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Fuvahmulah City – The Days of the Past and Reigning Ramadan Rituals

The Edition narrates the early history of the City of Fuvahmulah as well as the special characteristics adopted by the islanders in sprit of the most joyous period of the year, the holy month of Ramadan, as recounted by an island dweller.

Aishath Shuba Solih
02 April 2024, MVT 16:10
Aerial view of Fuvahmulah displaying the shape of a flip-flop. -- Photo: Asad's Photography
Aishath Shuba Solih
02 April 2024, MVT 16:10

Thirty-three kilometers away from the Equator lies a rural isle highly praised by visitors for its beautiful tropical woodlands, distinctive freshwater lakes and vegetated marshland areas. Widely described by inhabitants as representing the shape of a ‘Faivaan Kiba’ or ‘One pair of flip-flops’, the Maldivian island of Fuvahmulah sports rich history and monumental ruins alongside peculiar traditions for the most festive month of the year; Ramadan.

The Maldivian island of Fuvahmulah, deemed a city in 2016 amid the administration of former president Abdulla Yameen, is separated into nine administrative wards, residents of which all sport minor differences in their dialects, habits and even celebrations, sometimes clashing due these opposing territorial views.

The rural sea in this island is curiously devoid of a coastal terrain at the junction where the sea and the shoreline meet, resulting in strong waves crashing over the island on all fronts. Residents have passed down this geographic feature across generations by word of mouth in the local language as ‘Futtaro Mahthen Raalho Jahanee’, which indicates that strong tides surge over the coast of the island owing to its lack of a lagoon.

Fuvahmulah is a unique city that – contrary to the rest of the atolls – boasts a single island in its waters; a distinctive feature that locals take notable pride in.

Aerial view of the City of Fuvahmulah. -- Photo: Asad's Photography

Memoirs of the Past

Author Hassan Saeed wrote in a 2021 publication that the island remained secluded from the rest of the world as well as the country itself for a long time. However, this observation has since developed with Fuvahmulah now designated as one of the topmost destinations for both tourists and local vacationers alike.

This single island atoll, currently titled Fuvahmulah, was noticeably documented as the island of ‘Fua Mulah’ in earlier historic scriptures alongside other diverse titles while Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias had further cited that the island was branded as ‘Poue Molluque’ in ancient French maps.

The Parmentier voyagers who had anchored at the island in 1929 chronicles that the dwellings of ‘a green island well planted within palms, about a league in length’ sported miserably constructed and considerably compact homes.

A page extracted from the book, 'Dhivehi Thaareekhah Au Alikameh' which recounts Harry Charles Purvis Bell (HCP Bell)’s visit to Fuvahmulah in 1922 amid his examination of the country’s archaeology after retirement, revealed that the popular ruins of stupa, locally known as the ‘Havitta’, which was formerly located in the Dhadimagu ward and presently annexed to Hoadhadu, was identified as the remains of a Buddhist temple by the researcher, indicating ancestry along a Buddhist monarchy.

The Dhadimagu ward of Fuvahmulah is also home to a significant testament to the country’s journey towards Islam; ‘Gemmiskiy’, a mosque converted from a Buddhist temple with origins dating back to the 1300s.

The Gehmiskiy mausoleum located in the Dhadimagu ward. -- Photo: Manzaru

A common misconception lies in regards to this mausoleum, with ‘Gemmiskiy’ widely respresented as the first mosque built in not only the land but also the country. In his monograph, HCP Bell writes of four mosques built prior to the establishment of Gemmiskiy in the island of Fuvahmulah, guiding that this mosque was built after all inhabitants of the island converted to the religion.

The foreign researcher and author had further written about the bars of soap with the carving “Made in Fuvahmulah” engraved on them and described the people as 'a self-sufficient flock innovative in their ideas and industrious in their lifestyles'. He recounts that the islanders grew their own crop, and were never scarce on food staples, writing of a community that was vibrant, fulfilled and flourishing.

This vigorous and nourished nature of the islanders seems to have been preserved til the present decade of 2020.

The Dhadimagu 'Kulhi' (Fresh Water Lake) in Fuvahmulah City. -- Photo: Asad's Photography

Unlocking the Spirit of Ramadan

It is believed that the entire island embraced Islam not long after King Dhovemi in 1133. Since then, the locals had gradually unlocked their spirits and cultures for the month of Ramadan with festive communal gatherings, preparations of delicious local treats and naturally; prayers and worship.

Speaking with the Edition, Shaheema Mohamed, a longtime dweller of the island and a Dhivehi teacher employed at Mohamed Jamaaludheen School (MJS) shared that the island practices a particular tradition to celebrate the passing of a period of 10 days during Ramadan. She recounted the activity in her local dialect ‘Dheha vaki kerun’ loosely translated to ‘Separating the Tens” and explained that residents traditionally prepare their local desert ‘Huni Hakuru’ on the tenth, twentieth and thirtieth day of Ramadan within this tradition.

