Ibn Battuta in the Maldives

From The Travels of Ibn Battuta - A Virtual Tour with the 14th Century Traveler;

The Maldive Islands were important in medieval times for their exports: coconut fiber used to make ropes and cowrie shells which were used as currency (money) in Malaysia and in parts of Africa. About the middle of the twelfth century the people of Maldives converted from Buddhism to Islam when a pious Muslim from north Africa rid the land of a terrible demon. (The demon had demanded a young virgin each month - and the Muslim hero offered to take the place of the girl. Before the sacrifice, he recited the Koran throughout the night, and the demon could do nothing out of fear of the Sacred Word.) These islands rise only a few feet above the surface of the sea and stretch for about 475 miles like a white pearl necklace.

Ibn Battuta had not planned to spend much time here as he arrived at the capital, Male. But the rulers happened to be looking for a chief judge, someone who knew Arabic and the laws of the Koran. The rulers were delighted to find a visitor that fit their requirements. They sent Ibn Battuta slave girls, pearls, and gold jewelry to convince him to stay. They even made it impossible for him to arrange to leave by ship - so like it or not, he stayed. He agreed to remain there with some conditions, however: he would not go about Male on foot, but be carried in a litter or ride on horseback, just like the king or queen! He even took another wife after staying there less than two months, a noblewoman related to the queen. It seems as though Ibn Battuta was playing politics. He was now part of the royal family and the most important judge.

He set about his duties as a judge with enthusiasm and tried with all his might to establish the rule of strict Muslim law and change local customs. He ordered that any man who failed to attend Friday prayer was to be whipped and publicly disgraced. Thieves had their right hands cut off, and he ordered women who went "topless" to cover up. "I strove to put an end to this practice and commanded the women to wear clothes; but I could not get it done."

He took three more wives who also had powerful social connections, and seems to brag: "After I had become connected by marriage ... the [governor] and the people feared me, for they felt themselves to be weak."

And so he began to make enemies, especially the governor. After nasty arguments and political plots, Ibn Battuta decided to leave after almost nine months in the islands. He quit his job as qadi, but he really would have been fired. He took three of his wives with him, but he divorced them all after a short time. One of them was pregnant. He stayed on another island, and there he married two more women, and divorced them, too. He tells us about marriage and divorce in the Maldives at the time:

"It is easy to marry in these islands because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer... When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage. The women of these islands never leave their country."

Later, he even thought about going back to the Maldive Islands and taking over under the support of an army commander in southern India. But that was not to be.

Pages

Powered by Movable Type 5.02

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Paul published on October 28, 2007 9:23 PM.

Food Policy was the previous entry in this blog.

Religion in the Maldives is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.