Addu Cultural Centre promotes arts in plan for progress

As Addu moves forward with SAARC preparations, local artists are also recommending a look at the past.

The Addu Cultural Center is the first historical replica village in the region, and the second in the Maldives. Founders Saifulla Hameed, Ibrahim Fariq and Min Haj said it serves three purposes: to respect the elderly, to remind the youth, and to introduce tourists to Maldivian heritage.

“Even now, people are visiting the center,” said Project Director Hameed. “They are shocked when they see this replica of how Maldivians lived years ago. For the older generation who remember this lifestyle, it’s like traveling back in time, and they are especially happy to see this. We also plan to invite schools to educate the young people.”

Construction of the center began six months ago, and is due for completion in time for the SAARC Summit, which starts on November 10.

The center includes seven buildings made from palm materials: a blacksmith, a living area, a bathroom, a 60-year-old koda dhoni, a kitchen, a school and a historical display room. A garden is also being cultivated. Buildings are furnished with original artifacts. Local crafts will be sold in one display building as souvenirs.

As SAARC approaches, the centre’s finishing touches are being made during any possible moment.

“It is hard to work because most people are preparing for the summit, but we work at night or during the day, when people are available,” said Hameed.

Project Partner Ibrahim Firaq began collecting artifacts at age 16; he is now 47. The Cultural Centre is the first opportunity he has had to make use of his collection.

“It was one of my dreams to put the collection on public display. I can’t even sleep, I am so eager to open this place,” he said.

Firaq’s collection includes coal-blowers, traditional cookware, rope bed frames, boat building tools and more. Many items, such as colonial clocks, European pottery and Arab tea and coffee pots, indicate the importance of international trade to the Maldives.

The collection will be used by a team of 20 staff who will “live” in the village.

“We have been training these workers to work, live and behave appropriately to illustrate a traditional lifestyle,” said Hameed. “The elderly picked it up easily, since many have actually lived like this when they were younger. But the younger workers need training.”

Hameed said he had developed the concept years ago, but applications for funding were previously rejected. Recent council elections and SAARC preparations paved the way for funding and expansion.

The centre is privately funded, and supplemented by a government contribution. Hameed said growing interest in developing Addu as a tourist destination has made the centre more significant.

“People staying at resorts have nice food and activities, but there isn’t much to see on those islands. Now, with more paved roads and things to see in Addu, there will be more reason to come here,” said Hameed, who looks forward to the attention that Addu is expected to receive during and after SAARC.

Addu atoll features a mere two resorts and two local hotels; council officials called accommodation a development priority. Mayor Abdullah Sodiq however said Addu offers unique opportunities for tourism within the Maldives.

“Addu is unlike other areas in that it offers places to visit. The remains of the British royal air force can be of interest to Europeans, and the Commonwealth War Grave is interesting to Commonwealth countries,” said Sodiq. “We also offer a protected marine area, as well as excellent diving.”

The Cultural Centre’s team also reported local interest in opening art galleries, crafts markets and Maldivian restaurants.

Haj said Addu should use the new convention center for more than just business events.

“Right now, Addu needs more accommodation to really host big conventions. I’m not sure that they’ll get more than two events a year. They should use the center for exhibitions, concerts or plays,” he suggested.

Few Maldivian schools boast artistic and cultural studies as a strong point. The government, however, has taken steps to foster cultural awareness.

Maldives Hulhevi Media Project recently began the first digital recording and documentary of the traditional Buruni Ballad, funded by the United States Embassy.

In September, the government announced plans to sign the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mamduh Waheed, said at the time that 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,” he observed.

Recently, a UN State of the World report found that over half of the global population was under the age of 25. One-quarter of the Maldives’ population is aged between 15 and 24, with a quarter of the young men and half of the young women reported as unemployed.

Vice President of the Maldives Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan recommended creating more job opportunities in the atolls.

Deputy Minister of Finance Haifa Naeem said it was important to “diversify jobs to attract the youth market, in fields such as arts and culture.”

The SAARC summit will be preceded by several days of festivities by local and international dance, music and sports groups.


Addu grows roots with SAARC preparations

“This is the foundation of Addu’s development,” said Addu’s mayor Abdullah Sodiq, referring to the city’s SAARC preparations during a press conference held in Hithadhoo yesterday. He said the projects had been supported by “99 percent” of Addu residents.

Maldivian media was flown to Addu yesterday to observe preparations for the upcoming 17th annual SAARC Summit, scheduled for November 10-12. Festivities will be held in the area starting on the first of the month, in conjunction with the Muslim holiday of Eid.

“We are expecting a lot of traffic through here, and are confident that everything will be ready in time,” Sodiq said. “But this is only the beginning, and we have many more plans for development.”

Addu’s SAARC projects have been underway for six months, officials report. As the deadline approaches, construction teams are working round the clock to finish two harbors, a VVIP lounge, roads and the country’s largest convention center.

Sodiq said the harbors will renovate Addu’s commercial prospects, while the convention center provides new opportunities for locals, officials and foreigners alike.

