Minicoy Island or Maliku is the only inhabited island of the Maliku Atoll and is located at . It is the second largest and the southern-most among the islands of the Lakshadweep archipelago, measuring about 10 km from its northern end to its southernmost point. Minicoy is a long island, almost completely covered with coconut trees. One of the few landmarks on the island is a tall lighthouse.
On the southern side of the main island lies the uninhabited islet of Viringili where formerly the lepers of Minicoy were banished.
This atoll is administered by India under the Indian Union Territory of Lakshadweep. The closest island to Minicoy is Thuraakunu in the Republic of Maldives. Since 1956, the Indian Government has forbidden contact between people of the two islands despite their geographic proximity and ethnographic similarities.
The social structure is anthropologically interesting, being a matrilineal Muslim society with natolocal residence. A man will live in either his mother's or his wife's house. Remarriage for both men and women is accepted. Property is inalienable and owned by "houses" (matrilineal descent groups). As Muslims, they have conservative customs and traditions and yet they are liberal in approach. Here a man after marriage stays a member of his own mother's house throughout his life. Quite frequently Minicoy is being referred to as the 'female island' mentioned in the travelogue of Marco Polo.
Thuraakunu in the Maldives is the closest island to Minicoy. Formerly there was direct trade between both, and fishermen from both islands used to visit each other. This exchange continued even after Minicoy became part of the Indian Union after independence. However, after 1956 the Indian government forbid these visits. Now, despite the geographical proximity, people from both islands are not allowed to meet each other.
Minicoy Islanders, like the close islands of the Maldives follow Sunni Islam. The islands were probably Buddhist before like they were in the Maldives.
With the integration with the Republic of India, unlike the Maldives there is Religious freedom. Some migrants from other parts of India have settled in Minicoy and practise their own religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism etc)
There are ancient remains in an area of the island known as "Salliballu" dating back from Minicoy's Buddhist past, about 800 years ago. The most conspicuous archaeological sites are two mounds or large heaps of ruins belonging to a stupa and another related structure. These sites were investigated by the Archaeological Survey of India in the 1980s. The excavations yielded few discoveries, for the sites had been much damaged and vandalized previously. Still, a much-damaged large Buddha head was found buried in the area. The name "Salliballu" originated in the local name for the "Christian cross", because the locals say that an inscription with a "cross" was found there. But it is likely that, coming from a Buddhist site, it was a cross-shaped Mandala or Visvavajra, like those often found on inscriptions in archaeological remains in the Maldives.
Local oral tradition has it that Kamborani and Kohoratukamana, two princesses from the Maldives, came to Maliku. When they arrived, the tivaru, who had been living there before, left the island for Sri Lanka. Their Kamborani's descendants are the bodun (land- and shipowners), the niamin (captains) are like Kohoratukamana. The other status-groups are made up of the descendants of their crew.
The affiliation of the island to the Laccadive Islands now known as Lakshadweep is rather recent. The term Lakshadweep, according to folk-etymology, means a hundred thousand islands. The Laccadive group consists of only 25 islands and it is unlikely the name refers to a numerical value. According to ancient Sanskrit literature the term originally applied to all the island groups SSW of the Indian Subcontinent, that is the Laccadive-Maldive-Suvadive-Chagos archipelagoes. Even then the number of islands is only around 2000.
The kings of the Maldives styled themselves as "Kings of Twelve Thousand Islands". This indicated a huge number rather than a numerical value. In the old Maldive duodecimal system of counting, twelve thousand was a round figure such as a hundred thousand in the decimal system. Clearly, therefore, twelve thousand was the figurative duodecimal equivalent of the decimal a hundred thousand. Even today in Maldive and Maliku speech, terms such as lakka duvas (a hundred thousand days) are used to refer to a huge number- in this case, a huge number of days (or time).
Until the 16th Century, the Laccadives appear to have been under the suzerainty of the Kolthari Raja of Chirakkal in what is now the Indian state of Kerala. With the Portuguese ascendancy in the region, it became necessary for the Kolthari to transfer sovereignty of the islands to their hereditary admiral, the Ali Raja of Cannanore. It is unclear if Maliku was included in this transfer or if in fact Maliku ever formed part of the dominons of the Kolthari.
