“Dhon Hiyala aai Alifulhu” – Hulhevi Media explores the truth behind the historical love ballad

Maldivian independent film producers Hulhevi Media have launched a documentary researching the realities behind the traditional romantic epic ‘Buruni Ballad’ from which the classic folk tale ‘Dhon Hiyala aai Alifulhu’ originated.

Shaarif ‘Shaari’ Ali – editor of the documentary – explained that the film is only one component of a larger project – the full extent of which includes the production of the first digital recording of the original ballad and a transcription released in the form of a book.

“Ballads itself are becoming rare and perhaps even extinct today. The ballad involves culture, literature, and perhaps even history. True preservation would be if we preserve it in its original form, and then allow room for further exploration. This is what we have aimed to accomplish through this project,” he said.

The project is funded by the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and is estimated to be worth US$25,000.

The ‘Buruni Ballad’ is a six hour oral history which has never before been transcribed. The story is generally considered to be the Maldivian version of Romeo and Juliet, revolving around tales of romance, black magic, jealousy, and revenge.

In the ballad, the heroine Dhon Hiyala and her lower class lover Alifulhu are driven to commit suicide by jumping onto a giant, poisonous jellyfish after she rejects the advances from the king.

Visiting the past?

The Hulhevi media documentary features the cast travelling to the islands in which the story is based, exploring current day traces of the tale, and gaining the locals’ perspective on the reality of the ballad.

The team of five – Director Ahmed Shafeeu ‘Narcu’, Cinematographer Ibrahim Yasir, Editor Shaari, and cast members Abulho and Mona – travelled to six islands in a bid to explore the roots of the story.

The film begins with a trip to Maroshi in Shaviyani atoll – where the story itself starts, before moving onto Lhaimagu, where the character ‘Fageerukoe’ is said to have originated. The cast then goes to Funadhoo, home to one of the few people in the country who still knows the verses to the ballad.

The team then goes to the home islands of the lead characters Alifulhu and Dhon Hiyala – Hulhudheli and Buruni, respectively.

The film concludes with a trip to Kandoodhoo – where locals show a grave site said to hold the remains of Dhon Hiyala which washed up on its shores.

Noting the interwoven ideas of reality and fiction in the film, Shaari opined that the matter is best left as it is.

“I think we must cherish the mystery in it. It has remained popular for so long precisely because of the mystery surrounding it,” he suggested.

“While some are deeply convinced that the ballad stems from real incidents, others feel it is pure brilliant fiction. People are presently able to make what they will of the story. Let’s not narrow down the room for debate, or take away the magic,” he said.

Further exploration

His colleague Yasir feels that the documentary has piqued people’s curiosity, which may lead to more interest in culture and folklore.

“With this film, we have definitely created curiosity. There may be people who want to explore the truth behind this ballad more in depth. But, as we learned when speaking to the people from the relevant islands, the locals want to protect those places. I believe it would be best if they are preserved as cultural or historical sites by the state.”

The team stated that in future, the documentary may be available for viewing on their YouTube channel, while the book and audio CD will be made available for purchase.

Hulhevi Media became interested in the project as, despite the story ‘Dhon Hiyala ai Alifulhu’ being widely known, few people realise it originated from the epic Buruni Ballad.

Shaari further expressed interest in exploring other historical tales in the Maldives, beginning with the story of Bodu Thakurufaanu – a celebrated local independence hero.

Yasir, meanwhile, spoke of the space for documentaries in the Maldives, expressing concern about the lack of public interest in such film productions.

They expressed disappointment that documentaries remain in the background of Maldivian cinematography, to the extent that  there currently does not even exist a category for such productions in the local film awards.

“We aim to cover untold stories and to celebrate unsung heroes. We try to have a human interest element in every one of our productions. Our target is for every production of ours to result in producing a benefit for someone,” Shaari stated.

In addition to documentaries, Hulhevi media also produces videos to assist fund raising events by non profit organisations, public service videos, corporate profiles and commercials.

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India and Maldives cultural ties go from “strength to strength” as cultural center expands activities

The relationship between India and Maldives has been going from “strength to strength” over the past year, stated officials from the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC)

According to the ICC, the centre will increase its outreach with the new services on offer in order to reinforce the positive relationship.

Speaking at the inauguration of a new Library at the ICC yesterday (May 17), the High Commissioner of India H.E Rajeev Shahare stated that the recently completed elections would aid the good relations.

“The people of India have spoken,” remarked Shahare, “it has happened in the entire South Asian region. We’ve had elections, including in the Maldives. I think the trend, what we see is, very well entrenched in democratic practices,” reported Haveeru.

The collection at the new library will be of use to all ages, from the young to the old, an ICC spokesperson explained. The Facebook page and social media will also be used as a platform to engage the local community, they added.

