American Centre to host lecture on importance of public museums

The American Center will be hosting a public lecture by US expert speaker Karen Lee on the topic ‘Museums Matter: Staff, Visitors and Exhibitions in the 21st Century’ on Saturday, July 20 2013 from 8:30pm to 9:30pm in the National Art Gallery.

According to a statement from the centre, Lee has a long and distinguished professional history as part of the world renowned Smithsonian community and is currently the curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History – a Smithsonian Institute.

Te lecture will be free and open to all interested parties.


“No idea” why criminal court has taken so long to process museum vandalism case: PG’s Office

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office has revealed it has “no idea” as to why two individuals charged with vandalising the national museum last year have yet to be brought to justice.

The two men, accused of damaging archaeological evidence of Maldives’ pre-Islamic Civilisation in the national museum in Male’ on February 7, 2012, failed to attend their trial hearing at Criminal Court scheduled for today (February 25).

A media official from the PG’s Office told Minivan News that the two suspects had originally been charged between September and October last year, but were yet to face trial in court.

Asked as to why the Criminal Court had taken so long to process the case, the media official said “we have no idea”.

The official was then asked if the PG’s Office had made any attempt to question the court over the delayed trial, to which he responded: “No, we haven’t questioned the court, we have taken no action yet.”

Last month private broadcaster Raajje TV aired leaked security camera footage showing a group of men vandalising around 35 exhibits after they stormed the museum amid the political chaos of February 7 last year.

Police in May 2012 forwarded cases against four suspects to the PG’s office, however the case was initially returned to police for further clarification.

Speaking to Minivan News, Police Superintendent Abdulla Nawaz said the case was then sent to the PG’s Office on July 8, 2012.

Local media reported that two men – Mohamed Nishan of M. Haadhoo and Yousuf Rilwan of G. Adimagu – were due to attend a trial hearing at 10:00am this morning over charges relating to the case.

However, a Judiciary Media Unit official said the hearing was cancelled after the two defendants did not receive their summoning chit to the Criminal Court.

“The chit was sent by the court to the homes of the defendants, but they did not receive it. So now the court will have to send a new summoning chit for a new trial hearing,” the official added.

Minivan News contacted the Criminal Court Spokesperson who, when asked for information regarding the case, gave an unclear response. When Minivan News asked for clarification, the spokesperson hung up.

Minivan News then attempted to contact the spokesperson, but he was not responding to calls at time of press.

“99 percent of Maldives’ pre-Islamic history destroyed”

According to museum director Ali Waheed, the vandals destroyed “99 percent” of the evidence of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic history prior to the 12th century, including a 1.5-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head – one of the most historically significant pieces at the museum.

An official at the museum told Minivan News following the incident that the group “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 said.

In September 2012, the United States government donated US$ 20,000 (MVR 308,400) to help restore and repair the damaged artifacts, as part of an effort to preserve Maldivian cultural heritage.


Museum vandalism “tremendous loss to our country, our culture and our history: former President

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed “deep concern” over leaked CCTV footage of a group of men vandalising archaeological evidence of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic civilisation in the national museum in Male’.

The incident took place amid the political turmoil of February 7 at around 11:30am in the morning, as police and military officers turned on the Nasheed administration in nearby Republic Square.

The extensive CCTV footage shows a group of eight men entering the building while a ninth appears to stand watch outside. A museum staff member sitting at the desk in the lobby stands up as the men enter, and is grabbed and shoved out of view. The group search the ground floor before running upstairs, knocking over display cases and smashing the museum’s collection of ancient Buddhist relics.

Around 35 exhibits were damaged or destroyed, including the museum’s most significant treasure – a carved ancient head of Gautama Buddha discovered in Alif Alif Atoll Thoddu, dating back to the 6th century.

Police in May 2012 forwarded cases against four suspects to the Prosecutor General’s office. According to the PG’s office, the case was initially returned to police for further clarification. The case has now been returned by police and the PG intends to make a decision by the end of next week, Minivan News understands.

“This misguided act of vandalism caused tremendous loss to our country, our culture and our history. A narrative based on hatred and extremism was deliberately whipped up by those currently in power in order to justify the coup in February last year. That same narrative, and the climate of intolerance and impunity it created, also led to the vandalism at the museum,” former President Nasheed stated.

