Four Seasons Saqaafee Vaadha 2012: The serious business of boduberu

Boduberu, a combination of singing, dancing and rhythmic drumming, is held up as one of the most high-profile examples of Maldivian culture.  As an art-form, it is commonly performed before tourists staying at the Maldives’ secluded island resorts as an attempt to give an insight into local culture from the carefree vantage of a high-end holiday.

Yet beyond its significance to the holiday industry and cultural organisations, boduberu is serious business – not least for for the eight teams that on Saturday (September 1)  night contested in this year’s Four Seasons Saqaafee Vaadha tournament on the island of Kamadhoo.

Held barely five minutes by speedboat from one of Baa Atoll’s most high-profile resorts, the tournament saw teams representing the islands of Kendhoo, Kurendhoo, Holhudhoo, Kudafari, Dhivaafaru, Meedhoo, Madduvary and Rasmaadhoo competed for a grand prize of MVR 100,000 to help fund development projects for their respective local communities. A further MVR 10,000 in prize money was also provided to be shared among the winning team’s members.

The competition, organised in association with the Four Seasons resort group and local cultural organisations, was televised live across the nation with a team from the island of Rasmaadhoo being crowned the overall winners, based on the views of a four member panel of judges.

Fazloon Hameed, one of the event’s four judges, explained to Minivan News that significant time had been spent trying to break boduberu down to its “core” components, with each team given a fifteen minute slot to win over the panel with their performances.

“This contest is really a cultural contest, it is not just one thing like the drumming we judge,” he said. “It is the whole culture surrounding boduberu.”

According to Fazloon, a system was devised specifically for the competition that awarded points for the perceived quality of each team’s dancing and music.

“To try and break down this scoring, each judge has a very particular focus. We had one person judging drums, another on singing and another doing dance,” he said. “My role, and what makes the competition different, is to see how the group brings these things together, the cohesion they have as a team.”

Tradition

The competition had previously been held in December last year, and was extended this year to include teams from four different atolls.

While boduberu has remained a popular long-standing tradition in the country, Fazloon added that the tournament did strive to reward innovation among participants, so long as performers did not discard long-standing traditions such as the use of slower beats.

According to the judge, of the five main beats associated with boduberu music, there was concern some slower more traditional rhythms have become less popular in the face of more modern, quicker styles presently favoured by young people.  He stressed concern that it was increasingly important to try and ensure these traditions were preserved by young people.

Fazloon contended that with Maldivian art not having been traditionally afforded a high profile status even within the country, the tourism industry and special events like the Four Seasons Saqaafee Vaadha tournament were playing an important role in keeping traditions alive.

“I think this has been seen in the outcome of the tournament held last year,” he said. “We have noticed that these event and resorts give these groups exposure. Many of these teams have regular performances within the tourism industry, without these appearances, some of these groups might only meet up once a year around competition time.”

For the spectators present on Kamadhoo during the tournament, the event’s rhythms appear infectious as men and women of all ages begin providing their own impromptu performances around the main stage.  At points, the audience grows to a level requiring camera operators and other crew members to navigate around them in order to cover the action on stage.

However, not even the tourists, media representatives and senior Four Seasons management in the audience are safe from boduberu’s informal appeal; who all, at points, find themselves flailing wildly on national television.

Yet despite the potential trauma of public spectacle, Armando Kraenzlin, Regional Vice President and General Manager for Four Seasons Resorts in the Maldives – himself an unofficial participant on stage during the evening – pledged to the audience that the tournament would return in 2013.

“We will be back. We will be bigger and we will be better,” he announced, revealing plans for an even wider national focus in terms of the number of participants for next year’s event.

Beyond the television cameras and the hundreds gathered in the audience, in a quieter corner of Kamadhoo, one person not in attendance was a local shopkeeper called Ibrahim.

Though unable to attend the event himself, from a business view if nothing elsethe shopkeeper said he welcomed the tournament, not least in the temporary boost to his usual customer base of the island’s 500 residents.

Ibrahim said that some 400 spectators from other islands were estimated to have arrived for the competition,  looking for refreshments, areca nuts and cigarettes.

Despite being a one-off event, the shopkeeper claimed that from a wider economic standpoint, the close proximity of the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru resort did have direct impact on the island, with the resort serving as a largest employer for residents.

