PALALIKU FLAG Courtesy of Cristian Steinmann
PALALIKU BANKNOTES AND COINS
THE ABOVE NOTE IS A SHEEPSKIN 1 R (Rupee), the worst of the lot.
ABOVE IS A TWO TONED PAPER (Dark Green/Yellowish Green) 2 L (Larin) Note
ABOVE IS THE PAPER VERSION OF THE 2 R (Rupee) Note
ABOVE IS A 2 R (Rupee) SHEEPSKIN NOTE with a Plum Colored Reverse
ABOVE IS A 2 R (Rupee) SHEEPSKIN NOTE with a Red Colored Reverse
ABOVE IS A 4 R (Rupee) TWO COLOR PAPER NOTE of Reddish Orange and Orange
ABOVE IS A MUSTARD YELLOW PAPER 1 L (Larin) NOTE
ABOVE IS A 1/2 L (Larin) White Paper note with hand colored security reverse
ABOVE IS A 1/2 L (Larin) White Paper note with hand colored security reverse. This note features the reverse of previous notes with the usual stamps applied.
THE ABOVE IS THE PALALIKU LARIN, a 4.4 gram .999 silver traditional Larin. Before coins became round, this currency unit was found from Persia to India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
If Palaliku seems invisible in today's world, there is a good reason. This tiny dot of land is entirely disconnected from the government. Nobody on the island recalls any outside contact with the island. And the supply ships that typically visit the most far flung islands at least a couple of times a year, do not come to Palaliku. So, why is it the island remains invisible when the nearest speck of land is 70 miles away. I don't have the answer, just the reality.
Little Palaliku is only 418 acres. Only 52 people call this island home. Because of the isolation, they lead a self-sufficient lifestyle. Luckily for the Palalikuans, the island rises to a height of about 125 feet, has rich soil and grows a variety of foods through the year. With heavy rainfall, rain catchments offer plentiful water and give ample nourishment to the plant life, that is best described as lush.
Palalikuans speak their own language which is quite unusual among most languages. Base words are anywhere from two to four words but in most instances, a single word might comprise several smaller two, three and four word roots. For example, a thunderstorm is described as "Thunder and lightning rain": la kulu ma la sima fomi la hura. Sometimes words are combined to create a longer word. Linguists describe the language as 'unique' with many 'outlier' Polynesian traits as well as roots in languages such as spoken in the Maldives Islands and Minicoy. 'Outliers' are Polynesian communities outside the general Polynesian islands geographically. There seems to be some resemblance to Polynesian tongues of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Palaliku is not rich. Annual income is only $58,516.50, according to estimates, converted to U.S. dollars, making the people among the poorest on earth.
The islanders are excellent sailors, easily navigating their dinghies to the nearest island 70 miles distant. It is here all trade takes place and what little money the island has comes from these trades.
The most unique feature of Palaliku comes directly from their isolation amid the Indian Ocean. Their culture and language remain quite strong. Very few ever venture off the island, so firsthand knowledge of the outside world is minimal. This has kept their traditions very much alive.
The island was first used as a base camp by fishermen from Minicoy or Maliku as it is known locally. It was a cyclone sometime in the 1600s that brought a small permanent population from the first island north of the Maldives, now located in the Indian territory of Lakshadweep.
After a cyclone in the 1600s destroyed Minicoy, a group was sent to Palaliku to tend to farming activities and act as a camp for fishermen in order to aid in providing much needed food for the population of Minicoy until Minicoy could recover. Thus, the islanders were from families on Minicoy.
As Minicoy recovered from the cyclone, the people on Palaliku were generally forgotten and never offered passage back to their home island although some fishermen would take on a passenger or two when they would use Palaliku as a camp.
The Palalikuans being left to their own began to evolve their culture and lifestyle somewhat from their relations on Minicoy. For one, their was no religious instruction. Thus, this Islamic population generally fell away from the religion in a sense. The religious principals remained by the practice of the religion diminished.
At some point around the early 1700s, a small group of Polynesians landed on the island. We are unsure how they ended up here. This small party was brought ashore and nurtured to health. They quickly melted into Palaliku’s culture. Naturally, their cultural and religious influences had an affect on Palaliku customs and religious beliefs.
The Palaliku culture was a somewhat amplified Minicoy culture. In general, women ruled the island. The people are very peaceful and view their entire community as much a family member as their blood relations. This shall be explained further in this article.
Government is very loose-knit. Generally day-to-day decisions are made by the men or the women collectively. On a community scale, there is a leader, considered their ruler, who rules from the aspect of feeling a responsibility for the welfare of the whole community. Whereby most rulers see their position as lofty or one of riches, the Palaliku leader sees the role as one of sacrifice and service to the community. As you might suspect, the ruler is the wealthiest man on the island, known for wise decisions.
The islanders are now avid Christians, having been easily converted about 75 years ago from a basic Sunni Muslim faith crossed with basic Christian teachings. Church is a twice a day activity and the islanders enjoy singing hymns, adding their own style and method, making it unique. Full trust in God prevails. It should be noted the form of Islamic faith that was practiced on Palaliku varied greatly from other regions. For example, women were in control of the island, as is the case today. Many of the practices of the Muslim faith were never known on Palaliku. Some said the island received no further instruction after their conversion centuries ago.
On such a tiny island, the community structure is cooperative. Everyone is related to everyone at some point. Islanders are recognized by social versus family identities. This even extends to children. Children are considered as commonly owned by the adults. The entire community is treated as blood relatives. In fact, if a couple desires a child but does not have one, a child will be given them at birth, usually without allowing the real identity of the true parents to be known, although such is no secret in such a tiny society.
