The Bank Notes of the Maldives


Peter Symes

Murray Hanewich


The Maldives, the kingdom of a thousand islands, lies to the west of Sri Lanka and south-west of India. From 1887 to independence in 1965, the Maldives was a protectorate of Great Britain. While Britain took very little interest in the internal affairs of the Maldives, during the period of the protectorate, she gave support in return for allegiance and the right to control the foreign policies of the islands. The external affairs of the Maldives were supervised by the colonial administration in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and it was during the period of the protectorate that the Ceylonese Rupee was introduced into the Maldives.

There is very little documentation on the introduction of modern currency to the Maldives, either of the Ceylonese Rupee or the Maldivian bank notes. What can be found has been incorporated in the following pages, but there will invariably be information missing. As a small nation with approximately 250,000 people, very few bank notes are required by the population. The small population has also not allowed for the infrastructure that one might expect from an independent nation. This lack of infrastructure has not encouraged the recording of events such as the issuing of currency, or similar administrative events which may not have been seen as important by contemporary observers. Such a lack of record is disappointing, particularly as the Maldives has a long and independent record of its political and social history.

Despite the lack of sources, a good history of the notes issued in the Maldives can be built. The paper money of the Maldives, as will be found in the following study, does not provide any great surprises or obscure issues. They do however, provide an interesting light on the currency of a small nation.

As the issue of bank notes in the Maldives is intertwined with the modern history of the islands, it is worth mentioning a few pertinent moments in recent history. The Maldives was a sultanate during the period of the protectorate up until 1953. During this time, the Sultans were generally figureheads, with most of the power and authority vested in the Prime Minister. In 1932 the first written constitution was proclaimed, although the country remained a sultanate. In 1953 a republic was declared, but within fifteen months the sultanate had been restored. In 1965 the Maldives became an independent nation and three years later it again became a republic. Under the second republic, the royalists were suppressed, as there was a fear that they may rally and overthrow the new government. This suppression led to a number of the aristocracy being banished to the outer atolls. The present government has maintained a steady hold on government, although the hold has been precarious at times. Several attempted coups have been reported, with a number of people gaoled after each attempt. In November 1988 a force of Sri Lankan Tamil separatists led by a Maldivian businessman effected a coup, but they were later defeated by a contingent of the Indian Army. The Government remains largely autocratic with a high degree of nepotism. A new constitution introduced in 1997 confirms ultimate authority in the President. The President is now the final point of appeal and he has even become the ultimate authority in matters of Islamic faith in the Islands. He now holds more power than any sultan of the Maldives ever held.

For many centuries, various coins circulated throughout the Maldives, with most of the coins being minted locally. The coins were denominated ‘Laari’ and there were two main denominations in circulation. These were the ‘Bodu Laari’, equivalent to 4 laari, and the ‘Kuda Laari’, which was equal to 1 laari. Ceylonese silver rupees were introduced into the Maldives from the 1850s by ‘Borahs’, Indian merchants based in Ceylon. One silver rupee was equal to 120 laari. The silver rupees never attained a formal status in the Maldives, but they became a de facto legal tender. As well as the Ceylonese silver rupees, coins such as British sovereigns and gold coins from India and the Middle East also circulated in the Islands.

This situation continued into the modern era until the advent of World War II. During the economic recession of the War, the Maldivian government found it difficult to acquire metal for the production of coins and the foreign silver and gold coins became unavailable, so they determined to introduce paper currency. While wishing to introduce their own paper money, it became impractical to do so because of the War. Consequently, on 19 March 1942 the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance issued a statement declaring that Indian and Ceylonese bank notes would be used in the Maldives from 19 March 1942 until six months after the end of the war. It is uncertain how wide-spread the use of Indian and Ceylonese bank notes became in the Maldives during this period. According to one source, the use of these notes continued until the Maldives introduced their own bank notes. Another source indicates that Indian and Ceylonese bank notes never circulated in the Maldives, suggesting that the war-time measure may never have had to be implemented.

