The beautiful country of the Maldives is made up of 1,200 islands and 27 atolls. Two hundred islands are inhabited, about a hundred are designated as tourist islands, and one island in particular, Utheem Island, is important in the history of the archipelago since it was the birthplace and home of Mohammed Thakurufaan, a national hero.
Ancient seafarers have always known about the rich splendour of the Maldivian Islands. Ibn Batuta, a well known Arab explorer in the 14th Century, described the archipelago as “one of the wonders of the world”, while Marco Polo said it was the “flower of the Indies.” The name “maldiv” actually means “flower island”. Soon, ancient Arab traders frequented the islands as they were mesmerized by the bounty of fishes, beauty of the shells, and the many delicious spices. The coming of the Arabs brought not only commodities but also the Islam faith. Since then, Muslim sultans ruled the archipelago. Ancient Maldivians used to follow Buddhism.
Then the Portuguese came. This was the time in history when European countries wanted to control all major trade centers in the world, especially the East Indies. The Portuguese tried to subdue the islands but they were stopped by Mohammed Thakurufaan, a native of Utheem Island. Around that time, the Portuguese had been trying to control the archipelago for 15 long years. In 1573, the young Thakurufaan, along with his brother, formed a group of freedom fighters and together they were able to take down the Portuguese Governor as well as the entire occupying force of the Portuguese. It was a very timely stance since the foreign invaders had planned to kill everyone in the island who would not willfully convert to Christianity. The plan was a mass execution, but thankfully Thakurufaan and his ragtag platoon of soldiers prevented the bloodshed of the locals. This historic event is celebrated today as October Day.
After his victory, the young leader and freedom fighter became Sultan of the Maldives and ruled the country for 12 long years. Early literatures prove that there was peace and prosperity during this time. This gave birth to the Utheemy Dynasty that raised 12 rulers in a span of 127 years.
To signify his successes and national achievements, the sultan built his own palace in Utheem Island. It still stands proudly today, although modifications have been made through the years. Around the palace is a low white wall that supports the many white flags placed there by local people who adore Thakurufaan as a god. The palace is an important historic landmark for the Maldivian people. Today, it houses antique beds, chests, and pieces of furniture as a tourist attraction.
Tourists wanting to see Utheem Island may take a ride on a dhoni, a traditional wooden boat hand-built by Maldivian men, or a speed boat. The island is about 25 minutes (but only 5 minutes by speedboat) from Cinnamon Island, which is 320 kilometers away from the capital city of Male. Today, a monument of the hero stands at Utheem’s public square, as well as a library that has extensive material about the hero and the history of the Maldives.