Stranger than Fiction Folk Tales: Addu
The corpus of Maldivian folklore, or ‘fuloaku vaahaka’ as Dhivehin call it, is a boundless wonderland of mystical treasures, hidden fairytales and magical myths. The second edition of this folklore series features three peculiar tales compiled all the way from Addu, the southernmost atoll of the Suvadive archipelago.
Game of the Goddess
Beyond its marshy swamplands and lush green mangroves, the island of Seenu Hithadhoo has quite the mysterious past. According to elderly locals, Hithadhoo has been famously deserted and repopulated an astounding seven times since its earliest inhabitance, the last of which is regarded to be the most perplexing.
The story goes that during the few months preceding desertion, a beautiful sound was heard coming from the small, south-facing isle of Kabboahere. As if by intelligent design, the entire area of Hithadhoo would slowly change color to the tune of bamboo flutes, the sky and the sea taking on a dazzling yellow hue. Upon hearing the sound, some islanders, especially women, would immediately stop what they were doing. Pots of boiling water were left to spill over onto the fire; feeding babies were put down, abandoned cruelly mid-suckle. The islanders would then proceed to clothe themselves in full regalia and head towards the direction of the reverberating music. They were never to return or be heard from again.
These sudden mass disappearances went on for several weeks. Despite being known for their unparalleled mastery, not even Hithadhoo fan’ditha verin (sorcerers) could put an end to this strange phenomenon. Remaining inhabitants became frightened and stopped all their work; the entire island came to a standstill. All of them soon migrated to neighboring islands in the atoll.
There are divergent theories as to what really happened to the missing locals, some involving heinous jinns devouring them alive. The most probable theory however, has no trace of demon activity. During the time of the Portuguese invasion, foreigners would often throw parties in the isle of Koatte, close to Kabboahere. They would drink copious amounts of wine and set off fireworks in a grand display, which would explain the changing of the colors. Mesmerized locals would join them, and engage in what is known as Dheyoage Kulhi, or quite literally, the Game of the Goddess, a tantric practice of men and women dancing erotically with one another. The foreigners would end up raping the locals, looting their jewelry and finally killing them in brutal fashion.
Whether this telling of the story is historically accurate or not, Hithadhoo was left deserted for eighteen long years. It was a woman by the name of Fathumaafaanu, daughter of Shamsuddeen Bodu Fandiyaara, who went on to repopulate the island again. The locals you see in Hithadhoo today are all descendants from this lineage.
The Sailors’ Greed
During the wake of the Second World War, the Maldives was a British Protectorate on the side of the Allies. Secret naval bases and air strips were constructed by British military forces in Addu. Much to the atoll’s pride, Addu was also home to the largest trading vessel in the Maldives at the time, known as the ‘Yaahum Baraas’.
Undeterred by the ongoing war, the Yaahum Baraas went along its usual trade route to Ceylon and southern India as it always did. A few days into their journey, the seafarers ran into a Japanese submarine that had surfaced near their ship. Some of the men, including the captain and chief officer, were forcefully taken aboard the submarine. The rest of them were either ruthlessly slaughtered or drowned at the hands of Japanese sailors.
The next day, another trading vessel from Addu by the name of ‘Ganduvari Vedi’ was following the same route to Ceylon. Upon sighting the Yaahum Baraas, the ship was ordered to haul sail for further inspection. A foul stench was discovered emanating from the front deck, as a flock of seagulls were busy fighting over strewn chunks of human flesh. Horrified, the captain of the Ganduvari Vedi felt it best not to get any closer, believing there to be evil spirits lurking amongst the bodies. For some of the sea men though, cupidity won over fear. A group of them decided to go across on a small dinghy to loot some of the cargo aboard the abandoned ship. They brought back various items and soon sailed away, pockets filled and gold aplenty. However, soon after they reached Ceylon, they began to have nightmares of the gory scene they had witnessed, flashbacks of the bullet marks and the drying blood, and the moldering rot of the corpses.
A year later, on an island in Addu, one of the men from the Ganduvari Vedi was laying out a musty pillow he had stolen in the sun outside his home. A passerby noticed the pillow and recognized it as one she had sewn herself for her missing husband. A report was filed with the island authorities and all the crewmen from the ship were rounded up and interrogated. Despite their pact of silence, one of the crew members confessed to the crime out of fear and paranoia, a confession that would lead to their eventual imprisonment.
As for the survivors of the Yaahum Baraas who had been kidnapped by the Japanese, it is said that they spent the next couple of years slaving away at a concentration camp in Singapore. They returned to Addu soon after the war ended.
The Learned Man and the Chief
Having completed his education abroad, a young man named Rekifutu came back home to his island in Addu long ago. Handsome, bright, and now well-versed in Quran, Arabic and certain sciences, he was the pride and joy of his entire family.
Soon after his return, Rekifutu visited the local mosque for Friday prayer, a prayer that was led by the island chief at the time. During the customary khutuba (sermon), the chief cunningly told all the islanders that God wanted them to bring him money and lavish presents. Dismayed at the man’s wickedness, shortly after the prayer ended, Rekifutu gathered everyone in the compound outside the mosque. He explained that their chief was deceiving them, abusing his authority to get rich at the expense of the poor. The chief, furiously elbowing through the crowd, started to fire back. He painted Rekifutu an arrogant youngster, brainwashed by impious Western teachings, trying to corrupt the good Muslims of the island. Reacting angrily to this claim, the islanders became a blind mob, beating Rekifutu savagely, leaving him unconscious and bleeding at the gates of the mosque.
Following this incident, Rekifutu spent some years living away from Addu, completely off the grid. By the time he returned, everyone had forgotten how badly they had treated him.
The weekend came, and Rekifutu, dressed in his Friday best, went to the mosque for prayer once again. This time, during the sermon, he kept nodding in quiet agreement. At the end of the prayer, he asked the unsuspecting island chief for permission to speak. He began by praising him, telling the crowd how fortunate they were to have such a worthy leader in their midst. Upon hearing this, the chief became immensely pleased, encouraging the young man to speak even further. Rekifutu concluded his speech by reiterating the chief’s holiness, and that if any of them were lucky enough to get even a droplet of his blood or a tuft of his hair, the gates of paradise would surely open for them.
It is said that the chief did not make it outside of the mosque that day. The crowd, in their relished frenzy, tore him to pieces, some even using knives. By the end nothing was left of the chief, not even a single streak of crimson running through the sand. Rekifutu, on the other hand, walked back home without hurry, a smile beginning to form in the fiery mid-day sun.