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.