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October 20, 2011 | History
An edition of The Maldive Islanders (1999)

The Maldive Islanders

a study of the popular culture of an ancient ocean kingdom

3rd rev. ed.
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This edition was published in by Nova Ethnographia Indica in Barcelona.

Written in English

306 pages

I. An Oceanic Civilization
A Seafaring Nation. Excitement surrounding the trade with the neighboring landmasses. Illustrations of contacts with foreigners. The ordeal of returning to the Maldives after getting lost at sea. Brief description of traditional village life and how it was upset by a military dictator during the nineteen-forties. Causes of the secession of the southern atolls. The formation of the separatist Suvadive state and the ensuing isolation.
The Problem of the Maldivian Past. Analysis of the difficulties involved in researching the past of a nation which takes no pride in its ancient Buddhist background. How the independently-minded ancient Maldive fishermen began to be ruled by a kingly dinasty from the northern Subcontinent. Confusion in the local legends relating to the conversion to Buddhism, the conversion to Islam and the practice of human sacrifice. ‘Don Hiyala and Alifulhu,’ a popular Maldivian epic and its parallels with the Ramayana. Despotic attitude of Maldivian rulers. Popular resentment as reflected in folk literature.
The enduring trauma of the conversion to Islam. Persistence of the ancient forms of art and architecture owing to the ubiquitous presence of evil spirits. Fear of demons and the necessity to keep certain spaces free from their evil influence. The Mandala as a means to sacralize a surface. The protective role of certain fierce spirits.
Island atmosphere and absence of physical violence. Suspicion towards outsiders. Difficulties in relationships among islanders. Mutual envy as the expression of an egalitarian ideal. Women as the leaders of fierce verbal fights. Young women and their propensity towards demon-possession. An illustration of the world of fear and intrigue in which islanders live, in spite of the apparently peaceful environment.
Smallpox and cholera as the most dreaded diseases. Description of the abominable conditions in which people afflicted by certain illnesses were kept in the past. Panic in the face of a general outburst of a mortal disease. How the population of certain islands moved en masse to settle somewhere else in the event of epidemics, fearing their community might be wiped out. Results of swift and lethal epidemics. How entire islands became depopulated in the past. Corpses on boats and the role attributed to spirits in causing widespread deaths.

II. Heroines and Magicians

Female demons (haṇḍi) and their ability to charm by means of their beauty. Their origin. How the same spirits can be a source of terror. Fever and its origin in female spirits. Heat emanating from the body as a sign of supernatural female power. The role of magic in healing fever. Propitiation of spirits through blood ceremonies. The significance of bloody rituals. A sacrifice gone wrong and its ghastly consequences. How apparently harmless female demons draw blood from their victims. How their evil powers can resist magic and cause extreme emaciation, madness and death. ‘The House of Sorrow’ story.
Cannibalism: Myths about local women eating human flesh. Relationship between Maldivian fearsome female spirits and the village goddesses of Southern India. The paradoxical coexistence of the official, government sanctioned religion and the household cults. How these popular forms of spirituality periodically resurfaced in history in spite of persecution.
The sorcerer and his relevance within Maldivian society. The enduring figure of the goddess. Secret rituals of an obscene nature and their persistence in spite of the dominant Islamic puritan framework. The need to keep a secret. How (in the eyes of Maldivians) mere religious and scholarly knowledge doesn’t make a man successful. The demand for magic rituals.
The process of deification of a wronged woman. Comparison with the Dravidian myths of the origin of village goddesses. Female beauty as a virtue. When beauty becomes a curse. Female power in the Maldives as one of the two forces ruling human life according to ancient Tamil tradition (ananku). The dire consequences of wronging a woman. The position of women in Maldive society as compared with the neighboring South Asian cultures. The central role of female characters in Maldive oral tradition and its origin. Popular veneration and miraculous happenings surrounding women.