For the resort company, local broadcasters and many islanders, the tournament appears to have been a PR and organisational success.  However, not everyone appears quite as willing to embrace boduberu so wholeheartedly.

One Maldivian-born media spectator attending the awards admits to Minivan News of having little interest in boduberu in the past, claiming to find its music a little “samey”.

Yet as the tournament drew to a close by the early hours of Sunday, his attitude appeared to have softened somewhat.

“It’s been a great evening and the organisation was fantastic,” he responds.

So, had the experience caused him to consider paying more attention to boduberu in the future?

“Nah,” he responded quickly, returning his attention to a smart phone as the boat pulled away from a Kamadhoo still in the throes of a serious party.

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Sarudhaaru Dhon Maniku: the pioneer of ‘souvenir’ art in the Maldives

Sarudhaaru Dhon Maniku, who often signs his paintings SDM, is considered the pioneer of ‘souvenir art’, or art and craft produced with the primary purpose of selling or gifting it to a tourist.

Also one of the first Maldivians to scuba dive, SDM’s imagination is infused with the colors and rich and varied life forms of the underwater world. The son of a craftsman, SDM was initiated into the trade of craft making and art at an early age. Commissioned by various friends and others, SDM initially produced various gift and craft items. Later on, he was commissioned to produce portraits or copy printed images by the Indian (Bhora) traders who were stationed in Male from the late 1800s until mid 20th century.

SDM was first noticed for his talent and skills during the 10 year period beginning from the end of the reign of Sultan Hassan Noordeen, and the formation of the first republic in 1953 with Mohamed Amin Didi as the first president.

SDM was then a teenager. He recalls President Amin Didi as a great patron of the arts and crafts, and indeed it was he who organised a nationwide arts and crafts fair in the capital for the first time in the history of the country. More generally, the short tenure of Amin Didi’s presidency is also regarded as a period of literary and cultural renaissance.

Even though SDM was noticed for his talents at an early age and in the 1940s and ‘50s, he says it was the advent of tourism in the early1970s that really helped him to carve out a profession in which he could dedicate his skills as an artist and craftsman fully to his profession. The ‘tourist market’, as it became later known, proved to be a lucrative avenue for all aspiring craftsmen, artisans and hopeful artists in the country, and given the rich traditions of craft in the Maldives, this was a welcome development for the country at large.

In the 1980’s more than 20 highly developed craft forms were documented. These ranged from coir rope-making from coconut husk, to weaving mats from a variety of dried grass and then coloring it with natural dies, to intricate and exquisite looking lacquer ware and expensive jewellery made from gold and silver.

By coincidence, the year SDM was born was also the year the French Impressionist painter Monet died. And during the course of SDM’s life, Europe experienced the trends of Modernism, DADA, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Post-Modernist art.

While it may be futile to interpret SDM’s works through the prisms of these aesthetic and stylistic trends, it’s interesting to note that SDM’s works exhibit many qualities of these very trends of which he may never have known about first hand.

SDM as a young man

Perhaps more importantly, SDM admits he always strived to make something that maybe of use; admiration of aesthetical beauty being one of these uses. Additionally, he also meticulously documented the shells and fishes commonly found in the Maldivian reefs and lagoons. One of the first series of posters depicting shells and fishes of the Maldives was illustrated by SDM, which is still in print and published by Novelty Printers and Publishers Maldives.

Apart from the sheer output of his work over a period of several decades (SDM is now in his late eighties), what is most apparent in SDM’s long career are the different media he has mastered over time. This includes the pencil, water, acrylic and oil colors as well as sculpting and carving. In addition to this, he has also consistently demonstrated a knack for invention, often experimenting with different materials and techniques, and continuing even today. Senior Maldives artist Ahmed Abbas has commented on SDM; “Dhonbe is a great artist, especially his underwater scenes have something special and great about them. He has applied color to great effect. Even when we were kids, Dhonbe was a renowned artist .”

In recognition of SDM’s contribution to Maldivian culture and to celebrate his achievements in the arts, the National Art Gallery of the Maldives commissioned him in 2005 to produce a series of works for the permanent collection of the gallery. Some of these works are also now exhibited in the Maldivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Maldivian embassies abroad, and others are displayed at the gallery in temporary exhibitions.

