Maldives Minicoy Mahl Dhivehi
Maldive Flags
(Part 1 of 3 parts)

By: Xavier Romero-Frías

Xavier Romero-Frías, born in Barcelona in 1954, is an independent scholar. He lived in the Maldives between 1979 and 1991 studying the oral tradition and other folk expressions. He has worked for the Ministry of Education of the Maldive Government dealing with the publication of schoolbooks, and for UNDP in a project for the promotion of the local handicraft industry. He is the author of a 300-page illustrated ethnography on the Maldives, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom. Presently he resides with his family in the city of Trivandrum, South India.

Romero-Frías is married to Aishath Naazneen of Gaìge house in Malé, Maldives. She is a Divehi language broadcaster whose voice is heard in the Maldives, Minicoy, India and Sri Lanka.

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Ancient Flags

Before the beginning of the 1900's a real national flag of the Maldives didn't exist. The colour of the royal house was red since very old times, a colour that was selected as the ensign because of its visibility when contrasted with the blue backdrop of the sea. Thus the royal flags were plain red.

      Ancient Royal Flags

The king of Maldives (the Radun) had a two-pointed personal flag which was completely red, while the queen had a three-pointed red flag. The queen's flag was specifically that of the queen consort (rani kambalun) as opposed to a queen in her own right (rehendi). Often these flags had fringes made of small triangular pieces of cloth in red (but also alternate black and white in the latter versions with 'danödöimati').

The Origin of the ’Danödöimati’

According to the eminent historian Mr. Tanödöiraiymaage Shafeegu, one day the king of Maldives (neither the date nor the king are known with exactitude, perhaps some time in the early nineteenth century) saw his red royal flag flying from a white mast that had been decorated with a black ribbon wrapped around the mast at a descending angle (danödöiemôburi), so that it had diagonal lines of black and white colour. The king liked the effect of the little diagonal black and white lines at the hoist of the flag and decreed that that they would be incorporated into the royal flags in a permanent way. Thus a vertical band of cloth made of small black and white parallelograms (danödöimati) was added to the hoist of all Maldivian flags since that date.

Royal Flags

    Royal Flags with danödöimati

The flags of the king and the queen of Maldives were rather personal royal standards. These and other flags helped the Commodore or MÄírubahuru (lit. ‘commander of the sea’) to determine the most important passenger in a ship approaching Male harbour. Those who were given special welcomes were permitted to fly a distinctive flag on ships on which they were passengers. On ceremonial days these same flags were also flown on special masts inside the palace compound.

In the 1930’s when a new standard was designed for the king, there was no provision of a new flag for the queen and her old flag fell into disuse.

The red flag with one point was a protocol flag reserved for important persons invited by the king. Sometimes these were nobles that were invested by the king with some degree of representation, or significant foreign visitors. This flag, as well as the flags above, used to have a fringe of alternate black and white triangular pieces of cloth.

        Amaìn Dida

In certain royal processions in Male a notable preceding the king carried a ceremonial three-pointed flag which was all white (Amaìn Dida), by which the king was communicating to his subjects that his intentions were peaceful. The Amaìn Dida was carried by an official whose designation was jadibu. This flag was completely white and had no danödöimati, but it used to have a fringe of small white triangular pieces of cloth.

Formerly in MaleØ there were two tall masts on the fort (Kotötöe). From one of those masts a very long streamer in the royal red colour was flown. This mast stood on top of the Aa-kotötöe inside the Eterekoilu (king’s residence), and the large flag flown on it was called Maravaru. Note how it was attached to the mast. Its latter variant included the black and white ‘dandöiømati’ band close to the hoist. The fortifications around MaleØ, which gave a picturesque air to the island, were destroyed during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Flying of the Maravaru was discontinued much earlier, but the date in which this large red streamer was flown for the last time is not known.