As well as the library, the ICC already offers a range of classes free to the public, including tabla, Kathak dance and yoga.

The centre was inaugurated in Malé in July 2011, with the primary objective of fostering the cultural ties between India and Maldives.

In the same year, India and the Maldives have agreed to begin implementation of an agreement on co-operation in development projects signed in 2011 titled the “Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development”.

The agreement, signed during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, mandates the establishment of a joint commission to oversee projects implemented under the programme, and a minimum of one annual meeting of the said commission.

In addition, President Abdulla Yameen recently stated that while the Maldives has “close ties” with China, “nothing will precede ties with India, which are far more precious”.

Yameen told Indian media during his recent official trip to the country, that he had assured its leaders that the bond between the two neighbouring countries is “heartfelt” and “based on sentiments”.

More recently, India’s Army Chief General Bikram Singh visited the Maldives – the visit was the first by a serving Indian Defense Chief since General Deepak Kapoor’s visit in February 2010.

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Historical ‘Fan’diyaaru’ Mosque demolished

A historical mosque in Male’- aged at least 268 years old – has been demolished in order to build a new one on the same site.

‘Fandiyaaru Miskiy’ (Judge’s Mosque) was built by Al Qadi Muhammad Muhibbuddin Fan’diyaaru Kaleyfaanu – who was appointed as Chief Justice in 1747- and was subsequently named after him.

REVIVE, a local NGO working to preserve national history and culture, has condemned the demolition, and expressed remorse over the historical loss.

Describing the demolition as unlawful, the organisation called on the Maldives Police Service, Prosecutor General’s Office, and other authorities to investigate and take action.

REVIVE has also called on the People’s Majlis to pass a national heritage bill as soon as possible.

“The government have an obligation to protect such historical buildings under the 27/79 Act on Historical Places and Things and the UNESCO Convention Concerning The Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage,” a REVIVE press release stated.

The organisation also called on relevant authorities to ensure that the digging of the site should be done under the supervision of the Department of Heritage, as historical relics are often found under such sites.

Male’ city council member Ibrahim Shuja said that the mosque was demolished to build a modern four-storey mosque ‘ for the benefit of the people’.

“A generous businessman has offered to build a new mosque there, they have been planning this for three years. It was discussed with the [city] council and the Islamic Ministry before we approved it. We are not doing anything illegal here. It is a mosque we are building, not a carnival. We will go on with the project as planned,” Shuja said.

He also said there was “not that much of history”, that the corpses buried there would be removed, and that the place would be cleaned for building the new mosque.

“If anyone wants to observe, they are welcome. And if anyone wants the wooden structure of the ceiling, they can take it,” he said.

Director of the Department of Heritage Ali Waheed confirmed that the department was not informed about the demolition of the mosque. He noted that while there is no heritage law requiring such approval, considering the department is mandated with taking care of such sites, the usual practice is to consult with it before such activity.

“Even if it is to place a telecommunication antenna near a historical site, we are consulted usually. But we haven’t been officially informed about Fandiyaaru Miskiy,” Waheed said.

Ali Waheed noted that the department has a number of challenges in taking care of historical sites around the country, including the fact that such places are under the jurisdiction of Island Councils with budget deficiencies.

“We have earlier paid people from islands to maintain such places, but since we can no longer pay for the maintenance, those places haven’t been maintained for the past four years. And not all councils are cooperative in maintaining such places,” Waheed said.

Mohamed Shatir, Historian and Director General of the National Archives also expressed concern over the demolition.

“Personally, I feel that it shouldn’t have been demolished. If there was a need to expand the mosque, I think it could have been done while retaining the original old mosque. Perhaps it is not exactly unlawful as there is no proper heritage act in place, but it is definitely not right,” Shathir said.

According to REVIVE, a seven foot tombstone within the mosque premises was also demolished in early 2000s, while the greater cemetery was dismantled in 1970 to provide housing plots.

REVIVE president Ahmed Naufal said that other historical sites such as Koagannu Cemetery in Addu City – one of the oldest in the country- and the cemetery of the old Friday mosque in Male’ have also been vandalised.

“In most islands such places are abandoned and ignored. Not just by the authorities but also members of the public don’t seem to care about such places,” he said.

“We are working on a National Heritage Bill currently. But I really don’t think laws alone will get results. The Maldives National Archives Act was passed in 2011, and they still have only a few staff and no office,” he said.

Referring to the religious extremists’ destruction of historical Buddhist relics at the Maldives National Museum in 2012, Naufal said that even after the incident the security of the museum is poor.

“These are national treasures. They represent our history and our culture. They should be properly protected, perhaps by our national security forces. A lone security guard is not enough, especially considering the place was attacked recently,” said Naufal.

