Museum staff express concern over moving artifacts to host Independence Day event

National Museum staff and Male’-based arts NGO Revive have expressed concern over plans to move delicate exhibits for upcoming Independence Day celebrations to be held in the museum.

“We at the national museum believe the museum’s objects are very valuable and cannot be replaced if anything happens to any of the items,” National Museum Director Ali Waheed told Minivan News.

“I am concerned, we are not happy about this,” Waheed said.

He said that the President’s Office had sent a letter about holding the Independence Day event to the Tourism Ministry, which had in turn notified their Department of National Heritage.

“The department only informed us about the event three days ago,” Waheed claimed.

He said there were concerns that National Heritage Department Director General Zakariyya Hussain had not consulted museum staff about whether holding the event in the museum would be sensible.

“Zakariyya gave the approval but he didn’t say anything to us. He didn’t want to talk about it. At least he has to ask if this is good or not,” he claimed.

The President’s Office meanwhile said it had not been informed of the museum staff’s grievances, while rejecting claims that there would be any issues with holding such an event in the museum.

The President’s Office held an Independence Day event at the National Museum last year, which posed the same challenges to staff as it took place during Ramazan. The permanent exhibition items had to be shifted internally and placed against the walls to clear the middle of the hall, according to Assistant Curator Ismail Ashraf.

“[However,] it was quite different last year because there were many political issues and they were not able to get another venue,” noted Ashraf.

“During last year’s ceremony government agency heads and parliament members attended and there was no damage to the objects,” he continued. “However, there is the risk and probability of something happening [this year] when 400 plus people will be attending.”

Staff accepted that a similar event to celebrate the 2012 Independence Day had been held at the museum without incident – although the guest list is anticipated to be larger this year.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad told Minivan News yesterday (July 22) that the government did care about preserving Maldivian culture and heritage, but dismissed concerns that there were any politics involved in the event.

“There is enough time [for museum staff to prepare], we have not been informed [holding the event is problematic],” said Masood. “Nobody feels it is an issue. Minivan News is not the party that should be spreading these concerns, this is not a claim the museum staff are making, Minivan News is actually,” Masood said.

NGO Revive has meanwhile said it plans to submit a petition, signed by National Museum staff, to the President’s Office tomorrow (July 24) requesting the government reconsider its decision to hold the July 27 Independence Day celebrations inside the National Museum.

National Museum concerns

“We are caring about these things very much. The objects are very, very old and delicate. If they are moved several times, it may cause damage. I am responsible for their safety and security,” Waheed told Minivan News.

“I submitted a letter to Director General Zakariyya Hussain at 1:10pm on Monday (July 22) that we [the museum staff] are not responsible [for the damage that may be caused] when the objects are side by side in the hall,” he claimed.

Ashraf the assistant curator echoed Waheed’s sentiments that moving the artifacts to accommodate the event risked damaging them.

“It’s a permanent exhibition and we will have to move everything [on the ground floor] away to make a walkway for people for the ceremony,” Ashraf told Minivan News. “There are many artifacts to have to move, and having to do so quickly poses a risk of damaging the objects.”

“The other risk is that lots of people come in and not all will think the same way we do, [so] it is a risk that people may touch or take,” he continued.

Ashraf explained said that since the museum only has six permanent staff, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) is supposed to help with moving the artifacts.

“They can help move the very heavy things, but we have to be there to supervise. We are in charge and if there is any damage [caused to the items] we are responsible,” he said.

Since it is currently the holy month of Ramazan, the amount of work National Museum staff can accomplish in preparation for the Independence Day event is also limited due to restricted working hours, Ashraf explained.

“In the month of Ramazan, museum hours are 9:00am to 1:30pm. This Independence Day event will take place Saturday night and Sunday  morning we have to open the museum [to visitors],” he noted.

Ashraf urged the President’s Office to hold the event in another location.

“This year there are other options, so why still choose the National Museum?” he asked.

“The National Art Gallery has a full hall empty for temporary exhibitions, with enough space for the ceremony”.

Ashraf also noted that artifacts were destroyed “the day the government changed”, during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial transition of power last year – by people with “different thoughts” to those of the museum’s staff.

“A mob of people took advantage of the lack of security,” he explained. “These things happened and the risk [of it happening again] is still there. It shows the government doesn’t have much interest in this work,” he alleged.

Civil society support

Revive, a local NGO which works in collaboration with the National Archives and National Museum, has advocated in support of the museum staff’s concerns surrounding the event.

“I’m very surprised the government [is holding this event] but are not able to arrest those who vandalized the museum last year,” Revive President Ahmed Naufal told Minivan News.

“Moving permanent exhibitions is not done anywhere in the world, only temporary exhibitions,” Naufal explained.

“National Museum staff have a low budget and are unable to preserve [everything],” he continued. “There is a high risk items will be destroyed by moving the exhibition.”