Following the end of the War, India and Pakistan became independent nations (1947), followed soon after by Ceylon (1948). In 1947, with these changes looming, it was realized that the Maldives should have its own bank notes, replacing foreign currency in circulation, as well as maintaining its own coins. Various ideas were discussed, but in the end it was decided to introduce a currency denominated in ‘Rufiyaa’. When the bank notes were first introduced, 1 Rufiyaa was equivalent to 120 Laaris, which had been the same exchange rate for the silver rupee. The present system of 1 Rufiyaa being equivalent to 100 Laaris was introduced some years later.

On 12 August 1947 the People’s Majlis (Council) passed Bill No. 2/66 (The Bill on Maldivian Bank Notes) which authorized the introduction of Maldivian bank notes and the withdrawal of Indian and Ceylonese bank notes. The Bill also authorized the formation of a committee to oversee matters concerning the Maldivian monetary system. The committee consisted of Government Ministers and Members of the People’s Majlis.


The First Series

The first series of bank notes issued in the Maldives was issued in two stages. The ½‑, 1‑, 2‑, 5‑ and 10‑rufiyaa notes (Nos. 1, 2a, 3a, 4a and 5a)[1] were issued on 1 Dhul Qaidha 1367 (5 September 1948) following an official ceremony to introduce the notes. However, the notes carry the earlier dates of 1 Muharram 1367 and 14 November 1947. The 50‑ and 100‑rufiyaa notes (Nos. 6a and 7a) were released some years later and carry the dates of 1 Ramadan 1370 and 8 May 1951.

The notes of this first series were printed by Bradbury Wilkinson and Company of New Malden, Surrey, England. According to Tim Browder[2] the design for these notes was submitted by the Maldivian Ministry of Finance, which authorized the issue of notes on behalf of the Government of the Maldives. The illustrations for the front and back of each note were drawn by a local artist named Sayyid Saeed, from Male (the island which is the capital of the Maldives). The calligraphy for the notes was prepared by Tabah Ali Fulu, also from Male.

The ½‑, 1‑, 2‑ and 5‑rufiyaa notes have a similar style of appearance, while the 10‑, 50‑ and 100‑rufiyaa notes have a slightly different appearance. Common to the front of all notes, with the exception of the ½‑rufiyaa note, is the use of two vignettes. To the left is a vignette of a lateen rigged mas dhoani (a small sailing vessel used for fishing) with a palm tree, while to the right is a vignette of a square rigged vessel known as a mas odi or ‘fishing odi’. The mas odi is an older style of fishing vessel. The vignette of the mas odi was drawn from the illustration which is reproduced with this article. Comparisons between the original artwork and the vignette show that the original artwork depicted people on the vessel, while the vignette contains no people. The lack of people, in both this vignette and in all vignettes in the first series, is due to the Islamic tradition of not depicting living things, both people and animals.

The ½‑rufiyaa note has the single vignette of the lateen rigged dhoani and palm tree in the centre of the note and is a uniface note. All other denominations have an illustration on their back, with each illustration depicting a building on Male. Most of the buildings are associated with the palace of the Sultan of the Maldives, known as the Court of Eterekoilu. Demolished in 1968, because it was seen as a possible rallying point for royalists, aspects of Eterekoilu have been captured for posterity on these bank notes of the first series. The illustrations on the back of the individual notes are:

1 Rufiyaa             A two‑storeyed building, which was used for different purposes over the years. At the time the bank notes were prepared the building was the Customs House. It later became a Post Office and was last used as the Office of the Prime Minister. To the left of the building is the main bastion of the town wall. The bastion was called the ‘Bodu Koattey Buruzu’. There was a flagstaff on the Bodu Koattey which flew the State ensign if there was a foreign vessel in port. The bastion has since been torn down as part of the harbour redevelopment and the old Customs house has been demolished, now being the site of Republic Park.

2 Rufiyaa             The Royal Jetty.  This elaborately carved wooden construction was torn down as part of the harbour redevelopment.

5 Rufiyaa             The Sakkarannya Gate, which was one of the principal entrances to the Court of Eterekoilu, the Sultan’s Palace. The view is looking west from the street called Meduziyaaraiy Magu. Beyond the gate is the watch-house on the Aa-Koattey Buruzu (New Fort Bastion), from which the Royal Standard flew. Over the wall, to the right, is Veyodorhu Ganduvaru Mathige, which is illustrated on the 10-rufiyaa note.