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Authorities hail Maldives World Tourism Awards ceremony as industry “milestone”

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has claimed the Maldives’  selection as host for the Indian Ocean World Travel Awards (WTA) ceremony next month is a “milestone” in the 40 year history of the nation’s holiday industry.

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said the ceremony, which will take place at the Paradise Island Resort and Spa in North Male’ Atoll on May 12, paves the way for further high-profile events to be held in the Maldives in future.

Maleeh told Minivan News that hosting the WTA, described by the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) as the “Oscars” of the global tourism industry, would open up a wealth of opportunities for event hosting at resorts and other facilities in the country.

MICE tourism

He added that the ceremony would send a message to the world that the country was able to provide meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) tourism in a luxury and private setting that was unique from other destinations.

“Over the past 40 years, we have been known as a honeymooners spot, a surf spot and a luxury holiday destination. This will add another area for the industry,” the deputy tourism minister said.

Maleeh said that with the MICE tourism segment last year valued as a trillion US Dollar business segment, securing even a small proportion of the market would be a welcome boost to the country’s tourism industry.

Arrivals to the country were found to have posted double-digit growth during the first quarter of 2013 over the same period last year.

The results were a notable improvement on arrivals recorded during the first three months of 2012, which were negatively impacted by global headlines focused on political turmoil following the controversial transfer of power that brought the current government to office in February the same year.

Considering the number of resorts with conference facilities already operating in the Maldives, Maleeh praised the potential for MICE tourism in the Maldives, despite adding that the industry was very much at a “starting point” in the country.

However, in addressing challenges such as logistics that have previously limited event hosting to areas surrounding Male’, Maleeh claimed that the emergence of a number of regional airports around the country would open up a wider number of properties and businesses to potentially benefit.

“Event-based tourism will also see growing amounts of business for local companies as well, such as for lighting specialists and performers,” he added.

Beyond next month’s ceremony, Maleeh said that senior representatives from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) were also scheduled to travel to the Maldives in September for a special panel discussion.  The event was similarly anticipated to boost the country’s reputation for event hosting, according to the tourism ministry.

Eventful past

Outside of the Maldives resort industry, some local promotion groups have previously complained that challenges still remain in trying to bring high-profile events and entertainment to the wider country.

Back in November, 2012, a concert by Chris de Burgh – the singer/songwriter famed for the 1980′s global super-hit ‘Lady in Red’ – attracted 1500 people to Galolhu National Stadium in Male’.

Organisers claimed at the time the event was one of the largest shows of its kind held in the Maldives over the last decade, especially considering ongoing difficulties in securing international artists to play in the archipelago nation.

The team behind the event claimed the concert was therefore an important step towards paving the way for world famous artists to perform in the country.

Mohamed Shinan, event coordinator with local promotion company Think Advertising, said the Maldives has traditionally struggled to cover the fees of high-profile performers when trying to bring concerts to the Maldives.

However, Shinan said that organisers had been happy with the eventual turnout for the concert.

“Including the sizable audience in the standing section, we estimate some 1,500 people were in attendance, which is not bad for an artist like Chris de Burgh. Most young people only know him for the one song.”

Two months earlier, the organisers of the 2012 Hotel Asia Exhibition and International Culinary Challenge held at Male’s Dharubaaruge conference centre claimed they were at maximum capacity in terms of the number of regional and international exhibitors in attendance.

Husnie Rauf, Senior Manager of Maldives Exhibition and Conference Services (MECS), said the company had been “surprised” by the interest shown from exhibitors taking part in the annual show, which attempts to link the country’s secluded resort industry and local hotel trade with “world class” suppliers.

Over the last three years, the Maldives has played host to several high-profile regional and international events including the 17th SAARC Summit in Addu City, and the Hay Festival Maldives, held at the presidential retreat of Aarah back in October 2010.

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Q&A: Former Secretary General of MATI ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim

Former Secretary General of Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim stepped down from his position in December 2012, having held the post for the last 15 years. Prior to his work at MATI, Sim held various positions within the tourism industry, even working at Television Maldives as the Chief of News and Current Affairs.

Luke Powell: The Tourism Ministry has put a lot of emphasis on achieving one million tourist arrivals for 2013, how important is this target and is this the right way to go about measuring success in the industry?

Sim Mohamed Ibrahim: There are many ways of measuring tourism. The most important of those measures is in terms of yield, as in what you have left after your expenses. I think there is a big challenge at the moment in this area. Despite resorts being very full, there are a few companies relying on Chinese tourists, and while tourists from China are good in the sense of keeping numbers up, in terms of yield, it’s not good.

