Maldivian craftsmanship had a regional reputation of excellence. Traditionally handicraft in the Maldives includes mat weaving, embroidery (kasabu boavalhu libaas), coir making and lacquer work, with each island and atoll specializing in one of the many handicraft traditions. As with many developing countries, industrialization and the cheap foreign products have furthered the degradation of the local handicraft industry. Highlights of some handicraft products from Maldives are given below:
Laajehun (Lacquer Work): Laajehun is made from the combination of juices from trees. The use of lacquer travelled to Maldives via China and Japan. Over the year’s Maldivian craftsman have mastered the use of lacquer and use it for a variety of purposes. Besides aesthetic, lacquer has traditionally been used as a protective coating on wood to maintain its quality. Below is a list of objects that lacquer work is usually done on:
- Wood and metallic
- Skin and bone of animal and birds
- Egg Shells
- Paper products
- Mud products
Lacquer work is usually divided into two parts: Lacquer preparation, and Lacquer application known as Laa hingun. There are various ways of applying lacquer to the object. For more information on Maldivian Lacquer work please click here:
Photo Source: http://www.handicrafts.mv/web/histdet.php?id=1
Thun’du Kunaa: Thun’du kunaa or mat weaving is another prominent feature of Maldivian craftsmanship. Mats are usually made of fine pattern grass or kunaa from G.Dh. Gadhdhoo. These elaborate grass mats make for elegant gifts. Only a knife (used for splitting screw-pine leaves) is used for making kunaa besides the loom of wood with the reed of split bamboo. Kunaa weavers cultivate their own grass and collect the leaves and roots which are used for dyeing. The mats are woven using hau. After the hau is dried it is stained with natural dyes which vary from fawn to black and yellow. The rush is then trimmed and strips are then woven on a horizontal loom.
Photo Source: National Handicraft Center Maldives, http://www.nhc.gov.mv/images/img_pro_5.jpg
Feyli Viyun: Feyli Viyun, handloom, has been a central part of the Maldivian dress as far back as 1340s. During the monarchy Feyli was worn both by men and women. Traditionally, Men wore the materials on formal occasions while women wore it both formally and informally. Feyli is made from cotton or ‘ui’.
One of the ways to categorize Feyli is on the basis of their measurement and is as follows:
- Boly Feyli: Worn by both men and women. The special feature of the bolu feyli and the artistry of the weaver is shown by the different designs made on the feyli with Kasabu (needlework using gold and silver thread)
- Thinfatheege Feyli: Usually worn my men.
- Hatharufatheege Feyli: Usually worn my women as a wrap around.
While the traditional centers of this craft were the islands such as Dhevvadhu, Fodhdhu and Kachcheymidhu, in recent time, it is Feyli from Baa Atoll Eydhafushi that usually has the best craftsmanship.
Coir rope is spun from the fiber extracted from coconut husk after it has been in the sea for few weeks. The fiber is then pounded to separate the fiber stands. Once the strands have dried they are twisted by hands to produce coarse rope of the needed thickness.
The woody skeleton of the coconut palms and the hard portion of spine of palm frond are used in basketry. This craft continues to be used as household items such as covers for food; sieves and winnowers. The use of basketry has evolved to make ecofriendly waste baskets, elaborate shades for lamps.
Corals have been used as a material in construction of mosque (see the details of the coral mosques of Maldives here), walls, tombstones and in mound. Raw corals are easier to work with and most cases corals are left in the sea and part by part are removed and taken to work with.