“Afihun”- the stupefying drug that was permitted

Note: please note that this piece of writing is not to encourage or support any illegal substance of narcotics; the aim of this article is to reflect the tradition and culture.

Today, our society is poisoned with various substances of narcotics. The problem is so deep-rooted that every Maldivian family has at least one member who is an addict. UNICEF statistics show that the average age for first time drug users is 12.

History was safe and free from this cancerous stigma. But today beyond the waving palms and turquoise pools, lurks the ugly problem of youth drug addiction. Maldives is existing as a moslem nation for generations. However there are periods when some narcotics substances were used without any legal barrier. One of the most popular narcotic substances used in this regard was Afihun or opium.

This is how Pyrad described what he witnessed in Maldives-, “most of them eat opium, or, as they call it, ‘afihun’, which intoxicates and stupefies them. Not withstanding this, they are all given to this vice without moderation, as well men as women, not to say more of their abominations.”

Afihun was used to achieve altered states of the mind by both men and women. It was widely used in  the country. Maldivian have a habit of chewing areca nut with beetle leaf. People often use afihun while having this blend. Irrespective of the ranks or age- mudhims, scholars, fishermen, men, women young and old- aifun was widespread among the Maldivians.

Nowadays people mock at some “lost” youngsters in the world of narcotics on the road and public places. During early days people who use afihun were subjected to the same conditions that some youths who are addicted to today’s narcotics.

Early days people used afihun to relax and draw away the mind from psychological state. Here is a true incident happened- when a person used afihun to take command of a vedi, vessel used to travel to neighboring courtiers, in a life threatening situation.

Afihun and  the helmsman

Information provided by Mohamed Ali Didi, Fasiya, Gn.Fuvahmulah

In early days, Maldivians used vedi, a travelling vessel, to travel to Sri Lanka and other countries. A bright sunny day, Vedi of Aadhankoage, or Aadhankoage Vedi, set off from Fuvahmulah. At round 5 pm, after an hour of sailing, like a shot, the weather changed abruptly. The sea became extremely rough. Wind blew at deadly speed. There was no land mass in vicinity. The vedi was rolling; huge swells unleashed on it.stormy_sea_by_alexlinde-d3y6mgd

The captain of the boat ordered a sailor to climb up the mast to see whether a land was in vicinity. And a man climbed up the mast. He reached at the top of the mast and clung to it. He shouted, “I am in the middle of a lake. Give me a bucket to clear out the water here.”

The sailor was horrified. He went insane. And two men had to climb up the mast to bring him down. The second sailor who climbed up the mast also went insane. On the spur of the moment, a man shouted, “don’t climb. I will control this vedi.” It was the helmsman, person who steers a ship, of the vedi. He commanded everyone to stay calm. And he advised them to watch closely  at the sails of the vedi.

The helmsman could hardly hold the steering wheel of the vedi. He was thrown side to side. Out of the blue, he called a crew. “Bring dhohaaey- areca nut and beetle leaf. Make a heap of it.” He ate the whole heap of the stuff. And said, “Hey, where is afihun. Take a big piece.” He chewed it.

After a while the helmsman’s face turned ecstatic. Sweat trickled down his face and body. Chilled, he commanded, “Stay calm. I am in command.” He said. The vedi that was caught in the middle of the rough sea started to move on the right track.

People were crying; some were stumbled in fear. But the worry-free helmsman had no thoughts of the dangerous situation. However he perfectly held the right cause of the vedi as guided by the maalimy, the chief man in charge of navigation.

After an hour of frightening moments against huge swells and waves, calmness fell on the mighty ocean. And they safely traveled to their destination.

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