Huni Hakuru deserts are prepared after cooking desiccated young coconut and sugar into a delicately balanced filling which is then wrapped in soft cooked dough. This dish surges in popularity amid Ramadan and boasts a classical flavor esoteric to Fuvahmulah inhabitants who alter the recipe to incorporate their own distinctive twist.

Shaheema further remarked that dishes prepared with variations of “Ala” (taro), the traditional staple food of the city is also widely prepared across the community amid this holy period. She observed that locals serve the desert Huni Hakuru together with a savory dish prepared with taro; Ala Fathafolhi while taro boiled inside a special pot is well versed with local taste buds when served with Kattelhi, a rare fish commonly found in the seas of the island. She had further highlighted that locals do not usually consume Kattelhi during Ramadan however, reiterated the popularity of taro dishes.

The sweet traditional desert 'Huni Hakuru' prepared in Fuvahmulah. -- Photo:

Taro plantations are scattered across the island and sports a bright green layer appearing to mimic a green carpet over the water surface. The locals procure fresh taro for these dishes wherein they hike knee deep inside these muddy water fields to obtain this ingredient.

Recounting olden activities in preparation of Ramadan, Shaheema listed cleaning the ‘Madhirige’, a local version of mosquito nets, and washing all household containers and dinnerware in the ocean before proceeding to bath in the waters as abandoned ancient practices in the island.

She narrated that the island has advanced together with the age of prosperity while recounting current activities that still embodies its special characteristics and habitat. Iftar at a vast beach located in the district of Dhadimagu, generally known as Thundi, distinctive for its peculiar white pebbles and miniature saltwater pools was emphasized as a broad practice amid this holy period.

Shaheema had further recalled that the community celebrates a highly festive ‘Maahefun’ - a feast held on occasion of the approach of Ramadan. Elaborating further, the teacher shared that locals prepare both traditional and modern dishes before setting out to build their picnic at the Thundi with friends, neighbors and family in the evening – sometimes afternoon -- in order to strengthen communal bonds and nurture a collective Ramadan spirit.

"These feasts are held the day before Ramadan, combined with the activity to sight the moon and is also widely hosted on the last day of Ramadan as an Iftar to spot the moon that will designate the next day as Eid-Al-Fitr. These ‘Maahefun’ gatherings generally end after moonrise but younger audiences remain at the beach even after sundown - sometimes late into the night - under tepees and tents," Shaheema elaborated.

During a Maahefun festivity held at the local beach 'Thundi' -- Photo: Asad's photography

Large promotion posters cover the windows of local stores with the approach of Ramadan and restaurants are occupied to near full capacity amid the hours of Iftar, Taraweeh and late-night coffee gatherings. Additionally, storytelling and communication among females are especially enhanced during this period due to the monthly practice of women who, instead of traditional mosques, visit a designated household for Taraweeh congregations wherein they stay to chat and have tea after the prayer.

"The city streets are enlivened with cars, significantly more so than usual. A lot of people take to the streets to enjoy a recreational drive before Iftar and during the night," the longtime resident had revealed.

While the holy month of Ramadan remains a joyous and festive occasion for these vigorous islanders, unsurprisingly, Eid festivities of Fuvahmulah is taken one step further.

She recalled Eid focused activities traditionally practiced in the city since her childhood such as the stimulating women-centric sport of playing ‘Bashi’ (named after a ball woven from palm trees) and running around a ‘Joali’ (a local furniture that crosses between a hammock and deck chair). The teacher had further emphasized the activity of ‘Killi thelhun’ wherein tiny jute sacks are knitted and filled with sliced areca nuts, betel leaves and spices (cinnamon, cloves and cardamom) to contain what is known as ‘Dhufaa Ehchis’ (Ingredient for ‘Dhufun’) which are then closed and beaten in a ‘Vun’, (mortar and pestle).

"Eid congregations are held inside mosques in the morning. People take to nature fields and open areas in their respective districts after these congregations to gather and enjoy homemade Eid treats in the spirit of the day."

Reiterating that the island further boasts an abundance of activities on occasion of Eid at both the Dhadimagu and Bandaara ‘Kulhi’ (Fresh Water Lake) in the island with treasure hunts, traditional entertainment, as well as music shows also arranged for the occasion, Dhadimagu was singled out as the ward that celebrates Eid-Al-Fitr most festively in the entire island.

However, she noted that the islanders remain within the borders of their own districts during these activities, avoiding socializing with other wards due to the seclusion traditionally enforced in each neighborhood.

"As the island is notably big, the festivities hosted by each ward may sport slight deviations from the original traditions to enforce their own ward-centric features," Shaheema concluded.

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