“Extremist behaviour, and a hatred of other cultures and countries, is very real in the Maldives today. The continual denial of this sorry state of affairs by the current regime is deeply troubling,” he added.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi alleged the government’s inaction on the matter amounted to “state-backed protection” of the perpetrators.

“I am very concerned by the failure of the authorities to take any action against the museum vandals. The Maldives Police Service and the prosecutor general have abdicated their responsibility to act,” she said.

The vandalism was widely reported by international media outlets, many of which were present in the country to cover the political turmoil at the time.

In September 2012, the United States government donated US$ 20,000 (MVR 308,400) to help restore and repair the damaged artefacts, as part of an effort to preserve Maldivian cultural heritage.

Leaked museum CCTV footage:


Maldives ministers welcome first visitor at start of 40th anniversary tourism celebrations

The Maldives’ defence and economic chiefs joined Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb in welcoming the first visitors to the country since the commencement of 40th anniversary of tourism.

Local media has reported that Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Economic Minister Mohamed Ahmed were on hand at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’ this morning to welcome the day’s first tourist arrivals.

Hong Kong resident Sing Kok and his family were met off the plane by officials and presented with a free holiday in the country for being the Maldives’ first visitors as 40th anniversary celebrations began.

Adheeb told the Sun Online news service that a number of commemorative events would he held in the country up to September 27 next year; ranging from presenting awards, hosting major local and international events and providing sessions at the country’s National Museum, detailing Maldivian culture and artefacts.

Following February’s controversial transfer of power, an unidentified group attacked and destroyed artefacts representing the country’s pre-Islamic heritage kapt at the museum.

The US later provided financial assistance totalling US$ 20,000 (MVR 308,400) to help try and restore artefacts placed in the museum.


Comment: An identity for Maldivians

On the morning of the Maldives’ 45th Independence Day celebrations, President Mohamed Nasheed finally unveiled the new National Museum – a swanky, modern, grey building with high ceilings and polished interiors, that has been teasing the public for a few weeks now during the final stages of its construction.

The inauguration was greeted with much fanfare, and vows were made by both the President and the State Minister for Arts and Culture to preserve and promote Maldivian cultural heritage.

However, the reactions from commentators on many news websites to the opening were quite puzzling in their negativity and cynicism.

Or maybe not.

Despite the buzz surrounding the newly-inaugurated building, Maldivians have already had a National Museum since the middle of the last century; a tiny, old section of the former palace that former President Nasir had benevolently left standing.

Dusty, crumbling, and largely ignored by the general Maldivian public, the old museum had harbored the last surviving treasures of the long, unbroken chain of ancient Dhivehi civilization; the swords of the Sultans, ancient loamaafaanu copperplate grants, exquisite medieval lacquer-work, extinct scripts, and beautifully carved coral-stone sculptures of the Buddha that triumphantly showcased the skilled craftsmanship of our ancestors from centuries ago.

Yet somehow, the President had to remind the gathered citizens at the inauguration that Dhivehin have inhabited these ancient islands since 2000BC.

It seems ironic that despite being one of the very few countries in the world with such an ancient recorded history, we Maldivians show a strange disconnect from our cultural roots, and a feigned ignorance of our past.

Many Maldivians seek to satisfy themselves that their language, customs and cultural traits are of recent origin and, intriguingly enough, choose to whitewash whole portions of their history.

For instance, there are Maldivians who display a marked hostility for – and seek to disown – the entire culturally-vibrant Buddhist era of our past!

These attempts to sever the umbilical cord with the past have left Maldivians a culturally restless people, uncertain of their place in history.

It is hardly surprising then, that the swanky new museum has been built, not by Dhivehin as a monument to their proud heritage – but by enterprising foreigners.

It is perhaps befitting such a culturally aloof people that the new botanical gardens, being built on the very site where the former Sultan’s palace once stood, is also the product of foreign labor and initiative.

Interestingly, some of the most enlightening anthropological studies of the Maldivian people, our history, arts, poetry, folktales and traditions have also been carried out by foreign chroniclers like Pyrard, Bell and Maloney.

It would hardly matter to most Maldivians that the plaque outside the gate to the newest monument to Dhivehi culture reads, in bright red letters, ‘China Aid’.

Today, more than ever, there is a greater need to overcome this historical apathy of Dhivehin towards history itself.