The community lives by "tuluku'. Tuluku is a philosophy that simply defined is caring and giving. In other words a feeling of compassion and affection is shown toward everyone. Material gains are always shared with those least able to provide for themselves as they receive the greatest share. Nobody needs to worry. Their needs will be met by an islander. If you're sick, your chores will be done without asking for help. If your garden does poorly, you will find plenty of food from your neighbors.
The Tuluku philosophy has been claimed as more of a Minicoy concept. Minicoy is known as a peaceful place where violence and theft are virtually unknown. It is thought the tuluku was enhanced when the Polynesians arrived. Aside from being welcomed, cared for and eventually adopted by the former Minicoy residents, various Polynesian influences were adapted to the tuluku philosophy. One such Polynesian trait was giving a child to a childless couple.
The island's land is divided by the chief so that every person, including child, has a piece of land that is typically farmed. A routine in farming practices is strictly followed allowing ground to not be kept fallow and designed to keep the soil from losing its needed nutrients. It is considered one of the best land management schemes known for a tropical environment. In addition, foods that can be preserved are stored in the event of emergency or for use out of season. Authorities feel this is an exceptional emergency plan for the island. It has been proven a lifesaver in times of emergencies.
The coral shelf is plucked for small fish and the nearby deep waters are rich with marine life. The sandy shoreline is so thick with coconuts, the homes, dishes and much clothing comes from the coconut tree as does some food.
Local foods are supplemented by foods purchased when trading off island. Cases of tins of food, bags of rice and the sort are hauled back in the dinghy.
There has been talk of a medical facility on the island, but most islanders are against it, saying God will care for them. There seems to be a general opinion that a clinic will bring disease to the island. One can only speculate if this thinking comes from the knowledge that visitors sometimes bring the common cold or intestinal virus or if the lack of trust in God to protect their health will result in more illness being prevalent on the island.
Some locals worry about the survival of their culture. Some of the young men like to go to a neighboring island when items are taken for trading. The few young men who have gone have brought back the idea of a musical instrument, an acoustic guitar. A few young men fashioned their own using a hollowed coconut and plant fiber. As crude as this is, the sound must be pleasant as some of the young ladies enjoy listening to them play. Like their ruler, the older folks worry the youth might abandon their traditional dances. Only time will tell.
Locally, hymns are the choice of music, always sung without instruments. The style is a single vocalist with the group of onlookers making a vocal gesture at the end of each line or two. Sometimes a refrain is sung by several singers. From my observation, the style of singing resembles that of the Pearl Divers of Bahrain who sing hymns as some men dive for pearls
Palaliku is a very rare gem. The population is a mix of descendants from the island of Minicoy and Polynesians from an unknown location. The two groups have mingled over the generations. It is the only known semi-Polynesian community in the Indian Ocean.
It is thought a small community of Minicoy Islanders settled here following a typhoon that devastated Minicoy in the Indian Territory of Lakshadweep sometime in the 1600s. It has been speculated the ‘colony’ was to farm the island to help feed the people of Minicoy. It is common knowledge such islands as Minicoy suffer greatly from typhoons. What the wind does not destroy, the storm surge will. When waves wash across such a low lying island, a deposit of salt kills all vegetation and destroys what soil remains.
The island would have served as a ‘safe haven’ for Minicoy residents who frequented the Andaman Islands. The tribes on the Andaman Islands practiced cannibalism. The peace-loving Minicoy visitors were repulsed by the practice and in order to feel safe on their visits to the area, needed a safe place to stay. In this respect, we feel Palaliku served as somewhat of a hotel for Minicoy residents who had come to the Andaman Islands.
How did the Polynesians end up on Palaliku? This still remains a theory. There are three schools of thought. First, the islanders may have been taken from their home island by many of the slave ships that raided islands in centuries past. It is speculated the islanders may have been on their way to the Middle East but 'something' happened along the way. Another theory is bad weather blew a small group of Polynesians off course, eventually allowing them to end up on Palaliku. The third and most likely theory is the Polynesians had been hired to work a ship. It is speculated the ship encountered pirates that managed to take the ship with the Polynesians escaping, eventually landing on Palaliku. All are plausible but fairly far-fetched. Even so, Palaliku's mixed population is very unusual.
The more recent Indian Ocean tsunami did little damage to the island. The high elevation of the island was certainly a factor
What money is circulated locally is made by the order of the island’s ruler. We understand there have been a few gold coins, silver coins and cowrie shells used over the centuries with banknotes seeing some usage in more recent decades. We do not know how many of any may have been minted over the years but one could rightly speculate that few coins made it off the island, mostly via trading with Andaman Islanders.
Monetarily, Palaliku has an interesting history that is a throwback to colonial days and earlier. Paper notes in “R” and "L" denominations. "R" is for Rupee; "L" is for Lain. Amounts of 1/2 to 4 Larin and 1/2 to 4 Rupee were produced in limited numbers.
The silver pieces are known as ‘Larin’, consisting of about 4.4 grams of .999 silver made of silver wire, folded over in the middle to resemble a bobby pin. This type of money originated in Persia and nations such as the Maldives Islands, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and various entities in India released such coins, sometimes looking much like a fish hook, which is why the Maldives Islands and Ceylonese versions are frequently called ‘fish hook money’.
The Palaliku Larin is inscribed in Arabic, saying "minting on Maliku" on one side and "year 1070" on the other side with a counterstamp that says "Palaliku".
It is thought small coins may circulate as small change, replacing the cowrie shell, which was likely circulated on Palaliku in earlier times.
We understand the British version of the Indian Rupee, a 180 grain silver coin, still circulates on Palaliku, possibly a locally minted version. It is believed the folks on Palaliku still value the Rupee at 180 grains of silver.
Certainly there is much more to learn about money found and produced on Palaliku. We welcome your input.
Compiled by Bill Turner 2009-2011