Embrace local foodstuffs and “grow what wants to grow”: Monty Don

The Maldives – along with the rest of the world – needs to grow, eat and appreciate local food, says famous UK broadcaster and horticulturalist Monty Don.

Don was one of the big-name writers at the Hay Festival on Aarah last weekend, and as President of the Soil Association in the UK, is one of the outspoken architects of the ‘organic food’ movement.

“There are now a tiny handful of firms who control certain basic products like soy and beef,” Don said. “The organic movement is intended to counteract that, by saying you can maintain and sustain productivity by working with nature, rather than imposing short term fertility on it.”

Embracing this concept means embracing local foodstuffs, Don explained, and “growing what wants to grow in a place.”

Producing sustainable food supplies in an island nation such as the Maldives only something that could be achieved “with very great difficulty” he acknowledged.

“But there’s a phrase that runs through my head – ‘learn how to live where you live.’ You need to tune in with the realities of a place, because as soon as you forget those guidelines, which are dictated by place not society – I think you get into trouble.”

As land was a precious resource in the Maldives, Don suggested, “obviously the sea is going to be the key to food sustainability.”

“I wouldn’t presume to tell people in the Maldives how to live, and I’m always worried when people apply systems that work great in California or the Home Counties of England, when locally people are saying ‘but this is how we’ve done it for generations’.”

But a country like the Maldives could be open to ideas from other agriculturally-challenged regions, he suggested.

People living on the rocky isle of Aran off the coast of Ireland had fed themselves for centuries by making their own soil from seaweed and sand, “just fertile enough to grow crops.”

“It’s a very laborious system, but it worked there, and was the most reasonable way cultivating that land,” he suggested.

Similarly, Don recounted an experience travelling down the Amazon river in South America, where locals, constrained from planting by sheer cliffs of jungle on either sides of the rivers many tributaries, had made gardens in boats which they pulled behind them, with soil in baskets, fruit trees and animals to provide manure.

A country faces many risks if it becomes divorced from its food supply, Don said, referring to Cuba’s oil crisis in 1991.

“Their oil dried up because it all came from Soviet Union,” he said. “Overnight there was no oil and no exports,” he said.

With the mechanised agriculture industry crippled, people had to grow thing themselves, Don said. They were forced to grow food organically “because they didn’t have any other choice – they didn’t have any pesticides or chemical fertilisers.”

“The hardest thing to do in Cuba was tilling the ground. Spades are a lot of work, and to feed a nation, spades are not enough. So they had to use oxen, and for that they needed to handle oxen. I keep cattle, and if cattle don’t want to do something, you can’t do anything about it. If you want to harness them you need skill, and so they had to go to the old men – it was only men over 80 who knew how.”

This was, he said, a vital lesson: “Don’t trade knowledge in for consumer products. Hang onto these skills, even if they don’t seen immediately applicable, because if you lose them they are gone and you don’t get them back.”

“One of the problems we have in our modern western world is we don’t have to do anything – we don’t own our lives. We don’t have to do anything, so we are not responsible for anything. We don’t know how to feed ourselves, we hardly know how to cloth our ourselves – we certainly don’t know how to make our clothes.

“We can log onto the internet anywhere and make huge sums of money, we but don’t know how to do anything.”

Such disconnection from the process of survival had other effects, Don proposed.

“I went to see my doctor in my little country town in England, and he said in passing that it had the worst heroin problem in Britain. I nearly fell off my seat.”

“It struck me – why in such beautiful countryside where people using drugs – it was because there was nothing for them to do, because agriculture had changed, and now on a British farm of 800 acres you only need one person, where as 30 years ago you would have needed up to eight. Where there is no connection to place there is no culture, and it struck me that in our society obsessed with physical health we never talk about social health.”

Demand and supply

An audience member observed that the Maldives was subject to the whims and food habits of the foreign visitors its income relies upon.

“I regard it as practically disastrous and certainly not viable in the long term to try and cater for a global idea of what is good or desirable food,” Don replied. “It is a bad idea on lots of levels – if you grow what wants to grow in a place, it will be more nutritious. Plants adapt very well – this is why weeds are so successful. Plants that grow well in a location take in more nutrients, are better for you, and are more resistant to attacks and diseases.”

“At the same time the economy depends on tourism, and the tourist says he wants eggs and bacon for breakfast. The resort I am staying at, Soneva Gili, is doing very interesting things with sustainability, and is working very hard on it – but the food caters for an international audience. Last night was Mediterranean night.

