CULTURAL CRUISES IN THE MALDIVES
Our cultural cruises are meant to combine leisure and culture in the Maldives; ethnic and cultural elements are intertwined with a wonderful sea holiday in the Maldivian archipelago.
The cruise offers a mix of guided historical visits to the main places of interest along with a wide range of water activities.
The cruises are on board of luxury and comfortable motor yachts: M/Y Conte Max, M/Y Duke of York or, for smaller groups, on board of the exclusive M/SY Dhoni Stella fleet.
During the cruise we organize various activities, among them: 2/3 guided snorkelling activities a day in order to explore the amazing reefs, excursions on local as well as on deserted islands, line fishing twice a week, troll fishing during navigation, canoe and 3 scuba dives a day for certified scuba divers.
All water and land activities will be carried out with the help of our Diving Dhoni (local 18 metres long motor boat that accompanies the main yacht throughout the cruise) as well as by the smaller tender used for shorter trips.
TOURISM AND CULTURE
Tourism and culture are inexplicably intertwined. We travel for different reasons, but the so-called ‘cultural tourism’ remains one of the pillars of the still growing tourism industry.
Cultural tourism is based on the desire to know different ways of being, different lifestyles, to meet new people living in different contests and learn about their culture, arts, architecture, traditions as well as their religions.
All these elements attract since ever the interest of those who are willing to travel a long way to explore new destinations and discover different habits and cultures.
Getting to know new people and new cultures allows the traveller to broaden his/her knowledge, increasing respect and a deeper comprehension for other communities, as well as promoting peace and harmony among individuals of different countries.
Respecting the local religious beliefs
Islam is the official religion of the Maldives. On Maldivians inhabited islands it is forbidden to promote or to participate to any activity that might jeopardize the peace or the harmony of the inhabitants.
In the Maldives religious missions or the practice of religions other than Islam, are strongly forbidden.
Islamic prayer times have priority over all other activities of the island.
In order to visit a mosque it is compulsory to wear long trousers or a sarong and to remove shoes and hats.
Outside of touristic resorts, it is strictly requested not to eat pork meat and not to drink alcoholic beverages.
How to dress
On all islands inhabited by Maldivians it is compulsory to follow some rules related to appropriate clothing in order to respect the local Muslim traditions.
Men: Men should wear a t-shirt and shorts, but they should never go around in swimwear.
Women: Women should wear either a sarong or shorts covering the knees and a t-shirt. On beaches and lagoons of local inhabited islands, men are allowed to wear swimwear, while women have to have shoulders as well as the legs covered.
Swimsuits for ladies are accepted on deserted islands and on private beaches reserved by tourists’ guesthouses.
Maldivian craftsmanship had a regional reputation of excellence.
They built the mosques with corals and with wood decorating them with sculptures and lacquer works. They also used to weave carpets with sophisticated designs and used coconut tree leaves to build roofs and items for their homes. They spun cotton and woven coloured clothes with marvellous embroideries.
With gold and silver imported from nearby countries they created traditional jewelleries.
Below you will find a brief list of their handicrafts and the relevant techniques.
Maldivians used to work gold and silver for many centuries. This kind of craftwork is called ‘thileyrukan’ and those practicing this art were the ‘thileyrun’. In order to become a ‘thileyrun’ they had to learn from a ‘master blacksmith’ for many years. Gold and silver utilized for these handicrafts were mainly imported from India. In the past the ornaments were traditional jewelleries worn by Maldivian women while wearing the typical dress called ‘kasabulibas’; among these, the ‘fattaru bai’ (the traditional necklace decorated with entangled designs), the ‘ulhabai’ (gold and silver bracelets) and the ‘kanfathu mudhi’ (estimable earrings). Another very typical ornament was the ‘fattaru’, a silver chain worn around the waist by women and children. This was usually created in three or four different designs.
Nowadays the ‘thileyrun’ produce only modern jewelleries; very few of them still keep creating the traditional antique style ornaments.