III. Island Life and the Spirit World

Myths of Origin: The coconut tree and the tuna fish and their importance in the survival of the Maldive island culture. Myths of extinction: The surrounding ocean mass drowning the islands. The sorcerer (faṇḍitaveriya) as paramount hero in Maldive oral tradition. Admixture of myth and reality in the lives of sorcerers. The personality of the sorcerer. His power versus the authority of the king.
The number seven as a magic number. Weird female spirits and their role in frightening children. The origin of those spirits. Crying as a source of unhappiness and as an invitation to evil.
Human origin of the spirits of the dead. Relationship between inauspicious death and evil spirits. Why certain tombs are located far away from hallowed ground. Burial grounds as haunted places. Females eating corpses and their ability to fly through the air. Beliefs about the relationship between nakedness, consumption of human flesh and special powers.
The ocean as a place haunted by evil spirits. The core of Maldivian oral tradition: Stories about how sea demons can take human shape and even engage in a sexual relationship with human beings: ‘The Track of Blood’ story and others.

IV. A Showdown of Doctrines

Negative attitude of Maldivian learned men towards their own culture. The transition from ancient tutelary deities to malignant spirits. ‘The Broken Covenant’ story. Remainders of Buddhist philosophy. The abandonment of astrology. Mutual suspicion between higher and lower classes as to whose vices are more disgusting. Buddhist tales in the Maldive oral tradition.
The exalted position of ‘holy men’ and how they were perceived as having supernatural powers. Inability of islanders to defend their own heritage. Arab kings and (often fraudulent) ‘holy men’ in the history of the Maldive Islands. How they were treated by the local people. Their contempt for island culture. The present-day situation in the Maldives after the revival of Islam in the nineteen-seventies. Cultural forgery. Conflict between ideological ‘global’ Islam and the traditional ways.

Epilogue

Reflection on whether Maldivian culture will be able to survive the combined onslaught of global consumerism and political Islam. The drama of this question is heightened by the fact that the very physical existence of the country itself is threatened by sea-level rise.

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Edition Availability
Cover of: The Maldive Islanders
The Maldive Islanders: a study of the popular culture of an ancient ocean kingdom
1999, Nova Ethnographia Indica
Paperback in English - 3rd rev. ed.
Cover of: The Maldive Islanders
The Maldive Islanders: A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom
1999, Nova Ethnographia Indica

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The Maldive Islanders

First published in 1999



Work Description

I. An Oceanic Civilization
A Seafaring Nation. Excitement surrounding the trade with the neighboring landmasses. Illustrations of contacts with foreigners. The ordeal of returning to the Maldives after getting lost at sea. Brief description of traditional village life and how it was upset by a military dictator during the nineteen-forties. Causes of the secession of the southern atolls. The formation of the separatist Suvadive state and the ensuing isolation.
The Problem of the Maldivian Past. Analysis of the difficulties involved in researching the past of a nation which takes no pride in its ancient Buddhist background. How the independently-minded ancient Maldive fishermen began to be ruled by a kingly dinasty from the northern Subcontinent. Confusion in the local legends relating to the conversion to Buddhism, the conversion to Islam and the practice of human sacrifice. ‘Don Hiyala and Alifulhu,’ a popular Maldivian epic and its parallels with the Ramayana. Despotic attitude of Maldivian rulers. Popular resentment as reflected in folk literature.
The enduring trauma of the conversion to Islam. Persistence of the ancient forms of art and architecture owing to the ubiquitous presence of evil spirits. Fear of demons and the necessity to keep certain spaces free from their evil influence. The Mandala as a means to sacralize a surface. The protective role of certain fierce spirits.
Island atmosphere and absence of physical violence. Suspicion towards outsiders. Difficulties in relationships among islanders. Mutual envy as the expression of an egalitarian ideal. Women as the leaders of fierce verbal fights. Young women and their propensity towards demon-possession. An illustration of the world of fear and intrigue in which islanders live, in spite of the apparently peaceful environment.
Smallpox and cholera as the most dreaded diseases. Description of the abominable conditions in which people afflicted by certain illnesses were kept in the past. Panic in the face of a general outburst of a mortal disease. How the population of certain islands moved en masse to settle somewhere else in the event of epidemics, fearing their community might be wiped out. Results of swift and lethal epidemics. How entire islands became depopulated in the past. Corpses on boats and the role attributed to spirits in causing widespread deaths.