Still, until relatively recently, the kings and queens of the Maldives issued edicts addressed to the subjects in their realm Malikaddu Midhemedhu. This meant "Between Maliku and Addu". Addu was the Southern-most island in the dominions of the Maldive kings and was in Addu Atoll. The island was dredged off by the British in 1959 to construct the airfield on neighbouring Gan island. As late as AD 1696, a grant issued under the Seal of the King Siri Kula Ran Mani of the Maldives referred to him as Malikaddu Midhemedhu ekanuonna mi korhu anikaneh nethee korhu which meant "Sole Sovereign with no other over what lies between Maliku and Addu". The grant was issued in the matter of the building and upkeep of a mosque in the island of Finey in Thiladhummathi Atoll, Maldives.
On December 18, 1790 Maliku was surrendered to the Court of Directors of the English East India Company by the Ali Raja of Cannanore, Junumabe Ali-Adi Raja Bibi II. The Ali Raja was allowed to administer Maliku in return for a tribute to the East India Company. She continued to dispute the transfer of sovereignty but in 1824, her successor, Mariambe Ali-Adi Raja Bibi made a formal written recognition of the suzerainty of the East India Company. She and her successors, however, continued the tributary arrangement.
On 27 July 1795, the Governor General of the Presidency of Madras under whose jurisdiction Maliku was, abolished Junumabe Ali Adi-Raja Bibi's coir monopoly. This was the beginning of the end of the Ali Raja's real control over Maliku.
In 1857, suzerainty over Maliku transferred from the East India Company to the Indian Empire when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress.
In 1905 under the heavy burden of debts to the Empire, Mohamed Ali-Adi Raja agreed to surrender sovereignty and control over Maliku. He died before the formal transfer. After an attempt to back track, his successor Imbicchi Ali-Adi Raja Bibi finally signed over Maliku to the Emperor Edward VII on 9 February 1909, back dated to 1 July 1905. Following this, Maliku was annexed to the District of Malabar.
In August 1947 the possessions of the Emperor of India passed to either the Indian Union or Pakistan according to an agreed demarcation line. The rulers of the independent countries that were vassals of the Emperor had the choice of acceding to either India or Pakistan.
While Maliku was a sovereign possession of the Emperor and not that of an independent country such as Cannanore, Kashmir or Hyderabad, it is unclear why India felt it necessary to hold a plebiscite in Maliku in 1956 to determine whether or not the people of Maliku wished to join the Indian Union. A referendum was held and an absolute majority of the Malikun decided to join the Indian Union. On 1 November 1956, Maliku was incorporated into the Union Territory of Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands, renamed Lakshadweep in 1973.
Today Maliku is administered by India, but claimed by the Maldives. This claim was made in 1983, when the President of Maldives made a public speech claiming Maliku for the Maldives. Even today many Maldivians privately harbour such sentiments. At the same time India is overly cautious of any contact between people of Maliku and its Maldivian neighbours to the south.
Some time in the past (perhaps during the 17th century), Minicoy was devastated by a great cyclone which destroyed most houses and a great number of coconut trees. Following the catastrophe, a delegation of Minicoy islanders from the best families in the island sailed to the King in Male' asking for gold to help them through the hard times. However, the Maldive King told them that he had not enough money in his treasury and that he was not able to help them. Hence the delegation of Maliku nobles went onwards to the Malabar coast, where they found favor with the king of Cannanore (Kannur) who welcomed them and helped the Minicoy people to rebuild their island in exchange for their loyalty. Henceforth the Minicoy Islanders owed allegiance to this kingdom of the SW Indian shore.
They have a combined population of 9,500.
A newborn child is named on its day of birth (this is different from the Maldivian tradition of being named on the seventh day). The baby normally stays in the room in which it is born (which is customarily the ancestral home of the mother) for the first six days. The mother's house name becomes the child's surname. On the seventh day after birth, the baby is taken to the father's ancestral home, where jewellery is presented.
After 20 days, the baby's head is shaven and the hair is weighed against something of value, traditionally gold or silver, which would be given to the poor. This ceremony is called boabeylun.
Circumcision of boys is followed by much celebration. Dancing and drumming in the evening forms part of the entertainment. The festivities usually continue for about a week.
The High Commissioner of India in Malé shall intimate the names of the persons whose visits are permitted and the period of their stay to the Administrator of Lakshadweep sufficiently in advance. The Administrator may, on valid grounds, extend the period of stay of Maldive nationals.