Ali Manikfan
TAC Special

Traditional knowledge powerhouse and Indigenous expert- Ali Manikfan of Minicoy Islands Lakshadweep awarded the Padma Shri

Speaking with Padma Shri Ali Manikfan was an enlightening experience. Manikfan is a university in himself. Having studied spiritual ecology myself drew me instantly into his conversations about being connected to the environment.
|| Elsie Gabriel

Manikfans roots of ecology are within his soul and I feel previleged to have learned so much from him in such a short time.

Ali Manikfan from Minicoy Island, in Lakshadweep, was one of the 102 eminent Indians who has been bestowed with the Padma Shri Award earlier this year, the fourth highest civilian honour of the country.
Padma Shri Awardee Ali Manikfan, all of 82, has been literally connecting locals and ecologists to traditional tools over decades. In his ancestral Minicoy Islands communities, he not only enhanced local based practice, but encouraged residents to monitor coastal patterns and other environmental change. Manikfan is a powerhouse of best indigenous ecological practices, one of which that locals maintain till today.

Recalls Manikfaan fondly, ” 1 November 1956, Minicoy was incorporated into the Union Territory of Laccadive. Our culture and traditional norms are very different from the rest of the islands although now residents are commuting more to other Islands and mainland. Now I stay in Kerala and immerse myself in reading a lot. Although during the Covid isolation months, I spent several months in Tamil Nadu farming. I am happy here as commuting to the islands is not always feasible.”

Humble to the core, Manikfan doesn’t expand on his milestone achievements but boasts proudly about the Minicoy Race boats and unique culture like no other place in the world, although he says the culture is evolving and changing with time.

Manikfan is known for his significant contributions as one of the first generations of independent Minicoy Islands under Lakshadweep archipelagos who made international contribution and impact to the establishment and growth of the Lakshadweep islands, specifically Minicoy Islands.

Manikfan is revered for his continued dedication to practice and preservation of sea-based cultural traditions. Self taught through life experiences, Manikfan promoted indigenous knowledge in environmental change-related problems and solutions.

His contributions include drawing on ancestral tribal knowledge to enhance the baseline characterizations of culturally and ecologically important coastal species and habitat development.

Speaking about seeing the tides of change over the years, “Life has become very mechanical now, people should be more connected to nature, learn by being close to nature. Traditional characteristics should be perpetuated of the island” , voices Ali Manikfan as his message to people.

Well known as an Indian marine researcher, ecologist and shipbuilder. Manikfans is an expert on several subjects, without having formal training making him an excellent exponent of traditional based knowledge techniques.

Manikfan is an expert of many languages. Besides his mother tongue Divehi (Mahl), he learned English, Hindi, Malayalam, Arabic, Latin, French, Russian, German, Sinhalese, Persian, Sanskrit, Tamil and Urdu. He excelled in marine biology, geography, astronomy, social science, traditional shipbuilding, education, fisheries, agriculture and horticulture. His interest in marine life led him to join the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute of India in 1960.

In 1981, Manikfan manually rebuilt an ancient Arab ship using traditional methods. He was approached by Irish adventurer Tim Severin to rebuild the trading ship, the Sohar, in Oman. The ship, named after the city of Sohar in Oman, using traditional boat-building techniques, and no metal was used in its construction. It took one year to build the ship, and four tons of coir were needed to sew the planks of its hull. The Sohar is now displayed at a Museum in Oman.

Later while working with the marine biologist Dr. Santhappan Jones, Manikfan discovered a new fish species. Jones, impressed by Ali’s observation skills and his wide knowledge about marine life, called the species Abudefduf manikfani.

Later, his knowledge was used for a paper describing the fish species in the Laccadive archipelago found in the specimen collections, on which he was listed as a co-author.

Ali Manikfan followed non-aggressive agricultural methods that take nature in consideration. For his 15-acre (0.061 km2) land in Valliyur in Thirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu before settling down in Kerala. His reverence for nature and our planet Earth is profound and everything revolves around this ideology. What a magnificent tribute to our Earth and lesson for mankind as the world continues to fight Climate Change. The legend truly is so deserving of the Padma Shri 2021 earlier this year, his inspiration will be a legacy I will hold dear to my work.

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