II. Heroines and Magicians

Female demons (haṇḍi) and their ability to charm by means of their beauty. Their origin. How the same spirits can be a source of terror. Fever and its origin in female spirits. Heat emanating from the body as a sign of supernatural female power. The role of magic in healing fever. Propitiation of spirits through blood ceremonies. The significance of bloody rituals. A sacrifice gone wrong and its ghastly consequences. How apparently harmless female demons draw blood from their victims. How their evil powers can resist magic and cause extreme emaciation, madness and death. ‘The House of Sorrow’ story.
Cannibalism: Myths about local women eating human flesh. Relationship between Maldivian fearsome female spirits and the village goddesses of Southern India. The paradoxical coexistence of the official, government sanctioned religion and the household cults. How these popular forms of spirituality periodically resurfaced in history in spite of persecution.
The sorcerer and his relevance within Maldivian society. The enduring figure of the goddess. Secret rituals of an obscene nature and their persistence in spite of the dominant Islamic puritan framework. The need to keep a secret. How (in the eyes of Maldivians) mere religious and scholarly knowledge doesn’t make a man successful. The demand for magic rituals.
The process of deification of a wronged woman. Comparison with the Dravidian myths of the origin of village goddesses. Female beauty as a virtue. When beauty becomes a curse. Female power in the Maldives as one of the two forces ruling human life according to ancient Tamil tradition (ananku). The dire consequences of wronging a woman. The position of women in Maldive society as compared with the neighboring South Asian cultures. The central role of female characters in Maldive oral tradition and its origin. Popular veneration and miraculous happenings surrounding women.

III. Island Life and the Spirit World

Myths of Origin: The coconut tree and the tuna fish and their importance in the survival of the Maldive island culture. Myths of extinction: The surrounding ocean mass drowning the islands. The sorcerer (faṇḍitaveriya) as paramount hero in Maldive oral tradition. Admixture of myth and reality in the lives of sorcerers. The personality of the sorcerer. His power versus the authority of the king.
The number seven as a magic number. Weird female spirits and their role in frightening children. The origin of those spirits. Crying as a source of unhappiness and as an invitation to evil.
Human origin of the spirits of the dead. Relationship between inauspicious death and evil spirits. Why certain tombs are located far away from hallowed ground. Burial grounds as haunted places. Females eating corpses and their ability to fly through the air. Beliefs about the relationship between nakedness, consumption of human flesh and special powers.
The ocean as a place haunted by evil spirits. The core of Maldivian oral tradition: Stories about how sea demons can take human shape and even engage in a sexual relationship with human beings: ‘The Track of Blood’ story and others.

IV. A Showdown of Doctrines

Negative attitude of Maldivian learned men towards their own culture. The transition from ancient tutelary deities to malignant spirits. ‘The Broken Covenant’ story. Remainders of Buddhist philosophy. The abandonment of astrology. Mutual suspicion between higher and lower classes as to whose vices are more disgusting. Buddhist tales in the Maldive oral tradition.
The exalted position of ‘holy men’ and how they were perceived as having supernatural powers. Inability of islanders to defend their own heritage. Arab kings and (often fraudulent) ‘holy men’ in the history of the Maldive Islands. How they were treated by the local people. Their contempt for island culture. The present-day situation in the Maldives after the revival of Islam in the nineteen-seventies. Cultural forgery. Conflict between ideological ‘global’ Islam and the traditional ways.

Epilogue

Reflection on whether Maldivian culture will be able to survive the combined onslaught of global consumerism and political Islam. The drama of this question is heightened by the fact that the very physical existence of the country itself is threatened by sea-level rise.

The Maldive Islanders

a study of the popular culture of an ancient ocean kingdom

3rd rev. ed.

This edition was published in by Nova Ethnographia Indica in Barcelona.


Edition Notes

Includes bibliographical references (p. 297-302) and index.

Classifications

Library of Congress
GN635.M43 R66 2003

The Physical Object

Format
Paperback
Pagination
306 p. :
Number of pages
306

ID Numbers

Open Library
OL3456485M
ISBN 10
8472548015
LC Control Number
2005383247

Lists containing this Book

History

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October 20, 2011 Edited by 101.108.10.48 first edition 1999
October 20, 2011 Edited by 101.108.10.48 Added new cover
December 12, 2009 Edited by WorkBot link works
April 1, 2008 Created by an anonymous user Imported from Scriblio MARC record.