Failing to make Hay in the sunshine

Despite the lineup of international literary luminaries, ticket sales for October’s Hay Festival Maldives, the first Dhivehi ‘Woodstock of the mind’, are so dismal organisers are reluctant to divulge the exact figures. Less than ten were sold on the first day the tickets went on sale, and the daily sales figure has remained unchanged since.

The national and international line-up is impressive, the venue is Aarah, and the tickets cost a Rf100 for two days of literature, music and intellectual discussion. It is billed as a celebration of the ‘world’s most hopeful new democracies and oldest island cultures’ bringing together international and national artists for ‘a festival of ideas’.

“As a new democracy, the Maldives is the logical setting for the vital debates that affect us all,” President Nasheed said of the Festival.

Reading habits and local education levels suggest the logic maybe flawed.

What do Maldivians read?

Although the international authors lined up by the Hay Festival are all relevant to the emerging democracy of the Maldives, none of their books are available in any of the bookshops in Male’.

Enthusiastic Maldivian volunteers organising the event told Minivan all the books will be available from Aster’s bookshop before the Festival begins. For the moment, none of their work can be bought in a Maldivian bookshop. The National Library is currently closed, and Minivan could not check whether it stocks the books.

Without getting into a debate over what can and cannot be classified as ‘serious literature’, a random sample of bookshops in Male’ reveal their shelves to be almost entirely bare of any fiction at all, let alone any great works of literature or the works of the authors participating in the Festival.

The Minivan survey revealed the most recently opened bookshop in Male’ to be its the most well-stocked in terms of literature – it had a copy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Harper Lee’s classic ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as well as a few children’s classics, a few Roald Dahls, almost all the Harry Potter books, and a vast collection of Enid Blyton.

American teenage sensations Hannah Montana and Mary-Kate Ashley filled the remaining shelves, along with copies of four books on Maldivian law written by the proprietor.

The one and only bookshop in Hulhumale’ carried one book of fiction for adults written in English – ‘Three sexy tales: Playing Hard to get’ by Grace Octavia – according to the blurb, a ‘chic tale’ of three New York ‘It Girls’ and their lives.

There too, was a collection of Enid Blyton and the same American teenage fiction as the previous bookshop.

None of the local authors billed at the Hay Festival – Abdulla Sadiq, Habeeba Hussain Habeeb or Fathimath Nahula – featured on its shelves. The only Maldivian literature were religious publications promoting spiritual guidance.

What can Maldivians read?

Only one percent of all Maldivian students are interested in the arts. Less than a quarter have shown an interest in science, while more than half pursue commercial subjects, according to 2008 O’Level exam figures published by the Education Ministry.

If less than one percent of Maldivian students are interested in the arts, it indicates that only a minuscule number of Maldivians will grow up to be interested in literature, music, art, film, poetry or any of the activities that the Hay Festival celebrates. Had science had a stronger pull, perhaps the line-up of world-class environmental writers may have drawn a bigger crowd.

Although 90 percent of students sat the compulsory subject of English as a Second Language, only 0.1 percent took the English Language exam. The number of students who took the literature exam was marginally higher at 0.2 percent.

Of the 90 percent of students who did study English as a second language, only 20 percent passed. It was also English as a Second Language that received the most number of ‘U’s meaning ‘Unclassified’ or ‘Ungraded’ in 2008. In the same year, over 24 percent of students who sat the O’levels did not pass any subjects at all.

The ‘logic’ of choosing Maldives as a venue for the Hay Festival, a celebration of some of the best international and local literature, appears less than clear cut in view of local reading habits and education levels.

Full schedule of the Hay Festival Maldives

Day passes are on sale at the Olympus Theatre in Male’, and available online for non-residents.

For more information call 991 1429 (residents), +44 1497 822 629 (international), or email [email protected]

Minivan News is a media partner of the Hay Festival Maldives.


22 thoughts on “Failing to make Hay in the sunshine”

  1. 99.99% of maldivians have never heard of this kind of event before. what did the organizers expect? and even for the curious crossing an ocean in this weather makes one think twice about it. i don't think this has been really thought through.

