How to defeat the Reef Monster?

If you want to find out, why did the two-headed birds left Earth long time ago, what not to tell the girls from the poorer island, or how to outwith monster from the sea discover the Folk Tales of the Maldives

Eighty completely unknown stories complied in the newly published book have been collected by Xavier Romero-Frias for twenty six years. People living across the Maldive Islands have been telling them to their children since ancient times The author translated them from dhivehi and classified by the subject and type of the creatures playing the leading role in the plot.

He specified the following categories of the Maldivian folk tales:

  1. Tales of spirits and monsters
  2. Long fairy-tale style myths
  3. Stories involving humorous characters
  4. Fables with local animals
  5. Seafaring stories
  6. Chronicles of semi-historical events

Most of the spirits and monsters appearing in the Maldivian folk tales are somehow connected to the elements of the local environment. No wonder that the most popular one is the reef monster, called fureta. He can be easily recognised, even from the distance, by the strong fishy odour. Happily, the story The Monster at the Kitchen Door gives example how he can be easily defeated.

The most important among the longer myths is Don Hiyala and Alifulu. Telling the story of pair of heroic lovers, whose life is made hard by the evil king recalls famous Indian epic, Ramayana. If one is not keen on reading the whole bulky book, I strongly recommend to watch its animated adaptation Sita sings the blues and of course Don Hiyala and Alifulu itself.

Stories involving humorous characters expose some of the worst human traits, like narrow-mindedness or fearfullness. Except the moral lesson they give the us an unique opportunity to find out how the everyday life looked like in the Maldives, when it used to be a kingdom. Fables with local animals introduce the reader to the local fauna, however, many stories involve large wild animals, like elephants or tigers, which are not found in the Maldives. Their appearance is a sign of maitaining contacts with neighbouring India and Sri Lanka. Luckily, because sharing small island with the wild cat would probably look like from Life of Pi, and not like the normal living.

Territory of the Maldives is water in 97%. No wonder that the central role in its oral tradition is played by the seafaring tales. They compose the nautical code the oral map, as Romero-Frias call them, for the Maldivian sailors and traders travelling between the islands. This type of folk tales may include descriptions of the geographical elements, like islands, reefs, or channels, advice how to use color of the see in navigation or how to recognise the danger.

Since there aren’t many historical data in oral tradition of the Maldives, some tales may serve as forms of the chronicles. They also include fantastic elements and unusual events, butr ar based on the real happenings. These stories contain narratives of the epidemics, accidents, or and the bomb explosion in the 19th century.

Even though the islands of the Maldives have been inhabited since ancient times, their myths have never been properly collected. Romero-Frias registered ancestral philosophy of life in the very last moment, while it was already disappearing.


Based on: Folk Tales of the Maldives, Xavier Romero-Frias, NIAS Press, Copenhagen 2012

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