Construction of Feydhoo harbor continues as the first deadline passes and another approaches.

“The harbor is a central place for Addu, there is demand for it even after SAARC and we have plans to generate more industry and shipping using these new resources,” said Sodiq.

New roads constructed around the convention center have made future road development less expensive for the council’s budget, he added.

Addu’s council also plans to use the Rf115 million convention center, a two-story building of glass, wood and marble with a capacity of 3000, to transform the atoll from a quiet place to a hub of business and tourism.

“We have some representatives talking to businesses in Singapore and Malaysia about hosting events here,” Sodiq told Minivan News. “We will be soliciting bids to find the right event manager to look after the convention center as well. I think there are people interested in what Addu has to offer, and I’m sure we can get a market for it.”

Officials and locals interviewed also hinted at hopes for musical events, theatrical performances, art exhibitions and holiday celebrations.

Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Assistant Director Ahmed Abeer Ismail said the centre’s origins were a sign of Addu’s potential. “That area began as a swamp, now it’s the biggest convention center in the country.” The swamp was heavily landscaped by MNDF and police forces, and now features a few scenic islands.

One of the Maldives’ most strategic atolls, Addu has been largely left to seed since the British withdrew its forces and influence in 1975. City councilor Ahmed Mirzad called SAARC the beginning of a new Addu.

“For 30 years we had Gayoom, and nothing was done in Addu. Then there was a new president, and unlike Gayoom he didn’t just look after Male’, he looked after the entire Maldives. For 30 years we didn’t even have one harbor that was working for Addu, but in the past six months, we have gotten everything,” said Mirzad.

Addu’s councilors were elected for the first time six months ago. Mirzad said the next three years will be a difficult but critical time for the council to prove itself to Addu’s people. Still, the timing is ideal.

“I don’t think, I know that this summit is the right starting point. Now, we will only keep going with our plans to grow,” he said.

Workers cross a newly-constructed road to continue landscaping across from the convention center.

One particular operation illustrates the grassroots motives behind the SAARC preparations. Selected from Maldives National University (MNU) Addu first-year students in hospitality, 24 Media Liaison Officers greeted Male’s press pack yesterday.

One young woman said the event was as much for the liaisons as for Male’ press.

“It’ll be challenging to handle foreigners and media personnel,” a group of students concurred. “But we are so happy to have this opportunity.”

“I was shocked to be asked to take part in SAARC, I never thought that I would get to work at something I’d heard so much about,” said another student. “And the certificate of reference that I’ll get afterwards will be really helpful for me when I’m looking for a job after graduation,” she added.

Liaisons have just completed a six-month management course and are attending seminars and briefings for SAARC. They will be divided into 11 teams of two to three officers and assigned to press pooles from different countries.

“The ministry was going to get people from Male’, but I suggested we use the local energy. They are good, they can do the job, and this is a key event, so why shouldn’t these students take part?” said Abeer.

Addu’s development isn’t only tailored to foreigners; Sodiq said part of the development plan is to bring Addu residents home.

“Unlike other islands, we have historical places to visit and our islands are connected, so tourists can actually see more than the sun, sand and sea. We will be constructing more lodgings as well, and our hospital and airport are going to be expanded. More business means more jobs, and part of the purpose of all this is to bring Addu citizens back after their migrations to Male’,” he said.

In Addu, infrastructure is a priority for community growth. Noting that education was key to development, Sodiq said that a Kangaroo school is scheduled to open next year, and a Billabong school is being considered.

For the moment, however, Addu’s mind is on SAARC.

With teams working around the clock to complete harbors in Gan and Feydhoo, and MNDF motorcades practicing their moves late into the night, Addu is a bustle of construction and security.

Both harbors were originally due for completion on October 25, yet concrete foundations have not yet been laid. However officials assure that they are 90 percent complete. When asked about setbacks, National Security Advisor Ameen Faisal said, “The weather. Due to heavy rains, many projects were delayed. It was unexpected and beyond our control, but we managed and we are on target.”

Inquiries of Addu’s appearance for SAARC yielded few details. “It’s a secret, we want it to be a surprise,” Faisal and Sodiq concurred.

Security, however, is highly detailed.

MNDF has delegated security teams to specific event components including media, medical, resort transport, and the airport. “Right now we are very confident in our security personnel and do not anticipate any problems during the SAARC summit,” said International Media Coordinator Ahmed Ibrahim.

Ibrahim added that “it will be helpful to have the extra security forces that other countries are providing because Addu is very big.” In addition to ground security, MNDF will be supported by the coast guard, which will establish multiple security layers around Addu’s marine perimeter, special task forces from Sri Lanka, and surveillance equipment from China, among others.

Summit guests include three of the world’s most controversial heads of state from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their reputations do not appear to cause anxiety to SAARC officials.

“They will not receive any special treatment, unless requested of course,” said MNDF Commander of SAARC Airport Security, Ahmed Shafeeq.

“There is no risk at all,” said Faisal. “We aren’t even bothered about it.”