zealand in 1974 to finish school and attend university. I returned to the Maldives for about 5 years but came back here in 1988. I am teacher by profession originally teaching economics, but now teaching UT.
My mother had a very good personal library consisting of just about every book, magazine and newspaper ever published in the Maldives. I used to read her book and that was how I became interested in history. My mother died about 11 years ago.
You have mentioned having a slave as a guardian who used to tell you stories about Maldives and this is how you got interested in Maldives in first place. It is interesting that some countries did not banned slavery until recently or never banned it at all. My father used to tell me that his grandfather had African slaves. It was not uncommon for wealthy Maldivian even in the early twentieth century to return from Haj with concubines who were of a nationality called circasian. They looked European…….
Thor Hyerdahl
I note that you studied in Norway and met Thor Hyerdahl known for his Kon Tiki expedition and author of the book The Maldive Mystery. I also met him, when he was in the Maldives. A very interesting person. Very close to his death I wrote to him about an old Maldivian poem which is believed to be fiction He took some interest but I heard of his death soon after. I suspect the poem was written based on some ancient historical fact. It talks of two goddesses, one in Siam, roughly what is now Thailand, and the other in Musimbi thought to be Mozambique. They maintained contact with each other via the Maldives.
Perhaps pre-Columbian ocean travel…..
Yemen in Indonesia
My mothers grandfathers grandfather was supposed to be a Moosa Baalawi from Hadramaout. Is there such place in Yemen.
Did you know that there is quiete a sizeable Yemeni community in what is now Indonesia. When I was a student in Wellington, in New Zealand, I was surprised to find a Yemeni student called Mohamed Shaiban who communicated fluently with Indonesians in the Indonesian language. Upon asking he said that he was brought up in Indonesia in a Yemeni community.
Some of these people must have passed through the Maldives…..
Am glad you had a look at my late brothers poetry. I have to work a bit on the pages. My brother was one of those people who would not have lasted as you may be able to tell from some of his poetry. There is a double meaning in the most of his poems and sense of humor too. There is also a philosophical element. He makes a good social commentary. It would be really good if am able to trace my mothers Hadrami connections. Am looking forward to hear from you soon….
Family name
Many thanks for explaining the meaning of Baalawi. Of course, it makes sense now. I did know about the use of Ba and Bar by some Middle Eastern peoples as a kingship term in their names. However, I never thought that Baalawi was the family name of BaAlawi.
My grandfather like many Maldivians had an Arabic name as well as a Divehi name. His Divehi name was Bodufenvalhugey Seedi and his Arabic name was Hussain bin Mohammed al-Hussein. I look forward to the BaAlawi story from you…..
What follows here are references to the BaAlawi family of Hadramaut was able to gather from from different English and Arabic sources as well as personal communications. They offer some perspective into the Indian Ocean politics, a real Indian Ocean dialogue and cooperation.
Statesmen of the Indian Ocean
The BaAlawi of Hadramaut – Statesman, scholars and traders of the Indian Ocean:
Having laid down their arms and given up political struggle, the Alawiyun became the carriers of a Sufi tariqa. The Second stage was that of the development and consolidation of alTariqa alAlawiya, the Alawi Sufi order, which lasted from the seventh century to the eleventh century A.H. , 13-17th century A.D. The tariqa was a simple one which did not have khalw, seclusion for purposes of spiritual exercises, and did not denounce worldly activities. The third stage lasted from eleventh to the fourteen century A.H, later 17th to 20the century A.D. During this period the Alawi ulama and awlija, saints, came to be known by the title of habib. This was the period of emigration to India and Southeast Asia….