“I would much rather see Maldivian people eating Maldivian food and being proud of it. As a traveller, I always want to eat what the locals eat, because that’s a large part of the experience. I ask any indigenous people – and this applies to Britain as well: ‘Be proud of what you do, and do it well, because it’s important for you, it’s important for the visitor, and I think it’s very important for the ecology too.”

The western concept of eating “whatever you want, whenever you want, for cheap,” was destructive and unsustainable, Don said.

“I think we have to get used to the idea that we don’t have this right. We have a right to be treated with respect, we right to not be hungry, but we sometimes have to go without for the sake of sustainability.”

He acknowledged that the growing use of food as a status symbol, rather than a staple of survival, was challenge the ‘local food’ concept had to overcome.

“How do you persuade enormously wealthy countries like China and America not to use food as a display of their wealth?” he asked.

The problem was that treating food as something aspirational divorced it of place and meaning, Don suggested.

“One of my pet hates is five star restaurants that serve food from the other side of the world that has no meaning, simply because it is expensive, or because a particular chef wanted to flex his testosterone in front of me.

“Meat is a good example – as a world we have to eat less meat. It’s interesting that China’s demand for beef is so great because it is a measure of money – that you can buy yourself out of the immediate predicament and any responsibility.

“It is the same as the story of the hedge-fund manager who goes into a restaurant and says ‘I don’t want to look at a menu – I want this and I want it now. I don’t care what you charge me.’ This is the way industrial nations behave

“You have to persuade people to care – to be responsible, to stop being infantile, to grow up and stop strutting around. By acting as little pockets of truculent people demanding stuff because we can, we sidestep the problem.”


Comment: Hay and the importance of festivals and celebrations

The Hay Festival at Aarah last weekend left in me a kind of excitement – a life force that gives one the ‘WOW!’ experience.

It is not the first time I have been to festivals such as these, but the fact that it happened here in my country made the difference. It was happy, colourful and full of emotional intensity.

My experience

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

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

The purpose of such a festival is more than presentations and discussions. It is about nurturing culture, networking and creating new friendships and strengthening old ones. It is about feeling connected, and much more.

People went to the Festival for different reasons. Some went simply out of curiosity and others went for the programs. Maybe some went simply to be part of a social event. Whatever the reason, I am sure many experienced more than the reason they went for.

The Maldives is a place where foreigners and locals do not socialise, although they do interact with each other on work issues. In fact many foreigners are given the feeling that they should be careful about mingling with Maldivians. Very few Maldivians actually mingle with foreigners, and vice versa. I saw that the festival helped bring them closer.

It is great that Aarah is open to these kind of events. I felt that this helped to lessen the gap between the country’s political leadership and the people, making them more accessible. It opened up new possibilities. Hopefully there will be more events taking place. There are so many themes that can be worked on.

What impressed me were also the youth and the strong voices that rang out. I like to see them stand up and express who they are. At the end of it all, it is up to the people to fully use these kind of events to integrate into society.

My disappointments

There were a couple of things that did not work out for me personally. An expatriate speaker on the stage did use unacceptable discriminatory language, that was insensitive and harmful and generalised a whole country.

Speakers must be careful not to address a country and its people in such a forum, whatever his personal opinion may be.

The transport in the evening caused some inconveniences, forcing people to stay on until late and for those who had no option other than the late ferry, miss out on some important presentations at 7:00pm on the Saturday.

The last comment in this direction were the last minute changes in the program. There was one presentation on the Kalaafaanu manuspcripts I had planned to attend, only to find out it had taken place on Friday. This disappointed me.

Festivals are important for people

All festivities have many things in common. It had colour, gaiety, participation, prayers and rituals. Festivals arise from the need to congregate and are based on traditions and practices handed down by ancestors.

The ultimate benefit of a festival is the shared experience of those who participate. This reinforces the social bonds between the groups who celebrate the festival and shows strength and solidarity to those outside this social group.

Most festivals were connected to sacred events or celebrated independence. Most modern festivals are created to meet a social need or to show and share creativity and messages through various forms of arts.

In countries with different religions and different ethnic groups, festivals are celebrated by everyone irrespective of whatever religion is involved, because of common elements in the culture and the need to be one nation.

For example, India is a society of many religions and there are a lot of festivals. For the Hindus there is Diwali, for the Muslims there is Eid, for the Christians there is Christmas and for the Parsis it’s the New Year. Apart from all these days there are two other days that are celebrated by all Indians irrespective of cast, creed or sex: yes, the  January 26 and August 15, Republic day and Independence Day.