The Gallery also commissioned a book documenting the life of SDM which was published in 2009 in Dhivehi, and an English translation is due to be published in 2012.

SDM lives at his home in Male and continues to produce paintings, handcrafted objects and other items such as hand painted greeting cards and says he is very content with the life he has lived. He continues to be an inspiration to younger generations of artists and is one of the most prized individuals in the country.

Mamduh Waheed is Deputy Minister for Tourism Arts and Culture. He is also a writer on Maldivian art and has written several reviews and essays for catalogs, and was curator of the National Art Gallery from 2004 to 2009.

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Internet expands opportunities for Maldivian artists

Opportunities for Maldivian artists have been expanded by the Maldivian Artists Directory, an internet platform for artists to share, showcase and market their talents and interests. The directory was developed by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture with the support of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) Male office and the National Centre for the Arts (NCA).

Artists who meet directory criteria may register on-line with a resume and contact information. Criteria vary by artistic category, and may include publication to an internet forum and community involvement. Artistic categories are performing, music, literary, visual and traditional.

“We believe the Directory will also provide opportunities for artists to better market themselves and their products as well as seek interested audiences and those wishing to commission artworks or invest in arts projects,” the ministry said in a press release.

The ministry intends for the directory to “help in defining a distinct Maldivian identity as manifest in the arts practices and traditions of the Maldives, both old and contemporary,” while making these cultural aspects more accessible to tourists.

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture recently joined International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACC), a network connection arts councils and ministries worldwide.

In June this year, the Arts Development Fund was set up by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury. Criteria to award funding and other support was also set up, and the ministry will be helping local artists organize fund raisers.

Plans for an arts council are underway, however the ministry has delayed submitting the act stipulating these plans to Parliament “because of the present climate which we foresee as more conducive later in the year.”

The ministry has asked President Mohamed Nasheed to appoint a council with the minister’s advice. Of the appointments, however, those for theatre and drama, film making, literature, visual arts, music and crafts will be appointed independently.

Applications for the directory are available on-line.

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Maldives to sign UNESCO convention to protect country’s intangible heritage

The Maldives will participate in the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a UNESCO programme established in 2008. It is already a participant in the World Heritage Convention and the Cultural Diversity Convention.

The proposal to join the convention was made by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, and was approved at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.

“We have had no effort to safeguard either tangible or intangible cultural heritage in the Maldives,” said Minister of State for Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Naseer. “It is very easy to see things like poetry, music, language, and dance disappear if they are not practiced. We need to have a law enacted to outline these practices.”

A draft of the new legislation is before Parliament, and Naseer hopes it will be passed before the end of the year.

UNESCO defines ‘intangible cultural heritage’ as “practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” The convention states that cultural elements must be protected by local and international communities.

Some aspects of intangible cultural heritage in the Maldives have been overshadowed by religious scholars, “or individuals who claim to be religious scholars,” said Naseer. “For example, some performing arts, especially on local islands, have come to a stop because of religion. It’s a problem of interpretation,” he said.

Naseer noted that the Maldives seeks to gain expertise and guidance from UNESCO, but that “the aspect of money is not the priority.” He said training Maldivians in cultural preservation was one priority.

Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mamduh Waheed, said protecting cultural heritage would improve tourism in the Maldives. “We have a market for the natural aspect of the Maldives, and now we will be able to add cultural attractions and destinations. I think it will draw tourists interested in cultural conservation,” said Waheed.

Waheed noted that this is the third UNESCO cultural convention that the Maldives has been involved in.

Other non-government organizations (NGOs) have shown interest in the convention, claimed Naseer. International NGOs are expected to be involved in the research and design process. The involvement of local NGOs is less clear.

“Local NGOs have been coming into the forefront lately, but not many NGOs cover this material,” said Naseer. “I feel there’s a huge gap when it comes to safeguarding heritage in the NGO sector. It will take some time.”

Over 130 countries are signed participants in the convention. The convention’s stated purposes are to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage; to ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned; to raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of importance of the intangible cultural heritage, and of ensuring mutual appreciation thereof; and to provide for international cooperation and assistance.

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Six surfing legends compete for trophy in inaugural Maldives comp

Australian surf legend Mark ‘Occy’ Occhilupo narrowly defeated seven-times female world champion Layne Beachley yesterday in the single fin division of the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy.