The Maldives stands at a unique crossroads as a young, budding democracy about to seek its destiny and carve a niche for itself.

Maldivians have long been plagued by an identity crisis after decades of unfettered Westernization followed by rapid Arabisation. The moment is ripe for the newly assertive Maldivian public to permanently erase this.

If we take this moment to infuse ourselves with a strong national identity and cultural pride, we could overcome some of the most divisive issues burning our society today – the drugs epidemic and religious fundamentalism.

The opening of the new National Museum should hopefully provide the required spark to ignite a long overdue cultural revival in the Maldives, and a reawakening of Maldivians to embrace the Dhivehi identity that unites all mahl people.

If Dhivehin do not jump at this opportunity to rediscover our culture, and revel in our sense of common identity and inherited values (in much the same way our neighbors like India, Sri Lanka and Bhutan do) – then it would seem a rather wasteful expenditure by the Chinese government for an ancient people who have willingly betrayed their own culture!

In the words of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi:

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

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]


National Museum will broaden exploration of Maldivian history

The New National Museum will give Maldivians the opportunity “to examine and reinterpret our culture and whole way of life”, claims Ahmed Naseer, the state minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture.

“It’s a great museum complex that includes Male’s best garden park. We now have a lot of space for people to express themselves in various ways, and where people can take refuge from this hectic life in Male. A place where they can relax, experience a bit of entertainment, and improve their historical and cultural knowledge.”

Built by the Chinese government as part of a UNESCO project planned for almost 20 years, the new museum will officially open on Independence Day, Monday 26 July.

For the opening, the new building facing Chandanee Magu will show exhibits mainly from the old museum at the nearby Sultan’s Palace, while the other new building across the park will feature an exhibition of 120 faiykolhu or Maldivian legal deeds and other official documents dating from the 1600s to the 1930s, according to Aminath Shareef, who has been cataloguing the faiykolhu.

They have never been exhibited before, and were selected from 800 documents discovered by chance in Male in December 2008. “We’ve chosen a variety of documents for Maldivians to see at the opening,” says Shareef. “They are written in Dives Akuru, Tana, English and Urdu scripts.”

“The first Maldivian museum was established in the early 1950s,” says Ahmed Naseer. “Our collection has moved four times. At last it has found a permanent home. We will also try to acquire other private collections that people have in their homes. These people are waiting for a secure place to exhibit their precious possessions. We will be inviting them to display their collections, or lease items to the museum. We may even buy their collections once we have the legal framework in place. So it’s a very exciting future.

“We can finally address many issues that have lain dormant in our society. Historians use old books and other things to interpret history, but in our case there are very few books and the questions about where Maldivians came from and who we were before and after we converted to Islam – these questions have remained unexplored. Through the museum we can start examining and interpreting periods of our history, and this will give us a chance to find some answers.”

“Many Maldivians are aware of the fascinating work done on coral stone at the old Friday mosque. We are in the process of applying to UNESCO to have the mosque placed on the World Heritage list. In the Maldives, coral stone sculpture is a common factor throughout the atolls and some experts claim Maldivian coral stone work is the best in the world. Of course that is debatable, but through the museum we can examine these issues, and assess our heritage.

“There is a lot of interest among our young people and students. They are all looking forward to the opening. It’s something good that’s happening. We plan to integrate the museum with the education system. At the moment the heritage department is involved in setting up administration for training staff, but we will also be inviting lecturers to utilise the museum space.”

Inside the museum

“Now the building has been finished, and the President and his cabinet decided we should open it on Independence Day,” explains Mamduh Waheed, deputy minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, “we have to show our appreciation to the Chinese government and assure them that we will utilise the facilities they have so kindly provided.

“Within the ministry and the new heritage department we don’t have the capacity to handle the opening. Former members of the National Centre of Linguistics and History (which has now been disbanded) are helping, but even then we needed much more assistance, so the cabinet decided to put together a taskforce.”

Many Male organisations and government departments are taking part in the effort to have the museum ready for the official opening, according to taskforce co-ordinator Aminath Athifa, “Dhiraagu are working on the PA system, the Male’ Municipality and STELCO are helping, and the police are providing security as well as the MNDF who are also handling the physical transfers and exhibit arrangements. Every movement of our collection is photographed and documented.”

