The Maldives is also a country that sees a medley of cultures converge together to form a civilization of its own.
The Maldives is a place like no other.
Its unique, breathtaking features serve as a point of attraction for tourists the world over to pay her idyll, resort-like country a visit. Perfect for a splendid getaway from everyday life, the Maldives beholds dozens of fascinating features.
Still, there is more than meets the eye.
Strategically positioned in-between the trading route of the Indian Ocean, the Republic of Maldives suffices as a stopover for travelling visitors. It was through this channel that allows visitors to get in touch with its country’s 1, 190 islands, and early inhabitants.
This progressive influx of visitors from varying cultural backgrounds has indeed, left an indelible impression on its people. This in turn, influences how Maldivians of today think and do, and is reflected in the activities they engage in.
The Birth of the Maldivian Culture
The early settlers of the Maldives came from the neighbouring states of Sri Lanka, and the southern state of India. Archaeologists made this conclusion from its national language, *Dhiveli, along with the artefacts and edifices found.
However, the origins of the early inhabitants living on the island of Feridhoo, in the Alif Alif Atoll, came from Africa. In fact, they are the descendants of the three Negro slaves freed by their African master, King Mueenuddin.
The same goes to the origins of the Maldivian music, Bodu Beru.
It was much later – during the 12th Century – which saw further development of the Maldivian civilization, and culture. With the arrival of the sailors and traders from countries near the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, Islam progressively became the state’s religion.
Since then, Islam has been central to the lives of the Maldivian people. The main events and festivals centred on the Muslim Calendar.
Both the lingua franca and domestic trades of fishing and boat building remains unchanged.
This change in religion, and how the Maldivian people embrace it, is seen on historical relics and buildings. For instance, the bodies of olden-day mosques and tombstones bear the significance of its change. Symmetrical floral designs were symbolic of Islamic art carved on their bodies.
Before this change took place, the craft of carving coral stones was widely practised. Maldivians used coral stones to build temples, make baths and wells, and sculpt statues of Buddha.
This craft of stone carving flourished under both Buddhism and Islam. The same goes to the popular folk arts of Bodu Beru, Thaara, and Gaa Odi Lava.
Bodu Beru is an interesting way of performing music as a band. A group of 15 people, including three drummers and a singer, would get together and play random songs. The lyrics consist of a mixture of local, neighbouring, and African language. A small bell, and an onugandu (a small piece of bamboo with horizontal grooves), are included as part of the repertoire. There is no meaning behind these songs.
The prelude begins with a slow beat, which emphasises on both the drumming and dancing. As the music reaches a crescendo, one or two dancers maintain the wild beat with their frantic movements. In most cases, the musical ends with a trance. Bodu Beru was a citizen’s alternative to court music.
Today, Bodu Beru is an important aspect of musical entertainment in the Republic of Maldives. Local rock and contemporary bands would incorporate elements of it in their repertoire, especially when performing for a local audience. Meaningful songs written in *Dhiveli play to its musical’s rhythm.
Tharra is a folk art that comes with a semi religious touch. The Gulf Arabs introduced it to The Maldives during the 17th Century.
In Thaara, both singing and dancing are involved. Early songs were in Arabic. The songs are also unique – they start with a very slow tempo, and gradually increase to reach a crescendo. This musical form is exclusive to men, played during the fulfilment of their marriage vows.
Tharra is today, played as a form of musical entertainment. Thaara is also the Dhivehi word for tambourine.
Gaa Odi Lava
Gaa Odi Lava is a musical that expresses the gratification of a group of labourers. Upon completion of a challenging, manual task, labourers would perform the Gaa Odi Lava. This musical originated during the reign of Sultan Mohamed Imadudeen I (1620-1648AD). During those days, songs were sung were in Arabic.
The Maldives comprises more sea than land; hence, it is natural that fishing makes its domestic trade. It is also a pastime for its early settlers. Tuna is a common staple.
Today, fishing is its second-leading sector and accounts for ten per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Profits. As a form of protection to its endangered underwater species, the government recently banned shark fishing.
Boatbuilding is an important aspect of the Maldivian culture. Maldivians of yesteryear used to create sturdy fishing boats from coconut wood – known as dhonis – to go out to sea.
* Dhiveli is an Indo-Aryan language closely related to the Singhalese language of Sinhala.