Male’ – the Capital of Maldives
Although small, Male’, the capital of Maldives, has been the political, economic and cultural hub of this far-flung archipelago for centuries. Since the arrival of Islam in the twelfth century, it has been known as the “Island of the Sultans”. Set in the middle of the Male’ Atoll, Male’ covers just 1.8 square kilometers (more than half a square mile). Fifty years ago it was a sleepy village lost in the limbo of the Indian Ocean. Today Male’, the capital of a nation caught up in a race to join the rest of the world, contains the greatest wealth in the country and is the administrative and religious center of the islands.
Earlier this century, with its clean rectangular streets of coral sand and its one story coral buildings behind neat palisades, visitors were struck by its peace and charm. English woman, Lawson Robins visited the capital in 1920 one of the few white women to do so and noted that there was no Telegraph, no Ox Carts, no Motor Cars and no Carriages. It was “a land of quietness and peace”. Some of the best houses have walls of whitewashed coral stones; but most are in a tiny compound surrounded by a fence of cad Jan. Trees and shrubs flourish, we saw firs, oleanders, bamboos, palms and other plants. And “each street was carpeted with white coral sand soft and clean”.
When the English traveler, T. W. Hockly visited Male in 1934 he too, recorded; “The roads are all of white coral sand and I have never seen any place kept cleaner”. There were several small shops and a few houses where plantain, papaya and mango trees, and many shrubs were flourishing luxuriously.” The poorer inhabitants have their houses walled with mats or cadjans made from palm leaves, about six to seven feet in height. Every little dwelling stands in its own compound. They are roofed with cadjans or corrugated iron sheets.
When, H.C.P. Bell stayed on Male’ in 1921, he remarked that “with its teeming population of over 5,200 souls, it is far too over crowded already”. Yet the capital now boasts 78,000 inhabitants nearly a third of the population and a floating population of several thousand people who come to sell their wares and buy goods.
A Visit To Male’ – Male’ is so small that there is no room for an Airport. Airliners land on neighboring Island called Hulhule’, which for years served as the holiday retreat for the sultans who lived in Male’. This long, thin stretch of land, providentially near the capital, “serves as a natural aircraft carrier permanently anchored in the sea”, WITH THE ONLY RUNWAY IN THE WORLD THAT BEGINS AND ENDS IN WATER.. Just as your wide body jet seems about to splash into the sea, the wheels suddenly bounce onto the asphalt. Now one form of transport is abandoned for another. Alongside the airport, dhonis and launches wait at the jetty to take passengers to the capital and surrounding resort islands.
Where To Stay – There are a few reasonably priced private guesthouses and small hotels in the capital. The most exclusive among them are the Hotel OCTAVE, Relax Inn and City Palace Hotel.
Getting Around – The best way to discover Male’ is by foot. Although it only takes about 20 minutes to walk the length of the island. Untill end 1990’s many citizens ride about on bicycles. Row upon row of solid Raleigh and Dahon bicycles outside government offices show how the pace of life is quickening. Nowdays you will see Motor-cycles – in abundance. There are no buses (within Male’ zone), but several taxi services. All charge a standard Mrf 30/- per trip anywhere in Male’ without luggage, with an additional charge of Mrf 5/-for luggage per piece. All operate 24 hours and can be called by telephone. Note that you should check the fare before you hire one.
The most interesting and surprising thing a visitor to Male’ will notice is Maldives begin a popular holiday destination with crystal clear water and soft white sandy beaches, Male’ the capital of Maldives though surrounded with water does not have a natural beach. Now the place is like a concrete jungle – with tall (about 7 to 12 storey buildings), without trees.
Though in late 1990’s the government built an artificial beach for Male’ city weekend holiday-makers. Locals during their weekend Holidays visit the nearby Island Villingilli and for picnic and relaxing. However, seen the importance of a beach the government of the Maldives with the assistance of the Japanese Government has built an artificial beach which was opened in 1998.
Also recently a causeway Bridge was built to connect the Hulhule Island (Airport) and Male’, which has connected the island next Hulhule – known as HulhuMale’, too.
Sight Seeing – The lifeblood of the nation, great liners, tankers and cargo ships which bring all the islands need for building, food and power, ride high at their moorings in the road stead as you cross the channel from the airport to Male’. This expanse of ocean between the islands of Funadhoo, Dhoonidhoo, and Vilingili is the outer harbor where dhonis buzz around the silent, brooding beasts of the high seas like insects. The cargoes are ferried by towed lighters to the wharf of the inner harbor north of the capital. Enclosed by a coral stone breakwater with narrow entrances, it was built between 1620 and 1648. Various sections of the waterfront have different functions: one for the ferryboats and dhonis to the outlying islands, another for fishing boats and local cargo. In front of the Headquarters of the Security Forces is the new wooden official jetty. Male’ is divided into four districts. Henveiru, occupies the northeast side and Maafannu, the northwest. The two smaller wards Galolhu and Machchangolhi, lie in the centre and to the south. Recently the Island of Vilingili has been added as an extension to Male’. Vilingili is been developed as an urban area since Male’ no longer can accommodate the growing population and housing.