National museum staff have signed the ‘Revive Petition’, which calls on the government to reconsider its decision to hold the Independence Day celebrations inside the National Museum, as it would require moving the permanent collection of artifacts which could cause damage that cannot be restored.

“Fifteen staff have signed the petition. That’s everyone who came to the [National] Museum and Heritage Department,” noted Naufal.

“This includes the only Maldivian archaeologist from the Heritage Department, Shiura Jaufar and the National Museum Director.”


Disappointment over low government turnout at One Billion Rising event

Organisers at One Billion Rising in the Maldives have expressed disappointment over the number government officials who failed to attend the event, aimed at ending violence towards women.

The international campaign was launched in the Maldives on Thursday (February 14) by NGO Hope for Women at Jumhooree Maidhaan in Male’.

The One Billion Rising campaign began after research revealed that one in three women around the world will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.

The gathering in Male’ featured live music and dance performances, and saw many young men and women in the crowds dancing together.

Despite the event’s popularity with youth in Male’, Chair of Hope for Women, Aneesa Ahmed, said the poor turnout from government officials “showed their lack of commitment” in tackling the issue of violence against women.

“We have been working alongside the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights, and they have invited all government agencies and ministries, but I have hardly seen any of them here,” she said.

“I really don’t know what to say – the commitment is just not there. In the last few years nothing has really been done to help this particular cause,” Aneesa said.

Speaking to Minivan News, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that the government was a broad entity consisting of many ministries and that he had not been aware of any specific invite to members of the government.

“As I understand, Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights] Dr Mariyam Shakeela attended. Some other ladies from the the government were there,” he said.

Masood said a member of staff from the President’s Office had also attended the event, as he had “skipped a meeting he was supposed to attend”.

Last month a study by Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) found that support for women’s equality in the country had experienced a “significant drop”.

The report found that fewer respondents – compared to the 2005 survey – believed that women should have equal rights to men.

Aneesa said that the event was aimed towards the younger generation in the Maldives as they do not possess the “prejudices” elderly people have in regard to equality.

“I am particularly happy because there were so many young people here, it is very encouraging. These people will stand up against violence, they are going to be a very strong force.

“In the past few years we have this increasing influence of conservatism in the country and because of this the older generation are more cautious about coming to such an event. Things like dancing, as you see today, we are not supposed to do this,” Aneesa added.

Speaking at the event, Heat Health and Fitness Managing Director Aishath Afra Mohamed spoke about her concerns regarding violence against women in the Maldives.

“Some men are trying to keep their wives in the house, they don’t want women to work and socialise with their friends. They are very possessive.

“The rate of violence is going up and women are keeping quiet about it here. But this event is good to see, the more we make light of the matter, the better it will be,” Afra added.


US hosts Independence Day celebration in Male’

An event to celebrate 234th anniversary of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence was hosted by the American Embassy yesterday.

Speaking at the function, the new US Ambassador to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis, said the event marked a special occasion not just because it was America’s national day “but also because today marks the first time in recent memory that our embassy has hosted a July 4th celebration here in Maldives.”

American embassy staff and dignitaries played host to members of Maldivian government, the
opposition, Majlis speaker, diplomats, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and police personnel, representatives of NGOs and other invitees at the Holiday Inn in Male’.

The function began with the arrival of President Mohamed Nasheed and Vice President Dr
Mohamed Waheed, followed in quick succession by a hurried Ambassador Butenis.

A beautiful rendition of both the Maldivian National Anthem and the American National Anthem
was sung by a little girl called Medison, to kick start the event

“Medison is uniquely placed to sing it, as she is American and turned six years old on
July 26th – Maldives independence day,” said Glenn Davis, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US High Commission in Colombo.

Medison did perfect justice to the Maldivian anthem, pronouncing every word correctly, followed
by an equally beautifully-sung American anthem.

Complimented by President Nasheed on her singing, she said she had learned the Maldivian
anthem “from soccer practice”.

Ambassodor Butenis took the stage next, thanking President Nasheed for delaying his arrival to
coincide with hers.

Noting that Embassies across the world mark this event she said she could think of no better
place to celebrate July 4 than the Maldives.

“In many ways your own path to democracy resembles ours. Although you were never a colony
like us, you too achieved your full independence after a period of British influence in your affairs.”

She highlighted that this month, the Maldives marks the 45th anniversary of that event and that
looking back at America’s experience over the past 234 years, “I can tell you, the road to an
even more perfect democracy is both long and full of twists and turns.”

Noting the many obstacles faced along the way, she noted the civil war, racial and gender
inequalities, to the more recent bitterly-contested presidential election that had to be taken to the
Supreme Court to resolve.

Ambassodor Butenis said “overcoming each challenge required leadership, compromise and a
shared commitment to strive towards a strengthening of democracy.”