The handicraft traditional Maldivian carpet, the ‘kunaa’, was used for the prayers or was laid on beds, or on ‘undhoali’ ( rocking chairs) and on chairs. There were many kinds of ‘kunaa’ with elaborate designs. Some of the most antique ‘kunaa’ are the ‘karudhaabu kunaa’, ‘salavaaifulhu kunaa’ and the ‘boafaiijehi kunaa’. Special carpets were woven upon request for the Sultan and his family. The ‘kunaa’ was especially produced in the Southern Atolls like Huvadhoo, which were reach in Cyperacea, a cane (called ‘hai’ by the Maldivians) used to weave carpets.
The island of Gadhdhoo is known for the quality of their ‘kunaa’. The traditional art of carpet weaving in the Maldives has always been done by women and it is still practiced by them. The production of one ‘kunaa’ takes a long time. First the ‘hai’ is cut and dried naturally in order to obtain the three base colours, which are black, brown and ochre. These three colours along with the natural not dried fibre colour were combined together to created the most amazing designs of the ‘kunaa’.
The ‘saanthi’ is a carpet made with Pandanus leaves and it is woven differently from the ‘kunaa’. To produce the ‘saanthi’, the Pandanus leaves are firstly cut at the end and their outer edges are removed with a coconut fibre or with a cotton thread. The leaves are then divided up in two parts, dried under the sun and eventually smoothed with a blunted edge of a blade. The weaver displays the leaves on the frame and with the use of his/her feet, are then positioned accordingly once decided the size of the carpet.
Some of the leaves were coloured while drying, so to create different geometrical designs once the carpet was finished. ‘Saanthiviun’ is a very old and traditional handicraft and is practiced mainly by the women from the Northern atolls.
Maldivians started to carve and to engrave corals (Madrepora) over 2000 years ago. During the pre-islamic period, they used to built temples and Buddha statues using blocks of coral, but sculpture was at its peak only during the Islamic period. Mosques and gravestones were engraved with symmetrical and floral patterns following the Islamic tradition. Some of these masterpieces are still to be seen at the Hukuru Miskiiy in Malè and in the mosque of Fenfushi island.
Nowadays construction materials have R3PL4CEd corals, since the local authorities have prohibited taking coral out of the sea.
Woodcarving is an old technique called ‘binvalhunagaa kurehun’.
Some beautiful old handicrafts can be found at the Hukuru Miskiiy and at the Eidhu Miskiiy in Malè.
Ornate designs are engraved on wooden doors, ceilings and beams as well as on pillars of these mosques.
Most of the designs have floral or geometrical patterns, while no humans or animals shapes are represented, as in compliance with the Islamic tradition.
The wood used is taken mainly from local trees like the ‘moonima’, the ‘hiti’ and the ‘uni’, but rarely the coconut tree, as its wood is too hard. The engraving process is made of two steps: firstly the pattern is designed on the wood and only afterwards is accurately engraved.
This art flourished in the Maldives in the 12th century, after the conversion to Islam.
Maldivian women started to make the so-called ‘roanu’ (a rope made of coconut fibres) in the 10th century. Between the 15th and the 16th centuries Maldives became famous among the entire Asiatic region for the quality of their ‘roanu’ and for their cowries (Cypraeidae) used as trading currencies. The ‘Roanu’ represented a very important tool in the every day life. It was used to build houses, boats and many other items like the ‘joli’ (a sort of chair made of rope), the ‘hirimi’ (a wide basket) and house mats. In order to make the ‘roanu’, the fibres of the unripe coconut were buried into the sand close to the shore and left there for three or 4 weeks. It was then crushed in a mortar to extract the best fibres. Those were washed in the sea and dried under the sun. Once dried, they were worked by hand until the rope was formed.
The size could vary according to the final usage: there were the ‘ras roanu’ (rope of the king), the ‘boduronu’, the ‘himaronu’ and the ‘fangeronu’ (used to stitch together the palm leaves). Despite synthetic ropes have now widely R3PL4CEd it, the ‘roanu’ is still very requested for its quality and for its durability.
The ‘fan’ or coconut tree leaf is used to build roofs, sails, house tools and toys for children.
The leaves are firstly heated to make them more resistant and afterwards they are intertwined to create the desired object.