  2. we don't even have internet in my island. if i get out to the beach with my iphone i can get few bytes of internet. how can i get a ticket? i definitely cannot buy that ticket online with this connection. no answer from the phone number. by the time i go to male's big olympus all tickets would be sold out. like what happened to olympians show. very cool show. but sad no ticket for us. please send one bundle here on transport network ferry. atleast to ungufaaru. but i dont have money too. so left alone on everything... 🙁

  3. but certainly only good can come out of the festival and possibly affect the issues discussed in the article? other positives are it will help to promote Maldives to new audiences. a lot of environmental writers and speakers are also there, consolidating the country's effort to become an example in facing environmental challenges.

  4. Perhaps this should be advertised a bit more in the country. Many people do not seem to have heard about it. Also, the O'Level exams are on in October. Some secondary school students who are interested are not sure they can attend because of this.

  5. Even though this event is turning out to be a failure, I am glad that they decided to host it in the Maldives. At least, now we have a lee way into starting a discussion about our failing education system, failure to sustain our own language, literature and the kind of narrow restricted lives people live (most of the time forced to live) in the Maldives.
    The indifference of the Maldivian people and their poor reading habits - While there are many reasons for these two the two main that comes to my mind is - the education system and sadly enough us as a society messing up our priorities.
    Our kids go through an education system, where they are spoon fed. Any bit of creativity that these kids have in them, they are deprived of as our current education system has no space for free thinkers! The end result is given more emphasis than the process. We need to do away with the system of making students decide between specific streams in eight grade. I did commerce stream when I was in high school in Male' and for the most part am always embarrassed at how little science I understand as a college student. We need a more wholesome approach to the education system. Mind you, privatizing the education system is not the answer though. Privatization of such a vital public good would just only increase the already sky rocketing inequality in our society. The solution to the failing education system - is a critical review of the system and revamping things. Give curriculum makers and teachers an incentive to do so. Increase the salaries of teachers so that they would not have to tutor kids outside of school to be able to pay for their monthly expenses.
    As far as our priorities as a society are concerned - it is sad to see what used to be a rather modest society transformed into a highly superficial consumer driven society. Everyone is more concerned about having the latest phone, the fastest car, the best make up and outfits - I mean if people spend all their time and effort worrying about things like this - it is no wonder that our young people have no time to think of worldly affairs, read and engage in anything meaningful.

  6. It is heartening to learn that Enid Blyton's books are mentioned in this article and that Maldivian bookshops/bookstores are stocking a couple of her books. I too used to be a fan of Enid Blyton's literature as a child; an aspect that inspired me writing and publishing a book on the writer, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (
    stephen Isabirye

  7. there hasn't been sufficient promotion of the event plus the idea of crossing the ocean takes away much of the appeal.

    Also as the article points out Maldivian really are not that into the arts. Most people probably don't even know Jung Chang and Ian Mcewan or any of there contributions. Wild swans by Jung Chang is one of the best books I have ever read.

  8. i saw this coming.

    i thought the organisers must have a lot of friends who'll buy tickets to maintain their friednships. but i guess not.

  9. Through our education system i have been molded without any gumption to Arts and Literature, as i grew up my interest sparked in science/speculative Fiction.

    Its my desire to broaden my book list into literary science, social and philosophical literature.

  10. Azra, the presentation of facts here are slightly skewed.

    There seems to be too much "blame" apportioned to the average Maldivian for poor quality of English education adn the low government emphasis on improving English language profficiency - which I believe is the cornerstone of improving the standards of education and access to reading material in the Maldives.

    The English language has long been the exclusive property of the ruling elite in the Maldives. Writers such as Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik have hinted at this fact. The acquisition of a reasonable level of skill in the language is thus seen as a status symbol by the Maldivian academia and intelligentsia, as is evinced by most of your articles (not to be too personal) and even my own comments.

    What we need is a state-led drive to change the prevalent attitudes among educators as well as "the educated" along the lines of those suggested by the Sri Lankan Minister for education.

    The basic educational infrastructure is hopelessly lacking in quality in the Maldives. Recent advances in access to the internet and cable television is, I believe, the main reason behind increasing standards with regards to levels of education in the Maldives. English teachers in our country are either those expatriates who speak it as a second language (and often poorly)and locally trained teachers who are products of generations of misguided educational policy themselves.

    The fact of the matter is that the Hay Festival should, and I believe IS, targeted towards a demographic which inherently WOULD fail to generate ticket sales.