10 Rufiyaa           The Veyodorhu Ganduvaru Mathige was a three‑storeyed house that was adjacent to the Sultan’s Palace. Now demolished, the building was at one stage the Sifainge, or Defence Headquarters of the militia. The aspect of the illustration on the note is from the Aa-Koattey Buruzu (New Fort Bastion). To the left of the building is Medhumaa Gate, flanked by lamp-posts. To the left of the gate is the very low Kilege Buruzu (bastion) from which gun salutes were fired.

50 Rufiyaa           The Ibrahimiyya Building, a two‑storeyed construction by the wharf in Male harbour. Used for many purposes over the years, including the Customs House, it no longer remains standing. To the left of the building is the Dhathurah Araavadaigannavaa Gate (Royal Embarkation Gate), the entrance to the Court of Eterekoilu from the harbour.

100 Rufiyaa         Buildings and gardens of the Court of Eterekoilu looking from the north. The tallest building on the right is the Aa-Koattery Buruzu (New Fort Bastion), illustrated on the 5-rufuiyaa note. The tall building on the left is the Veyodorhu Ganduvaru Mathige, illustrated on the 10-rufiyaa note. Most of the Sultan’s Palace and gardens were torn down in 1968. The area now includes the ‘Sultan’s Park’, which surrounds the National Museum, while the Islamic Centre and Mosque (illustrated on the 500-rufiyaa note – see below) is built on the area in the foreground of the illustration.

The notes of the first series are unusual, in that two languages appear to be used on the notes. The apparent use of two languages is due to the use of Arabic and Thaana scripts. The use of two languages by itself is not unusual on a bank note, but it is their use on these notes that is peculiar. In most cases, if more than one language is used, the information on the bank notes is repeated in each language, but on these notes the languages are used for different elements of the text. There is however, a reason for this use of Arabic and Thaana scripts.

Until the sixteenth century the Dhivehi language was written in the Divess script. When Muslim scholars tried to adapt Arabic script for use with Dhivehi, they found it difficult to adapt the phonetics of Dhivehi to Arabic. Similarly, the Divess script did not easily lend itself to spelling Arabic words. For some time, Arabic and Divess scripts were used alongside each other in the same written sentences, with Divess used to write Dhivehi words and Arabic used for Arab words that had been adopted by the Maldivians. The problem with this approach was that Arabic is written from right to left, while Divess is written from left to right.

A strange compromise was ultimately reached, with an entirely new script being developed. The new Thaana script, written from right to left, was developed from Arabic numerals, Divess numerals, and a number of derived characters. Vowels were created from Arabic diacritical marks. While the Thaana script proved a success, scholars continued to write Arab words in Arabic, largely out of respect to the language of the Prophet.

At the time that the bank notes were introduced, the convention of writing Arab words in Arabic was still maintained. So, on the notes of the first issue, Arabic is used for the title of the issuing authority, ‘The Government of the Maldives’ (front and back), and for the dates of authorization. Thaana script is used for the denomination of the note (front and back). The mixture of the two scripts in one phrase can be seen in the title of the signatory – the ‘Head of the Department of Finance’. The words for ‘Department of Finance’ are written in Arabic, but the words for ‘Head of’ are written in Thaana script.

A further complication to the scripts being used on the notes appears in the serial numbers and the numerals for the denominations. The denomination always appears in Western numerals, while the serial numbers have a Latin letter as the prefix followed by a six‑digit number constructed with western numerals. To the right of the serial numbers is the word ‘number’ written in Arabic, i.e. as ‘nmbr’. This usage was due to the English word ‘number’ being introduced into Dhivehi from Urdu. As Urdu words were spelt in Arabic, ‘number’ was written in Arabic when used in Dhivehi texts.

