Incredibly, the Maldives is 99% water so it is not surprising that the second largest industry in the Maldives is fishing. Fish isn’t only an integral part of the Maldivian economy; it is also an integral part of the Maldivian diet. Traditional Maldivian Cuisine is based around fish, coconuts and starchy items. The nation’s favourite fish is skipjack tuna, which can be served fresh or dried. However, many types of tuna and other types of fish which can be found in the beautiful open waters are also loved, including yellow fin tuna (kanneli), frigate tuna (raagondi) and bigeye scad (mushimas). Maldivians don’t eat raw fish, as do some other Asian countries, but do serve it freshly caught, boiled, smoked and sun-dried or just smoked. Combined with ingredients such as chilli, coconut, lime juice and onions, fish is served for virtually every meal of the day. The food of the Maldives is delicious and diverse, having been influenced by fine cuisines from across the world. In the past, the Maldives was an important location on many trade routes, and therefore many traders from the Indian Ocean region who visited or settled in the Maldives have had an effect on Maldivian cuisine over time.
Celebrating festivals in the Maldives brings out a great sense of national pride. Almost every holiday leads to the green and red national flags covering the main streets as well as being displayed in people’s houses. Everybody works together to prepare food, decorations and entertainment, which may include folk dancing, modern jazz or pop music, the marching of bands or a parade of smartly dressed children. Whether it is a religious festival or a national occasion, the Maldivian people celebrate in unity with great enthusiasm. The Maldives is a Muslim country and therefore Maldivians celebrate the Prophet’s birthday, Ramadan, Kula Eid and Eid-ul-Al’h’aa. Other than religious festivals, there are also national holidays, which are celebrated with just as much excitement and enthusiasm. National Day celebrates the victory of Mohamed Thakurufaanu over the occupying Portuguese forces in 1573 and Independence Day, which marks the date in 1965 when the Maldives attained independence from Britain after being a British Protectorate for 78 years, is celebrated on the 26th July.
A traditional aspect of Maldivian culture is the making of a wide range of handicrafts, such as mats, baskets, coir rope and many products using coconut shell. Many islands specialise in a particular handicraft, for example, the best lacquer work can be seen on the island of Thulaadhoo, where delightful pots, vases and boxes can be found. On Bandos Island, one can see mats being weaved by local people. The important tradition of craft making is still doing well due to the availability of key materials; for example, coconut leaves are often used for weaving mats and the shell is used to make products such as cooking utensils, jewellery and souvenirs. The combination of practised craftsmanship and creative methods has been passed down from generation to generation.
Mat weaving is definitely one of the most important forms of Maldivian craftsmanship. The mats (kunaa) have many uses; sleeping, sitting, praying and wall hangings among others. The mats are weaved with traditional patterns, and are dyed to black, brown and yellow with natural dyes, but there are variations from weaver to weaver. Besides a simple loom, only a knife is necessary, which makes it all the more astounding that these uncomplicated tools created such wonderful mats that they were used as royal gifts in the past and even now are presented to foreign dignitaries. These mats were sometimes adorned with gold lace work to make them even more beautiful. The art of mat-weaving is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter, ensuring that the craft will live on for a long time yet!
Another important aspect of Maldivian culture is a form of music called Boduberu, which is both the most familiar and most popular form of indigenous music, particularly in the Northern Atolls. It is a type of music which is very similar to that of eastern and south-western Africa and as such it is believed that it may have been introduced to the Maldives by sailors coming from East Africa or somewhere else in the Indian Ocean region in the 11th century or possibly even earlier. Boduberu is a group activity; it is typically performed by about 15 people, including three percussionists and lead singer, as well as a bell, a set of double-headed drums also known as a bodu beru, and a small stick of bamboo called an onugandu, which has horizontal grooves and is scraped to make the required sounds. People of all age groups can participate and do so enthusiastically, with spectators joining in by clapping and dancing.