MINICOY –The Island Of Seafarers

Minicoy is situated at 8o17′ north latitude and 73o04 east longitude and is a prominent island in the Lakshadweep archipelago of India. It is unique in many respects. Locally known as Maliku, this majestic island has an area of 4.4 sq km. It is the second largest island in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep with a length of about 11 km and a maximum width about 2 km. The islet to its south-west is called Viringili. Another sandbank called Raggang, not far away from Viringili, is still getting formed on the reef wall of Maliku. Viringili was once known as “Smallpox” islet since it had been used for isolating patients of the dreaded disease when it had not been eradicated. Maliku is the southern-most of the Lakshadweep group of islands. The distance from Minicoy to Kochi is 215 nautical miles. From Kozhikode it is 240 nautical miles away in the Arabian Sea.

Minicoy is crescent-shaped and the lagoon is large and deep enough for small ships to enter. Within the lagoon, the reef dries at low tide at the north-western entrance depositing marine collections. The islanders are known as children of the sea. In the past their ships went for into Arabia, the Maldives, Andaman’s, Bengal and Burma. This has given them the tradition of a sea faring life. More than half of the inhabitants of working age are employed as seamen in ocean-going vessels all over the world. The islanders have their own seamen’s Associations at Calcutta and Bombay which provide employment opportunities. The profession of the seamen which made the ordinary Minicoy a globe trotter has also helped him to enrich his household with articles of luxury from abroad.

Maliku is reputed for its light house built in 1885. It largely serves the merchant navies and ships passing through the international sea route in between the Gulf countries and Sri Lanka, Singapore and Japan. This is among the biggest lighthouses in Asia and forms part of the island’s rich heritage. The lighthouse is a tourist attraction in Minicoy. An enthralling view of Maliku and the natural beauty of the island and its surrounding lagoon and reef from the top of its tower is a sight one will never forget. The lighthouse is 49.5 metres high with a range of 40 nautical miles . Anyone approaching Maliku from the sea route could see this lighthouse from far away, standing like a gigantic chalk in the middle of the blue sea.

Maliku is unique in all aspects. It is entirely different not only from the rest of India but from the other islands of Lakshadweep as well. Maliku speaks a language called Mahal. It is a distinct and rich language. Mahal is not spoken anywhere else in India. Its script known as Thaana has evolved using Arabic numerals and a reformed olden script written from right to left.

Language :
According to some statistics by Cruise Lines International Associations (CLIA), the cruise industry is on track to carry more than 8.5 million passengers world-wide in 2003, making a 15% increase over the 7.4 million guests who took cruises last year. The number of North Americans cruising the first three months increased nearly 20% over the same period in 2002. From 1980 through 2001, growth in cruise capacity has averaged 7.6% annually, keeping pace with demand and the 8.4% annual passenger growth the industry has experienced since 1980, revealed CLIA figures.

People :
The entire population of Minicoy professes Islam. The females have always had a coveted status. In the past Maliku was known as “the Island of Females”. Macro Polo referred to it as the female island. A reference to this is found in the travelogue of Marcopolo (1254-1324), the Italian traveller who had discovered the land route from Europe to China and the sea route in the reverse direction. Women are fully empowered to not only run the households but also participate in governance. The female literacy rate in Maliku is very high compared to the rest of the country. Women are not supposed to leave their parental homes after marriage. The husband has to act as a night visitor in the initial years after the marriage. As a result of this tradition, the Maliku women are free from the social evils being committed on their counterparts elsewhere in the country. Women have the right to inherit parental property and they have never been confined to the four walls of their households. Living together within extended matriarchal families they learn cooking Maliku delicacies, rearing children and begin doing all household chores early in life.

The robust and agile Maliku males have a distinct maritime tradition. They are number one so far as tuna fishing is concerned. Even the high techies such as the Japanese had to learn the art of tuna fishing from Maliku men. About 80 per cent of the male population in Maliku is engaged in different shipping companies in India and abroad as seamen. They are recognized as the finest seamen in the world. Many of them were employed by shipping companies straightaway. Their employers asked for no more credentials. From time immemorial the Malikuns sailed to far-off lands in sailing vessels which they made themselves. They are honest to the core and extremely agile, skillful at sea and very hard working by nature. They have risen to the ranks of captains, chief engineers and chief cooks in marchant navies. The Minicoyans are fond of music, dance and good food. They enjoy life.

                                            Click here to visit Minicoy Photo Album

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9 replies »

  1. I am a manning agent for the last 20 years and have been working for various foreign shipping companies based at Mumbai, Kolkata. We used to recruit minicoy crews .They are very hard workers brgds.

  2. I have had the opportunity of working with crew from Minicoy they are hard working and trustworthy. Best Regards

  3. Minicoy is a beautiful country with very nice people n very good Seafarers. But they still hold on to customs that are now universally recognised as socially unfair especially to women. Being a part of India, our govt. should counsel them in this area.

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