Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Depopulation of Thinadhoo: A survivor Relates her Tragic Story

It was January 31, 1962, fifty years ago.  Amina Faanu was just 19 years. She was at home with her one-and-half-year old son Mohammed Shakeel and three women. Her husband was on a trip to Addu Atoll. Being morning Amina was busy taking care of Shakeel and attending to domestic chores.  She had no premonition that her life was going to take a sudden precarious turn by sunset.

By then, unknown to her, MV Silver Crest had cast anchor in Thinadhoo. Onboard was Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir accompanied by a battalion of Maldivian soldiers on a mission to quell the second rebellion in Thinadhoo.  Nasir asked the islanders to surrender, but they refused. 

Amina Faanu was jolted by a loud noise followed by a commotion. The noise increased and got closer engulfing the whole island.  When she looked around there was pandemonium.  Soldiers had invaded Thinadhoo and opening fire on the inhabitants.


“we all ran to a nearby house to escape. Shakeel was only one half years. The poor boy was crying with fear,” Amina recalled.

There were several others in the house where Amina took refuge.  Soldiers were running all over the island. They were running amok. Amina and her group covered in silence.

“They were trespassing on private houses and looting the whole island. Then there was an announcement that everyone must leave the island by 4 pm,” Amina said.

There is an island close to Thinadhoo –Thinadhumaafushi. In low tide one could wade across to the uninhabited island. Amina and fellow islanders went there, leaving their homes and belongings. They could take only their children and whatever little they could manually carry. 

“When the order to leave came, we had little choice. We waded to Maafushi in waist high water. We didn’t even have a drop of drinking water. Soon we were told we were to evacuate Maafushi too by 5 pm. What could we do? We returned to Thinadhoo,” Amina, now 70, recounted the harrowing tale. 

Amina’s group walked along the beach, too scared to go inland. Her small son picked up a razor blade on the beach and accidentally slashed his head with it. He was soon soaked in blood. But Amina could only watch helplessly. There was no possibility of going inland for help.

“I didn’t think the boy would survive. I could never imagine I’ll ever get the chance to bring up the boy with love and care,” Amina recalled.

They waited endlessly in Thinadhoo beach, trying to deny the reality of the terrible sounds they heard and the dark scenes they saw. They eventually left for the island of Kafena near Thinadhoo. There she prepared a local remedy from gingelly oil and ash, the only treatment she could use on her sons wound.

Amina and her group spent four days in Kafena, which is an uninhabited island with no shelter except for a dilapidated house, too small for the large number of refugees. They survived on whatever they brought.

“We suffered a lot on the island. Luckily I had a bit of rice my mother gave me before I left. With that I fed my son and ate some myself,” Amina recalled. 

Amina got some relief on reaching Kaadeddhoo, another uninhabited island. By then on February 4th 1962, the government had declared Thinadhoo an uninhabited island. So refugees from Thinadhoo settled elsewhere.  Amina herself moved to Fares-Maathoda after a few days.

Going back in history, the southernmost atolls had declared a separate state. Later in 1959, Prime Minister Nasir had gone to Thinadhoo and brought the island under the control of the Male government. But Thinadhoo had rebelled against the government for a second time. 

The Government’s decision to depopulate Thinadhoo to control the rebellion was tragic for the islanders, leaving them to suffer for long. Amina could return to her home island only after four years.

As Amina was recounting the story of how the soldiers invaded Thinadhoo and expelled the inhabitants, she had to stop several times, finding it difficult to continue. 

“Now my children are grown up. They are educated and can take care of themselves. I am happy about that,” she expressed. 

Even at 70 years, Amina has not stopped working. She makes arecanut powder, juice patty, and chili fish for sale.  She does not claim the 2300 rufiyaa dole paid out by the government for senior citizens above 65 years. Why?

“I still have one mission left –to go to Hajj on behalf of my mother,” she answered.

When Prime Minister Nasir evacuated the island, Thinadhoo had 4800 inhabited islands. The government has still not revealed the official death toll of the invasion.  Thinadhoo was repopulated with 1800 people in 1966. 

[Translated from Hassan Mohammed (2013). Haveeru Daily. Retrieved 13 November 2013 from ]
Amina Faanu's photo courtesy Haveeru Daily

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