A peculiarity of these notes is the lack of a promissory clause. There is no indication of a promise to pay, nor any indication that the notes are legal tender. The lack of a promissory clause continues to be a feature of all notes issued in the Maldives. The notes of the first issue are signed by Aithireegey Mohamed Amin Dorhimeyna Kilegefan (or more simply ‘Mohamed Amin’)[3], in his capacity as head of the Department of Finance.

It is worth observing that the notes of this issue are denominated in ‘Rufiyaa’. In most literature concerning this first issue of bank notes, the currency of the Maldives is referred to as ‘Rupees’. This appears to be due to the perpetuation of the term, by foreign observers, from the days of the Ceylonese silver rupees. Locally, the notes were always referred to as ‘Rufiyaa’. Certainly, the Dhivehi text on these notes, and on all subsequent issues, clearly reads ‘Rufiyaa’.

Some thirteen years after the first issue of notes, a second issue of the same notes was made. The second issue is almost identical to the first series and contains the 1‑, 2-, 5‑, 10‑, 50‑ and 100‑rufiyaa notes (Nos. 2b, 3b, 4b, 5b, 6b and 7b). The four differences to the first issue were:

1) There was no ½‑rufiyaa note issued

2) The dates appearing on all notes are 10 Dhul Hijja 1379 and 4 June 1960

3) The signatory is Ibrahim Nasir

4) The title of the signatory is ‘Minister of Finance’ and it is written entirely in Arabic

Ibrahim Nasir, or more properly Velaanaagey Ibrahim Nasir Rannabandeyri Kilegefan[4], was not only the Minister of Finance, he was also Prime Minister, Minister of Education, External Affairs and Finance, as well as being Head of the Department of Public Safety.

The first series of notes finished with a third issue of the 50‑rufiyaa note (No. 6c) some twenty years later, carrying the dates 17 Rajab 1400 and 17 June 1980. This note is peculiar in that it is printed entirely by the lithographic process, while all notes in this series had previously been printed by the intaglio and lithographic processes. This note has several other minor changes.

1)                   The Hejira date continues to be written in Arabic, but the date of the Gregorian  calendar has the day and year in western numerals and the month written in Thaana script

2)            The signatory is now Maumoon Abdul Gayoom

3)            The title of the signatory reverts to ‘Head of the Department of Finance’, but is  written entirely in Thaana script

The serial numbers and the serial number prefixes of these notes deserve some comment. The first feature to note is that the ½‑, 1‑, 2‑, 5‑ and 10‑rufiyaa notes carry a single serial number. The 50‑ and 100‑rufiyaa notes carry two serial numbers. All notes of the first issue appear to carry the serial number prefix of ‘A’, while notes of the second issue are known to carry serial number prefixes of ‘C’; although the 50-rufiyaa note is known to use ‘D’ for this series. The 50‑rufiyaa note, in its final form, has been recorded with the prefix ‘J’, suggesting a wide range of unrecorded prefixes for this denomination. So, what happened to ‘B’? Was it never used, or is it simply a case that no notes with this prefix are known to have survived? Perhaps there are some extant that have never been recorded. If the letter ‘B’ was used, it is certain to have been used on the notes of the first issue.


The Maldives Monetary Authority

Banking and the issuing of currency in the Maldives were rudimentary affairs for many years. The following extract from The Maldives, An Introductory Economic Report, published by The World Bank in 1980, illustrates the simplicity of the policy on issuing currency.

‘The Government’s banking and monetary policies, such as they are, have been left to the Department of Finance. The Department of Finance issues currency when the government’s budget is in overall deficit. There are no banking laws, currency or exchange regulations. The Government has, in consultation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), begun to draw up legislation to establish a Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA). This new authority will take over the Department of Finance’s currency issue functions and Treasury Division.’

The ‘Maldives Monetary Authority’ was subsequently established under the ‘Maldives Monetary Authority Act of 1981’ to fulfil the role of the central bank. The responsibilities of the Monetary Authority were defined in paragraph 4 of the Act in the following terms:

(a) to issue currency and regulate the availability, and international value of the Maldivian Rufiyaa;

(b) to provide advisory services to the Government on banking and monetary matters;

(c) to supervise and regulate banking so as to promote a sound financial structure; and

(d) to promote in the country and outside the country the stability of Maldivian currency and foster financial conditions conducive to the orderly and balanced economic development of the Maldives.