Beachley knocked out two-time world champion Damien Hardman in the semi-final, while Occy defeated world longboard champion Josh Constable to go on to face Beachley.

The first day of the invitational event saw the six surf legends – Occy, Beachley, Constable, and Hardman, as well as four-time world champion Mark Richards and Nat Young, compete at the Sultans break near Four Season’s Kuda Huraa resort.

“This morning I surfed with Mark Richards and I kept on falling off in front of him and he said ‘I’m hexing you’, but it was the pressure of competing against my idol,” said Occy, following his win.

Speaking to Minivan News between heats, Beachley explained that it was unusual for female surfers to compete against men at such an elite level of the sport.

“The ability and depth of skill has really improved in women’s surfing and has helped bridge the gap in performance [at the professional level], but it’s not really fair to pit a lightweight boxer against a heavyweight,” she said. “One big difference is that our hips get in the way when we turn – it’s an anatomical disadvantage. It’s not a worry for recreational surfers but it matters at a professional level because women can never have the technical finesse of the top guys.”

Despite the camaraderie between the champions there was, Beachley noted, a very strong competitive undercurrent.

“When you’re surrounded by world champions there is a mutual respect because we know what it takes, but when we’re paddling out no one’s there to lose,” she said.

“It’s very competitive. No guy wants to lose to a girl. The boys are amped. Their pumped up, even if they’re pretending to play it down.”

Female professional surfers, Beachley observed, tended to take not just the sport but also their responsibility as role models for other female surfers very seriously, and most were “well-spoken ambassadors.”

Beachley herself was on a board at Manly beach in Sydney Australia by age four, competing in mens heats at 15 and turning professional just a year later. By the age of 20 she was ranked sixth in the world, and in 1998 went on to win the world championship for six consecutive years.

“I always took pride in training harder than anyone else. I would be doing boxing, swimming, dune running, weights and yoga. I had a very strict cross-training regime,” she told Minivan News.

Beachley's husband, INXS sax/guitarist Kirk Pengilly, gives his wife a quick massage between waves

Asked about developing the female surfing scene in the Maldives, Beachley suggested that female surfers should “band together, and make sure the guys understand that girls have as much right to be in the water as them. Then work your way up the food chain. Don’t cry victim, it’s not the best way to get respect. Instead show tenacity and confidence and let the guys know it.”

Beginner surfers, she noted, faced not just the technical challenges of learning the sport but also the unspoken etiquette and rules that could only be passed on by other surfers.

“Beginner surfers really need to utilise a surf school,” Beachley said, “not only to because they teach the fundamentals but also the unspoken etiquette. One of the problems with surfing is that the rules are unspoken.”

In contrast to many famously territorial surf destinations, Beachley said the Maldives had a reputation for hospitality and the breaks for being “playful, fun, user friendly, more relaxing and peaceful than places like Indonesia and Tahiti.”

The country’s reef breaks, she said, were more predictable than beach breaks in that they followed a certain shape, and were easier to read.

“With beaches you have to quickly adapt to changes. The advantage to a beach break is that a sandy bottom is softer to land on,” she laughed.

Local surfer ‘Bongo’ was on hand during the Four Seasons competition to help out with conditions.

“Sultans is a right-hander, a very good wave for beginners and intermediate surfers. It has an easy takeoff and a slow first section, with time for 1-2 turns, and a nice barrel inside. On a big day it’s still a challenge. I like hollow right-handers, because I’m a natural footer,” he said.

The day saw offshore winds and 2-3 foot waves, “clean and glassy”, according to Bongo.

The competition, he predicted, would be “good for tourism” given the international publicity the big names would generate.

“Apart from that, we’re lucky to be out here seeing the legends of surfing ripping,” he said.

The Maldives has “2-3 guys like Ibu and Issay who might be able to bust a few aerial maneuvers and maybe challenge these guys, but Occy is tough competition,” he said.

“There’s also the matter of the handicap in the scoring system – older guys get more time in the heats, so I reckon the younger surfers stand no chance.”

He acknowledged that the Maldives had few female surfers dedicated to the sport, “which is really sad.”

“We’ve had a few girls try out, and some of them did very well. The problem is that it’s not easy for them to be out surfing every day, and you take a lot of bumps in a shallow reef break. All surf breaks in the Maldives are reef breaks, which makes it difficult for beginners.”

