The Story of the Toddy Thief

By Paul


Dhivehi Observer’s editor explains why he calls Mr. Gayoom, president of Maldives, Golhaabo;

Toddy 'is the sweet sap of a variety of Asian palm tree used as a beverage, either fresh or fermented'. Toddy collecting is a long standing traditional occupation in the Maldives, but despite being hard and risky, it does not provide a substantial income. In fact, they are classed amongst the lowest income earners. To collect the toddy, the flower casing (bud) is cut at the top end before it blossoms and an empty coconut shell is hung to collect the drip (sap). It can take several hours to fill a shell, which usually has a capacity of about 500 ml. This coconut shell collector is locally called 'Golhaa', a word that originated from snail shell because it looks like a coconut shell according to linguists. When filled, the collector, known locally as 'Raaveriya' (toddy collector) or 'Ruh Araameeha' (palm tree climber) climbs up the tree and empties the toddy into a container made of two coconut shells in a vertical configuration, called 'Raa Badhi'. Raaveriyaa then walks around the island selling the toddy by the glass, and if he cannot sell his daily collection, it is cooked to make liquid sugar called 'Dhiyaa Hakuru', which the Maldivians love to eat with rice, coconut and dried fish, in addition to being a main ingredient for several local sweet dishes, such as cakes and sweet breadfruit dessert, among other.

The addition of 'bo' to 'Golhaa' to form 'Golhaabo' came as follows. Down South, in an island, there was a notorious thief, who would drink the hard collected toddy from the Golhaas before the toddy collector could climb up and fetch it. When the people of the island found out about this person, they named him 'Golhaabo', where 'bo' literally means 'drinker', because he steals from the Golhaas and drinks the toddy, taking away the hard earned produce of the toddy collector. People of the island made fun of him and soon he migrated to Male', the capital but even in the capital people shouted 'Golhaabo' at him every time they saw him and in retaliation, he would scream abuse at the people and even sometimes run after small children (in the same way now Golhaa Force, Gayyoom's militia police, runs after and beats the hell out of our youth when they chant 'Golhaabo Faibaa' (Get Off Golhaabo) during demonstrations and gatherings). In fact, it was this old man who was named 'Golhaabo' initially, after being tortured by Gayyoom several times for no reason, that went near the Presidential Palace and shouted "It is true I stole and drank the toddy of a destitute poor toddy collector, it is true I stole his hard earnings, but I was hungry, but look at you 'Maumoon', you are drinking the produce of every single Maldivian, so the title Golhaabo is more suited for you than me, you are the real 'Golhaabo', not me, you are stealing mercilessly from the poorest of the poor". After this incident, the poor soul was tortured, injected with tranquilisers and has been held captive at a mental institute after declaring him insane.”

A DO commentator thinks that people identifying Mr. Gayoom as ‘Golhaabo’ represents a political maturing of Maldivians- which we find hard to accept.The culture of small island communities may also explain the popularity of ‘name calling’.

* The picture shows 'Raa Badhi'- the small container for toddy collection made from coconut shells.

Related; Peter Boettke has an interesting post on tension between rational choice theory and anthropology.

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