The Maldives has a long history and heritage of arts and crafts. Maldivians have always been gifted craftsmen, traditions are passed from generation to another and the arts and crafts made today are a testament to these old age skills. A stay in Maldives will not only provide you fantastic holidays but will also allow you to discover a great cultural history.
Arts and crafts of the Maldives are created using mostly raw materials that are easily available such as coir, wood, reeds, shells, coral, palm leaves, stones, natural oils, paints and coloring…
We listed you below some of the most popular and genuine arts and crafts in Maldives. Hope this little selection will help to shop judiciously for authentic souvenirs when visiting the Maldives.
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1/WOODEN LACQUER WARE
Lacquer ware is probably the most popular form of art in Maldives along with Kunaa mats (see below) . Lacquer ware is a very important part of Maldivian history and collectors from all around the world travel to Maldives to acquire some of the most beautiful or antique pieces.
Lacquer work ( “Laajehum” in Dhivehi) cover different wood carved objects such as vases, jewellery boxes, bowls, baskets . The craftsman shapes the wood so as to make the objects of his desire and then coat it layer after layer with different colours. Black, Red and Yellow are traditionally the most used colours. Green can also be seen sometimes while gold and silver are used to add appeal to works. When coating is finished, craftsman will use dry coconut leaves to polish the items. Lacquer ware ornaments are produced from memory and are rarely pre designed.
These decorated pieces of wooden lacquer ware can be found all over the islands with the most famous being Thulhaadhoo in Baa atoll. Thulhaadoo craftman used to supply the royal Maldivian families and acquired a very strong reputation in and outside of the country.
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2/ THUN’DU KUNAA MATS
Kunaa mat weaving is one of the most famous and oldest Maldivian handiworks. These mats were used as royal gifts from the sultan of Maldives to the Dutch and British governors of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Nowadays these mats are still offered to visiting diplomats and foreign dignitaries.
Kunaa mats are traditionally used for sleeping, seating or praying and size of the mats vary according to the use of it. At present, tourist resorts designers use kunaa as floor mats and wall hangings.
The reeds used to create these mats are cultivated and gathered on the local island, dried under the sun and then dyed in different natural colours. Four colours are used for the designs : natural, yellow, brown and black. Mat can be sometimes trimmed with gold lace work to add appeal to works. Weaving loom is used to design the fine patterns and each pattern has a distinct functionality (Sleeping mats, prayer mats, seat mats etc…). Kunaa mats are traditionally made by women and the traditions are passed from generation to another , mostly from mother to daughter.
Mats are very popular souvenirs and are usually used by tourists as wall hanging, table decoration mats, floor mats etc… Beauty and complexity of the patterns usually determine the price of Thundu Kunaa Mats.
Most popular place for Thundu Kunaa Mats is in the GaafuDhaalu Atoll, on the island of Gadhdhoo, where women are reputed for their fine work.
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3/ JEWELLERY WORK
Maldivian women love jewellery and have, by tradition, been dressed in jewellery by local blacksmiths. Blacksmith is one of the ancient craft works that reflects Maldivian heritage and is still carried out by few Maldivian artisans.
People from Addu atoll are famous for their blacksmith but almost all the most skilled goldsmiths/silversmiths of the Maldives come from Rinbudhoo or the neighbouring island of Huludheli in Dhaalu atoll. Rinbudhoo is marked as the “Jewellers Island”, and today all inhabitants still have a connection to the business.
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Famous ornaments include fattaru (a silver girdle worn around one’s hip), fattaru-baé (golden necklace), ula or keveli (golden bracelets or wristlets), thakaholi (anklets), angoti (ring) and mudi (earrings). In the past, the islanders would spend months making jewelleries with traditional rudimentary tools such as a little anvil, a small hammer (mushi) and a kerosene lamp. Unfortunately local craftsman have largely stopped fashioning such jewellery although a new generation of Maldivians artisans are little by little rediscovering this ancient art and are sometimes commissioned to create such objects for special occasions.
Due to the rarity of these Jewelleries, prices are usually very high with some antics pieces reaching astronomical prices.
4/ WOOD CARVING
From the most ancient time Maldivians used wood from the different trees to create objects such as vases, kitchen utensils, cutleries jewellery boxes and various containers. More recent times have seen a concentration of miniature models representing the ancient Maldivian culture and way of life. One the most famous example of these miniatures is the new art known as Dhoni crafting. Dhonis are the traditional Maldivian wooden sail boats. Dhonis were the first modes of transport in the country and are still used nowadays as transportation or fishing vessels.
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Wood carvings are sometimes painted or lacquered, increasing the artistic value of the objects.
5/ EMBROIDERY WORK
The oldest Maldivian dress, the Dhivehi libaas, is a perfect demonstration of Maldives’ most exceptional embroidery techniques.
This traditional dress is adorned by a very unique cloth piece called Kasabu viyun. Kasabu viyun entails silver and gold laces hand stitched into the neckline of the Dhivehi libaas.
Unfortunately very few people sill practice traditional Kasabu work and it is not only very difficult but also very expensive to obtain an high quality piece. Sewing machines are now largely used; however, the most complicated part of the work is still done by hand.
Even if Libaas has evolved over time you will still see many women wearing this dress in the streets of Male city or on the local islands. The traditional libaas is worn with an underskirt tissue piece called feyli . Feyli is an important piece of costume for both men and women, it has been a part of the Maldivian culture for a long times with records as far as 14th century.
Feyli is black or dark blue wraparound that is bordered at the bottom with stripes of white. Feyli was worn as a sarong during the monarchy and was a part of the ceremonial dress of the palace guards and other entourage at the palace.
Feyli has also changed over time, gold/silvers patterned stripes have been added to the original model . Mainly worn by men as a sarong with a long white sleeved shirt, Feyli is still widely used in Maldives and especially during festivals, dance performances and ceremonies.
In addition to looking nice the costumes make excellent souvenirs. You will find Feyli in all souvenirs shops in Male, on your resort and on the local islands. Finding Libaas dress might be more difficult as you will have to address to specialized tailors. (message us for more information)
Maldives arts and crafts are a testament to the artisan quality and skill of the craftsmen of the country who rely on age old teachings, giving them an authentic feel and look.
Visit Maldives and discover real culture and authentic traditions through the art and craft secrets being passed from generation to generation.
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