When you think Maldives, the first thing that comes to mind is luxury. But what about its history and local culture, I wondered out loud on an indulgent trip to Hideaway Beach Resort and Spa. I was swiftly taken on a speedboat to Utheemu Island, a part of Haa Alif Atoll administrative division. The island is home to around 900 locals.

But its fame lies in the tale of Maldivian independence from Portuguese rule. Utheemu is known as the birthplace of a man named Mohammed Thakurufaanu. Every Maldivian child grows up hearing the tales of valour of this national hero, often referred to by the locals as ‘legend’. And so, we headed to Utheemu Ganduvaru, the wooden palace that was once the home of Thakurufaanu. An official guide here took us through the humble house, while narrating the barely believable tale of their freedom.

The Portuguese occupied the Maldives from 1558 to 1573. We were told that Thakurufaanu commissioned a boat, a metallic model of which now stands tall on the beach, and roped in two of his brothers and three other men as the crew. The group then waged a war on the Portuguese, conducting covert strikes on the invaders, one island at a time, under the veil of the night, retreating back into the open sea during daylight. In a war that lasted five years, this group took out the invaders and brought independence to the country, which then appointed Thakurufaanu as their Sultan.

The palace, built between 1512 and 1528, had been lovingly preserved—with its white curtains, antique lamps and swing beds. Its antiquity and modesty were represented by a palm-thatch hut that was used as a guestroom.

But the most inventive feature was a simple hole in the wooden wall. This hole projected a moving image of the exteriors on the drapes of the bed, just like a pin-hole camera. This contraption was the closest thing they had to CCTV surveillance back then, the guide said. The ‘legend’ might have been the bravest of Maldivians in battle, but even he didn’t take chances with house safety.