The endangered Maldivian festivals

The Maldivian festivals which used to be celebrated with a lot of joy and colour have been disappearing over the years.

The most notable of these festivities were Kuda Eid and Eid-ul Al’haa and the month long Ramazan which combined Maldivian culture (food, dance and music) and religious rituals.

All these celebrations in their pure non-commercialised forms were spiritual exercises and a strengthening tool of cultural identification. The Prophet Mohamed’s birthday was celebrated with people visiting each other’s houses and eating Maldivian food and visit to the mosques for the special prayers.

History shows that Maldivian island communities came together to celebrate child births, naming ceremonies, the coming of age, and marriages. The other festivals celebrated the Maldivian independence and autonomy. They are national celebrations.

The scales have changed. The festivals mentioned above have handed down the traditions and values that were part of the Maldivian cultural identity. These norms are disappearing due to different opinions and rationalisation of different interest groups in the country, coupled with intentions of religious, political and business organisations.

This trend in the Maldives is leading people to lose their connection with each other. The younger generations are being robbed of their Maldivian heritage, as are the less financially able who are losing the opportunity to participate in social life, and last but not least, a whole country is losing their cultural identity.

Back to the Hay Festival

The Hay Festival falls into the modern form of festivals that are thematically based. It gave people the opportunity to participate and fill in the gaps in knowledge of the Maldivian heritage and culture. It gave people the opportunity to contribute to important issues and understand the Maldivian contexts in Maldivian literature and play a participatory role in the evolving Maldivian story.

It took ‘Maldivian’ beyond food, music and dance and rituals. It helped people enter and explore the depths of the Maldivian heritage blending common global issues that affects Maldivians and will impact the Maldivian lives and help reflect on where we came from and where we are going. The broader participation will enrich our culture and help the nation to grow.

In conclusion, as Shobhaa De’ put it so well at the Hay Festival, if you disconnect from the society, the society will disconnect you. So I really hope to see more Maldivians taking these opportunities, and more families and more young people.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Young Maldivians ensure Hay is made in the sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian McEwan and Peter Godwin speaking at Hay

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

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


Hay Festival sells out, more tickets printed

The Hay Festival Maldives has sold out of tickets for the events at the presidential retreat of Aarah this weekend, with many Male’ residents ringing around trying to desperately obtain tickets at the last minute.

The Hay Festival launches this evening with a free concert held at the artificial beach in Male’ from 8pm until midnight. The line up includes an acoustic number from singer songwriter Appi and Fa’thu, the reggae rhythms of the Dinba Family, Bodu Beru drumming, Fasylive Silver and retrospective Hindi-pop from The Olympians.

The meat of the Hay Festival – two days of speaking sessions, storytelling and lectures by local and international luminaries and screenings of films such as the documentary End of the Line at, begins tomorrow at Aarah. Workshops for students will be held on Sunday.

Despite a slow beginning – less than 10 tickets were sold on the first day they went on sale – huge last minute demand has forced organisers to issue 200 more tickets for each day.

“We had to go back to the printers and get more tickets made up,” said Maldives Hay Festival spokesperson Aishath Fasohath. “We’re now expecting 1,000 people on each day. It’s been very successful, we very pleased.”

The additional tickets will be on sale at the launch this evening.

While the national and international line-up is impressive, with renowned authors such as Ian McEwan and Jung Chang mingling with climate scientists and local historians, lending the event its moniker ‘the Woodstock of the mind’, many Maldivians are curious to see the island used by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as a private retreat.

The Maldives government has not stated what it plans to ultimately do with the island, while the former president’s luxury yacht “Arumaaz” is to be sold at Saturday’s international boat show.

Most recently Aaarah was used to detain Abdulla Yameen, Gayoom’s brother-in-law and leader of minority opposition party the People’s Alliance (PA), after the government accused him of vote-buying and treason.

Ferry transfers to Aarah for Hay Festival ticket holders will depart throughout the weekend from jetty four in Male. Police will be conducting random bag searches prior to embarkation.

Friday 15 October:
Male’ to Aarah: Ferries will run from 2pm-3pm, and one at 5:30pm.
Aarah to Male’: One ferry will depart at 6:30pm, with multiple services running between 10:30pm-11:30pm.

