The Kuramathi island community lives on the southern edge of Rasdhoo atoll, alongside the rich channels to the lagoon interior that have made the area a paradise for locals and tourists alike.
But they don’t live on Kuramathi island. In fact, it has been half a century since most natives set foot on Kuramathi, which is better known as one of the Maldives most well-established resorts.
The islanders now live on neighbouring Rashoo, the atoll capital to which 124 people – 28 households – were forcefully migrated during the prime ministerial term of Ibrahim Nasir on July 2nd, 1970*. The Majlis’ law number 6/68 saw 17 other tiny island communities suffer a similar fate.
The eviction still stirs strong emotions among Kuramathi born Rasdhooans, whose passion lies just below the surface, still burning despite 50 years in the shade.
The reason given for the depopulation was the community’s failure to gather a quorum of 40 men (sometimes said to be 50) for attendance at Friday prayers – a similar tactic used at the time to depopulate Kaafu Giraavaru (now also a resort).
Older residents recall neighbours climbing trees in protest when the authorities came, eventually being taken across the channel in ties – bound for their homes from home. Re-housed on Rasdhoo, evictees still recall gardens producing lemon, watermelons, and chilli, underneath abundant coconut trees that sustained the community.
Inevitable tensions between the Kuramathi and Rasdhoo areas persisted for years, best indicated by the reported absence of any inter-island marriages for two decades (a staggering fact given Maldivian marriage rates).
By the time subsequent governments told similarly displaced islanders they could go home, Kuramathi Island’s new economic value had effectively slammed the door on its former residents. While other islanders, such as those in Gaafu Alif Kondey still celebrate the anniversary of their return each year, Rasdhoo’s refugees have to hope for a cheap late booking if they want a taste of home.
The wider depopulation efforts in the 60s, and an almost 10-year gap before Kuramathi resort opened, suggests the eviction was not originally related to resort development, though Kuramathi islanders argue their home was bigger, better-resourced, and had originally been the intended site of the atoll consolidation effort.
Today, living just 500 metres across the channel, Kuramathi islanders can gaze across to their old home, with the resort’s music wafting back across the water along with the memories of their lost home.
As protesting islanders had stated to the government at the time their relocation, it’s all a little close to home.
* Details provided by H.A. Maniku, ‘Changes in the Topography of the Maldives’ (1990).