The other mast was on top of the Bodöu Kotötöe Buruzu just outside the Eterekoilu and at the waterfront along the town wall (Bodöu Faru). This mast had a cross beam from which flags flew. If there was a foreign ship in port the main mast of the Bodöu Kotötöe Buruzu always flew the red ensign (later green ensign). Whenever a ship arrived in port, a smaller ensign would be raised on one of the lines of the cross beam. This would be lowered when the MÄírubahuru (Commodore of MaleØ harbour.) or his staff had boarded the ship. Occasionally a second ship would arrive before this and another ensign would be raised on the other end of the cross beam until the MÄírubahuru has boarded the second ship.

The MÄírubahuru ceremonies continued until the mid 1970s. When a British warship arrived in port, the Maldive royal standard would be raised on the main mast of the Bodöu Kotötöe Buruzu until the warship had finished firing a 21 gun salute to the king. Then the royal standard would be lowered and the Maldive ensign raised before a 21 gun salute is fired from Kileìge Buruzu (next to the aa-Kotötöe Buruzu) to honour the King/ Queen of England.

The Amaraìli was a long pennant in the Maldive royal colour It could be flown on the same hoist as other flags, usually at the top of the masts of the royal 'naakolhu' (brigs or schooners).

This plain red pennant never had the black-and-white ‘danödöimati’ feature close to its hoist, even in its latest version.

The National Flag

  First National Flag of Maldives
 Towards the year 1903, when the Maldivian rulers decided that a national flag was needed, a rectangular flag with the red colour of the Maldivian royal house and the black-white 'danödöimati' at the hoist was designed and approved. This became the first National Flag of the Maldives.

The National flag was often flown with the Amaraìli on top. This was done mainly on festive occasions because the king liked this particular combination of flags. When the royal ships were decorated for some celebration it was flown in this way on the mast tops (feìskali).

      Flag of the Sayyidu Bkalun

Among the flags flown in Maldives at the time, not only the Maldivian National flag was plain. The black flag of the Sayyidu Beìkalun was inspired by Prophet Mohamed's flag. This black flag is known by the name of Al-Uqaabu in the Arabic language. The Sayyidu Beìkalun were believed to be descendants of Mohamed.  Even the Commodore of MaleØ harbour (MÄírubahuru) could not afford to offend these people, so they were allowed to fly a flag in order to warn the authorities ashore when they were aboard any vessel. 

The new National Flag

Towards the 1920s, some individuals among the Maldive authorities who had seen the flags of Turkey (with its crescent) and the Hijaz (with the green colour of its central band) thought that the Maldive flag looked a bit empty. They tried including a small white crescent (pointing outwards or inwards) or an empty green rectangle, but none of these projects (or rather experiments) prospered and they were not given any official sanction because they failed to please the king or the prime minister, so the national flag of the Maldives remained the red flag with the 'danödöimati'.

  National Flag

More years passed and finally King Muhammad Shamsuddin III declared that the official flag of the Maldives would be the red flag with the 'danödöimati' and a green rectangle with a small white crescent moon pointing outwards.

   Royal Standard

To the personal flag of the king a white star was added and the queen ceased to have her own flag. After Muhammad Amin was ousted from power, the danödöimati was removed from this flag.

   Green Ensign (Harbour Master’s Flag)

Even after adopting a new design for the national flag, the plain red original national flag was kept as the red ensign. It was not phased out completely until much later (the date is not sure) and continued be used until the 1940s when the ensign became a green flag with a white rectangle and a green crescent in the middle. The ensign was used by the Commodore of MaleØ harbour (see under ‘Maravaru’ for details).

Some time in the 1940s or 1950s the ancient Amaraìli pennant was charged in the middle with a long green triangle and a small white crescent, following the pattern of the new Maldive flag.

Naval Standard of the King (1950’s). This was a double flag flown on the royal ships whenever the king was aboard. Note the latter variant of the Amaraìli on top.The royal Naval flag below the Amaraìli was never flown on its own, but exclusively in this particular arrangement.

    Flag of the Kileìge Nobles

The Kileìge Nobles were the peers of the realm. They were the most important nobles after the king and those princes who had been given a parasol ceremony (haiykolöu negun). This pennant was flown on the ships when they were aboard to inform the Commodore at Male harbour.

Part 2>>