Saturday 16 October
Male’ to Aarah: Ferries will run from 9am-10am, with a single service at 11:30am and 3:30pm.
Aarah to Male’: Ferries depart between 10:30-11:30pm, with a single service at 12:30pm and 4:30pm.

Full schedule of the Hay Festival Maldives

Minivan News is a media partner of the Hay Festival Maldives.


No Dhivehi word for folklore, note Hay Festival lineup

The Hay Festival may stimulate the creation of a new Dhivehi word for Folklore, after Abdulla Sodiq and Habeeba Hussain Habeeb came together with Badru Naseer to prepare for their live event, which will take place on the outdoor stage on Friday 15 October.

The trio realised that there was no Dhivehi word for ‘folklore’, and discussed the creation of a new term to reclaim and draw together Maldivian stories from long ago.

‘Vehi Vaahaka’ was suggested, however, whether this will take remains open to debate and the
conversation will continue during their festival event on Aarah.

Meanwhile the Dhivehi Raivaru event line up has been revealed, with three young voices taking to the stage on Saturday 16 October, as part of Hay Festival Maldives’ celebration of Maldivian culture.

Hussain Mubarik from Laamu Atoll, Fathimath Shiuna from Male’ and Dunya Abdul Rahmaan, currently studying at Hiriyaa School Male’, will sing to the festival audience in what promises to be a unique event.

The workshop programme on the final day of the festival has also been announced, and is dedicated to the next generation of artists and thinkers.

Workshops for schools and faculties will take place, so that students can learn from experts about a wide variety of subjects, all with the sole aim of encouraging and inspiring participation.

Through the festival, children and young people will have the world of writing, journalism, art, music and science at their fingertips.

The workshop and talks programme includes: Horticulturist and television presenter Monty Don gardening with students on Soneva Gili, environmental expert Mark Lynas brainstorming on climate change and freelance journalist Anita Sethi on blogging and the internet.

Science correspondent at The Guardian, Alok Jha, will look at writing comment pieces, interview techniques and the importance of research. Internationally acclaimed novelist Ian McEwan will revisit the start of his creative writing career, while Sabina Manik, the established artist and poet, will lead a session on poetry.

United Artists of Maldives will bring an Introduction to Visual Art into classrooms and students will discover the versatility of items usually cast into the rubbish bin with Maldivian Youth Climate Network, whilst also learning about the vital need to reduce waste in our everyday lives.

The Hay Festival Maldives aims to celebrate the archipelago both as a global treasure and as a rich and diverse heritage drawing on two thousand years of poetry, music and art.

Facing the urgent environmental challenge of climate change, and armed with the power of pluralist democracy, Festival organisers describe the event as “a great opportunity to talk and play together for these four days and to revel in the astonishing wealth of culture that complements the world’s most beautiful and vulnerable islands.”

Residents’ Day Passes
Friday 15 October – 50 Rf
Saturday 16 October – 100 Rf

Tickets include all events on Aarah and return transport from Male. The residents’ box office is located at Olympus. Tickets can be bought in person at the box office between 1pm and 10pm, or by phone on 991 1429.

Non-Residents’ Day Passes
Friday 15 October – $50 USD
Saturday 16 October – $100 USD

Tickets include all events on Aarah and return transport from participating resorts. Non-residents can book online at www.hayfestival.com or by phone on +44 (0)1497 822 629.

All tickets will also be available at the Celebration Launch at the Artificial Beach on Thursday 14 October. Please note the Celebration Launch is a non-ticketed, free event.

Minivan News is a media partner of the Hay Festival Maldives.


Failing to make Hay in the sunshine

Despite the lineup of international literary luminaries, ticket sales for October’s Hay Festival Maldives, the first Dhivehi ‘Woodstock of the mind’, are so dismal organisers are reluctant to divulge the exact figures. Less than ten were sold on the first day the tickets went on sale, and the daily sales figure has remained unchanged since.

The national and international line-up is impressive, the venue is Aarah, and the tickets cost a Rf100 for two days of literature, music and intellectual discussion. It is billed as a celebration of the ‘world’s most hopeful new democracies and oldest island cultures’ bringing together international and national artists for ‘a festival of ideas’.

“As a new democracy, the Maldives is the logical setting for the vital debates that affect us all,” President Nasheed said of the Festival.

Reading habits and local education levels suggest the logic maybe flawed.

What do Maldivians read?

Although the international authors lined up by the Hay Festival are all relevant to the emerging democracy of the Maldives, none of their books are available in any of the bookshops in Male’.

