Addu, the Heart-shaped Atoll, lies in the southernmost tip of the Maldives and is home to some of the most diverse natural habitats in the country. With its large islands, unique geography, flourishing population and long history and culture, Addu stands out as a destination that seamlessly marries nature with development. Addu represents a community evolved to embrace the future with imagination and pride.
A total of 24 natural islands of various sizes lie on a heart shaped coral rim. The islands on the western side of the Atoll have been linked by a man-made causeway that links the islands of Hithadho, Maradhoo, Maradhoofeydhoo, Feydhoo and Gan, an extent of 14km. On the eastern side of the atoll, lie the islands of Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo and the tourist resorts Herathera and Shangri-la’s Villingilli Resort & Spa. At the Southern tip of the Atoll is Gan International Airport. Gan marks the most southern point in the Maldives as well as the most southern point in South Asia.
Unlike other atolls of Maldives, Addu harbors a natural anchorage within the atoll basin, very calm and safe for vessels at all times, and is not affected by seasonal changes. The atoll possesses four channels that lead into the lagoon. In the north are Kuda Kandu and Maa Kandu, in the south Gan Kandu, and the wider Villingili Kandu are to the southeast. The islands have lush vegetation; some have mangroves and marshy taro fields which are unique throughout the islands of Maldives.
There are no exact records of when the first settlers arrived in Addu Atoll, but several historians and researchers have concluded that people were living on these islands for more than 2000 years. It is believed the first settlers originated from Sri Lanka and India. The Maldives was previously a Buddhist nation until it embraced Islam 800 years ago. The people of Meedhoo island in Addu were amongst the first to convert to Islam in the Maldives.
Despite its isolation, Adduans have always been energetic, creative and self-reliant. The community has always thrived on fishing, farming, weaving, toddy tapping, but the most significant of all the community’s achievements was its trade vessels. Addu is well known for its able sea navigators and vessels. The Addu-built wooden sailing vessels would regularly travel to Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, and even as far as China for trade, carrying local produce such as coconuts and sweet savories made from toddy. The traders would then return with goods like grains, fabrics, medicinal herbs, spices, perfumes, etc. There were also annual trips to Arabia for the pilgrimage in Mecca.
The biggest influence on Addu’s modern history has been the British bases, first established on Gan during WWII as part of the Indian Ocean defenses. In 1956, when the British could no longer use Sri Lanka, they developed a Royal Air Force base on Addu as a strategic Cold War outpost. The base had around 600 personnel permanently stationed there, with up to 3000 during periods of peak activity. The British built a series of causeways connecting Feydhoo, Maradhoo and Hithadhoo islands and employed most of the population on or around the base.
Tensions between the southern atolls and the central government in Male’ peaked in the 1960s under the leadership of Abdulla Afif Didi, who was elected president of the ‘United Suvadive Republic, comprising Addu, Fuvahmulah and Huvadhoo. Afif declared independence from the Maldives, but an armed fleet sent south by Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir quashed the short-lived southern rebellion. In 1976 the British pulled out, leaving an airport, some large industrial buildings, barracks and a lot of unemployed people, trained and skilled, who spoke good English and had experience working for Westerners. When the tourism industry took off in the late 1970s, many of the men of Addu went to Male seeking work in resorts and tourist shops. They have never lost their head start in the tourism business to this date. Even today in any resort, visitors find a large number of key staff hailed from Addu. Gan is now a commercial island with Equator Village tourist resort, business offices, shops and the airstrip now being used as Gan International Airport.
Brief History of United Suvadive Republic
Flag of the United Suvadive RepublicFor ages, the affluent merchants from the southern atolls of Addu and Huvadu had been trading directly with Ceylon and the East Indies, which prevented the Maldives authorities from taxing that trade, which did not pass through Malé, the capital of the Maldives. After the Second World War, the British diplomats stationed in Colombo, upon request of the Maldive authorities, imposed passports and visas issued in Malé to Maldivians travelling to the British possessions. This control, as well as the enforcement of the poll and land tax, was bitterly resented in Addu and the other southern atolls. The Maldive authorities imposed a ban on trade between the British troops stationed in Addu and the locals, causing the wrath of the Addu aristocracy and a riot severely repressed by the government militia.
The British left the atoll in 1944 but came back in 1957 because of the Cold War. The ban on trade was reimposed by the authorities. The civilian British contractor expected a 100-year lease of land in Hithadoo to build a staging post, which was difficult to obtain legally; accordingly, he spread the idea of breaking away from the Malé rulers and employed several Adduans, significantly increasing their income. In 1958, the new Prime Minister of the Maldives ordered to stop all construction in Addu. Riots broke out in Hithadoo; on 3 January 1959, the independence was proclaimed and Abdulla Afeel Didi was appointed head of state upon British recommendation. The prosperity of Addu encouraged rebellion in the two neighboring atolls of Fuamulah and Huvadhoo, which joined Addu to form the United Suvadive Republic on 13 March 1959. The Huvadhoo rebellion was suppressed in July 1959 by a gunboat commanded personally by Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir; a British regiment prevented any action in Addu.
United Suvadive Republic Coat of armsIn 1960, the Brits withdrew their support to the rebellion but the Suvadive Republic resisted. A new revolt in Huvadhoo was suppressed in 1961; the population was dispersed and the leaders of the rebellion all died in the jail in Malé. Britain was more and more internationally embarrassed by the secessionists; on 22 September 1963, the British political agent in Addu spelt out an ultimatum to the people of Maradhoo to hoist the Maldives flag. A man found the design of the flag in a book and made it with bunting supplied by the British. At 3 AM on 23 September 1963, the Suvadive flag was cut down and the Maldive flag hoisted over Maradhoo. Following Maradhoo’s capitulation, the British quickly spread the word that only those who were under the sovereign authority of the Sultan of the Maldives would be employed in British facilities. That was the final blow on the United Suvadive Republic.
