Along with its beautiful beaches and reefs, the earliest historical records show that the Maldives has always been a peaceful, free country. The Maldivian people had been involved with their own lives and in the trade of cowrie and coir with the other countries in the region.
In its vibrant history, Maldives lost its sovereignty only twice: First, to the Portuguese for a mere 15 years during the 16th century; and then to the Malabars of South India for a year in the 18th century. Both times, Maldivians fought back and won back their rightful sovereignty.
Maldives celebrates its Independence Day on 26th July every year in recognition of the declaration of independence from the British Monarchy in 1965; Maldives had been a British Protectorate since 1887.
Becoming a British Protectorate
Towards the end of the 19th century, the British got involved in the Maldives as a result of rivalry between two dominant families of the capital Male’. One of the families had connections to the British in Ceylon and amidst a power struggle, let the British intervene in domestic affairs.
The feud continued and led to one of the parties to invite Borah merchants to settle in the Maldivian ports. It is said that the Borahs eventually took control of the Maldivian economy and the Sultanate was bankrupt and in debt to the foreign merchants.
In 1886, Sultan Mueenuddin II was installed to the Maldivian throne. As a result of regular unrest and arson attacks in Male, and the instable politics and economy, the Sultan was forced to sign the British Protectorate agreement the following year.
In his book "Iyye", Historian late Abdul Hakeem Hussain Manik writes, "In the document, the Sultan was given a voice of abject humility, admitting weakness and an inability to stabilize the country."
The agreement was brought to Male from Colombo, in British warships.
"The ship’s guns were aimed at Male'. The British and their friends came ashore once again and said 'if the agreement went unsigned, then Male' would be smashed to pieces,'” writes late Abdul Hakeem.
According to the historian, then-Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu said that Maldivians should prefer martyrdom than consent to Protectorate status. However, the Sultan—under pressure of influential political strongmen—signed the document to escape from being erased.
British Era; RAF Gan and Suvadives
In the 20th century, Maldives experienced vast reforms—popular and unpopular. The Sultan’s powers were gradually taken over by the Prime Ministers, and the first constitution of the South Asian region came to existence in the Maldives in 1932.
The British Royal Army stationed in the southern island of Gan, Addu Atoll during the Second World War. A Royal Air Force Station was later established in Gan. After the War, the British obtained a 100-year lease on Gan. In 1957, then-Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir called for a review of the agreement to shorten the lease and increase the payment, but he met with a separatist movement from the South.
Addu, Fuvahmulah and Huvadu atolls were the three southernmost atolls--three atolls that benefited heavily from British presence in Addu. In 1959 the three atolls with more than a population of 20,000 people, declared a breakaway state; the United Suvadive Republic. However, despite the pleas of the President Abdulla Afeef Didi, the British withdrew their support to the separatist state in a mere three years.
Withdrawal of British support led to a revolt by the southern atolls in 1962, which Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir had to deal with by using excessive force. The short-lived separatist state dissolved in 1963.
By then the Maldivian people started a peaceful hostility towards the British. Their representative in Maldives, Humphrey Arthington-Davy faced much opposition from the citizens of Male'. Even the women of the capital protested against Davy.
After the disestablishment of the Suvadive Republic, the British had transported the breakaway nation's leader, Abdulla Afeef Didi, to Seychelles.
Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi, representative of the Government of Maldives in Colombo, describes Afeef's relocation to Seychelles without notifying the Maldivian Government, as the trigger for the independence movement.
The late Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi said in an interview that Nasir heard about it on the BBC.
"That afternoon, Nasir met Davy and asked how a Maldivian citizen could be taken abroad without notifying the Maldivian Government. Davy rather sharply said that anyone under the British protectorate could be taken anywhere. That is when Nasir said, ‘in that case, we do not want protectorate status any longer,’” Abdul Sattar had said.
Negotiations started there. Britain proposed a draft document, and more negotiations went on in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Finally, an agreement was reached in 1965. The Declaration of Independence was signed in Colombo by Maldivian Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir, and High Commissioner or the UK to Sri Lanka Sir Michael Walker--who was also Ambassador-designate to the Maldives.
With this, the British responsibility of defense and external affairs ended in the Maldives, and the Sultan declared himself as King.
In 1960, Maldives allowed the UK to use facilities in Gan and Hithadhoo, Addu Atoll for a period of thirty years. However, as part of the British withdrawal of permanently stationed forces "East of Suez", the UK closed RAF Gan and withdrew from it in 1976 and the country its doors to the world with the first tourist group arriving in the country in early 1978.