Despite the laid-back reputation of the sport, surfing remains largely a male-dominated sport with a reputation for being fiercely territorial and hostile for beginners. This was less of a problem in the Maldives given the seclusion of most breaks and the country’s dependence on tourism, he suggested.

“The locals are much more laid back than other places like Hawaii or South Africa, you don’t see scenes like the Hui or Black Shorts here. It’s mainly because all these breaks are secluded and the country is dependent on tourism – everyone is really friendly,” Bongo said.

Dhonveli’s Pasta Point and Huduranfushi’s breaks were exclusive for tourists, he said, “although if we want to surf them we just need to give the resorts a ring and ask. There’s no problem for local surfers.”

Modern surfing was famously introduced to the Maldives by Australian national Tony Hussain Hind, who was shipwrecked in the country but on his departure saw so many perfect surf breaks that he turned around and made the Maldives his home.

“He introduced modern surfing, but before that locals would body surf using planks of wood,” Bongo said. “Really, the full history of surfing in the Maldives is unknown.”

The Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy continues over the next few days with the double fin and triple fin events.

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Addu-based arts camp targets overturning Maldives’ cultural limitations

This week will see the continuation of a ten-day International Artist’s Camp that organisers claim will for the first time bring together figures from both Indian and Maldivian society to try and overcome concerns about cultural limitations across the country’s atolls.

The camp, which has been organised by local association the United Artists of Maldives (UAM) and the High Commission of India, Male’, will see 14 artists – five from India and nine from the Maldives – gathering in Gan, Addu Atoll between 10 March to 21 March.

The project has been devised in order to produce a body of work expected to be put on show in Male’ as well as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the UAM has said.

Indian artists like Saurabh Narang and Gurdheep Singh Dhiman will join together with young artists from across the Maldives to collaborate and attempt to raise the profile of both their own artistic work and the cultural output of the nation as a whole. Other similar events are expected to be held around the region at later dates, the UAM said.

Speaking at the launch of the camp on Thursday 10 March in Male’, Mohamed Solih, honorary counsul of thailand in the Maldives and a UAM patron, said that although it may not always be apparent, “art is everywhere” and served to demonstrate how ideas can come in many forms, whether detailing happenings in the past, present or the future.

“However, it is sad to note that art and cultural activities are lacking in many areas. Budget cuts in the schools have impacted [these activities,” said Solih. “It is therefore important for all art lovers to unite and promote [culture] around the country.”

Solih said that in order to try and promote cultural pursuits in the Maldives, it was important to speak to people who did not understand the value of art and try to point out that music and reading material that were part of many people’s lives were all products of an artists’ vision.

“All of us know that arts are of equal value in our economy. In our schools and in our daily lives this is not a popular stance,“ he claimed. “Yet with some studies showing that music helps with learning and visual arts helps students with abstract thinking, this argument needs to be voiced over again. I am only one voice; but when one voice though is joined with many more, the effect is significantly increased.”

Using some artistic flourishes of his own, Indian artist Saurabh Narang said that he believed that like a seed, a nation’s art needed to be “nurtured and supported”.

Taking the Maldives’ natural assets as an example, Narang added that in flying into the country, the aerial views of blue depths and deep waters afforded by the experience were a powerful way to spark imagination.

In looking at the impacts of the art camp, Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar Mulay claimed that the event was a historic development in the Maldives, particularly in how the nation perceived itself politically and socially.

“Political histories are always documented, but the social histories and, more important than that, the cultural histories are not always documented,” he said. “Culture is the true soul of humanity and unless the soul is solid, healthy, no revolution of any kind can be sustained.”

In trying to strengthen this notion of “soul”, Mulay said he believed that artists, musicians, painters, and performers of various instruments and arts were a key part of national identity.

“I’m very happy that the movement of democracy that started in the Maldives is now taking its true shape by spreading cultural values,” he said.

However, Mulay said that he had wished to see a stronger presence from the Maldives Government at the event, whose support was praised as being very important in raising the profile of cultural identity among the people of the Maldives.

“Personally I wish there was a more formal and stronger presence from the government, particularly the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, which has been a very important part of a partnership and cooperation to move forward,” he said. “I hope the message will get through that we do value their support.”