Hadrami Arab and Indian Muslim traders has been engaging in trade and missionary activities in the region for centuries and constituted an integral part of the Muslim trade diaspora which stretched from Egypt to the Malay world. Today the whole of the Hadrami hierarchical segmend is still represented in Africa. At the top of the social hierarchy, the sharifs that are best known are AlSaqqaf, BaAlawi and AlAydarus. By playing on their prestige and by means of marriages contracted with ruling families, the sheriffs were able to establish political bases or take possession of power structures wherever they settled. There are numerous and often significant examples of their influence in the political domain. For example that BaAlawi sultans were secured in the Comoros, Kilwa, Zanzibar, Tumbatu and at Vumbaktu….. Members of the BaAlawi lineage continue to exercise various degrees of religious, social and political influence in late 20 century Kerala… Further south in the then Italian port of Mogadishu in 1891 one of the major chiefs was Sayyid Ahmed BaAlawi whose ancestor had come from Tarim seven generations earliers….Imam Abdalla ibn Alawi AlHadad published The Book of Assistance for Moslems, born in Tarim in the hills of Hadramaut. His ancestors The Alawi Sadda had for centuries produced generation after generation of great scholars, and Gnostics and sumnoners to the straight path…. Certainly no aristocracy so widely disseminated over Asia and Africa playing century upon century an important and consistent role in the Islamic community nor can any branch of the numerous Sharif and Sayyid families founded over 14 centuries ago claim a more varied sphere of activity of achievement than the Alawi Sayyids of Hadramaut…. The first focus of Sayyid emigrants eastwards from the Middle Ages was India. They settled in important commercial, cultural and political center, like Bijapur, and Surat, Ahmedabad, Haiderabad, Gujerat, Delhi, Calicut, Malibar… but the greatest emigrations of all were to Java, Sumatra, Atcheh and Malaya…. The Alawi Sayyids arrived there some time before the Dutch. An Alawi from Johore settled in Maindanao, marrying the Sultans daughter…..
22 generations later
Hi iren, got your mail. Just having a visit from two of my in laws. I look forward to hear more about the BaAlawi connection, Forgot to tell you earlier that my fathers lineage is from a person called Moslim Abbas of Hilaaly. He lived around the year 1300 and I am 22 generation from him the king- sultans of the Maldives since 14the century. His son married a member of a ruling dynasty called the Moon. The Soma dynasty reigned for many generations before becoming Moslims…..
Maldives in Brief
The Republic of Maldives is a group of islands lying in the Indian Ocean south west of Sri Lanka and south of the Indian sub continent stretching 800 km in length and 130 km in width comprising of 1190 coral islands with only 202 inhabited. Each island is surrounded by a shallow lagoon which is enclosed by a coral riff providing protection from the sea.
The population is 213.215 of which about 56.000 live in the capital Male being the trading center.
Being on the equator, the monsoons are mild.
The Maldivians are a mixed race.
Through out the Maldives Dhivehi, a language which belongs to the Indo-Iranian group of language is spoken.
The newly independent Maldives changed from Sultanate to a Republic on 11th November, 1968.
Maldivians are sunni Moslem. Islam is the religion of the State and the backbone of society.
The National Emblem of the Republic of Maldives comprises a Coconut Palm, Crescent and Star.
The economy is based on three principal activities, fishing, tourism, and shipping. Poor soil and limited availability of cultivable land limit agriculture. Traditional industry consists of local boat building, handicraft such as mat- weaving, jewellery making and lacquer work. Export oriented industries include tuna fish canning, and manufacture of garments.
The Maldives is a member of U.N. and most of specialized agencies. Maldives has diplomatic relations with over hundred countries. The country also enjoys membership in major international financial institutions.
Like the coral reefs that protect the islands, Maldivians maintain a commitment to keep their own world to themselves, and to maintain the Maldivian culture.
Yemen and Maldives
Possibilities of cooperation in the field of tourism, tourism management and joint investing oil export from Yemen
transport and logistics, Adeni free zone and product distribution centers, fishing, and fish canning, export of fresh fruits, and vegetables from Yemen.
For further information check the Maldives Royal Family Official Website: Majid’s pages:
Irena Knehtl is an economist and writer. She has been involved in the Indian Ocean dialogue for economic cooperation and exploring economic cooperation among the Red Sea countries.
Above is part of a larger undertaking tracing Yemeni contacts throughout the Indian Ocean and South East Asia.
For further suggestions and comments contact Yemen Times.