All over Maldives houses are given names and numbers. However, numbers are used rarely all houses are referred by there given names and most of them have Dhivehi names, but some reflect the British influence often quite incongruously and sometimes poetically: Snow Down, Sky Villa, Rose Burn, Night Flower, Blue Bell, Lightning Villa, Marine Villa, Dreamy Light, Forget Me Not and Crab Tree. Green and blue are favorite colors and windows tend to be high and narrow which, according to legend, prevents evil spirits from entering.
Historic Buildings – Other buildings in Male’ speak of the tempestuous political history which threatened to split the islands as different fractions fought for the sultanate. Sultan Shamsuddin III, built the Presidential Palace, known as the Muleeaage’, for his son just before the First World War. But the sultan was deposed and his son never took office. When the country became a Republic in 1953 the colonial style building was once designated the Presidential Palace.
Shops and Markets – The main shopping area, a cluster of stores along and around the bottom end of Chandhani Magu (the main north-south street), is nicknamed the Singapore Bazaar because the majority of goods are imported from Singapore.
Apart from the tourist shops, other shops deal in spices, dried fish, rope and other essential items. There are more tourist shops along the waterfront formely (Marine Drive) now known as Boduthakurufaanu Magu. North of the town centre along the waterfront stands the markets. From mid-afternoon fishing dhoni is begin to sail into the harbor laden with the day’s catch and the crews, under the remorseless tropical sun since dawn, carry the catch mainly bonito, swordfish and tuna ashore.
The fish market, where they are laid out in the shade, is strictly men’s business. Each head of the household chooses the family fish. Only a few women on Male’ have ever witnessed this daily ritual, which takes place near sundown. Indeed, a few women are so housebound that they have never seen the whole of their island home. Men also shop in the neighboring wood market for firewood coconut and screwpine as well as dhakadhaa, uni and dhigga brought in by dhoni from the surrounding islands. The only trees left on Male’ are ornamental coconuts, although some new saplings have taken root on reclaimed land in the west.
Nearby a covered market displays the staples of Maldivian life rice, coconuts, eggs, oil, spices, sweet potatoes, onions, chilies, watermelons, mangoes, bananas, papayas, pomegranates, limes and non-alcoholic toddy made from coconut sap. Because there is so little fertile land, vegetables are rare and expensive. Back at home the food enters the inner sanctum of the women the kitchen where traditionally no man sets foot.
Entertainment – Male’ offers little in terms of organized entertainment. There are no nightclubs or bars. But an evening stroll around the center of town along Majeedhee Magu, “The Main Road” alive with shoppers, music and noise, helps to absorb Male’s unique atmosphere. And there are restaurants, both European and Maldivian, and cinemas, which screen mainly Hindi romances and adventures.
The Television Station transmits a mixture of national and foreign programs. The Radio Station “Voice of Maldives” is on air throughout the day. If the sleepy pace, beautiful faces and marvelous seascapes begin to pall, you can make an excursion to a nearby resort island or hire a Dhoani to find out how most islanders live and travel. Traditionally, Maldivians are very hospitable people at the same time very shy with strangers. With their red faces, short shorts, colorful shirts and inevitable cameras, the tourists on Male’s waterfront stand out. But Maldivians are rapidly adapting. To entice tourists, Western pop music blares out of the shops and flashy trinkets are on display.
Eating Establishments – In almost every street or alleyway you will find a tea shop offering piping hot tea and delicious snacks known as “short-eats”. Maldivian women never enter the tea shops and women visitors will find themselves objects of curiosity. A dollar or two is enough for a small feast of rice, curry and several side dishes. You take as much as you want from the dishes, which are constantly replenished, then pay at the door.
Almost any time of the day short-eats, vegetable and fish curries are available at the “Evening Glory” in Henveiru (famous for it’s fishballs) and at the “Madikilabu” near the Chandhanee Magu and Majeedhee Magu junction. Close to the harbor are the aptly named “Maarukeyt Hotel” right above the Fish market (famous as fisherman’s Hotel) and “Queen of the Night”.
Other restaurants cater for European tastes and pockets, such as “Quench”, “Symphony”. In Fareedhee Magu stands “The Sea Gull Cafe” specializes in Italian ice cream.
The only Indian restaurant, on Majeedhee Magu, is called surprise, surprise “Indian Restaurant”, although the “Park View Restaurant” on Chandhanee Magu features some Indian cuisine, along with continental and Chinese, though a bit expensive compared to the rest on its menu. Other restaurants of note include the “Thai Wok” on Bodhuthakurufaan Magu (Marine Drive), which specializes in Thai cuisine, and “Twin Peaks” on Orchid Magu specialzes in pitzzas.