It’s very expensive to run the resorts and I think we are not doing as well as we should be. Last year was not so good, we were able to keep the numbers fairly high but they were again mostly Chinese. It’s not really about the numbers, what we should have is average occupancy at good rates, however, we are finding that difficult to maintain as we now have to bring down the rates, offer discounts, and give special prices, to make up for the numbers being down.

The one million tourists mark is always good in terms of marketing and public relations as it is a nice big number. It keeps the momentum up and is very good psychology. But it’s not such a huge thing now.

LP: In your time at MATI, what developments did you oversee and were there ever any difficulties in carrying out your role?

SMI: My time was purely administrative. Our main concern at the time was trying to get the best deal for people who invested in the tourism industry and worked in the industry.

My main role was to try and keep people together and to push for common goals. We worked with the government and parliament, which was not easy. We found out that in parliament you have people from different parties and people with different viewpoints and motivations. It turned out that working with parliament was always difficult, whereas with the government it was easy.

With [former President Mohamed] Nasheed it was a lot easier to work, as he was someone very well known and familiar to us. He had his moments, he would sometimes stick to something and not let go, but usually we found we could negotiate and he in turn would talk to his cabinet and to his group we would be able to come to compromise.

LP: You said that working with parliament was not always so easy, what difficulties were there?

SMI: Some issues we couldn’t really agree on, some people wanted to ban alcohol from the country, but tourists drink it like water. It’s like us with coffee and tea. So how do you work with people like that? It becomes impossible.

Even with the economic issues, there are people who have the perspective that the people in the Tourism Ministry make too much money and that the government should be taking more from them.

They don’t really understand the workings of the ministry, running costs, investments costs and the facilitation of all these things. It’s like a normal business, but there is an idea in the country that the tourism ministry is rolling in the stuff. There are bills to pay, loans to pay and staff to pay, it’s very hard running tourism in this country.

LP: Would you say that attitude still exists? Earlier this year there was criticism from MATI over the decision to allocate just MVR 20 million from the 2013 budget for tourism promotion, when the tourism ministry had requested MVR 200 million.

SMI: There are people within parliament who think the tourism ministry is so rich they can fund their own advertising and promotion. It has been said, I can’t quote, but there are some who say that. But obviously it’s not true, people in the ministry are already financing quite a bit of it.

LP: Are there other difficulties faced by the tourism industry in the Maldives?

SMI: It is hard here because there is a lot of work and there is so much co-ordination. Everything has to be brought in, cleared by customs, taken to the resorts and then prepared.

The other difficulty is the management of human resources. A lot of young people in the country do not want to work in the tourism industry so you have this sole problem of finding Maldivians who want to work as opposed to people from overseas who want these jobs.

That doesn’t sit very well with the local population because the media is obviously employed by people who are not very happy with the tourism industry for using expatriates. All the money is going outside the country, when it should be going to Maldives.

Maldivians are not working in this industry because they are not given entitlements and privileges and because they think the industry is not paying all that much, but this is not true. It is just that the kind of work we have in the resorts has not yet become attractive to young Maldivians leaving school.

LP: What sort of work is available to them? Is there any other reason why they are not taking the jobs?

SMI: A resort in the Maldives is like a small town, so you have technical, engineering, maintenance, food production and public relations roles. They all exist on the island.

There is always this thing between the government, the public and the Tourism Ministry, whereby the government and the people seem to assume that the tourism ministry should be training its own people.

It’s difficult because many of us feel the education system in country should be geared towards teaching people to serve the economy and the country, and that should be through jobs available in the Maldives. For example, we checked the Ministry of Tourism once and there were perhaps a thousand jobs going.

What I am saying, is that the jobs are there, but we haven’t been able to tell the young people that there is an alternative in resorts where they can work. But there is something missing, it is not gelling.

Working in tourism is not part of the school curriculum. They teach travel and tourism, but that is not to do with running hotels and hospitality. They are linked, but they are not the same thing. These are some of the problems the industry faces in the country.

LP: How do you think the tourism industry as a whole in the Maldives is progressing?

SMI: I think the industry is going very well here. People who started this 40 years ago are still very involved and these guys have so much experience because they have worked every single day of their lives and know what’s going on and what’s needed.

People like Champa, his company has comes up with brilliant new concepts every time. Then there is Universal, they have a very high standard and a lot of their resorts are home-grown, places like Baros and Kurumba, these are local companies but they are able to compete with world standard brands. There is a lot of thinking going into that. People are not just sitting back and taking the money, they are planning where to go next.

LP: There have been some negative reports in local media regarding resort developments by Maldives Tourism Development Company (MTDC), what is your view on the firm?

SMI: MTDC was a very good project to start with, it was very good thinking because not everyone can be an entrepreneur or even a manager. There are people who just don’t have the skills or inclination to do that. MTDC was a brilliant idea where we can all have shares in the tourism industry.

