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.


US provides US$20,000 to restore vandalised artifacts in national museum

The United States has provided a financial assistance of US$ 20,000 (MVR 308,400) to the National Museum to help restore and repair artifacts placed in the museum.

The assistance was provided from the Ambassador’s fund and was handed over to the government of the Maldives by the newly appointed Ambassador to Maldives and Sri Lanka Michele Sison.

Speaking during the ceremony, Sison stated that the financial assistance represented the importance that the United States gave to the museum.

The national museum was not only important to tourists, students and visitors who frequently visit the museum.

“This museum is also very important to researchers and scholars therefore it is very important the relics be preserved,” she added.

Deputy Director General of the Heritage Department Ali Waheed told local media that when the museum first opened in July last year, it was not in the best conditions and therefore some amount of the funding would be spent on upgrading the facilities.

He also said the museum is talking with the US to send some of its staff abroad for training. The restoration of the damaged artifacts was also a priority.

Waheed said that on February 7 a group attacked and vandalised the artifacts in the pre-Islamic section, and the hall which was used to display the artifacts had to be closed for repairs.

Speaking to Minivan News, Assistant Curator of the Museum Ahmed Ashraf told Minivan News that they had not yet confirmed “how the funds will be spent, but most likely it will be used to repair some damaged artifacts, bring in technical expertise as well as train the staff working here in the museum.”

“We sent the proposal to get funds before February 7. However following the damage incurred to the artifacts during the mob attack on February 7, they took a report from us about the damages. The funding includes the repairing of the damaged artifacts on February 7 and other artifacts as well,” Ashraf said.

He added that there was a “lot of damage done to the artifacts” on February 7 and “unfortunately some of the artifacts were totally destroyed and cannot be recovered.”

”Most of the artifacts were made from limestone and it is not as easy as fixing something made of wood. So a lot of work needs to be done,” he said.

The Buddhist statues were destroyed by mob in an act of vandalism a museum official described at the time as causing “unimaginable damage” to Maldivian heritage.

A group of five to six men stormed into the building twice, “deliberately targeted the Buddhist relics and ruins of monasteries exhibited in the pre- Islamic collection, destroying most items beyond repair.”

“This is not like a glass we use at home that can be replaced by buying a new one from a shop. These are originals from our ancestors’ time. These cannot be replaced ever again,” the official exclaimed.

According to a source, a coral stone Buddha head, an 11th century piece recovered from Thoddoo in Alifu Atoll, was smashed up by the attackers. It was one of the most significant pieces at the museum.

In May the Maldives Police Service (MPS) forwarded a case to the Prosecutor General against four persons suspected of destroying the historical artifacts.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News at the time that no information could be revealed regarding the identity of the four suspects. A number were detained at the scene following the incident, however no formal arrests were made.


Addu Cultural Centre promotes arts in plan for progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In September, the government announced plans to sign the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mamduh Waheed, said at the time that protecting cultural heritage would improve tourism in the Maldives. “We have a market for the natural aspect of the Maldives, and now we will be able to add cultural attractions and destinations. I think it will draw tourists interested in cultural conservation,” he observed.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Private groups sought for local heritage promotion

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

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

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

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