Paragraph 20 of the Act addresses the transfer of responsibility for the issue of currency from the Government to the Monetary Authority:

On the coming into operation of this Act there shall be transferred from the Government to the Authority all the functions pertaining to the Authority including currency note issue functions, banking functions and reserve management functions together with the appropriate staff and such property, including unissued currency and such assets and corresponding liabilities as are necessary for the assumption of these functions upon such transfer, the liability for currency issued by the Government and remaining outstanding and the liability of the Government for the deposit accounts shall become the liabilities of the Authority.

Part of the responsibility of the Monetary Authority was to control foreign exchange, as foreign currency played a large part in the day‑to‑day economy of the country. Although the pound sterling had been the most significant secondary currency in the Maldives for many years, by the time the Maldives Monetary Authority was formed the US dollar had become the most favoured foreign currency. For many years the British had run a military air base on the island of Gan in the very south of the Maldives and it was this presence by the British, as well as the official inclusion of the Maldives in the Overseas Sterling Area, that gave the pound its status in the Islands. The British withdrew from their base in 1976 and, until their withdrawal, the pound sterling circulated along side the rufiyaa. By 1980 the US dollar had replaced the pound as the secondary currency, due largely to the advent of tourism, but the Maldives was still officially part of the Overseas Sterling Area at that time.


The Second Series

In recognition of the transfer of responsibility for the issue of currency to the Maldives Monetary Authority, measures were taken to introduce currency issued under the control of the Monetary Authority. Printed by Bradbury Wilkinson and Company, the bank notes of the Maldives Monetary Authority are considered by many people to be amongst the most attractive and colourful bank notes in the world. The first issue by the Monetary Authority consisted of six denominations: 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 rufiyaa (Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12a, 13a and 14a). The notes are signed by the Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority (and President of the Maldives), Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and carry the dates 1 Muharram 1404 (the first day in the Muslim year) and 7 October 1983.

The text on the front of these bank notes is written entirely in Dhivehi, using the Thaana script, while the text on the back is written entirely in English. The absence of Arabic on the second series of bank notes is due to developments in the use of Thaana script since 1947. During the 1950s an attempt was made to introduce characters to Thaana that would allow the pronunciation of Arabic words. Despite opposition, in 1959 a committee established to investigate the matter recommended the addition of a number of letters to the Thaana alphabet, to allow Arabic words to be written in Thaana. The changes were then promulgated in a formal decree.

Believing that Arabic was being abandoned by the introduction of the new decree, and that a challenge was being made to Islam itself, public feeling turned against the Government. Within a short period of time, the Government had backed down and passed the blame for the decree to the Chairman of the committee who had made the recommendation.

The situation thus remained unchanged, with Arabic and Thaana continuing to be used to express the Dhivehi language. However, over a period of time the use of the new characters was slowly adopted and the use of Arabic slowly disappeared, with the exception that ‘Allah’ is always spelt in Arabic. By the time that the second series of notes was introduced, Dhivehi could be written entirely in Thaana. The text on the front of the notes of the second series, which is part of the plate printing, reads:

Maldives Monetary Authority


In writing ‘Maldives Monetary Authority’, the Thaana script is used to write English words, with the transliteration reading ‘Maldivs Manatarii Authoritii’. However, the single word used for ‘Maldives’, written below the title of the issuing authority, is transliterated as ‘Dhivehiraajje’ and translates as ‘Kingdom of the Isles’[5]. The denomination is written towards the bottom of the notes, in the centre.

The dates of authorization and the title of the signatory are written on the front of the notes in black as part of the final printing process. The dates of the Gregorian and Hejira calendars use Western numerals for the day and year and Thaana script for the month. The title of the signatory, which transliterates as ‘gavarnar’ (Governor), is immediately below the signature.