The former chairman of MTDC ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef, when he took on something, he would complete it. Herethera Resort for example is the same distance as Sri Lanka is from us in Male’, 470 miles, yet he built that resort in just over a year. That was amazing.

However, when Nasheed came in, he obviously wanted to bring in new management, he knew these people but he misjudged the importance of somebody like Afeef there. When Nasheed removed him, the company made losses and it became worthless. It was such a brilliant thing, shattered. Nasheed has put people in there, the president has put people in there and these people have not been able to come up with any creative ideas.

If they bring in good management they might turn a profit, but right now it is terrible. It has to be resurrected and changed. Someone needs to be brought in who can see things strategically and has empathy for the people. See the company for what it is – a company for the people. But it is worthless at the moment, it needs to be revamped.

LP: What do you think the future holds for the tourism industry in the Maldives?

SMI: There is a trend moving towards people who are wanting to stay and see something different, rather than coming just for relaxation. People want to be involved in the community. It’s not going to be huge, but there are some people who want to do that, it’s a different kind of tourist.

The future of tourism in this country is immense. We have already started building rooms underwater. We already have clubs, dining rooms, and spas and very soon we will have entire bungalows underwater. However, the time it takes to get the Maldives and the cost of getting here is an issue for the future. If they build better planes, and find a way of reducing fuel costs that will be much better for the country, but this is not something we cannot predict.

LP: Why did you decide to leave MATI?

SMI: I needed a break, I had been there for 15 years and I needed to do something different. Being in tourism all these years I realised there is another aspect to tourism that has been totally ignored, and that is culture and environmental tourism. I thought it would be very interesting for me to start digging into this.

LP: Do you think that will be a new tourism market in the Maldives?

SMI: It will be a niche in the market. It might get a bit bigger when we start taking conservation seriously and the restoration of our historical sites – things like the old mosques and cemeteries. There is a lot of history in this country that we have not even tapped yet and that makes me very excited.

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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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A window to Indian culture, literature and dance

For those interested in exploring the diversity of Indian arts, culture and language, the Indian Cultural Center (ICC) is the place to be. Since its opening in July 2011, the centre has been an important platform, where Indians and Maldivians are building friendships through vibrant cultural and linguistic exchanges.

Hundreds of participants, both locals and foreigners alike are today part of the diverse programs run by the Indian Cultural Center. Many are exploring the world of Indian mother tongue and poetry while others are enjoying the experience of Indian classical dance Kathak or classical drumming, Tabla.

Similarly, to those who wants to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the busy capital Male’, the cultural center offers its best – rejuvenating and relaxing yoga classes.

And, the best part of all, every program is offered free. No charges.

“This is a cultural window to India”, ICC Director Dr.Mishra Amrendhra told Minivan News on Wednesday night, following the launch of a new Hindi learning program at the centre.

Currently over 40 centers are opened worldwide, to provide people to the opportunity to learn Indian culture and language, he observed.

Speaking at the ceremony Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives DM Muley said that “we have lost a lot in our culture and language” and today more than ever people are becoming “more segregated  in domestic and narrow corners”.

“There are invisible walls that divide us,” he pointed out. “But it is absolutely imaginary”, and “a phobia cultivated and encouraged by few with selfish interests.”

Therefore, he streesed that “language of humanity” and “attitude of helping each other” needs to be developed through promoting language and culture.

He praised ICC’s efforts, saying that the objective of opening the center seems to have been partially fulfilled. “I welcome all interested in Indian language and culture to join the centre.”

According to ICC Director Mishra, the centre is already receiving a “tremendous response” from the Maldivians, in addition to Indian expatriates and other foreign nationals working in the Maldives.

He added that several Maldivian students are going for higher studies under the center’s scholarship program and plans are underway to sign a cultural exchange agreement between the two government’s.

Currently 250 students, including several Maldivians, are part of the yoga classes running everyday in four batches.

Yoga teacher Sonika spoke to Minivan News about the keenness among the Maldivian participants in her class and how yoga are changing their lives.

“It is a great stress buster,” Sonika noted. “After regular yoga classes, some local students have found out that the cysts in their uteruses have disappeared. Many had joint and thyroid problems too. But, now they they are also feeling much healthier and energetic,” she continued.

“You should join my class. There are free slots. You will feel much light inside and it be be a journey to self evolution,” she added with a smile.

Meanwhile, Mishra pointed out that there have been some interest from local groups to explore fusions of Tabla and the Maldivian classical drumming, Bodu Beru. Although, Maldivian students participating in the Kathak dancing classes few, the center is hopeful that it will attract more students.