    Events/intiatives/advances are often introduced to the Maldives by legislators and policymakers alike without addressing the past failures in laying the foundations on which those events/initiatives etc. can be built on. The poor demand is natural. We are a population that has been denied access to education for centuries as part of government policy only to see a slight reversal under the administration of President Nasir.

    That reversal began to regress under the stewardship of President Gayoom who facilitated the advances in communications technology, transport and industry without impressing the importance of acquiring the basic know-how of dealing with these advances and optimizing the use of such to the average Maldivian.

    I hope the current administration sees the benefits of providing better English language education to our faultless citizens who have been servile to the whims and fancies of politicians and businessmen whose interest lie in keeping our country as insular as possible, thereby blocking the flow of ideas and innovations across our impermeable national boundaries.

  11. Had this been a music show/disco where boys and girls can mix and have 'fun' there will be lots of attendees. Since this festival doesn't seem like the usual carnival style event, most are apathetic.

  12. isnt it a bit premature to say that tickets are unsold yet? the festival is not for another two weeks. maybe ms azra is not aware of maldiveians who always do things bureega roveema.

  13. "Although 90 percent of students sat the compulsory subject of English as a Second Language, only 0.1 percent TOOK the English Language exam.Of the 90 percent of students who did study English as a second language, only 20 percent passed" I am confused by these statistics. Only 0.1 percent of students sit for English O level exams??

    Also, let us not judge people's interest in the arts by looking at how many students take arts subjects. Many students simply cannot take arts because their schools don't offer it. Same with science subjects. There are whole inhabited atolls in Maldives without a science lab in a single school. And take the example of Ahmadhiyya, which has successively achieved the best overall results in the O'levels, and has one of the largest student bodies, they don't even offer arts or any optional subjects. So ya, it isn't write to say that people are not INTERESTED in arts.

    Moreover, I agree that Hay Festival isn't that well promoted.

  14. Maldives and Culture ... ha ha ha haa .... Save solar energy while the sunshine & forget the hay.

  15. this is a talk by Sir. Ken Robinson. I find he touches on some pretty important points.

    I think education is the solution to almost all our problems. I hope there are people here who have the resources,intellects and drive to redesign our education system to that of a model more relevant to what is required. I am a student myself but I would love to help and am interested in discussing what can be done. I don't think the government alone should be left to handle it as they see fit. If we can help, we should.
    and yeah maldivians do have a tendency of being last minute, maybe ticket sales will increase? lets hope so.

  16. Ms. Azra, thank you for this thought provoking news item. Like most of the readers who have commented on this news, I totally agree that it is mostly the education system in itself which should be blamed for the poor English language level of the students. Language was not given so much importance long back, like the days when I was a student at Aminiya; in late 80's, I can remember that there were only 14 of us who were doing English literature. Even then students went for subjects like Art or Fisheries Science rather than literature because no one explained the importance of literature.
    If the curriculum coordinators of English language at EDC probe deeply into this matter, they will believe that literature is a very much needed part of any language. You being a person who is very good in language, why don't you meet up with them and bring out a report about it please? It would be very interesting and informative.
    PS: Glad to see you back in Maldives. We need people like you at the home-front!

  17. and yes you had bring up religion negatively once again in the form of literature! Well done Murthad news!

  18. With experience of hosting several beach parties and dancing parties in the Maldives. I can say that the ticket sales will not move until the very last minute of the event.
    This is one reason why, most of the events held in the maldives are sponsored. So that the event doesn't run on loss.
    Maldivians have the tendency of moving at the very last minutes. Tickets will move maybe 4-5 hrs before the show starts.
    Thats a guarantee.

  19. They should have reached out to local artists and interested people more.

    This is like a festival of the mind for the few who know about it.

    The tone comes off as kind of pompous too =/

    We take what we can get in the Maldives.... I hope the event works out.

    There has yet to be a collective exhibition not centered around some tiny theme exhibiting works of wide range of Maldivian artists, photographers,videographers etc.

    There are so many amazingly talented artists out there.

    It hurts when people say how "there is nothing". Why not have a massive exhibition celebrating all of Maldivian art?

    This is just the famous getting more famous off a gimmick.


Comments are closed.