The design on the front of the notes is common to all denominations. To the right is an odi (known also as a vedi, a trading boat) in full sail, while in the centre is a bunch of coconuts hanging from a tree, and to the left is an area reserved for viewing the watermark. The notes are bordered by various designs, but of interest are the two cowrie shells in the bottom left‑hand corner of each note. Cowrie shells (Cypraea moneta) were a medium of exchange for many centuries and were harvested by the Maldivians for export to Bengal, Africa, and the Gulf of Cambray. Evidence suggests that Cowrie shells were used as a medium of exchange in the ancient Indus valley civilization as far back as 1500 BC. However, it is unlikely that the shells used in the Indus valley came from the Maldive Islands, as it is thought that the Maldive Islands emerged from the sea only 3000 years ago. As the shells from the Maldives were exported to numerous destinations as a form of currency, it is fitting that the ‘old’ money is now pictured on the ‘new’ money.

A comparison between the original artwork used for the illustration on the front of the bank notes and the vignette itself shows an interesting difference. The vignette has two people added to the bow of the vessel and two people added to the vessel on the left-hand side of the image. In addition, a line (representing a rope) has been drawn from the two people on the left-hand side to a point on one of the sails. Why such a change was thought necessary, is unknown. It is also of interest that people are depicted on these notes, when the Islamic tradition of not depicting living things was so strictly observed on the previous issue.

The principal security features of these bank notes are a watermark, a security thread and fluorescing ink. The watermark is the Coat of Arms of the Maldives, which consist of a crescent moon encompassing a star, placed on a palm tree, with crossed flags to either side of the moon and star. A scroll below the moon and star reads ‘The Government of the Maldives’ in Arabic. A solid security thread runs to the right of centre in each note. The serial numbers, dates of authorization, signature, and title of the signatory, all fluoresce when placed under ultra‑violet light.

The illustrations on the back of each denomination are as follows:

2 Rufiyaa             An island scene with huts on a palm covered island, and three boats in the lagoon.

5 Rufiyaa             Three lateen rigged dhoanis with people fishing for tuna. The illustration is taken  from a well‑known postcard.

10 Rufiyaa           A village scene, with huts in the background and number of people in the foreground. The turbaned woman by the tree is beating coir from a coconut husk. The coconuts are buried in wet sand to soften them, before the coir is removed by beating the coconut. The woman to the right is creating a panel to be used for the wall of a hut, by weaving coconut fronds with coconut fibres. The woman in the middle distance is seated by a tub making coconut oil. The depiction of old village life is emphasized by the woman wearing a turban, an old style of headdress for women which is now rarely seen.

20 Rufiyaa           The wharf of Male’s inner harbour, with boats alongside.

50 Rufiyaa           The ‘Harbour’ fruit and vegetable market.

100 Rufiyaa         The gatehouse of the ‘Mulee-Aage’[6].  Behind the gatehouse, with only its roof visible, is the tomb of Abu al Barakaath, who converted the people of the Maldives to Islam[7].

Second varieties of the 20‑, 50‑ and 100‑rufiyaa notes (Nos. 12b, 13b and 14b) were issued some four years after the initial issue. These notes once again carry the date of the Muslim New Year, 1 Muharram 1408, and the corresponding date in the Gregorian calendar, 25 August 1987. The only other difference between these notes and the previous notes, is the lack of a printer’s imprint on the back of the notes. The notes originally issued by the Maldives Monetary Authority carried the imprint ‘Bradbury Wilkinson’ while the later notes carry no imprint.

Some three years later a further release of three denominations was made. This issue consisted of 2‑ and 5‑rufiyaa notes (Nos.15 and 16) and the new denomination of 500 rufiyaa (No. 17). All three notes carry the dates 4 Muharram 1411 and 26 July 1990. The 2‑ and 5‑rufiyaa notes are very similar to the notes previously issued, but there are four major alterations:

1)            The area over the watermark has changed to consist of an oval area with pale colours (replacing the heavy pattern)

2)            The imprint of ‘Thomas De La Rue and Company Limited’ appears on the back, in the bottom margin

3)            A micro‑printed security thread is used on each note, with the print reading ‘MMA’ (for ‘Maldives Monetary Authority’) in such a manner that it can be read alternately from the front and the back of the note

4)            The colours of the notes have changed, becoming richer and more varied.