Among the few learning the dance is 20 year-old Naufa Nizam and her sister. At Wednesday night’s ceremony Naufa recited a poem she wrote in Hindi, so eloquently that no one would have guessed she’s a Maldivian until they heard her reciting the poem’s translation in Dhivehi.

Naufa told Minivan News: “I’ve always adored poetry since I was a kid. My mother is in the yoga class that’s how I came to know about the centre. I am participating in the Kathak dancing class too,” she added.

Meanwhile, sitting next to her was her sister, dressed in the highly ornately embroidered and decorated Kathak traditional costume consisting of a sari, with loose ankle-length skirt, and the choli, a tight fitting blouse – ready for the dance performance.

“But I don’t perform in front of a crowd,” said Naufa, who is an A-level student of Arabbiya School and student of Law foundation program at Maldives National University. “You know, it’s because of the burqa (head scarf).”

“But it doesn’t matter. I know myself that I know this dance,” she smiled. “I love this place.”

Note: Indian Cultural Center is opened at H.Vavathi, fourth floor. Those interested to join the centre programs can call 330 6612

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Covering Kaashidhoo’s ‘buy-election’

When I arrived on Kaashidhoo Island on the evening of Friday April 13, the constituency’s parliamentary by-election campaign was already going full swing.

A billboard of Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate Abdulla Jabir, as tall as the island’s coconut palms, dominated the harbor front. Numerous red flags in support of Jabir and yellow flags in support of Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Ahmed ‘Dhonbiley’ Haleem were strung from every harbor light, tree and café on the beach. The island rang with the cacophony of campaign music and speeches.

The crescent shaped island of Kaashidhoo lies 88 kilometers north of Malé city. Densely forested, it is home to a population of 1700 people, most of them farmers. Together with Gaafaru Island to the south, Kaashidhoo Island comprises one of the 77 parliamentary constituencies in the country. Its previous MP, Ismail Abdul Hameed, was removed from his seat in February 2012 after being found guilty of corruption.

My colleague Daniel Bosley and I had come to observe the by-election, scheduled for the following day, April 14.

During our two day visit to Kaashidhoo, we gathered testimonies from islanders which revealed a culture of extensive vote-buying. Instead of winning votes on the strength of their legislative agendas, islanders told us both candidates handed out cash, often in the form of investment in local businesses and financial assistance for medical expenses.

We had hitched a ride to Kaashidhoo with Dhonbiley’s campaign team. The speed boat was full of burly young men who said they were Dhonbiley’s security.

“The situation is pretty bad,” a curly-haired man had told us. He estimated there were more than 30 policemen on the island for the vote. The night before, a fight had broken out between Jabir and Dhonbiley’s supporters, leading to one man’s arrest.

The by-election was the first poll since the controversial transfer of power on February 7. The MDP alleged President Mohamed Nasheed had been deposed in a coup d’état, and had called for fresh elections.

New President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration meanwhile maintained that the country’s institutions, including the elections commission, were not ready to hold free and fair elections. Hence for many, the by-election was a test of the country’s capacity to hold peaceful polls.

Our contact on Kaashidhoo was 18 year-old Ahmed Fazeel*, a student living in Male’, who greeted us when we arrived. He told us we would have to wait for accommodation as the island’s guest-houses and rented rooms were full for the night.

Resort workers and islanders living in Male’ had come back to Kaashidhoo for the vote. Fazeel said more than eight speedboats had ferried people from Male’ to Kaashidhoo that day alone. As we sat in Fazeel’s front yard among stone-apple and mango trees, he told us tensions were high on the island.

“There’s a lot of conflict. Political competitiveness has become extreme to the point people are at each other’s throats,” Fazeel said. “I will vote for Dhonbiley because he gave my aunt medical assistance.” His aunt has a common blood disorder in the Maldives, Thalassemia.

In the distance we saw JP leader and business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim leading a march of men, women and children clothed in red, chanting slogans in support of Jabir. Gasim and Jabir had laid the foundation for a city hotel to be built on the island.

Local media had reported the hotel was a Rf 34 million (US$2.2 million) investment. Jabir pledged the hotel would be completed within 18 months and that a Kaashidhoo-based company would manage the hotel. He had also established a state-of-the-art football pitch on Gaafaru Island on April 9.

“We cannot trust Jabir, he has laid many foundations like that, in his previous constituency as well,” Fazeel’s uncle Mohamed Saleem* told us. Smoking a cigarette, he said he had initially supported Jabir. The MDP had fronted Jabir as a candidate until he swapped parties after the transfer of power.

“Jabir only donated six-air conditioning units to the mosque. But Dhonbiley donated over Rf 100,000 (US$6500) rufiya,” Saleem continued. “Also, Jabir first said he will build a resort, then said a 5-star luxury hotel, and now it’s simply a guesthouse.”

