Rihla Book 8 and 9

Hiding in the Maldives and in Ceylon 1343 - 1344

Fearing the Sultan's henchmen Battuta fled to the isles of the Maldives.

Rilha 8, 1443
Dhibat al-Mahal,-The Maldives Islands

Inside the coral reef, Male, Maldives
mabut, Panoramio

I decided to travel to Dhibat al-Mahal [Maldive islands], about which I had heard a number of tales. Ten days after embarking at Calicut we reached these islands, which are one of the wonders of the world and number about two thousand in all. Each hundred or less of them form a circular cluster resembling a ring, this ring having one entrance like a gateway, and only through this entrance can ships reach the islands. When a vessel arrives at any one of them it must needs take one of the inhabitants to pilot it to the other islands. They are so close-set that on leaving one island the tops of the palms on another are visible.

The inhabitants live on a fish called quib-al-mas, which has red flesh and no grease and smells like mutton. They use cowrie shells as money. This is an animal which they gather in the sea and place in pits, where ' its flesh disappears, leaving its white shell. They are used for buying and selling at the rate of four hundred thousand shells for a gold dinar, but they often fall in value to twelve hundred thousand for a dinar. They sell them in exchange for rice to the people of Bengal, who also use them as money, as well as to the Yemenites, who use them instead of sand [as ballast] in their ships. These shells are used also by the negroes in their lands; I saw them being sold at Mallf (Mali)

Their womenfolk do not cover their heads, not even their queen does so, and they comb their hair and gather it at one side. Most of them wear only an apron from their waists to the ground, the rest of their bodies being uncovered.

It is a strange thing about these islands that their ruler is a woman, Khadija. The sovereignty belonged to her grandfather, then to her father, and after his death to her brother

Rihla 8, 1343
Battuta Escapes from the Maldives 1343

Maldivian women sweeping the beaches 2003
The Republic of the Maldives

Trouble in Paradise

After the loss of all his riches Battuta's luck was running out - or was he simply out of his depth in this alien, matrilinear society? The story in the Rihla of the Maldives is the first description of these long-known islands - a long chapter - but his personal affairs are confusing.

The islanders are Moslem, and their ruler makes him qadi more out of fear of the Delhi Sultan than out of respect for Battuta's credentials. He sets out to enforce Qur'anic law, punishes thieves severely, interferes with the ruler's suspicion of a brotherhood of dancing Persian dervishes, who arrive, and to top it off orders all women to cover themselves under penalty of law.

... I tried to put an end to this practice and ordered them to wear clothes, but I met with no success. No woman was admitted to my presence in a lawsuit unless her body was covered, but apart from that I was unable to effect anything....

On the other hand, he must have been seduced by the topless beauties: He marries three times. The most important one is the daughter of one of the wazirs. But she refuses, and he is offered the widow of one of the wazir's sons.

The wazir paid the dowry, and she was conducted to me a few days later. She was one of the best of my women - and she became pregnant....

Then Battuta demands to be given a horse to ride and is offered a palaquin instead carried by four slaves. All the time he tries to escape, which raises the suspicion that he wants to seek military help to invade the islands and make himself their ruler. He is prevented from leaving with the band of derwishes, and when he has a sharp altercation with the wazir, the man demands that he repay the dowry of the widowed princess (sic!). Battuta comes down with a fever. He sells most of his possessions against cowry money, and sails with his wives to another island, where his princess develops severe cramps (sic!). On her request he divorces her, sends her back, and "marries" two more wives. They continue traveling from island to island until one day at Muluk, he discovers his old friend Ibrahim with his ship in the harbor. On August 22, 1344 he finally escapes from paradise with his harem and sets out for Bengal.