The Sultan proclaimed a general pardon and no punitive action was taken by his government against anyone in Addu following the collapse of the United Suvadive Republic. Afeef Didi was given British protection in Seychelles and after many years, he was pardoned by the President of the Maldives. He visited Addu once before he died in the Seychelles.
The Maldives has a tropical climate distinguished by two seasons: dry from December to March, and wet from May to November with moderate winds and rain. March is the usual month noted for clear water with temperature remarkably consistent at around 30°C.
People & Culture
The Maldivian identity is a blend of cultures, reflecting the peoples who settled on the islands, reinforced by religion and language. The earliest settlers were probably from southern India, Arabia, and other regions of Southeast Asia. Evident is a huge influence of South, South West African and Asian cultures in the Maldives.
Addu society, as in the rest of Maldives, was distinguished by strong social divisions. Traditionally, the upper classes—with names like Don Seedi, Don Kaloa, Fulhu, Manik, and Didi—were close friends and relatives of the sultan and his royal family. Yet, even among these families, there were marked differences. Well into the 20th century, HCP Bell, a well known explorer, noted that “a Didi marrying a Maniku lady raises her to his own rank; but, strictly speaking, the children of a Maniku father and Didi mother are not entitled to the appellation Didi”.
Years ago, it was unacceptable to eat with a member of an inferior class, and people of a lower class mixing with a superior only sat on a low stool. Now these distinctions are not acceptable in the society. Indeed, nowadays the terms Maniku and Didi are sometimes used as nicknames. Today, social rank is based more on merit than family linage.
The number of islands a person leases, or the number of boats they own, was also crucial to their social standing during the sultanates’ era. The boat owner took about half the day’s catch, while the skipper (keyolhu) earned about one-fifth. The rest was divided equally among the fishermen. As the fishermen’s lives and the well-being of the community depended upon the skill of the boat builders (Maavadi meehaa), they were highly respected craftsmen in the islands. The medicine men (Hakeem) stood on the same social rung. Skilled tradesmen, like blacksmiths and goldsmiths, also commanded a great deal of respect. At the bottom of the social heap was the toddy-tapper (Raaveria) who looked after the coconuts and tapped sap for toddy and syrup.
The sharp division of labor not only reflects the exigencies of island life, but the injunctions of traditional Islam. Yet despite the clear divisions between the classes, there was no poverty. The island community and the extended family act as a safety net for its members. No one sleeps in the streets, or goes to bed hungry. In this sense, being a small atoll in a small nation has its blessings, for everyone knows each other and is willing to lend a hand. Alms-giving remains one of the fundamental tenets of Islam, and so is in the atoll society.
The people of the Addu City are unique in the Maldives, not only because they speak in an entirely different dilect, but also because of their educational and intellectual background derived from their ancestors. It is a small, kindred society unified by a common history, language, and the Islamic faith.
Adduans have been able to blend tradition and modernity. All Adduans have open access to primary and secondary education. Adduans also play a significant role in the economic life of the Maldives, which is mainly based in the capital island of Malé.
Adduans are a friendly, hospitable and peace loving people, at the same time reserved and in control of their emotions. In Addu old customs and Islamic traditions are respected, while allowing the necessary changes in lifestyle to be compatible with modern development.
The Adduans are dedicated to improving the life of the people on the islands of Addu City. Young people are encouraged to strive for higher education. When children finish the secondary education in the atoll, they are sent to Malé or overseas for higher studies to make them professionals in their desired fields. After completing their studies in Male’ or abroad, many are compelled to stay in Malé due to lack of job opportunities in their hometown.
The dialect spoken in this atoll (Addu bas) is quite different from the official form of Dhivehi language. It has some similarities with the dialect of Fua Mulaku (Mulaku bas).
Traditionally all educated islanders from the three different atolls of the south adopted the Addu Bas as lingua franca. Hence, when for example an islander of Huvadhu met with another from Fua Mulaku, they would use the Addu bas to talk to each other. Addu bas is the most widespread and popular dialect in the southern region of Maldives.
Nature & Environment
Lying just a few degrees south of the equator, the islands are filled with lush green tropical forests, marshlands, fresh water mangroves. These habitats are home to a various species of seabirds, fish and crustaceans. In addition, there is a huge population of fruit-bats and wild ducks, fowls and cats in the wild.
The symbolic bird of Addu, white-tern, is only found in Addu. The presence of white terns is known to deter small eagles and crows from the islands made the Atoll free from crows completely.
There are many types of indigenous tropical fruits and vegetables which is the basis of the local cuisine in the early days. Plantain, breadfruit, taro, yam, tapioca, cassava, mango, banana, guava, papaya, watermelon are some of the common locally grown produce.
The economy is mainly based on Fisheries and tourism. Three tourist resorts, together with Gan international Airport and Hithadhoo Regional Port, operate in Addu City. Small scale agricultural farming exists and most people are employed by state and government institutions. Comparatively Addu City has a strong economy and businesses thrive.
Gan International Airport is connected by SriLankan Airlines via Colombo at the moment. More international airlines are expected to begin operations in the near future.
Addu is a 75 minute flight south of Velana International Airport, Male’. The city has an international airport on Gan which caters to both domestic and international airlines and private jets.
There are numerous daily flights between Male’ and Addu by local airline–Maldivian. Sailing yachts and boats can directly visit Addu since Addu Atoll is among the 3 clearing points in Maldives for international yachts.
A cheaper and more adventurous way of getting here would be to hop on a cargo boat from Male’ and sail through the atolls anchoring at some islands along the way. Although this may take 2-3 days, it definitely lets you enjoy the beauty and interact with lively locals.