That night we met Mohamed Shahid* an MDP supporter, in a dimly-lit cafe for dinner. A TV on the cafe wall showed scenes of yellow-clad MDP supporters marching in support of Dhinbiley through the narrow streets of Kaashidhoo.

Shahid, 21, made a living from diving for sea-cucumbers. For him, the biggest problem the island faced was a lack of job opportunities.

“The people of this island will vote for money, they don’t have any principles,” Shahid said. “The problem is that people want to force you to vote for who they support. Everyone should have the right to vote for whoever they want,” he told us. “Arguments within families have gone to the point that people are losing face.”

“Both parties are handing out cash, in the guise of extending assistance for medical care. Some people even use the money for drugs.” Shahid said.

He said heroin addiction rate was high among Kaashidhoo’s youth population.

Shahid said he had at first supported Jabir. “But Jabir does not fulfill his promises. He first approached the youth cub, Ekuverige Tharika, and gave the club Rf 20,000 (US$1300). Nothing else. But Dhonbiley gives us coffee, petrol for motorbikes and phone credit. It’s very easy. Even the island’s harbor was started under President Mohamed Nasheed,” he said.

The harbor had been damaged in the South Asian tsunami of 2004, and construction of a new harbor had started in 2012.

After dinner, we ventured out through the sandy streets of the island. Candidates had to cease campaigning for votes by 6:00pm on the eve of polling; hence, the island was fairly quiet. However, people continued to mill around the campaign offices.

Outside Jabir’s brightly lit campaign office, we met Mariyam Sheeza* , 31, who told us she supported Jabir because he had promised to bring development to Kaashidhoo.

“Jabir is building a guesthouse. We only have agriculture on the island. But this hotel will create jobs, especially for women,” she said. Sheeza said she had four children to support and the guesthouse would give her the opportunity to earn some money.

“Dhonbiley does not check on the people. He does not know if the people have a second meal in a day or whether we sleep on the floor or on mattresses,” she said. Moreover, she said Dhonbiley only worked for MDP supporters’ benefit.

“When MDP was in power, 388 farmers asked for subsidies, but Dhonbiley gave subsidies to only 150 farmers. The subsidies were only given to MDP supporters. We don’t know what happened to more than Rf 22,000,” she said.

“Dhonbiley ate the subsidies,” shouted a group of men lounging on joalis within the campaign office. At that point, a lanky man came up to us and said JP leader Gasim Ibrahim had invited us in. As we walked in, he showed me a large bloody graze on his arm. He had sustained the injury in the previous night’s scuffle. “MDP paid Rf 2000 (US$130) to some young man to beat me up,” he told me.

Gasim, a hefty bespectacled man and one of the country’s wealthiest resort tycoons, was sitting with a group of men at a broad white table under a white canvas canopy strung with red and green flags. Women served juice, eggs dyed red and sausages to supporters. Gasim said he was confident of Jabir’s win the next day.

“Jabir has already performed in Majlis. He was an MP during the formulation of the constitution. He is successful and courageous. He came with a manifesto to the people to create job opportunities and development,” he told me.

“Dhonbiley has failed in everything in his life, even running a business. People do not accept MDP anymore. They are not religious. They want to destroy this country’s Islamic social-fabric,” he said.

Gasim had been involved in the MDP’s formation, but after being jailed in 2004 he had defected to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s party, and took up the position of Gayoom’s finance minister. He ran for presidency in 2008, and supported Nasheed against Gayoom in the second round of elections after no candidate managed to garner more than 50 percent of the votes.

He had served as Nasheed’s home minister for 20 days but quit, criticising Nasheed for being authoritarian.

“They are irreligious. Maldivian citizens do not support that. They cannot build idols here. Nasheed was in power by spending a lot of money, and by coercing and intimidating people. The people appreciate what we are doing for them. We know the people’s needs. We know this island needs agriculture, the other one needs fisheries, and what the youth want,” he told us. He predicted Jabir would win with over 80 percent of the votes.

Voting day arrived on Kaashidhoo with a brief but heavy rain storm. We saw Jabir, a short dark man, pass by in a car. He waved hello to us as we sought shelter under a broad Hirundhu tree on the harbor front. Daniel and I were looking for a cafe for breakfast when the storm had hit. We also saw a white van with four police officers passing by. When the rain thinned, we headed to an open air cafe near MDP’s main campaign office for breakfast.

We sat down near a group of three boys heckling a mute man to vote for MDP. A short-haired white-shirted boy said, “Jabir is a dog! What has he ever done for you?” Another threatened, “We buy coffee for you, we buy cigarettes for you. We will cut you off if you don’t vote for MDP.”

A few minutes later, Dhonbiley walked in for breakfast with MP Ahmed Easa and a group of his supporters.