With the current Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Dr Mariyam Zulfa away on business in Berlin at the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) trade show, a unnamed source within her office had said it had therefore been impossible to attend.

However, beyond the ministry pursuing its own cultural and artistic programmes, the same source said that with a number of civil servants such as Ahmed Naeem being important members of the UAM, it was difficult for any involvement without raising suspicions of a “conflict of interests”.

Nonetheless, President Mohamed Nasheed last week addressed the significance of art and culture, as well as how the government hoped to nurture it, as part of his 2011 opening parliamentary address.

The president claimed that on the back of events like the Hay Maldives literary festival being held in the country for the first time last year, the government was looking to try and develop local skills and talent with the aid of an Arts Council and Heritage Council during 2011.

Beyond the possible challenges facing the government in pursuing the promotion and developments of arts and culture in the Maldives, other sectors of society such as religion are also an important part of understanding national identity.

Ibrahim Nazim, a co-founder of religious NGO, the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) told Minivan News that when it came to the role of art in a strongly Islamic nation like the Maldives, the organisation personally had a very specific view of culture in the country.

“What I would say is that our [the IFM’s] stand is that we see more western types of music, such as those involving guitars and other instruments as being discouraged under Islam,” he said. “Some forms [of music] may be permitted. Such as using instruments like hand drums. But generally we believe music is discouraged”

Nazim said that in areas such as visual arts, the IFM also held some reservations, such as in films where false names or false identities were being assumed by actors.

“These are things we see as being discouraged in Islam,” he said.

Nazim added though that there were forms of arts that were welcomed as important parts of Islamic faith, not least in the guise of architecture and scripts carved into walls and wood that he believed were very beautiful.

“There have been Muslim artists in fields such as architecture and these are most welcome,” he said. “We welcome forms of art provided that it does not resemble any Christian forms [of culture]”.

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Private groups sought for local heritage promotion

Private parties are being sought by the government to aid in the conservation and promotion of historical sites across the country, according to news reports.

Haveeru has reported that a total of 68 sites, including Utheemu Palace and the Ihavandhoo Hirigalu Mosque in Haa Alif Atoll, the Matheerashu coffin, the National Museum and a host of historical mosques, will all be included in the plan.

The country’s Heritage Department, which is linked to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, said that the decision was made due to growing demand and interest among the public.

December 15 has been set as a deadline for private groups wishing to express an interest to the Heritage Department in supporting the programme, the paper added.

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Comment: The Maldives must value arts education

My first attempt at promoting Arts in Maldives was in 1999 when I opened SALAAM School, because I believed in the importance and significance of art in education and the potential development of people.

The discovery of talents and skills in Maldivians such as voice, and the ability to play an instrument without learning the theory, took Maldivians by surprise and a wave of pride and surge of energy swept through the 70s and into the 90s – the era of self discovery and connection to innerself.

The truth was that inspired by Hindi movies with beautiful traditions of dance and song, and the Western groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and later by Olympians, Amazon Jade and Quicksand, the Maldivian people discovered a new world that brought joy and connection to their very souls through a new form of expression.

Artists then were revered, Olympus hall unfailingly filled up, and people sang along to the radio. Jeymu Dhonkama’s songs struck the heart of the young and old alike. The two discos, house parties, two cinemas, stages for concerts and plays, traditional dance groups performing on the roads during Eid, dressing up for festivities, carnivals with acrobats and beauty competitions, imported circuses and music bands had Male’ swinging into the early 80s.

New Maldivian artists, new forms of art and new opportunities developed to a peak in the early 90s and slowly started receding because as the Maldives entered the era of the nineties, political control on whatever brought people together was held in check.

Then returned the Islamic-educated ‘scholars’, adamant to put a stop to all forms of performing arts and visual images.

Both the intentions, one for political purpose and the other to spread the new messages of Islam, coincided perfectly, brutally fragmenting and replacing the hopes of the Maldivians with confusion, fear and disconnection within themselves, within families and within communities.

A country with a strong artistic profile is an indication of progression, the expression of its people and the freedom to express how they experience life. The following paragraph sums up the importance of Arts in Education and in our lives.

“The Arts are an essential part of public education. From dance and music to theatre and the visual arts, the arts give children a unique means of expression, capturing their passions and emotions, and allowing them to explore new ideas, subject matter, and cultures. They bring us joy in every aspect of our lives.

