Young Maldivians ensure Hay is made in the sunshine

Hay Festival organisers were last night pondering how to get festival-goers dancing to French DJ Ravin, who was blending electronic fusion with distinctly local bodu-beru rhythms for an appreciative crowd shuffling around the outskirts of the dance floor.

“Ask MNBC to stop broadcasting live,” suggested a nearby young Maldivian.

It was like flicking a switch. Almost immediately a horde of youngsters formed a mosh pit and raved for three solid hours in what was no doubt one of the most energetic parties ever seen on the presidential retreat of Aarah.

As they hooted and cheered his name, Ravin could be seen on stage shaking his head with amazement at what was probably one of the DJ’s most enthusiastic audiences.

Ravin’s set was the finale of two days of literary and cultural events – the Maldives’ first major literature festival – with authors and artists international and local discussing their work and craft. The attendance and involvement of young people was particularly noticeable, as were the many families relaxing and playing in the sunshine.

Reassuringly for the authors, the on-site bookshop did a roaring trade with queues for book signings. Jung Chang’s Wild Swans and Ian McEwan’s Solar were particularly popular, and young Maldivians were observed tottering around Aarah underneath huge stacks of tomes freshly-purchased and those brought from home to be signed. Judging the look of exhaustion on McEwan’s face in the green room after his signing session, every McEwan novel in the country now has a signature.

Despite a slow beginning – less than 10 tickets were sold on the first day they went on sale – huge last minute demand forced organisers to issue 200 more tickets for both days. Such was the last minute demand that a brisk black market trade sprang up, with tickets purchased for Rf100 being sold at the Aarah ferry queue for up to Rf300.

Climate change was a distinctive theme of the event. Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam announced that the Maldives has applied to UNESCO to declare the entirety of Baa Atoll a protected biosphere reserve, while the President’s advisor on climate change Mark Lynas spoke on the challenges facing the government’s 10 year road to carbon neutrality.

A Hay-goer in a modern interpretation of traditional Maldivian dress

Monty Don, President of the UK-based Soil Association and an early proponent of organic food, spoke of the need for populations to source their food locally, while award-winning foreign correspondent Peter Godwin spoke of the political and social decline of his homeland Zimbabwe at the hands of Robert Mugabe.

Jung Chang, author of the internationally acclaimed novel Wild Swans and autobiography Mao: The Untold Story, spoke about her experiences growing up amid the cultural revolution, joining Mao’s Red Guard, and her growing understanding of his brutality.

Ian McEwan finished the lineup, introducing his climate change satire Solar about a Nobel prize-winning and climate scientist and womaniser who discovers how to cheaply extract hydrogen from water using photosynthesis.

Hay Festival Project Director Andy Fryers said he was delighted at the reception to the sell-out festival, “particularly the exuberance of the crowd once they realised what Hay was about.”

“One of the speakers said it was fantastic that there was such a youthful and questioning audience. People were really engaged,” Fryers said.

A key challenge of the festival was introducing the concept of a lecture – sitting and listening to a speaker and then opening the session up a debate – which was a new idea for the Maldives, Fryers said, if one that was eagerly embraced.

Other challenges included ensuring that a wide-range of people were brought on board, and that the event was “inclusive, not exclusive.”

“It was amazing to see 60-70 young volunteers appear virtually out of the ground and put in hours of their own time to make it happen,” he added.

Ian McEwan and Peter Godwin speaking at Hay

The Hay organisers have begun talking about ideas for a possible repeat of the festival next year.

“We always say we try to give a new destination three years, unless something catastrophic happens, to capitalise on all the hard work of the first year,” Fryers said. “We’ve already started talking about how to take the idea forward in the Maldives.”


15 thoughts on “Young Maldivians ensure Hay is made in the sunshine”

  1. Thanks for the article.... As a Maldivian living abroad,minivan news is a sole source of current affairs in elgish...and I am an avid and regular reader.I have been following news of theHay Festivalfro. Your site and waiting enthusiastically until there was one article that was very critical of the festival and announcing that nobodyisbuying tickets.... However,later I was informed by someone in the country said that the Azra that had written the piece had spend years abroad and wrote the article in a rush so as to make an impression on her new employers. It also seemed a bit rash to say that nobody was buying tickets on the days the tickets were made available for sale.all good in the end. Great work and I am happy for the youth of he country.


  2. Hay Festival had every element of a growing modern and civilized society. People respected each other, people mingled, free discussion took place, barriers were broken down. Remarkably people respected the garbage bins too.

    It was an intelligent way of helping people expose to new ideas. Just doing the right thing leaves room for differences of opinion without being offended.

    I wonder how it would be possible to get the larger Maldives involved. It should be considered for the next event to provide transport fro further islands or then the event is in another atoll but through good planning reachable to a larger or broader audience. I simply loved every minute of it. Thank you to those who organized and those who partricipated

  3. a day for dark cloudy days to come! a day to loose much of out traditional culture and more!

  4. had a good time at hay.. enjoyed well... thanks for the volunteers/organizers for making the hay success.

    Hope to see this peaceful beautiful culture next time. This has proved that we Maldivians are capable of being nice to each/ respect people and live in peace.
    cheers and hugs.

  5. what is the moral of this artical. to let us know whether we had a DJ at Aarah..??

  6. Sounds awesome 😀

    I hope this paves the way for more events; especially ones that reach out more.

    Tons more picture here by Maapu

    "A key challenge of the festival was introducing the concept of a lecture – sitting and listening to a speaker and then opening the session up a debate – which was a new idea for the Maldives, Fryers said, if one that was eagerly embraced."

    Haha what?

    Dhivehin have been doing that for centuries. On a lot of islands even these days people gather in the evening near the sea to just talk about things.

  7. This is nothing but part of mockery going about Maldives as a nation by President Nasheed and his teams. They don't want we should inherit anything be it culture or language as it is.

  8. in Maldives hay is made where the sun never shines. some maldivians are so fond of this hay they make their wives wear costumes to appear like pyramid-like piles of walking hay.

  9. How was Hay festival? It turned out a great picnic after all. It was rather boring during daytime. I had to listen to some folks talking. And that is all there was. So I just wandered around with my gf. I've really wanted to go to Aarah coz i've heard so much about how the ex-president had tree-houses there. It was awesome. Some of my friends had joined the trip. We managed to get a spot for ourselves away from the talking people. We played faiga-thalha. It was fun. But the ending DJ was the best part. I wish it was done every night. I hope next year it will be more fun with more music and games.

  10. Compared to all the comments we see on articles, i see that this one has lots of positive feed back.
    It makes me realize that Hay festival was a success and our youth actually enjoyed the literary sessions and the music too.
    And wish Maldives will have more of such events. All the best.


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