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Inter Island Differences in the Development of     
Intellectual Capabilities in the Maldives

Over the ages some islands of the Maldives have become famous for the intellectuals they produced. The islands of Addu and Fuamulaku have produced a long line of chief justices and magistrates. Vaadoo in Huvadu Atoll produced the eminent scholar who is widely acknowledged as the father of religious scholarship in the Maldives. Gan Island in Haddunmathi produced the father of Maldivian history. Coming to the north of the country, Kelaa Island in Thiladunmathi has had its share of intellectuals. A question that naturally arises is: Why has this handful of islands produced more intellectuals than all the other nearly-200 islands combined? (Fura Malé is excluded from this discussion because it is well known that throughout history intellectuals from other islands have continued to migrate to Malé.)

In sociology there is a raging debate regarding the roles of nature versus nurture in the development of intelligence. Many scientists hold the view that genetic inheritance is the prime determiner. There is an equally large body of scientists holding the view that environment is the key factor. Let us examine how we could apply these theories to the Maldivian situation.

Genetic differences could occur within a population in one of two ways. One is Darwinian type mutation. The other is in-migration. If one is to go by history, the Maldivian population has had a continuous influx of foreigners from places as diverse as Sri Lanka, Bengal, Malabar, Gujurat, Achin, Iran, Morocco, East Africa and the Europe. They would have definitely added to the gene pool. But would they have resulted in inter island differences? There appears to be no historical evidence of this happening. There is no recorded instance of a group of foreigners colonizing any individual island, if one excludes the settlement of King Hadhi Hassan's slaves in Noonu Atoll.
On the other hand, internal migration from one island to other was quite common as documented by Hassan Ahmed Manik in his report "Topological Changes in the Maldives". Thus all evidence points to a wide intermixing of the genetic pools in the islands, rather than their isolation.

The uniform distribution of the genetic disease thalassemia throughout the archipelago provides further conclusive proof of the intermixing of genes in the Maldives. We may therefore safely exclude "nature" as a cause of the inter island intellectual differences. We are then left with "nurture".

Simply put, the nurture theory says that environment plays the major role in intellectual development. In its most elementary form, it explains how children of professionals like teachers, doctors and lawyers do well in school. In the Maldivian context it may explain why some families have excelled. But even a casual glance at the list of intellectuals would show
that their distribution goes well beyond the families. In this discussion a family may be defined as those living under the same roof, since we have already excluded genetics as a cause in our above discussion.

We are therefore left with no choice but to go beyond the immediate family environment for an explanation. What is the unique feature in the social or physical environment of some islands that have made them a cradle of intelligence? From a close observation of the social habits of some of these islands, I have identified such a unique factor that could shed light on the issue. It is the inter island differences in defecatory habits. Let me detail out the theory.

The Maldivian population in the past could be divided according to their defecatory habits into two groups, beach defecators (beachers for short) and forest defecators (foresters). Over the centuries, foresters had been contributing to the fertility of the soil of their islands. Ultimately these islands grew into agricultural islands. This helped intellectual development in two ways. First, it gave more time to the islanders to stay on land and pursue intellectual activities. Second, it improved the nutritional content of the food and protected babies from micronutrient deficiencies that retarded their growth.

On the other hand the beachers left their excreta on the beach to be washed away by the waves. The soil in their islands remained sandy and unsuitable for agriculture. The islanders had no choice but to take up fishing as a livelihood. In the days before mechanization, fishing was such a time-intensive occupation that islanders rarely would have had the luxury of staying on land during the day. In the night, without electricity, education would have been a non-starter. Micronutrient malnutrition would also have taken its toll. It is no wonder therefore, that the beachers got left behind.

I must stress that the above hypothesis on the role of defecatory habits on the development of intellect remains to be tested scientifically. The research needed for this needs to be conducted soon. Otherwise rapid modernization could change island environments to such a degree that no accurate data would be available. To some extent, it may already be too late, and the theory may never be proved. But on the face of it the beacher/forester theory appears to explain adequately, the observed intellectual differences among the islands.

Addu Intellectuals