Enthusiastic Maldivian volunteers organising the event told Minivan all the books will be available from Aster’s bookshop before the Festival begins. For the moment, none of their work can be bought in a Maldivian bookshop. The National Library is currently closed, and Minivan could not check whether it stocks the books.

Without getting into a debate over what can and cannot be classified as ‘serious literature’, a random sample of bookshops in Male’ reveal their shelves to be almost entirely bare of any fiction at all, let alone any great works of literature or the works of the authors participating in the Festival.

The Minivan survey revealed the most recently opened bookshop in Male’ to be its the most well-stocked in terms of literature – it had a copy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Harper Lee’s classic ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as well as a few children’s classics, a few Roald Dahls, almost all the Harry Potter books, and a vast collection of Enid Blyton.

American teenage sensations Hannah Montana and Mary-Kate Ashley filled the remaining shelves, along with copies of four books on Maldivian law written by the proprietor.

The one and only bookshop in Hulhumale’ carried one book of fiction for adults written in English – ‘Three sexy tales: Playing Hard to get’ by Grace Octavia – according to the blurb, a ‘chic tale’ of three New York ‘It Girls’ and their lives.

There too, was a collection of Enid Blyton and the same American teenage fiction as the previous bookshop.

None of the local authors billed at the Hay Festival – Abdulla Sadiq, Habeeba Hussain Habeeb or Fathimath Nahula – featured on its shelves. The only Maldivian literature were religious publications promoting spiritual guidance.

What can Maldivians read?

Only one percent of all Maldivian students are interested in the arts. Less than a quarter have shown an interest in science, while more than half pursue commercial subjects, according to 2008 O’Level exam figures published by the Education Ministry.

If less than one percent of Maldivian students are interested in the arts, it indicates that only a minuscule number of Maldivians will grow up to be interested in literature, music, art, film, poetry or any of the activities that the Hay Festival celebrates. Had science had a stronger pull, perhaps the line-up of world-class environmental writers may have drawn a bigger crowd.

Although 90 percent of students sat the compulsory subject of English as a Second Language, only 0.1 percent took the English Language exam. The number of students who took the literature exam was marginally higher at 0.2 percent.

Of the 90 percent of students who did study English as a second language, only 20 percent passed. It was also English as a Second Language that received the most number of ‘U’s meaning ‘Unclassified’ or ‘Ungraded’ in 2008. In the same year, over 24 percent of students who sat the O’levels did not pass any subjects at all.

The ‘logic’ of choosing Maldives as a venue for the Hay Festival, a celebration of some of the best international and local literature, appears less than clear cut in view of local reading habits and education levels.

Full schedule of the Hay Festival Maldives

Day passes are on sale at the Olympus Theatre in Male’, and available online for non-residents.

For more information call 991 1429 (residents), +44 1497 822 629 (international), or email [email protected]

Minivan News is a media partner of the Hay Festival Maldives.


“Woodstock of the mind” coming to the Maldives

Imagine Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, performing a reading or participating in a panel discussion on a beach in a Maldivian island.

That is exactly what Hay Festival Maldives promises to do.

Famously described as “the Woodstock of the mind” by former US President Bill Clinton, the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts is among the most famous literary festivals in the world.

And for the first time, the festival is going to be held in Maldives from October 14-17 this year.

The festival is Europe’s largest literary and arts festival, which started in the sleepy village of Hay-on Wye in Wales – a village made famous for having the highest ratio of bookshops to inhabitants with over 30 bookshops for its population of 1,846.

Over the last few years the Hay Festival has gone global and now holds Festivals each year in Lebanon, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Kenya and India, with the Maldives the latest to join the list.

Hay in the Maldives

“The Maldives has gained fame in the world for its beaches and the sea, with this festival we hope to showcase the 2000 year old rich cultural heritage of the Maldives to the world,” says Xiena Saeed, Hay Festival Volunteer.

At the press conference announcing the Hay Festival Maldives, Xiena said she hopes that the festival will help start a vibrant literary and arts culture in the Maldives.

In keeping with the Hay tradition of fostering the exchange of ideas, the festival will bring together local and international writers, thinkers, musicians, filmmakers and scientists.

An exciting line-up of local and international artists promise to make the first Hay Maldives a memorable one.

Confirmed artists so far include well known local personality and writer Ogaru Ibrahim Waheed, and Fathimath Nahula, film director and writer of several screenplays and books.

They will speak alongside internationally famous authors like Ian McEwan, and historian and biographer Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and Mao.