The ‘gonu’ is the typical triangular shaped basket used to carry food products like curry leaves, chilli peppers, onions or other vegetables; the ‘mulhi’ it’s a rectangular shaped box used especially for betel leaves. The ‘bonthi fan’ (the young leaves of the palm tree) are used to build toys for children in shapes of birds, fishes, pyramids or stars. Furthermore, in special occasions, the ‘fan’ are used to create costumes and allegorical items such as the ‘maalineshum’ or the ‘bodumas’ (a huge fish entirely made of palm tree leaves).
The ‘Rukufathi’ are also obtained from palm trees and are cut in thin strips used to produce house tools, boxes and baskets. The leaves are firstly cut in strips and then dried in the sun; once dried, they are put in water for at least twelve hours in order to soften them so to facilitate the weaving in the desired shapes.
Some products made with ‘rukufathi’ are: the ‘baiypolhi’, used to clean rice, the ‘goshi’ to cover plates and the ‘balani’, which is a sort of colander. According to the final usage, the interlacement could vary and were used for a wide range of objects; some strips were also coloured and used to adorn objects with symmetrical patterns. The ‘rakufathi’ it’s an art done mainly by men and the island of Bilehfahi, in the Shaviyani atoll, is famous for its craftsmen.
Since ever, Maldivians utilized most parts of the palm tree in order to produce handmade objects.
The ‘iloshi’ or ‘ekel’ (the central stock of the leaf) is used to produce the ‘mukabba’, a sort of plate-covers used to protect the food from insects. In order to make the ‘Mukabba’, they had to cut the ‘iloshi’ all at the same length. The ‘iloshi’ are then intertwined in a dome shape and bonded together with six or seven strips pf ‘rukufathi’, which is very flexible. The strips are fixed in the inside as well as on the outside of the ‘mukabba’ and tied up with a thin rope. Once completed the ‘mukabba’ is dried in the sun or close to a fiR3PL4CE and eventually it is 1NS3RTed a wooden handle. Also other house items are made from the ‘iloshi’: among these, the ‘iloshifathi’ (a broom for outside), baskets and lampshades.
According to Francois Pyrard de Laval, a French navigator of the 17th century, many lacquer objects were exported from the Maldives to nearby countries.
Maldivians have used lacquer (‘laa’) in many forms of handicrafts: to decorate lecterns and beams in antique mosques; to make ‘malafaiy’, wide decorated bowls used to serve food to special guests; and to produce boxes, vases and jewelleries. The production process of the ‘laajehun’ consisted in woodcarving a piece of wood fixed on a turning lathe. Once the desired shape was completed, the lacquer was applied on the turning object. The traditional colours used were red, yellow, black and more rarely green. At the end of the procedure, the object was polished with dried palm leaves. Nowadays this kind of handicraft is done only on the island of Thulhaadoo in the Baa atoll, where this old tradition is carried on from one generation to the other.
Maldivian women used to spin cotton into thread and to weave their clothes with a handloom. Among textile items there were: the ‘libas’ (the traditional Maldivian ladies dress), the ‘mundu’ (sarong for men) and the ‘feyli’ (unisex black sarong with white bands). The loom used to weave was made of wood, bamboo and coconut rope and was very similar to the looms used to weave carpets (kunaa). The cotton was once produced in the Maldives, but subsequently they started to import it from India.
According to Francois Pyrard de Laval, in the 17th century, Maldives used to export textile products to nearby countries. Today all textiles are imported and this art of handicraft has almost disappeared. At the National Museum in Malé are displayed some magnificent and antique dresses woven once in the Maldives.
The ‘feyli’ is the traditional black sarong with two white bands worn by Maldivians. The women wore it as a complement to their usual dress, the ‘kasabulibas’, while men used to wear it during ceremonies. The loom used to weave the ‘feyli’ was very similar to the one used to make the ‘feyraan kurun’. The white cotton balls were firstly washed in the sea and then dried out in the sun, while the black cotton was dyed with natural colours. The last and most difficult part of the process was the sewing of the borders with a thread of gold that added beauty and uniqueness to the sarong.
The ‘kasabu’ is the gold and silver embroidery applied on the ‘kasabulibas’ collar, the traditional Maldivian ladies’ dress. Nowadays very few women in the Southern atolls are still producing and wearing this kind of dress. The method to make the ‘libaas’ collar was done in two phases: firstly the ‘kasabu’ was handmade using a sophisticated technique called ‘gathafai’, that consists of intertwining the threads of cotton, gold and silver on a small duvet; then the ‘kasabu’ is sewed on the ‘libaas’ collar. The ‘kinari’ is the embroidery applied on the sleeves of the ‘kasabu libaas’ and it is also used to decorate the scarf still worn by some Maldivian women.
