The Maldives has a proud and rich culture developed from the first settlers who came here from different parts of the world.
Drums and songs in unknown languages confirm the origin from East African countries, while food and traditional dresses come from the South Asian region.
The "Raivaru" and the "Langiri" represent the first type of dances performed on these islands. The "Gaa odi Lava" are songs in Arab and the "Thaara" is a kind of rhythmical dance with songs in Arab.
A dance called "Bandiyya Jehun" has Indian influences and expresses joy for a fortunate and rich fishery.
The Bodu Beru , has African influences and is a mix of songs and dances performed by men at the drums rhythm.
However many Asian customs, e.g. the tradition of excluding women from public life, are no more valid. Today women play a very important role in the society, as men are often far away.
Many of the traditions are tightly linked to the sea, as it provides food.
Bodu Beru is very similar to some of the songs and dances of East Africa. Bodu Beru, known also as "Baburu Lava" (Negroid Song), appeared at the Maldives in the XI Century, if not before.
The Bodu Beru is usually performed by about 15 people, including 3 drummers and a lead singer. They are accompanied by a small bell and an "Onugandu", a small piece of bamboo with small grooves, producing sharp sounds.
Themes are heroism, romance or satire. The prelude to the song is a long beat, accompanied by drums and dances. When the song reaches a crescendo, one or two dancers maintain the wild rhythm with their movements and sometimes end in a trance. An interesting feature of the Bodu Beru is its noise and sometimes meaningless lyrics, as they are a mix of local, neighbouring and African words. Today, only some of the meaningful songs in the local language Dhivehi are sung to the rhythm of Bodu Beru.
It is still sung and danced as entertainment for tourists and during celebrations and festivals.
The performers wear a sarong with a short sleeved banian (Hindu shirt)
Thaara means tambourine in Dhivehi. It is performed by about 22 people seated in two parallel rows facing each other. It is a kind of religious music and is performed only by men, who sing and dance. The early songs of the Thaara were in Arabic.
Thaara was introduced to the Maldives by the Gulf Arabs, mid 17th Century. A type of music very similar to Thaara is still played in the Arab Gulf and in South Arabia.
GAA ODI LAVA
Gaa Odi Lava involves music and dance and evokes the people satisfaction after a hard manual work. Gaa Odi Lava was first sung during the reign of Sultan Mohamed Imadudeen I (1620-1648). In his attempt to defend Male', he created an enclosure wall around the island. For this reason he separated the people into different boats, called "odi", who had to carry coral stones from the several reefs to Male'. Once completed their job, people from each "odi" visited the Sultan, singing songs to express their happiness. Therefore Gaa (stones) Odi (Vessels) was born.
During the period of the Sultans, each time a job ordered by a Sultan was completed, the people walked towards the Royal Palace, performing a special dance called "Dhigu magu negun". They brought a container with gifts and the gift withdrawal is called "Dhafi Negun", which is also the dance and song theme. At the beginning, the lyrics of Gaa Odi Lava were in Arabic.
The Original Langiri dates back to the time of Sultan Shamsuddin III who ruled the Maldives at the beginning of the XX century. At the time, young people modified the popular Thaara according to their own taste and called it Langiri.
Each young dancer has two 60 cm long sticks. These sticks are called "Langiri Dhandi" and have colourful flowers at the edges.
Performers are seated in two rows of six people and a lead singer seats in front of each row. A Langiri show usually consists in seven or six songs
Each dancer holds a 90 cm long stick, called "Dhandi". When he dances, he beats his "Dhandi" against another one of a partner and continues dancing and singing to the rhythm of the music and of the sticks sound. The dancers do not have any special dress, but sometimes they wear a sarong, a T-shirt, a white head cloth, a sash around their waist and white under-garments
This dance is performed by women and represents the old tradition of women offering gifts to the Sultan on special occasions. Gifts were usually shells, kept in a small vase or box, known as the "Kurandi Malaafath". This vase, closed and externally decorated, was covered by a colourful silk. Women carrying this vase wore bright coloured local dresses smelling of incense.
The dance is performed by 24 women who create small groups of two, three, four or even six people. Bolimalaafath Neshun is still considered one of the most important dances performed by women.
The Maafathi Neshun dance is similar to Langiri, but is performed by women with the national dress. This is a group dance in which women dance in two rows of ten. Each dancer has a 1 meter long semi-circular string decorated with artificial flowers. They hold these strings and dance in different style in small rows or groups of two or three.
In Fathigandu Jehun the songs are usually epics. The story is sung to the rhythm of the music. A famous Fathigandu song is "Burunee Raivaru" which tells the story of a Sultan who left in search of a wife.
Fathigandu Jehun is an evening performance in which a group of men or a single person dance at the rhythm of the music. This dance changes according to the different atolls. Performers are all men who dance in a single group of 30 people. The dance lasts approximately one hour and can be performed in the day or in the night, in the streets or in the squares and in each day of the week.
Bandiyaa Jehun is an adaptation of an Indian dance, performed by young women. The dancers keep time to the rhythm of a metal pot with the metal rings on their fingers.
Today the majority of the groups use a high number of musical instruments, including the drum and the harmonica, and the dance is performed both standing and seated.
Today Kadhaa Maali is performed only during the festivals, but in case of sickness or of unlucky periods, this dance is performed after the "three night walk".
This dance, whose origin is unknown and dates back many centuries, survives only in Kulhudhuffushi island, South from Thiladhunmathi Atoll. The performance starts with the beating of drums and a "Kadhaa", a copper instrument made up by a plate and a rod. This is usually used by 30 men, wearing different costumes, who represent the different types of evil spirits and ghosts, called "Maali".
The dance is linked to the traditional congregation of the elders of the island, who walk in the night around the island to defend it against the evil spirits responsible of the sickness and of the epidemic diseases. The midnight walk usually starts after the late evening prayer, continues for three consecutive nights and, during the third night, the island community performs different music and dances. This is a prelude to the Kadhaa Maali which is the final and most important event of the night.