Monday, September 27, 2010
The Legendary Meerubahuru Ismail Didi
Meerubahuru Ismail Didi
By: Chris Abdul-Wahhab
Holhudhoo Nevinge Don Manikuge Ismail Didi. Born 7 December (or 30 November) 185...9; died mid-May 1943. His mother was Khadijah Didi, daughter of Galolhugey (Athireegey) Ahmed Dorhimeyna Kilegefan son of Huraagey Hussain Dorhimeyna Kilegefan. Ismail Didi's father was Don Maniku son of Don Kokko son of the Navigator of Holhudhoo. Don Maniku was the chief captian of the substantial fleet of ships owned by his brother-in-law Galholhugey Ali Dorhimeyna Kilegefan, a Maldive nobleman based in Galle, Ceylon. At that time the Kilegefan was, arguably, the wealthiest non-British businessman in Ceylon. Ismail Didi was educated at Galle Government School. While he spoke fluently in Hindustani, Sinhala and Tamil, he was able to communicate in written and spoken Divehi, English and Arabic.
This photo was taken while Ismail Didi was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Their Highnesses the Sultans Mohamed Imaduddine IV and Ibrahim Nooreddine. Ismail Didi presented his Letters of Credence to Sir James Robert Longden, Governor of Ceylon in January 1882 at Queen’s House, Colombo. The elder Sultan died the day the Ambassador departed for Colombo. This news reached the schooner SV "Fath el-Majeed" as the vessel was passing Gaafaru Island in Male Atoll. The Ambassador ordered the ship to be turned back to Male. On arrival he sought an audience with the Sultan Ibrahim Nooreddine and was presented with a new Letter of Credence. Ismail Didi resumed his journey and presented the Governor with both the Letters of Credence.
Ismail Didi was the jack of all trades and master of all of them for the Maldives government during the ensuing decades, right until his death. He was the commanding officer of the first Western-styled regiment, called the Sifain, of the Maldives militia. He was the Meerubahuru or the commander of the sea and, in that role, doubled as harbour master of Male and chief naval officer in charge of the Kalaaseen regiment. He oversaw the Male harbour dredging project using a mechanised dredger called Jarrafah, built especially for Maldive conditions by British engineers. The crew of the Jarrafah became so disciplined under Ismail Didi’s command they eventually became the de facto police force in the Maldives. He was a generous person who enjoyed a good income, but always looked after other people’s needs before his. When he died he had only 15 items of negligible value in his estate. Ismail Didi was survived by a son and two daughters, one of whom is still alive. His diplomatic gene must have rubbed off on his descendants. Two of the senior-most Maldive diplomats of today, an ambassador and a high commissioner, are his great-grandson.