Regarding the museum’s long-term plans, Ahmed Naseer says, “We’ll be exploring non-academic methods of creating interest. In the future, there’ll be exhibitions to attract people who would not normally think a museum is a place for them. A lot of our old craft skills are dying away and they need to be revived. For example, the mat weaving that still occurs in Gaadhoo on Huvadhu atoll, and the lacquerware from Thulhaadhoo in Baa atoll. We will have exhibitions that include the craftspeople, and they can show others how mats and lacquerware are made. In Male we have a very fast pace of life and young people are often quite unaware of these skills. The people from the islands can show us how these beautiful things are created and it will inspire a resurgence in our craft skills and ability to earn more tourism income.”

The training of staff is the biggest challenge facing the museum’s administrators, Naseer explains. “We expect to receive assistance from other countries who are experienced in museum management, and hope to send our young people to neighbouring countries to get training in preservation methods.

“Invitations will be sent to foreign students to come and work as interns with local people; for example through the Heritage Centre in Singapore. We are planning to have exchange programs enabling our people to work overseas in other museums. This will help alleviate our staff shortages. A lot of people are looking forward to this; the level of expectation is high.

Some of the new exhibits

“From the beginning of the consultative process almost two decades ago, an important issue was the provision of a human resource program to train people to run the museum and maintain the collection. But the human resource requirements were not attended to; all the focus was on getting these huge buildings erected. It’s a pity that UNESCO didn’t insist on the training part of the project.

“Maldivians are very interested to learn about their heritage,” Naseer believes. “Most of it is not known. They will be able to question things for the first time. They were used to just obeying and accepting what they were told; not using their own minds. This is an opportunity for Maldivians to improve their knowledge of their past. They don’t have to be afraid to ask questions.

“A museum can be an exciting place that inspires people and we will develop the sort of trained staff the Maldivian people need to help them understand their heritage.”

Sultan’s Park and the Eden Project
An integral part of the new museum is the development of Sultan’s Park, situated between the two museum buildings, into a unique Maldivian botanical garden.

“Maldives is Eden’s latest project area,” says the organisation’s English curator, Ian Martin. “At the moment we are trying to renovate this very attractive garden and turn it into something with a big emphasis on the plants of the Maldives – how people think about them, how they use them. These plants can be used for fruit and vegetables, but there can also be plants for their spiritual satisfaction, appreciated for their beauty.

“Over the next year or so, we’ll really get involved with the transformation of a rather traditional ornamental garden into something very special for Maldivians. It will become a place where Maldivians can understand themselves and what their future could be – giving them ideas about how they can progress towards a more sustainable economy that isn’t just relying on fish and tourism.”

The museum will help promote research into Maldivian culture

Ian Martin worked as a horticulturalist in tropical countries for 23 years before joining the Eden Project fourteen years ago. “My links abroad became useful to promote Eden’s philosophy of improving the understanding and care of plants for crops and conservation around the world,” he says.

“Helping in the initial landscaping work are labourers and other staff from the city’s nursery and the Male Municipality, and of course the MNDF personnel who have been really great and very easy men to work with.”

“The second phase of our work will be turning Sultan’s Park into a specialised garden – the only place in the world where you will find this particular collection of plants with these stories,” Martin explains. “We want to produce something distinct for the Maldives – something beyond being a nice garden with pleasant shade. Maldivians will find plants that have played a key role in their cultural identity. It will become a place for children to understand what it means to be a Maldivian. It can’t be boring, it has to be entertaining, and something they won’t be able to find anywhere else.”


New Maldives Museum to be ready for Independence Day: Minister Dr. Sawad

Maldives new museum in Male will be inaugurated on Independence Day 26 July, says the minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad., according to Miadhu Daily.

The new museum has been donated by the Chinese government, and Dr. Sawad says that work to transfer artifacts from the old museum is underway. A task force including officials from the President’s Office, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Tourism Ministry, Environment Ministry and the MNDF is taking part in the transfer. The new building is still under construction and some difficulties have arisen during the transfer process, says Ali Waheed, who is in charge of the taskforce.

Sultans Park would become the museum park, says Dr. Sawad who confirmed that the Chinese government would assist in that development.

“The Chinese government and the Tourism ministry are working to train staff at the museum, with added assistance from a Singaporean NGO,” Dr. Sawad said.