Many travellers are surprised not to find lots of tropical fruits and vegetables when they visit Maldives.
In the whole archipelago in fact, cultivation sites are very few due to the scarcity of farming land, and due to the fact that the ground is all over shallow and sterile. Palm trees are the only one largely available, while all other vegetable and fruits are imported. Fish and rice are the mainly ingredients of the Maldivians dishes while meat or chicken are eaten only on special occasions.
Here below some of the specialties our chefs on board our yachts prepare during the cruise:
‘MAS HUNI’, small cut tuna mixed with onions, herbs, coconut, chilli pepper and spices served on the ‘ROSHI’, more commonly known as ‘CHAPATI’, flat, soft bread prepared with hot water, white flour, salt and oil, very thin and usually shaped in a circular form.
‘MAS RIHA’ (fish with curry and white rice), ‘GARUDIA’ (fish soup served with rice, lime and chilly pepper), ‘RIHAKURU’ (boiled ‘Garudia’ used as a chilli sauce), ‘KURUMBA’ (juice and pulp of a young coconut), for vegetarians there is the ‘BAMBUKEYO’ (thin slices of breadfruit fried and seasoned with chilly pepper sauce, onions, chilly pepper and coconut milk), ‘HEDIKAA’ (is the mix of sweeties and finger food served at tea time).
Frangipani (called also the ‘temple flower’ and symbol of Ribudhoo island) is a flower that can be easily found on all local islands. The trees are big and can be found usually along the main roads of the villages while the flowers’ exquisite perfume pervades the air.
The resin of this tree is used to produce some traditional medicinal, like the ‘thoonu beys’ used to cure swellings after blister removals. Frangipanis flowers are used by Maldivian women to produce fragrances that kept at the house entrance help prevent insects’ bites.
MALE’, THE CAPITAL CITY
Few hours walk in the city will be sufficient to visit most of the cultural places as well as souvenir shops and good restaurants.
Usually tours start from Jumhooree Maidan, Male’ main square where there is a big Maldivian flag overlooking the Presidential Jetty with two big cannons dating 1632 used to protect the inhabitants from potential attacks by the Portuguese. West from the square there is the main fishing docking area and during sundown is worth watching all the fishermen unloading their catch of the day. Close by, there are the fish market and the fruit & vegetables market with a wide range of spices and coloured fruits.
Even though Malè is one of the tiniest city in the world, it has some nice places of interest: The ‘Presidential Palace’ close to the small antique Mosque, the huge ‘Grand Friday Mosque’, built in 1984 with a golden dome, the modern Munnaru (minaret) and the symmetrical decorations.
Few paces from the big Mosque there is the ‘National Museum’ with a decent collection of objects once belonging to sultans: dresses, tools, arms and a throne. Behind the museum entrance, there is the main city park, the Sultan Park, once part of the palace gardens, now it offers a refreshing place shaded by ancient trees.
After the National Security Service main headquarter, you find the oldest building in Malè, now venue of the Esjehi Gallery, that hosts a small gallery with an artistic laboratory aimed to promote contemporary and traditional Maldivian arts and handicrafts.
It’s worth a stop the most ancient mosque of the Maldives, the Hukuru Miskiiy, dated 1656 surrounded by old gravestones and the big round minaret.
Other two places of interest are the ‘Citizens’ Majilis’ (Parliament) and the ‘Muleeaage’, a big palace built at the beginning of the 20th century, which became in 1953 the official Presidential residency when the first republic was proclaimed. At the eastern end of the building’s compound the Medhu Ziyaarath is the tomb of Abu al Barakaath, who brought Islam to Male in 1153.
Also all the other mosques spread out in the city are worth watching (more than 20), some are simple buildings made of corals with a metal-sheet roof, others are more peculiar adorned with beautiful minarets. In order to better understand the history and the secrets behind each place in Malè, the capital city of one of the most appreciated archipelago, we recommend the visit with a local guide.