“The problem is the current government came to power through a coup,” the tall former football star told us. “They want to delay early elections. They want to try and show the international community the atmosphere is not right. Tension is high. Jabir’s supporters have sprayed graffiti calling me a bastard.”

He pointed to graffiti on the building next to the cafe. The words had been sprayed over. I recalled a banner I had seen the night before that proclaimed Dhonbiley had been banished for fornication.

“My supporters have reached the limit of their patience, but I have told them to keep calm,” he told us, and said he was confident of a win that day. He also claimed Gasim had walked through the island the night before handing out Rf 4000 (US$260) for votes.

After Dhonbiley left, we overheard the boys at the next table on the phone, requesting their breakfast be put on the MDP’s bill.

The rain left shallow puddles on the sandy street that quickly disappeared in the sweltering heat. Daniel and I arrived at the polling station at around 9am. Two booths had been set up at the Kaashidhoo School and voters queued peacefully under the shade of a tree in the school yard. Two policemen sat a few meters away from the voters.

Outside, both candidates had set up exit poll booths under wide parasols, and were crossing off people who had voted. The booths were also serving drinks to supporters.

Outside the polling booths we met Aisha Mohamed*, a skinny scarf-clad girl with a mole on her cheek, wielding a large Nikon camera. Aisha, 24, was a photographer, and supported the MDP. Her dream was to open a photography studio on Kaashidhoo.

“People have to go to Male’ to take passport photos for ID cards and passports. So we asked Jabir to invest in lighting equipment and he offered a partnership,” Aisha said.

“But when he changed parties, I did not want to vote for him. I cannot change my party like I change my clothes. So the investment fell through,” she said.

Aisha took us to a juice shop near the school, which served the popular Jugo juice, a cold fruity-flavored, sugary sweet milk-blend. The shop’s owner, Amjad* offered us free drinks and said he was serving free drinks to MDP supporters. When I asked him why, he said that Dhonbiley had invested in a deep freezer for the shop.

By midday, most of the island’s registered voters had cast their ballots. The streets were calm, an atmosphere of expectancy prevailed throughout the island. The police presence was palpable. Aisha, Daniel and I saw Jabir standing in view of the school near the island’s health centre. He said he was confident of a win but declined to comment further. Outside the health centre, Aisha introduced us to her eldest brother Ahmed Azeez*, 53, a JP supporter.

Azeez worked as a laborer at the health centre. He earned Rf 3000 (US$195) per month.

“I support Jabir because he gave my daughter return tickets to India for a medical trip and Rf 10,000 (US$650) for expenses. Since she was 11 years-old, she has had lesions on her skin. She is 24 now, and she has two children. We still haven’t found a cure,” he said. He also said he hadn’t been able to gain any assistance from the government’s free health-care scheme Aasandha.

Later Aisha told me when Jabir had been the MDP candidate she had contacted Jabir for the medical assistance.

“I asked my brother to vote for Dhonbiley. But he refused. But we could have gotten that assistance from Dhonbiley too,” she said.

* Names changed

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Mahlouf accuses Maldives history website of promoting other religions

Undersecretary at the President’s Office Fareesha Abdulla has said she intends to file a defamation case against Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahlouf, after he appeared on DhiTV’s ‘Habaru Therein’ (In The News) and accused her of trying to introduce other religions to the Maldives.

“I have asked the Maldives Police Service on January 11, 2012 to investigate this case,” Fareesha said in a statement.

Mahlouf told Minivan News today that “Fareesha, and her husband, I think he’s a foreigner, run a website called Maldives Culture promoting other religions in Dhivehi.”

“Her husband was [previously] deported and Fareesha stayed away from the Maldives for a long time. Under this government, she is now working in the President’s office,” Mahlouf said.

Maldives Culture is a website run by Fareesha and her husband Michael O’Shea, containing English translations of documents about the history, culture and society of the Maldives.

“There’s no Dhivehi in the site – it’s all in English,” Fareesha said. “There’s nothing about other religions, and Michael was never deported.”

Fareesha told Minivan News that while she could laugh off Mahlouf’s allegations, “they have serious ramifications for me. He is a member of the Majlis and people do trust what he says – they may not check the truth for themselves. I am concerned for my physical safety – I may not be able to walk on the streets without being attacked.”

Mahlouf meanwhile claimed that the government was using the police “to try and stop us talking.”

“There’s no way they can stop us,” he said.

Documents available on Maldives Culture cover topics ranging from Maldivian art, history, social customs to historic photographs and maps of the Maldives, and a Dhivehi-English dictionary.

The site also includes translations of the works of famous explorers who visited the Maldives throughout its history, including the Ibn Battuta, François Pyrard de Laval and HCP Bell.

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