Pyrard de Laval's Eid in the Maldives
François Pyrard de Laval, a French navigator, arrived in the Maldives in 1602 when his ship Corbin beached upon a reef in Baa Atoll. Pyrard lived in the Maldives from 1602 to 1607, learned Dhivehi and wrote extensive notes of Raajje and our culture then, in his book The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval; To the East, the Maldives, the Moluccas, and Brazil.
According to Pyrard and unsurprisingly, Eid was celebrated with unparalleled exuberance, even back then. Eid celebrations were bestrewn with jubilant festivity, continuing for three days. The king and his court would host banquets throughout Male’, whilst numbers of spectacles would be held and enjoyed together by both the public and the palace inhabitants alike.
One of the most outstanding acts of the nights of Eid were men gracefully fighting each other to the sounds of beru (drum), dhummaari (horn) and thaalhafili (trumpet). The act would demonstrate excellent swordsmanship, and would only be participated in by men who were cheerful and even-tempered by nature. This part of the festivities were much more enjoyed by the king’s wives, and their ladies in waiting.
However, it is another act from these festivities that really aroused my curiosity, as it did the king’s. Pyrard writes of extravagant ships built by the people, and instead of the normal route of the sea, these ships once completed would be manned by a troupe, dressed up as people from other lands, and paraded through the roads of the islands for all to see and enjoy. If two of these ships were to coincide, they would wager in make-believe theatricals of war.
This particular festivity, brought to my mind one that was practised in my childhood, and still is, to this day. The grand floats that would glide through the roads of Male’, floats filled with characters of all sorts, constructed in all styles in accordance, celebrating Eid, 27th of July, and many other days of importance.
It’s strange, what evolves and what is discarded, the bits of our culture, that have been ravaged by time, and the bits that have survived, though we may never be able to pin down why exactly this bit, and not the rest. Although the evolution of ships to floats was baffling, it left me with the thought that, perhaps, not all is lost.