The new 500‑rufiyaa note is predominantly red and is designed in the same style as the new 2‑ and 5‑ rufiyaa notes. On the back of this note is the ‘Masjid‑al‑Sultan Mohammed Thakurufaanu‑Al‑A’z’am’, which is also known as the ‘Grand Friday Mosque’ or the ‘Hakaur Miskiiy’. Opened in 1984, it contains a library, a conference hall, Male’s Islamic Centre and the principal mosque of the Maldives.

Five years later, the notes of the Monetary Authority began another transformation, with the notes being introduced as required. The four notes introduced with the new designs, and the dates on the notes, are:

100 Rufiyaa (No. 18)         1 Rabi I 1416 and 29 July 1995

500 Rufiyaa (No. 19)         13 Dhu’l‑Hijja 1416 and 1 May 1996

5 Rufiyaa (No. 20)              1 Muharram 1419 and 27 April 1998

10 Rufiyaa (Not listed)       1 Rabi I and 25 June 1998

While maintaining the same principal design as the notes previously issued by the Maldives Monetary Authority, the notes have had a complete over‑haul. Most noticeable is the absence of white areas on the notes. Gone are the white margins, replaced by a coloured patterns that cover the entire note, and gone are the white areas that were previously found in the scenes on the back of each note, now replaced with ‘filler’ patterns. Gone also is the printer’s imprint.

A further change occurs in the use of serial numbers. Both serial numbers now have their numbers ascending in size, but while the left‑hand number is red, printed vertically and fluoresces, the right‑hand serial number remains horizontal, printed in black and does not fluoresce. Another innovation is the use of a foil security thread with micro-printing. Placed to the left of centre, the letters of the micro-printing are punched out of the thread and ‘MMA’ is formed by the absence of thread. Once again, the letters can be read alternately from the front and the back of the notes.

There is, however, a variation in the design of these notes. Until the issue of these notes, the scalloped pattern behind the dhoani on each note issued by the Maldives Monetary Authority had the appearance of the scallops being in relief. The 100‑ and 500‑rufiyaa of this issue maintain this design, but the 5‑ and 10‑rufiyaa notes reverse the pattern so that the lines separating the scallops, rather than the scallops themselves, appear in relief.

One of the more intriguing constants in the notes issued by the Maldives Monetary Authority is the signature of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who signs as Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority. Having taken up his position in January 1981 at the foundation of the Maldives Monetary Authority (and having also signed the last 50‑rufiyaa notes issued by the Government), the President of the Maldives is now the longest serving governor of any central bank in the world.

Another intriguing aspect, of the designs on the notes issued by the Maldives Monetary Authority, is that the numerals used to express the denominations on each note are different. It is usual, on most series of bank notes, to use the same font, or typeface, for the numerals of each denomination. However, an inspection of the notes issued by the Maldives Monetary Authority shows a different font on each denomination, i.e. the ‘2’ on the 2‑rufiyaa note appears in a different font to the ‘5’ on the 5‑rufiyaa note, which is in turn different to the font for ‘10’ on the 10‑rufiyaa note, and so on. It is obviously a deliberate decision by the Maldives Monetary Authority and the bank note designers, but the reason for doing this is not clear.

The logical use of serial number prefixes, first apparent in the notes issued by the Government, continue to be evident in the notes issued by the Maldives Monetary Authority – although the current issue shows some degradation in the sequence. All notes of the Monetary Authority’s first issue use the serial number prefix ‘A’, while the 2‑, 5‑ and 10‑rufiyaa notes also use the letter ‘B’. The second varieties of the 20‑, 50‑ and 100‑rufiyaa notes use the letter ‘B’ as their prefix. The 1990 issue of the 2‑, 5‑ and 500‑rufiyaa notes see the use of the letter ‘C’. The most recent 5‑ and 100‑rufiyaa notes use the letter ‘D’ but, in an aberration to the sequencing of the serial number prefixes, the letter ‘C’ continues to be used for the 10‑ and 500‑rufiyaa notes. This aberration is probably due to the small number of the 500‑rufiyaa notes issued and to the lack of a 10‑rufiyaa note in the previous issue. While it is not certain that this pattern is absolutely adhered to, all notes observed fall into this regular pattern.



