Maldives: research perspectives

Despite the fact that the Maldives were mentioned as far back as before the Christian era, they still remain a terra incognita for European scholars. Even in the last 150 years, although a few scientific expeditions have investigated the islands, the Maldives have mostly been the object of study of enthusiastic individual scholars.

By Leonid Kulikov

The leading (and, in fact, the only) authority on almost all aspects of Maldivian history and culture from the end of nineteenth century until his death in 1937 was H.C.P. Bell, the Archaeological Commissioner of Ceylon, who published three monographs and a number of articles on the Maldives (for his bibliography see H.C.P. Bell: Archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives, by B.N. Bell and H.M. Bell, Archetype Publications, 1993).
The dearth of scientific resources is regrettable, since the Maldives have a rich history and a very idiosyncratic culture presenting genuine virgin soil to a number of groups of scientists: linguists, historians, anthropologists, and, as the recent excavations have demonstrated, archaeologists. Investigations on the Maldives were stepped up a little in the seventies but even nowadays the number of scholars engaged in these researches can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Unpublished manuscripts
No scientific grammar of Maldivian has so far been published in any European language. Only a few conversational guides and short dictionaries for tourists have been issued. A comprehensive report of a linguistic expedition to the Maldives compiled by Sri Lankans (S. Wijesundera, G.D. Wijayawardhana, J.B. Disanayaka) and Maldivians (H.A. Maniku, M. Luthfie) is still unpublished. This is an almost unique situation since this is also the only official language of an independent state, but it should change in the very near future: S. Gippert-Fritz (Germany) and B. Cain (USA) are going to publish grammatical descriptions; and C.H.B. Reynolds (London) has prepared a Maldivian-English dictionary still remains unpublished.
The anthropological and ethnographical aspects of the Maldivian culture have been studied by C. Maloney (who published the monograph People of the Maldive Islands, Orient Longmann, in 1980 which is the most detailed description of the country), N.F. Munch-Petersen (Denmark) and B. Koechlin (France). Some problems of the Maldivian history are dealt with in a few papers by A. Forbes who, however, no longer seems to be working in this field.
Some archaeological excavations have been carried out on the islands. J. Carswell (USA/Great Britain) discovered fragments of Chinese pottery on the islands; a few more short reports mention some single finds. In the eighties a Norwegian archaeological expedition (O. Johansen, E. Mikkelsen, A. Skjolsvold) under the guidance of T. Heyerdahl obtained rich additional evidence about the ancient character of the Maldivian history.
Many sources related to the history of Maldives are still unpublished. The Tarikh, a chronicle of the sultans in Arabic, was published by the Japanese scholar Hikoichi Yajima, unfortunately without an English translation. Only some of the numerous Old Maldivian texts (mainly copperplate grants, the so-called lomafanu, the oldest of which date from the twelfth century) have been published by H.C.P. Bell and, recently, by H.A. Maniku, G.D. Wijayawardhana, and J.B. Disanayaka.
For more detailed information about publications dealing with the Maldives, the reader is referred to the excellent recently published bibliography by C.H.B. Reynolds (Maldives, by Clio Press, 1993).

Available research tools
The National Centre (Council) for Linguistic and Historical Research in Male, founded in 1982 is there to assist Maldivian researchers, however its technical and financial resources are very limited. The Maldivian scholars (M. Luthfie, H.A. Maniku, A.S. Hassan, M. Waheed, and others) are researching various problems of Maldivian history (in particular, contacts with Europeans in sixteenth - nineteenh centuries), culture, and so forth. There is a learned monthly journal Fat-tuura, in Maldivian, thus unavailable to most European scholars. The majority of books published in the Maldives, even those in English, are not available either, for with some rare exceptions, the literature issued in the islands is not brought to the European libraries.
In my opinion, in this situation the best way of co-ordinating research and making the rich resources related to the Maldives available for all interested scholars would be probably to organize an international Journal of Maldivian studies, which would publish not only new papers and more extended works but also would permit unpublished materials, the interesting unpublished manuscripts of such eminent Maldivianists as H.C.P. Bell (Bell's collection still waits its researchers in the Colombo Archive!), and translations of papers written in Divehi and (old) Divehi to see the light of day



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