With the growth of Hay Festival audience over the last 23 years from 1,000 people in Hay to 28,000 visitors on four continents each year, the festival is very conscious of the impact it has on the environment.

“In 2006 we started the Greenprint Project to audit our impacts and put in place actions to improve our sustainability,” says Andy Fryers, Project Director Hay Festival Maldives and Director of Greenprint.

The objectives of Greenprint are firstly to reduce the direct impacts of the Festival, and secondly to help the visiting public to reduce their own impacts, and thirdly, to programme debates, conversations and lectures, educating people about sustainability and stimulate action.

Andy says “the Maldives Festival follows similar lines to our other Festivals but with a stronger emphasis on the environment given the likely climate change impacts on the islands.”

This is reflected in the line up of environmental writers and campaigners like Montagu Don, Tim Smit – the businessman who founded the Eden project, the largest green house in the world – Mark Lynas, activist and author of several books on climate change including the acclaimed Six Degrees, and Chris Gorell-Barnes.

Musicians like popular band Fasy live and Mauritian-born electronic fusion artist Ravin,have been roped in to perform at the event.

As more artists are in the process of being confirmed, Xiena says “We would like to invite local writers and artists to get in touch with us if they are keen to participate in the festival.”

“This would be a good platform for local artists to showcase their talent and become known to a global audience .”

Festival Programme

The three-day festival will kick-start with a performance of live bands at Carnival grounds in Male at 7:00pm on 14th October.

It will then move on to the presidential retreat island of Aarah.

“We will start the next day’s programmes after Friday prayers at Aarah,” says Xiena.

Panel discussions and debates will take place at Aarah for the next two days. This will be a rare opportunity for the public to gain access to Aarah, as it had been used as a presidential retreat since the 50s.

“Aarah was chosen as its a suitable venue near the capital, we want to ensure that it is easy for Maldivians and tourists to to mingle freely and celebrate the arts and culture Maldives.”

On the last day of the festival on the 17th, writers and artists’ workshop will be held in schools and colleges to encourage a new generation of artists.

Later on with National Centre for the Arts (NCA), which is facilitating the holding of the festival, Hay Festival Maldives plans to develop a rolling programme of workshops for this year and next.

Xiena explains that “The workshops will teach children and young people to interview their parents and grandparents, to gather and record legends and stories and experiences of life in the Maldives over the past century.”

The stories are to be collected in a huge online library to be launched at the second Hay Festival Maldives 2011.

A limited number of tickets are being sold keeping in mind the capacity of each venue.

2000 tickets will be available for the music show that will be launching the festival.

“1000 tickets will be sold for each day at Aarah, because that is the capacity of the island,” informs Xiena.

The tickets will be sold from the first week of September at NCA, and Xiena promises “the tickets will be at an affordable price for the locals, as we want a high participation from Maldivians.”

The event will also be marketed to tourists – at a different price than locals – however with the Hay Festival being a non-profit organisation tickets will remain reasonably-priced, organisers claim.

Hay Festival Maldives promises to be an exciting literary and arts event, the first major cultural festival to be held in the Maldives in recent times, and one not to be missed.

The participating Maldivian artists are currently being programmed, if you wish to be considered please send details to [email protected] If you would like more information about the festival please drop by the festival desk at Olympus Theater between 21:00pm to 23:00pm.


Maldives Hay festival to be held from October 14

The Maldives will hold a Hay festival starting October 14 with the intention of celebrating “ideas, conversations and fun”.

The festival will bring together international and local experts in literature, art, science, drama, music and poetry, according to a statement from the President’s Office.

Maldivian writers including Ogaru Ibrahim Waheed and Fathmath Nahula will join historian and biographer Jung Chang (author of Wild Swans and Mao), novelist Ian McEwan (author of Atonement) and environmental campaigners Montagu Don, Tim Smit, Mark Lynas and Chris Gorell-Barnes.

Mauritian-born, electronic fusion artist Ravin will perform and local bands will include Fasy Live. Lectures will also be delivered online by prominent artists, scientists and historians.

“The Maldives has been a multi-party democracy for only two years and this new freedom has opened up a host of new opportunities both culturally and politically,” the statement said.

Some events will be held on the Presidential Retreat on Aarah, allowing rare public access to the island.

The Hay Festival began in the Welsh book town of Hay-on-Wye in Brecon Beacons National Park in the UK, and has fostered the exchange of ideas for more than twenty years.