The long history of Maldives is steeped in folklore. A past that spans over two thousand years in written history is esoteric at best, the meandering record dotted with gaping voids. Most of the reports that have reached us are filtered through the stories our ancestors passed down from generation to generation, fact and myth interwoven so tightly together that it is nigh impossible to separate reality from fiction.
What we have subsequently amassed is a rich anthology of folklore, with fairytale-style legends, fables with morals and, arguably the most well-loved type: tales of spirits and monsters.
The stories of evil ‘handi’ and ‘fureytha’ - the inspiration for some of which are as archaic as the pre-Islamic and pre-Buddhist eras of the country - are infamous amongst Maldivians. Most of these tales were passed down in oral tradition, and few were the attempts made to document them, such as ‘‘Folk Tales of the Maldives” by Xavier Romero-Frias, the first English compilation of Maldivian folklore.
Perhaps it is an insight into how profoundly we are drawn to these tales of the occult, that they continue to manifest even now amongst a more cynical generation for whom ‘fureytha’ are monsters we indulge in for the sheer fun of it. And for all we know, it might be this very enjoyment that breathes life into these stories, which you can find even in the most unexpected of places … such as schools.
As odd as it may sound, urban legends are quite commonplace in the schools of Maldives. They are not limited to the one boarded-up haunted classroom in a particular school either, but prevalent across the archipelago.
In keeping with tradition, the urban legends of Maldivian schools are passed down by word of mouth, whispered from student to student, senior to junior, friend to friend. While these spooky tales are hardly documented and far from the calibre of recorded folklore, such as the fearsome sea monster ‘Rannamaari’ or the graveyard-haunting ‘Foolhudhigu Handi’, they remain a thrilling part of school life.
The Edition invited locals to share the stories of their schools, sneaking a peek into the ‘hauntings’ that shake up the lives of the average Maldivian student. The following is a short collection of such urban legends, as told by the people that have heard - or experienced! - the hauntings themselves. From stories that go back several years to those that cropped up recently, these tales are often disjointed and obscure, like puzzles missing several pieces, and quite a few come in various versions.
The identity of ‘Hareera’ has always been rather discordant. Most agree that she had been a janitor in Aminiya School, who might have been ruthlessly bullied by some students. One version claims that she hung herself in the girls’ toilets, while the other says that she was murdered, presumably by her bullies.
Ever since her tragic death, the ghost of Hareera is said to haunt the hallways of Aminiya. Students who sneak away from extracurricular activities to wander the corridors after hours - and even during the day, some say! - recount bloodcurdling encounters with a dense “shadow” that looms out of the darkness, stalking them as they run away screaming. It is said that the shadow also lurks, unsurprisingly, in the bathrooms, appearing before unsuspecting kids.
Though no one can pinpoint the beginnings of this legend, there are some who believe that Hareera might have been an ‘avahtehi kujjaa’, a type of spirit domesticated to perform household chores, in the olden days at the king’s private residence ‘Aaganduvaru’ - which used to be where Aminiya School now stands. This version of Hareera is backed by reported sightings of a girl wearing the traditional red dress ‘libaas’, seen near the old mango tree in the school grounds.
Regardless of who Hareera was, her story is considered a cult classic, still eagerly passed down the generations of Aminiyans.
Taking place just a few years ago, it is hard to say whether this odd occurrence at Uligamu School, in the northernmost atoll of Maldives, had a supernatural element to it or not. Whatever the case, it is certainly creepy.
Succulents were grown inside the school grounds, healthy and well-tended. However, senior prefects and other student body leaders who arrive early for duty, began to notice something odd about the plants: every morning, without fail, there would be temple flowers embedded in their thorns.
While there was a beautiful plumeria tree nearby, nobody - not even the earliest staff or student - ever caught anyone in the act. And yet it continued, each day dawning with new flowers from the plumeria carefully embedded into the thorns of the neighbouring succulent plants.
The unexplained phenomenon unsettled the students so much that the school eventually had to get rid of the succulents. To this day, no one knows who - or what - greeted the children with flower-adorned thorns every morning.
Maybe being adjacent to Aminiya School has something to do with it, but Iskandhar School comes with its own spiritual manifestation of a janitor from bygone times.
Quite a few alumni have run into an apparition of a woman in a red ‘libaas’, often near the student toilets. The legend goes that she was a janitor who worked in the school in the 80’s. She was strangled to death inside the ground floor toilets, specifically the middle stall.
There are various stories surrounding the haunted toilet stall, such as students getting locked in and blood appearing on the toilet seat. Even years later, janitors often locked the stall after hours and warned younger students to avoid it.
Amusingly enough, the neighbouring Aminiya School’s urban legend has also spilt over into Iskandhar. It is said that the infamous ghost of Hareera sometimes appears in the school, haunting not only the students but teachers as well!
A decade ago, the students of Makunudhoo School encountered an alarming experience that set off a series of events, which became a hot topic nationwide.
It began when a bunch of students fainted inside the school, for no apparent reason. Over the next month or so, such episodes continued, and some children were overcome with a strange “power”, leaving them thrashing around with such inhuman force that not even groups of four or five men could restrain them. Some of the students were unable to speak for long periods afterwards.