Noting that Maldives has undergone tremendous transition on multiple fronts, she said such
transitions always face difficulties.

“I wish I had the secret to make this work, but in the US partisan disagreements also impede
progress on some of the issues most important to Americans. I think the message from citizens
of both our countries to our political leadership is the same: seek compromise, dialogue and
civility and never lose sight of your charge to strengthen democracy and promote the common

President Nasheed was invited to the podium next and started by addressing the
Ambassodor Butenis, Speaker of Majlis, the Vice President and adding, “I’m sad to say I cannot introduce any

Ambassodor Butenis, standing nearby, interjected that “they were all invited,” evoking laughter
from the assembled dignitaries.

President Nasheed said that it was difficult days for Maldives, that there were things that could
be learned from Americans, and that despite the help and advice from many sides it was a big
challenge the country was facing.

“This is the biggest challenge the nation has faced – we are having a constitutional crisis.”

Hoping that the worst of it was over, the President said “there is no better course of action than

He went on to assure all those present, “including the good people of America and all citizens of the
Maldives, we will not do anything illegal, anything which is not prescribed by law.”

Alluding to the controversial tapes released today, he said voting in the Majlis was based on
corruption and bribery and not based on merit.

“When a cabinet resigns and accuses a whole institution,” things are gravely wrong, he said.

Nasheed added that he had been informed that MPs had been approached to sell their votes and telephone
conversations had come to light in a manner that “clearly implicates MPs in the act of buying and selling

President Nasheed said “this is not the kind of government, nor the kind of country we want to

Stressing the importance of dialogue and reaching agreement with those involved, President
Nasheed thanked the Speaker of the Majlis.

“The Speaker of the Majlis is an honest man. We may have issues but I would like to work with him,” Nasheed said, adding the way through the impasse now was to find amicable solutions.

He said Maldivians had not just elected him to be in the government, “but Maldivians have asked
us to implement democracy in Maldives.”

President Nasheed thanked the United States for “being a strong partner of the Maldives in
democracy – we have the same ideology and share the same beliefs.”

Afterwards Ambassodor Butenis and President Nasheed mingled with the invitees. The
Americans played perfect hosts, and along with the live music and delicious buffet, the first
Fourth of July celebrations in Maldives would have made even the Founding Fathers proud.


Local surfers launch documentary at Male’ event

The Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) held a barbecue and screened a local surfing documentary earlier this week in an effort to promote the sport in the Maldives.

The MSA’s Chairperson, Mohamed Shiuneel, says such events are necessary to promote the sport because surfing’s development in the Maldives has largely been restricted to the resort industry, which in some cases he says have even claimed ownership of surf breaks.

“Maybe it’s because tourism is growing so fast – even safari boats are now [claiming] surf breaks,” he says.

Local surfers have competed very successfully in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, Shiuneel notes.

“The government can help us – we need to protect the surf point areas,” he says. “There are many environmental issues that can affect them. For example, when the artificial beach was reclaimed it really affected the Male’ surf break.”

Pro surfing was famously introduced to the Maldives in 1973 by an Australian surfer called Tony Hinde, who was shipwrecked in North Male’ Atoll during a voyage from Sri Lanka to Africa. Hinde named many of the country’s most popular surf breaks, giving them names like Sultans, Jails and Honkeys, before falling in love with the country and deciding to stay.

He converted to Islam, changed his named to Tony Hussein Hinde, married a local woman, opened his own surf tourism agency, and died of a heart attack after riding a wave in 2008.

Shiuneel explains that while Hinde introduced pro surfing and introduced short boards, “Maldivians have been here since the second century. Many people like my grandfather talk about Maldivians surfing on a plank of wood.”

In recent years the Maldives has begun to attract an increasing number of professional surfers, drawn for the same reasons as Hinde. Accessing many of the breaks remains a challenge however, with many restricted to those with either local knowledge or those who stay in a nearby resort.

“A lot of people don’t know how to access some of the breaks, and beginners can struggle to get access to surfboards,” Shiuneel says, acknowledging that sport is not as easy to take up as it should be.

“I think we live on a small island and have a very defensive mentality. It’s a geographical problem as much as anything. And While the Surf Association tries its best to run development programmes, we do struggle for funding.”

Surf politics and issues of funding matter little to many of the clubs members. Asim ‘Chin Chon’, who describes himself as “a local legend”, says surfing “is the best sport for the Maldives. You shouldn’t be driving around the island in a sports car – instead, every house should have a surfboard. This should be normal for an island city.”

“Look at it, it’s God’s gift,” he says, sweeping his arm at the waves breaking on the nearby seawall.

“It’s relaxed; there’s no jet skis, just paddling out on a board – that’s nature.”

The surf documentary will be available from the Sea Sports store in Male’ and the Maldives Surfing Association in a week’s time.