This study could never have contained as much detail as it does, had it not been for the knowledge and helpful advice of Michael O’Shea and Majid Abdul-Wahhab. To them we give thanks.

[1] The numbers listed after the notes are the catalogue numbers from the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money (SCWPM) Volume 2 Eighth Edition and Volume 3 Sixth Edition, published by Krause Publications, Iola, U.S.A.

[2] Browder, Tim J. Maldives Island Money The Society for International Numismatics, Santa Monica, 1968.

[3] In the long form of his name, the first part is his family name, i.e. ‘Aithireegey’. The last two words ‘Dorhimeyna Kilegefan’ is a title. Under the rule of the Sultans, there were about ten ‘Kilege’ titles (including four for women). Therefore ‘Dorhimeyna’ was the particular Kilege title award to Mohamed Amin. The ‘-fan’ suffix used to create ‘Kilegefan’ is an honorific suffix.

[4] ‘Rannabandeyri Kilegefan’ is the Kilege title awarded to Ibrahim Nasir (see the earlier footnote concerning Kilege titles). Ibrahim Nasir later became President of the Republic of the Maldives on 11 November 1968, a position he was to hold for twenty years. In 1978 he went into self-imposed exile in Singapore, amidst claims that he had absconded with state funds. Tried in absentia he was pardoned in 1990 by his successor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, but he did not return to the Maldives.

[5] The word ‘Maldives’ is thought to have been derived from one of several sources by which the Islands were known when Europeans first entered the region. Most Indians referred to the Islands as ‘Maaladip’, while in Ceylon the name used was ‘Maaladiveyina’. The Arabs referred to the Islands as ‘Dhibat al Mahal’ or ‘Mahaldeeb’. All these names were probably derived from an ancient Indian language which referred to the Islands as ‘Maahiladeepika’. It appears that the second part of the name is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘dwipa’, which means ‘island’. The first part of the name may be derived from the word ‘Maahila’, which means ‘straits’ and would have been used in reference to the straits between the atolls, or from ‘Maala’, which means ‘garland’ and would have been used in reference to the northern atolls which are arranged as garlands. However, there are many opinions on the origin of ‘Maldives’ and another theory is that it originates from ‘Mahal’ and ‘Diva’, which means ‘Palace Island’, or from the Arabic word ‘Mal’ and the Dhivehi word ‘Diva’, which would mean ‘Wealthy Island’. In these later cases the reference may originally have been to the main island of ‘Male’.

[6] The ‘Mulee-Aage’ was built for the mother of Sultan al-Ghazi Hassan Izzudine in the 1750s. She was from the island of ‘Muli’, and so the building was known as the ‘Muleege’. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was the private residence of Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddine III, and in the 1920s the present building was constructed for his son, Prince Hassan Izzudine. In 1923 the name of the building changed to ‘Henveyru Ganduvaru’ and in 1933 it was renamed to ‘Mulee-Aage’. The building has since served as government offices, official residence of the head of state of the brief Republic in 1953, residence and offices of the only United Kingdom resident in Male (Mr. Arthington Davy from 1960 to 1962), the official residence of the President of the Republic, and the temporary offices of the President.

[7] The name of the man, or saint, who brought Islam to the Maldives has been debated in the last fifty years or so. Early Maldivian records name the man buried as Yusuf Shamsuddine of Tabriz. It was in fact Ibn Battuta (the indefatigable fourteenth century traveller from the Maghreb) who identified an inscription referring to the saint as ‘Abu-al Barakat Yusuf al-Berberi’. The last word refers to ‘the Berber’ and, as Ibn Battuta came from the Maghreb where Berbers live, he seems to have been keen to associate the saint with his homeland. Recent interpretations of the inscription, and particularly of the diacritical markings, suggest that the name is in fact Abu-al Rikab Yusuf al-Tabrizi. It has also been suggested that the conversion performed by this saint was only on the King and the people of Male, as some of the northern atolls had been converted to Islam some years before the arrival of the saint on Male.

This article wascompleted in February 2002
© Peter Symes