Whatever was at work inside the school affected 23 children and it wreaked terror over the rest. People began to whisper of ‘jinn’ and supernatural possession. While some claimed that the mass faintings began after some kids returned from a picnic to an uninhabited island, others blamed a tree that grew in the school grounds - a ‘reethigas’ (rain tree). Much like ‘nikagas’ (banyan tree), reethigas carries a notorious local superstition of being infested with the jinn - and the people of Makunudhoo eyed the tree as the perpetrator.
School sessions halted, and both psychiatrists and ‘fanditha verin’ - the practitioners of light magic - were brought in as the remote island desperately searched for a cure. The reethigas was unceremoniously chopped down, and psychiatrists eventually diagnosed that 19 of the students had suffered mass hysteria, losing consciousness not from a spiritual attack but out of terror after seeing their peers faint, believing it was the work of demonic forces.
But that still left four students unaccounted for - four, who were said to have been truly made ill by the jinn. It is said that the fanditha verin were ultimately successful in their exorcism, trapping the jinn in a small bottle that was sunk into the ocean.
Stories of mass faintings caused by jinn attacks are quite ubiquitous in Maldives. Honourable mentions include a similar incident in Ukulhas School, Alif Alif Atoll, in 2012, and another in Thakandhoo School, Haa Alif Atoll, in 2014. The latter also involved a reethigas in the school grounds, which was vengefully cut down by a group of masked people.
As the oldest school in the Maldives, it is no surprise that Majeedhiya comes with a whole baggage of reported hauntings.
One such tale goes back to the 80’s. Terrified students raved about a “half-man”, who was found lurking around the toilets during school hours.
Perhaps the quirkiest story is that of a ghost of a man, who was usually sighted at the school’s huge mango tree. No one knows who the spirit is, though many students claim to have seen the mysterious man in the mango tree.
This haunting continued until the vast school was divided in January 2002 into two: Majeedhiya and the newly formed Dharumavantha School. However, as fate would have it, Dharumavantha ended up with the majestic mango tree during the split, and the story now goes that Majeedhiya School is no longer haunted - but Dharumavantha is!
This sighting is a rare case where teachers, for once, are the ones seeing the dead on campus.
The ghost of a girl dressed in the school’s uniform appears in the doorway of Ghaazee School’s library. While a number of teachers have apparently reported running into this spirit, nobody knows who it could be - though there are people who claim that she was a student who had jumped from the library’s balcony, a space that has since been cemented off.
Though a relatively ‘young’ school that was opened just a little over a decade ago, this occurrence in the early 2010’s is proof that in Maldives, there is no age prerequisite for schools to experience paranormal activities.
There are rumours of some sort of ‘fanditha’ or sorcery done in Ahmadhiyya, which students link to creepy incidents that took place inside the school.
One such episode took place a few years ago when a girl, upon returning to class from the toilet, fainted … and one by one, so did some 30 other students over the next half hour.
After being roused, several of the girls, frightened and shaking, claimed that they saw a huge, black figure hovering over them. No one knows whether this dark being is connected to the alleged ‘fanditha’ in the school, but on various occasions, students have also reported seeing a black figure in the toilets as well.
As it so happened, a number of students who mysteriously fainted later complained about finding it difficult to study, and quite a few eventually transferred schools to escape whatever strange presence was affecting them.
The urban legends of Seenu Atoll Education Centre (now Sharafuddhin School) are centred - much like most of the other educational institutions in this collection - around scary hauntings at the student toilets.
The tales mostly recounted today are from over a decade and a half ago, when the male and female toilets were situated in a separate building from the main school complex.
One of the creepiest stories is that of a girl who was “attacked” - by whom or what, no one knows - inside one of the stalls. Ever since the incident, roots began to grow on every surface of the stall, emerging between the tiles on the floor and walls. There was an immense tree near the toilets block; but the peculiar thing was that the roots - if they were from this tree - appeared only inside this stall, while the rest remained unaffected.
Eventually, the stall was locked but that did not shut out the eeriness. Students who entered the toilets after hours began to hear unearthly sounds from behind the closed door, like laughter - though no one could have possibly gotten inside the stall. Some said that blood-red liquid came out of the taps once, while talks circulated that a girl had suffered a seizure after hearing the chilling laughter.
The toilet block has since been demolished, but the stories remain - perhaps fueled by the saying that the site once used to be a cemetery, from where human remains had been unearthed.
Arguably the superstar of urban legends in Maldivian schools is the ‘aiyyburi’ - a disembodied hand.
Stories of an aiyyburi that haunts corridors and toilets are so common, it seems that nearly every institution has a variation of this haunting. Alumni from schools including Ghiyasuddin, Haa Dhaalu Atoll Education Centre, Kalaafaanu, Jamaluddin, Thaajudeen, and Sharafuddin have recounted such tales, describing a gruesome, severed hand that appears in front of students.
No one seems to know to whom this appendage belonged or the origin of the haunting. Much like most of the stories recounted here, the aiyyburi has simply become one with the schools’ fabric.
Whether what we take away from these supernatural encounters is an amusing moral - pee at your own risk in school! - or that people were exaggerating odd phenomena that could have been explained upon a closer look, it remains that urban legends are deeply embedded into school culture across Maldives.
And why not. After all, there is no rule limiting tales of horror to dark woods or abandoned houses. As students past and present can tell you, they can manifest at your own desk, under your very seat, and you never know when they will creep up on you - because as they say, there is some semblance of truth at the root of every legend.