“Arts education not only enhances students’ understanding of the world around them, but it also broadens their perspective on traditional academics. The arts give us the creativity to express ourselves, while challenging our intellect. The arts integrate life and learning for all students and are integral in the development of the whole person.”

Schools in the Maldives never catered to the needs of the creative aspect in young people because the government institutions concerned with Education and Art, as well as Youth, had Ministers who were ignorant of what Arts mean to children’s and the community’s development.

On the other hand, art and culture is always at the end of the list all over the world, when it comes to education and budgets.

School of Arts, Languages and Music was abbreviated to ‘S’ for School, ‘A’ for Arts, ‘LA’ for Languages ‘AM’ for ‘And MUSIC’, thus giving the name SALAAM (appropriately meaning peace) to SALAAM School.

It had 400 registered students and over 200 youth volunteers when it started. What attracted such a crowd?

The school was nurturing the blessed gift of creativity and supporting young people to bring it out and express it. Youth in 2000 roamed the streets of Male’ as aimlessly as they do today. However, the youth that joined hands with SALAAM School disqualified the negative brand attached to youth (then as even today) through discipline, leadership and commitment that surprised the Home Minister Umar Zahir in 2000 during the first philharmonic and youth orchestra concert at the Social Center.

The Maldives needs a comprehensive and high quality arts education. The passivity we see in children, the nonparticipation in our youth and the lack of ability to bridge difference and solve conflicts in our adults can be caused by the lack of a most significant vehicle in our society: arts to “express the inexpressible and the unbearable”.

Music and dance and visual art forms are a unifying force and the only dialogue without argument. It bridges across races, sex, age, nationality, language, culture and even emotions and conflicts.

Arts hold communities together and through celebrations which are always combined with music, and usually dance, creates the good feelings and binds people despite personal differences. Any form of art enhances our lives.

Why do young children learn better with techniques of art? Why do children remember rhymes and songs? Why do all the countries in the world have National Anthems expressed in melody and lyrics?

The truth is that the impact of music is powerful and transforms emotional experience to learning enhancing the likelihood that something will be remembered. Art always leaves an impression.

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his/her vision wherever it takes him/her.”

The dream of any person to be an artist or to integrate art into his/her life must be taken seriously. We must have singers, song writers, composers, actors, actresses, dancers, and visual artists in our communities without being labeled but supported through schools, theatres, concert halls, galleries, clubs etc, and last but not least, art-specific educational programs and trained teachers.

We need arts advocacy groups and associations supported by funding, artist support, and materials to continuously enrich the environments of our communities. These activities and people help to shape the culture of our communities.

“The arts reflect profoundly the most democratic credo, the belief in an individual vision or voice”.

Today there are factions of Maldivians who believe that artists should not be encouraged and there are stories of confrontations, threats and attacks. This happened to SALAAM School in 2000.

The school was vandalised in October 2000. Paint was thrown into the corridors, liquid soap onto the walls and the petals of the fans bent so that they touch each other at the tips. The school was under attack and labeled in the media as ‘spreading Christianity’. Miadhu explicitly wrote on April 22, 2010: “Anyone who has studied in the Arabian Peninsula should know that missionaries have been using the word “Salaam” to spread Christianity. After six months when the cat was out of the bag, Maumoon had no choice but to close the school which he opened with his very own hands.”

Was it the word “SALAAM” or the teaching of arts that was the measure to identify Christian missionaries?

The reason behind the vandalism will never be known. Was it political or was it the believers of the new Islamic movement? There was every attempt to stop anything that brought people together, and SALAAM School was attracting many young people to one place.

One comment from a staff of the Ministry of Education (2000) expressed regret at how the Ministry of Education had obstructed SALAAM school’s functioning. He said that if the intention was to obstruct SALAAM School, it should not have been allowed in the first place.

SALAAM School did not close but stayed dormant a few years, digesting a financial loss but growing stronger in conviction. Today, SALAAM School continues developing people of all ages, especially youth, believing in their potential and giving them dignity by guiding them and leaving them a choice to walk their own path.

SALAAM School’s first mission is on hold, the arts school will happen.

Each day is a new scene, a new painting, a new song, a new play, and a new dance, and each day brings new hope to one or more youth who passes through SALAAM School. Maldives is our stage.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.

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