The Hay Festival at Aarah last weekend left in me a kind of excitement – a life force that gives one the ‘WOW!’ experience.
It is not the first time I have been to festivals such as these, but the fact that it happened here in my country made the difference. It was happy, colourful and full of emotional intensity.
The Hay Festival at Aarah had every element of a growing modern and civilised society. People respected each other, people mingled, free discussion took place, and barriers were broken down. Remarkably people respected the garbage bins too.
It was an intelligent way of helping expose people to new ideas. Just doing the right thing leaves room for differences of opinion without being offended.
The purpose of such a festival is more than presentations and discussions. It is about nurturing culture, networking and creating new friendships and strengthening old ones. It is about feeling connected, and much more.
People went to the Festival for different reasons. Some went simply out of curiosity and others went for the programs. Maybe some went simply to be part of a social event. Whatever the reason, I am sure many experienced more than the reason they went for.
The Maldives is a place where foreigners and locals do not socialise, although they do interact with each other on work issues. In fact many foreigners are given the feeling that they should be careful about mingling with Maldivians. Very few Maldivians actually mingle with foreigners, and vice versa. I saw that the festival helped bring them closer.
It is great that Aarah is open to these kind of events. I felt that this helped to lessen the gap between the country’s political leadership and the people, making them more accessible. It opened up new possibilities. Hopefully there will be more events taking place. There are so many themes that can be worked on.
What impressed me were also the youth and the strong voices that rang out. I like to see them stand up and express who they are. At the end of it all, it is up to the people to fully use these kind of events to integrate into society.
There were a couple of things that did not work out for me personally. An expatriate speaker on the stage did use unacceptable discriminatory language, that was insensitive and harmful and generalised a whole country.
Speakers must be careful not to address a country and its people in such a forum, whatever his personal opinion may be.
The transport in the evening caused some inconveniences, forcing people to stay on until late and for those who had no option other than the late ferry, miss out on some important presentations at 7:00pm on the Saturday.
The last comment in this direction were the last minute changes in the program. There was one presentation on the Kalaafaanu manuspcripts I had planned to attend, only to find out it had taken place on Friday. This disappointed me.
Festivals are important for people
All festivities have many things in common. It had colour, gaiety, participation, prayers and rituals. Festivals arise from the need to congregate and are based on traditions and practices handed down by ancestors.
The ultimate benefit of a festival is the shared experience of those who participate. This reinforces the social bonds between the groups who celebrate the festival and shows strength and solidarity to those outside this social group.
Most festivals were connected to sacred events or celebrated independence. Most modern festivals are created to meet a social need or to show and share creativity and messages through various forms of arts.
In countries with different religions and different ethnic groups, festivals are celebrated by everyone irrespective of whatever religion is involved, because of common elements in the culture and the need to be one nation.
For example, India is a society of many religions and there are a lot of festivals. For the Hindus there is Diwali, for the Muslims there is Eid, for the Christians there is Christmas and for the Parsis it’s the New Year. Apart from all these days there are two other days that are celebrated by all Indians irrespective of cast, creed or sex: yes, the January 26 and August 15, Republic day and Independence Day.
The endangered Maldivian festivals
The Maldivian festivals which used to be celebrated with a lot of joy and colour have been disappearing over the years.
The most notable of these festivities were Kuda Eid and Eid-ul Al’haa and the month long Ramazan which combined Maldivian culture (food, dance and music) and religious rituals.
All these celebrations in their pure non-commercialised forms were spiritual exercises and a strengthening tool of cultural identification. The Prophet Mohamed’s birthday was celebrated with people visiting each other’s houses and eating Maldivian food and visit to the mosques for the special prayers.
History shows that Maldivian island communities came together to celebrate child births, naming ceremonies, the coming of age, and marriages. The other festivals celebrated the Maldivian independence and autonomy. They are national celebrations.
The scales have changed. The festivals mentioned above have handed down the traditions and values that were part of the Maldivian cultural identity. These norms are disappearing due to different opinions and rationalisation of different interest groups in the country, coupled with intentions of religious, political and business organisations.
This trend in the Maldives is leading people to lose their connection with each other. The younger generations are being robbed of their Maldivian heritage, as are the less financially able who are losing the opportunity to participate in social life, and last but not least, a whole country is losing their cultural identity.
Back to the Hay Festival
The Hay Festival falls into the modern form of festivals that are thematically based. It gave people the opportunity to participate and fill in the gaps in knowledge of the Maldivian heritage and culture. It gave people the opportunity to contribute to important issues and understand the Maldivian contexts in Maldivian literature and play a participatory role in the evolving Maldivian story.
It took ‘Maldivian’ beyond food, music and dance and rituals. It helped people enter and explore the depths of the Maldivian heritage blending common global issues that affects Maldivians and will impact the Maldivian lives and help reflect on where we came from and where we are going. The broader participation will enrich our culture and help the nation to grow.
In conclusion, as Shobhaa De’ put it so well at the Hay Festival, if you disconnect from the society, the society will disconnect you. So I really hope to see more Maldivians taking these opportunities, and more families and more young people.
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