Rihla 8, 1343
Landing in Saylon-Ceylon

West coast of Sri Lanka.
Carmelo Aquilina, flickr.com

We set sail from the Maldives without an experienced pilot on board, the distance between the island and Ma'bar being a three days' journey. On the ninth day we emerged at the island of Saylan [Ceylon]. We saw the mountain of Sarandib there, rising into the heavens like a column of smoke. The sailors said "This island is not in the territory of the sultan whose country can safely be visited by merchants." As a gale arose thereafter and we dreaded the sinking of the ship, I said to the captain "Put me ashore and I shall get you a safe-conduct from this sultan." The infidels came and asked "Who are you?" I told them that I was the brother-in-law and friend of the sultan of Ma'bar, that I had come to visit their Sultan Ayri Shakarwaif.

Rihla 8, 1343

Dhikr meeting of Islamic women in Wattala

Thereupon Sultan Ayri Shakarwaif summoned me, and I visited him in the town of Battala [Wattala], which is his capital. It is a small and pretty town, surrounded by a wooden wall with wooden towers.

The sultan said most kindly, " Your companions may land in safety and will be my guests until they sail, for the sultan of Ma'bar and I are friends." He then ordered me to be lodged and I stayed with him three days, enjoying great consideration which increased every day. He understood Persian and was delighted with the tales I told him.

One day, after presenting me with some valuable pearls, he said " Do not be shy, but ask me for anything that you want." I replied, "Since reaching this island I have had but one desire, to visit the blessed Foot of Adam." (They call Adam Baba, and Eve they call Mama.) "That is simple," he answered, "We shall send an escort with you to take you to it."

The sultan then gave me a palanquin, which was carried by his slaves, and sent with me four Yogis, three Brahmans, ten other persons from his entourage, and fifteen men to carry provisions."

Rihla 8, 1343

Kurunegala the lake and Adam's peak in the distance

After several days we came to the town of Kunakar, which is the capital of the principal sultan in this land. It lies in a narrow valley between two hills, near a lake called the Lake of Rubies, because rubies are found in it. The marvellous rubies called bahramdn [carbuncles] are found only in this town. Some are taken from the lake and these are regarded by them as the most valuable, and some are obtained by digging. Some of them are red, some yellow [topazes], and some blue [sapphires].

The Sultan on a white elephant

The sultan of Kunakar is called the Kunar. He possesses a white elephant, the only white elephant I have seen in the whole world. He rides on it at festivals and puts great rubies on its forehead.

Rihla 8, 1343
The Monkey Lake

Caucus of the monkey king

Thence we travelled to the Lake of Monkeys. There are in these mountains vast numbers of monkeys. Their faces are black and they have long tails. The males are bearded like men.

I was told that these monkeys have a chief, whom they obey as if he were a king. He fastens on his head a fillet of leaves and leans upon a staff. On his right and his left are four monkeys carrying slaves in their hands. When the chief monkey sits down the four monkeys stand behind him, and his female and young come and sit in front of him every day. The other monkeys come and sit at a distance from him, then one of the four monkeys addresses them and all the monkeys withdraw. After this each one brings a banana or a lemon or some such fruit, and the monkey chief with his young and the four monkeys eat.

Rilha 8, 1443
Treck to Adam's Peak

Adam's Peak,

The mountain of Sarandib [Adam's Peak] is one of the highest in the world. We saw it from the sea, and when we climbed it we saw the clouds below us, shutting out our view of its base. On it there are many ever-green trees and flowers of various colours, including a red rose as big as the palm of a hand. There are two tracks on the mountain leading to the Foot, one called Baba track and the other Mama track, meaning Adam and Eve. The Mama track is easy and is the route by which the pilgrims return. The Baba track is difficult and stiff climbing. Former generations cut a sort of stairway on the mountain, and fixed iron stanchions on it, to which they attached chains for climbers to hold on by. There are ten such chains two at the foot of the hill by the " threshold," seven successive chains farther on. The tenth is the "Chain of the Profession of Faith," so called because when one reaches it and looks down to the foot of the hill, one is seized by apprehensions and recites the profession of faith for fear of falling.

Near the top of the peak one finds Sri Pada, the "sacred footprint", the Buddhists consider it to be the footprint of Buddha, the Hindus that of Shiva, and the Muslim attribute it to Adam.

