Aishath Moomina, a janitress at Kaafu Atoll Guraidhoo Island School, was attending to her usual early morning sweeping duties on September 3, when she found a kihaa (young coconut) with Arabic inscriptions buried outside the school gates.
Only a few days remained for the first round of presidential polls and ballot booths were to be set up at the school. That very same day, Moomina started to feel uncharacteristically tired and her skin started to burn.
“That’s when I knew it was black magic. This [black magic] happens every time there is an election,” she told Minivan News.
Guraidhoo, located 30 kilometers south of Malé and home to the country’s only home for people with special needs, is now at the centre of an election-related fanditha or black magic controversy. Since the discovery of the kihaa, various items with Qura’nic verses have been found in Guraidhoo School and throughout the island.
As a run-off election scheduled between the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) approaches on September 28, “cursed objects” have popped up in Fuvahmulah, Hithadhoo, Kudahuvadhoo and Velidhoo Islands.
Though the first round of polls went well, Moomina said that several students have had fainting spells, seizures, and have started to exhibit symptoms such as incoherent muttering, fainting, uncontrollable crying and tiredness.
On Sunday (September 22), Minivan News went to Guraidhoo Island to speak to residents on fanditha’s effect on the vote, finding a wide-spread deep belief in the supernatural, which combined with a tense presidential poll, has increased paranoia within the community.
This has spurred a group of men to actively patrol the two schools where polling booths will be placed and conduct a drive to undo the effects of fanditha.
The intense rivalry between political parties is evident on Guraidhoo’s narrow streets. The MDP’s yellow, the PPM’s pink and Jumhooree Party’s red flags fight for space, while political party campaign offices blast campaign songs at ear-drum shattering volume. Many islanders spoke of family members falling out and long-time neighbors refusing to speak to one another due to differences in political ideologies.
“There is a lot of turmoil in the island. People have gone mad for the vote,” said Faristha, a 47-year-old woman who discovered three Qurans buried in the lagoon. She believes the three Qurans buried in Guraidhoo’s lagoons are powerful black magic, as tradition dictates that the Quran only be disposed of in the open ocean or fast-flowing rivers.
“Black magic exists. If you believe in Allah and the prophet, then you must believe in djinns and black magic. The Quran says they exist. No man in their sane mind would throw away the Qurans like that,” she said waving her arms in anger.
Black magic is a crime punishable by death under the Islamic Shariah. While there are no legal sanctions or penalties against black magic in the written laws and regulations, the Maldives Police Services had arrested MDP activists and raided MDP protest camps on suspicion of black magic following the controversial transfer of power of February 2012.
With the proliferation of cursed objects, the Islamic Ministry released a sermon on Friday proclaiming black magic to be among the most evil of sins.
Black magic busters
Hassan Shuzeym, 35, is an artist, a caretaker at Guraidhoo’s Home for People with Special Needs, and now leader of the drive to undo black magic. Sitting at one of Guraidhoo’s newly opened guesthouses, the slim, dark-skinned Shuzeym told us how he organizes a 20-man patrol from dusk til dawn in order to ensure cursed objects are no longer buried at the schools.
A culture of performing black magic to coerce love or for personal gain had always existed on the island, Shuzeym told us over cigarettes and coffee. But black magic to influence votes on a large scale was new, he said.
“This magic is being done to change people’s hearts about their votes. But it’s only affecting the students who study at the school. We want to minimize the harm caused to people from the black magic.”
Shuzeym and his friends dig up objects and perform counter spells to cancel out their magic.
“In places where it is too dangerous to dig them out, we read surahs (chapters) of the Quran and sprinkle water on the area to cancel out their powers,” he said.
When asked how they knew where to look for cursed objects, Shuzeym told us with a mysterious look, “I can only tell you it is not with the help of humans.”
With their black-magic busting work, patrolling and observation teams, Shuzeym is confident the vote would be safe from all external influences.
As we left the guesthouse, we encountered a young MDP supporter who stopped us. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the young man told us he and his friends had performed one of the “black magic acts” that had created a furor in the island.
“I think the coconut is a fake, I believe black magic exists, but that coconut didn’t look real. I think it is by those who oppose us to intimidate us, so we spilled lots of water around all the entrances around both schools, just for a joke. We did not think anyone would take us seriously,” he said.
However, upon discovering water at the entrances, the janitors at Guraidhoo School stopped all students from entering the school premises until the school’s headmaster arrived and permitted them to do so.
“In the end, even if the coconut is fake, it has only been positive. We have more security for the vote,” the young man added.