Eid Kulhivaru, and the Origins of Bodumas
Eid holidays have almost always brought a great sense of freedom for me, I think it does for all of us. Eid is our version of Christmas, the holiday we celebrate not just with our pockets, but also with our hearts. It has marked its place in mine with a kaleidoscopic range of colour, both literally and metaphorically, filling my memories with times I wish I could relive. This Eid, returning to my mother’s island R.Maduvvari after what had felt like a decade, I was overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia; the old days, old people; I could feel the wheel of change, the present grating against my memories. In my brief life, things had really changed in Maduvvari. I began to feel a need to know the times back in the days when my grandmother was still alive, looking after my mother and her brother. The history of my blood lived here, it pulsed, and I followed it to one of my grandma’s best friends, Zuhurahtha. She is to this day, the simulacrum of the grandmother I had never met; a strong woman who was always doing something with her hands, who had not lost an ounce of her youthful spunk, someone who always welcomed me with tender arms. Sitting in her kitchen under the soft whir of a fan that blended with the chirping of koveli, I was immediately transported to back my childhood, where I had sat in that very spot many years ago, tasting her heavenly huni hakuru. It was a busy day, the last day of Eid. She was bustling around the kitchen checking on a boakiba that was baking slowly, its piquant aroma surged through my nostrils, prickling the down of my nape. I had been nagging her to make me something sweet, and she had finally gotten around to it that day. A bowl of warm bondibaiy was placed before me, the smell of jasmine arose as Zuhurahtha calmly poured boakiru on top while talking and laughing about local politics. When she sat down the conversation took a turn to the olden days, and a forlorn look flickered across her eyes as she talked about the times she had shared with the people who no longer were. ‘We sat on thatched mats, in front of Dhon Dhaitha’s house (also one of my grandma’s close friends), all of us, we’d share our meals there. Everyone would come with the meals they had cooked at home, and we’d all eat together. There was a more distinct feeling of communion then, even the kids didn’t make a fuss about eating, all the food were shared with one another, all troubles soothed. We didn’t have a feeling of distance between each other, like I said, we shared everything, it brought us together. You know, there was always something going on.’ She sighed. ‘Haleema (my grandmother), you should have seen her. She was beautiful, so delicate looking, with long, long hair, she’d have to get up on her bed every day to untangle it. Everyone respected her, she just had that air of intimidation and authority, even the thieves kept out of her house—‘ She was interrupted by visitors. My bowl was empty, we stood up. ‘Fahun dhimaavaane dho?’ ‘Aan thi goahchah dhaanan.’
It was getting towards the evening, yet the heat clung to the sand outdoors, beads of perspiration were forming and descending down my temples as I rocked back and forth on a joali undhoali. Our house was right next to the beach, no one was home, a stillness had settled over everything. The rhythmic crashing of waves outside was the only disturbance in the humid silence. As I sat, I saw Zuhuraahtha coming, brisk walk, head held high. She came and sat on a joali beside me.
‘Goyye kobaa emmen?’
‘Dhathuru hadhan gosvee’ I replied, swinging.
The conversation that started next wasn’t quite as gloomy, she started telling me of the celebrations of Eid.
‘You really haven’t seen Eid celebrations yet,’ She chuckled.
‘Oh yeah?’ my curiosity was piqued.
And sitting under the shade of a tin roof, Zuhuraahtha started painting pictures of women enthralled by the beat of boduberu, of ancient Eid games that had disappeared in the toll of time, of Sandhara bindhara. But what really was interesting to me was the celebration that I only remember faintly, one that I had heard of, and one that had long since vanished from Maduvvari. Bodumas Kulhun was held on the night of the last day of Eid, which is the third night. If it were still practiced, that very night would have been the night.
Bodumas Kulhun was a sort of play. Its characters consisted of Mariyan Manje (a man dressed as a pregnant woman), Kaafa (grandpa), Kelaafuthu (fisherboy), Keyolhube (fisherman), Edhurube (learned man) all of whom were trying to catch a big fish (bodumas). Bodumas itself was an intricate work of art, woven from palm leaves, it was the product of many weathered, skilful hands. It was also a sort of prop costume with people under it, moving it along an imaginary wave.
Mariyan Manje, though she was pregnant, smoked a Hookah at the helm with Edhurube while he cast various spells to help them catch this enormous fish. The fisherboy, Kelaafuthu had earned his place at the boat to throw bait which was called Fili Thelhun, but really, he was a hopeless romantic trying to steal the heart of Mariyan Manje. While Kelaafuthu tried his best to multitask, Keyolhube tried his best, with sweat pouring from his brow to catch the fish and go home, along with everyone else.
It was a humorous dance between man and fish, one that had the crowd in hoots of laughter. After much struggle, the fish would at last be caught. Then came the time of Riyan Behun, cutting the fish and deciding who got how much. And every time they would give almost everything to the pregnant Mariyan Manje, and agree on the leftovers. The fictional curtain drew and the crowd went home.
As Zuhurahtha came to the end of this last Eid celebration, it dawned on me, what Bodumas Kulhun really celebrated. In all its ritualistic splendour, Bodumas Kulhun honoured the way of life Maldivians had practiced over the decades, it celebrated the lives that they would return to. It was our ancestors, our folk accepting and finding meaning in their work. It was them finding humour and rejoicing in their triumphs and strife, to the strain of muscle, to the scorch of the sun and the pour of hard rain. It was at last, a story of achievement, a story that gives all of us hope that the unimaginable can be achieved, that the Bodumas can indeed be caught.