The origins of the Maldivian people are shrouded in mystery. The First
settlers may well have been from Sri Lanka and Southern India. Some say
Aryans, who sailed in their reed boats from Lothal in the Indus Valley about
4,000 years ago, probably followed them. Archeological evidence suggests the
existence Hinduism and Buddhism before the country embraced Islam in 1153
A.D.Not surprisingly, the faces of todays Maldivian display the
features of various faces that inhabit the lands around the Indian Ocean
shipping and maritime routes, the Maldives has long been a melting pot for
African, Arab and South East Asian mariners.
The language of the Maldivians is Dhivehi, a language which is placed in
the Indro-Indian group of languages. Dhivehi with its roots in Sanskrit and
according to some researchers Elu, an ancient form of Sinhala, (spoken in
Sri Lanka), is strongly influenced by the major lanuguages of the region.
The language has been influenced heavily from Arabic since the advent of the
Islam in 1153 and English in more recent times, especially since the
introduction of English as a medium of education in the early 1960s.
Given the wide dispersion of islands it is not surprising that the
vocabulary and pronunciation vary from atoll to atoll, with the difference
being more significant in the dialects spoken in the southernmost atolls.
The Maldivian script known as thaana was invented during the 16th century
soon after the country was liberated from Portuguese rule. Unlike former
scripts thaana is written from right to left. This was devised to
accommodate Arabic words that are frequently used in Dhivehi. There are 24
letters in the thaana alphabet.
The close-knit island communities practice mutual aid to survive difficult
circumstances. A system of extended families provide a safety net for
members of a family going through a difficult period. In addition to the
parents other members of the family also contribute in the care of children.
Traditionally men go out fishing during the day and women are responsible to
look after the affairs of the family and vary often the community. This
remains so even today in smaller island communities.
Since Maldives embraced Islam in 1153, Island has been central to the life
of Maldivians. The main events and festivalss of Maldivian life follow the
Muslim Calendar. From infancy children are taught the Arabic alphabet.
Religious education is provided both at home and at school. Islam is part of
the school curriculum and is taught concurrently with other subjects.
Art and Craft
The beautifully carved tombstones in some of the old cemeteries and the
fine stone carving of the Hukuru Miskiiy in Male bear witness to the
intricate skills of Maldivian stone carvers of the past. Maldivians are deft
craftsman producing beautifully crafted pieces mostly out of what is
available locally. Although many of the skills have been passed on from
generation to generation and lives on even today.The art calligraphy has
strong connections with the Islam. Old and new mosques display beautifully
penned versus from the Holy Quran. The Islamic Center exhibits some of the
finest samples of the work of modern calligraphers in the country. While
many crafts have become obsolete, others have found new life with the advent
of tourism. The production of ornaments from tortoise shells and black coral
once valued by visitors has now ceased completely because of the growing
careness among the public on the need to preserve the environment.
Wooden Lacquer Ware
Perhaps the most distinctive of the Maldivian handicrafts, these are almost
exlclusively produced in Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll. Liye Laajehun as it is
called in Dhivehi involves the process of shaping and hollowing out pieces
of wood to form beautifully crafted boxes, containers and ornamental
objects. Made from the local funa, (Alexandrian laurel) which grows
abundantly throughout the country, they come in various shapes and sizes;
small pillboxes, vases of various sizes to round and oval plates with lids.
These elegant pieces are lacquered in strands of red, black and yellow resin
and delicately carved with flowing flowery patterns.
Beautiful red mats are woven throughout the country, the most famous of
which are those that are woven by the women of Gadhdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu
Atoll. Thundu Kunaa as they are known in Dhivehi ranges in size from that of
a place mat to a full size single mattress. The women of Gadhdhoo collect
the reeds called haa from the nearby island of Fioari. They are dried in the
sun and stained with natural dyes, the colour varying from fawn to black.
These mats with their intricate abstract designs are woven on a handloom
according to the imagination and skill of the weaver.
Although the tools used in the building of dhonis have changed, little has
changed of its basic design. As in the past, the boats are still being built
without a documented plan. The design and symmetry of the boat emerges as
the boat is being built. Imported hardwoods are used in the place of coconut
wood, which was used in place of coconut wood, which was used in the past to
make the hull. Copper rivets are used to hold the planks together instead of
coir, which was used for the purpose even half a century ago. The square
sail made of coconut fronds gave way to a triangular lateen sail. Even
though this is still considered essential and is carried on board, it is
used only during emergencies or to ease the strain of the engines. Almost
all Dhonis are driven by diesel power.
Dhonis are mainly used for fishing and provide the livehood for a large
proportion of the population. Others are modified to be used for
transportation of passengers. A dhoni may be as small as 10ft. (3 m) used
mostly to travel across short distances or to traverse the shallow waters of
the lagoon. Islanders often use these ferry across to nearby islands for
firewood. The average fishing dhoni used to be around 10 metres (33 feett),
however the new generation fishing vessels can be twice the size or even
larger. The basic design of dhonis has proven to be seaworthy as it has been
tested and tuned for centuries. Even the luxury cruise vessels that are
built in the country uses the same basic hull design and can be as long as
30 meters (100 feet) or more.