The blessed Footprint, the Foot of our father Adam, is on a lofty black rock in a wide plateau. The blessed Foot sank into the rock far enough to leave its impression hollowed out. It is eleven spans long. In ancient days the Chinese came here and cut out of the rock the mark of the great toe and the adjoining parts. They are now missing.

Rihla 8, 1343

The Vishnu temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 17th century, the golden image stolen - but the Vishnu mela is still gonig on.
Devinuwara.com, flickr

We travelled thence to Di'nawar, a large town on the coast, inhabited by merchants.
In this town there is an idol, known as Di'nawar, in a vast (Vishnu) temple, in which there are about a thousand Brahmans and Yogis, and about five hundred women, daughters of the infidels, who sing and dance every night in front of the idol. The city and all its revenues form an endowment belonging to the idol, from which all who live in the temple and who visit it are supplied with food. The idol itself is of gold, about a man's height, and in the place of its eyes it has two great rubies, which, as I was told, shine at night like lamps.

Rihla 8, 1343

Along the coast
MatzeGTO, Panoramior

We went on to the town of Qali [Point de Galle], a small place eighteen miles from Dinawar

Rihla 8, 1343

Colombo has become a monster city, no traces of Battuta left.
The mosque is one of the quainter spots.

At Kalanba [Colombo], which is one of the finest and largest towns in Ceylon. In it resides the wazir and ruler of the sea Jalasli, who has with him about five hundred Abyssinians. Three days after leaving Kalanbii we reached Battala again and visited the sultan of whom we have spoken before. There I found captain Ibrahim awaiting me and we set sail for the land of al-Ma'bar.

Rihla 9, 1344
Shipwrecked in al-Ma'bar (Coromandel)

Shipwreck, Painting by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714 - 1789)

The End of unlucky Captain Ibrahim's ship

Once again they sailed without a pilot. It is only three days from Ceylon to the Coromandel Coast, but the Gulf of Mannar, Adam's Bridge is full of dangerous rocks and shoals.

On our voyage to Ma'bar [Coromandel] a gale sprang up and our ship nearly filled with water. We had no experienced pilot on board. We narrowly escaped being wrecked on some rocks, and then came into some shallows where the ship ran aground.
We were face-to-face with death, and those on board jettisoned all that they had, and bade farewell to one another. We cut down the
mast and threw it overboard, and the sailors made a wooden raft. We were then about six miles from the shore.
I set about climbing down to the raft, when my companions (I had two slave girls and two of my companions with me) said to me: "Are you going to go on the raft and leave us ?" So I put their safety before my own and said " You two go and take with you the girl that I like." The other girl said " I am a good swimmer, and I shall hold on to one of the raft ropes and swim with them."

So both my companions and the one girl went on the raft, the other girl swimming. The sailors tied ropes to the raft and swam with their aid. I sent along with them all the things that I valued and the jewels and ambergris, and they reached the shore in safety because the wind was in their favour. The captain made his way ashore on the rudder.
I myself stayed on the ship.The sailors set to work to make four rafts, but night fell before they were completed, and the ship filled with water. I climbed on the poop and stayed there until morning, when a party of infidels came out to us in a boat, and we went ashore with them in the land of Ma'bar.
We told the locals that we were friends of their sultan, and they wrote informing him of this. He was then two days' journey away, on an military expedition. I too wrote to him telling him what had happened to me.
We stayed there three days, at the end of which an amir arrived from the sultan with a palanquin and ten horses. I and my companions, the captain, and one of the slave-girls rode, and the other girl was carried in the palanquin.

Rihla 9, 1344
Jungle Warfare against the Infidels

The country through which we passed with the Sultan's army was an uninterrupted and impassable jungle of trees and reeds. Every man in the army, great and small alike, carried a hatchet to cut it down, and when the camp was struck, the Sultan rode forward with his troops, and they cut down trees from morning to noon. Food was then brought, and the whole army ate in relays, afterwards returning to their tree-felling until the evening.

All the infidels whom they found in the jungle were taken prisoner, and brought to the camp with their wives and children. Their practice is to fortify their camp with a wooden palisade, which has four gates.
In the morning the infidels whom the troops had captured the previous day were divided into four groups and impaled at the four gates of the camp. Their women and little children were butchered also and the women tied by their hair to the pales.
This [slaughtering of women and children] is a dastardly practice, which I have never known of any [other] king, and it was because of it that God brought him to a speedy end.

Rihla 9, 1344

Photo oochappan,pbase.com

Epidemic in Mandurai

We then journeyed to the Sultan's capital, the city of Mutra [Madurai], a large town with wide streets. On my arrival I found it in the grip of a plague. Those who were attacked by it died on the second or third day, or at the most on the fourth. When I went out I saw none but sick and dead. The sultan on reaching Mutra had found his mother, wife, and son ill, and after staying in the town for three days, he went out to a river three miles away. I joined him there. Exactly a fortnight later the sultan died and was succeeded by his nephew Nasir ad-Din.

Later on, however, I fell ill of a fever which is mortal in those parts, and thought that my time had come. God inspired me to have recourse to the
tamarind(!), which grows abundantly there. So I took about a pound of it, put it in water and drank it. It relaxed me for three days, and God healed me of my illness.

I took a dislike to this town in consequence, and asked the sultan for permission to depart.

Rihla 9, 1344
Fattan, Coromandel Coast

Sunrise(!) on the Coromandel Coast
hishamudeen, Panoramio

Fattan, the port from which Battuta embarked has not been identified.

I returned to Fattan, and found eight vessels sailing to Yemen, on one of which I embarked. We fell in with four warships which engaged us for a short time, but afterwards they retired, and we went on to Kawlam [Quilon].

As I was still feeling the effects of my illness, I stayed there for three months, afterwards embarking on a vessel with the intention of making for Sultan Jamal ad-Din of Hinawr.

Rihla 9, 1343
Infidel Warships at Bird's Island

A year later 1343 Battuta searched for a haven to hide from Tughluq and is robbed by pirates

When we reached the small island between Hinawr and Fakanur, we were assailed by the infidels with twelve warships, who fought us vigorously and got the better of us.

They seized all that I had kept in reserve for emergencies, together with the jewels and precious stones which the king of Ceylon gave me, my clothes and the travelling provisions I kept with me which had been given me by pious men and saints, leaving me with no covering but my trousers. They seized the possessions of every one on board, and put us ashore on the coast.

I made my way back to Calicut, and went into a mosque; one of the theologians sent me a robe, the qadi sent a turban, and a merchant another robe.

Rihla 9, 1344
Calicut 1344

At Calicut I learned that my wife, whom I had left pregnant in Male, had given birth to a son. I thought therefore of making a journey to the islands, but remembering the hostility of wazir 'Abdallah towards me I [sought an omen from the Qur'an and] opened the volume at these words "The angels shall descend upon them saying 'Fear not, neither be sad'." So I commended myself to God, and set sail. Ten days later I disembarked at Kannalus, where the governor received me with honour, made me his guest, and fitted out a boat for me.

Rihla 11, 1344
Battuta finds his son 1344

Last farewell to paradise 1344
jan.specht, Panoramio

At Male some of the islanders went to wazir 'Abdallah and informed him of my arrival. He asked about me and who had come with me, and was told that the purpose of my visit was to fetch my son, who was about two years old. His mother came to the wazir to lay a complaint against this, but he replied to her "I for my part will not hinder him from taking away his son." He pressed me to visit the island [of Mahal], and lodged me in a house facing the tower of his palace, that he might observe my movements.

My son was brought to me, but I thought it better that he should stay with them, so I gave him back to his mother. After a stay of five days, it appeared to me that the best plan was to hasten my departure, and I asked permission to leave.

The wazir summoned me, and when I entered his presence he seated me at his side and asked how I fared. I ate a meal in his company and washed my hands in the same basin with him, a thing which he does with no one. Betel was brought in and I took my leave. He sent me robes and hundreds of thousands of cowries, and was most generous in his treatment of me.

Rightfully supicious of the intention of the wazir Battuta finds a ship sailing for Bengal, India and sets out from there to China, which he reaches after further adventures in Southeast Asia told in the next two books.