Stranger than Fiction Folk Tales: Fuvahmulah
Ancient Maldivian folklore is a vast body of magical fables, rife with the mighty triad of sorcery, mysticism and spirits most nefarious. Many of our readers are already somewhat familiar with these tales, titles like ‘Foolhudhigu Handi’, ‘Santhi Mariyambu’ and ‘Rannamaari’ being the most mainstream. They belong to the home-grown tradition of oral storytelling, a tradition that has woefully been in decline over the past few decades. In its replacement, we would like to share a few such stories expressed in the written form, in an attempt to safeguard a vital component of our robust Raajje’ culture.
In this series about Maldivian legend and lore, our first edition looks at the atoll of Fuvahmulah, the land of the areca nut palm, as told by island natives.
The Two Isles
A very long time ago, Fuvahmulah used to be not just one, but two separate islands. Back then, these islands were not very populated, comprising of mainly wilderness and jungle. One night, on the atoll’s western edge, a kan’du fureytha (ocean demon) came ashore from the water. Seen by some locals casting a net on a coral reef, it was described as a pale, large flame looming over the rocks.
The demon was a shapeshifter and would often creep inland to kill the atoll’s inhabitants and drink their blood. Over the course of many nights, it murdered so many men, women and children, that one of the islands became entirely deserted.
In fear and despair, the inhabitants of the other island sought the help of Edhurutakkaange Mohamed Didi, a renowned fanditha veriyaa (sorcerer). He spent many days working his magic at the reef, but to no avail. The demon kept making its unbidden appearances, taking a few more people along with it each time. Tormented by his numerous failed attempts, Mohamed Didi used all of his power to cast one ultimate, all-powerful spell. And much to everyone’s relief, his spell worked. The evil demon, in its final throes of existence, became eternally trapped in the deserted island. Shortly thereafter, the island somehow mysteriously vanished in its entirety, never to be seen again.
A large reef rock was apparently used as a marker for where the island was hidden. Now referred to as Fureytha Gaa (Demon Rock), it can be seen from the western shore of Fuvahmulah. Legend has it that if you prod it with an iron rod, the stone still oozes blood, and it will do so forever whenever it is struck.
The Three Girls and the Skipper
Languid, calm and filled with halcyon days, there was once a time when hardly anything ever happened in the atoll of Fuvahmulah. That is, except for the arrival of the Dhiha Numbaru Boatu (Boat Number Ten). This famous Korean trading vessel occasionally stopped over to buy fish from local fishermen, to freeze and send back to Korea.
The captain of the boat is said to have been a very charming, handsome man. So handsome in fact, that three local girls happened to fall in love with him simultaneously. They soon struck up a friendship with the captain and would impatiently wait by the seashore for the boat’s next visit to the island. Over time, the girls learned to recognize the boat’s silhouette in the distance. As soon as one of them saw the ship draw near, she would sprint frantically to find the others and go about preparing special delicacies for the captain. Warm orbs of gulha and githeyo boakiba divine, the girls would cook and cook until they were all but spent. They would then perfume themselves and adorn their hair with a thousand flowers.
When it was closer to sunset, the ladies would go back to find the captain. They would motion for him to follow them to the northern-most point of the island, the Thundi. There, on a picnic blanket under the half-lit sky, the four of them would eat and laugh until their bellies and hearts were full. The boat captain would light a bonfire and sing for them old Korean love songs.
And in this way, the ladies spent many pleasant evenings with the captain every time he stopped by. But one day, with no forewarning, the captain came to see them for the very last time. The girls remained hopeful for a few months after, waiting daily at the seashore, trying to discern the boat’s outline from the horizon.
Eventually, hope turned into resignation and resignation into acceptance, that they would most likely never see him again. And they never did. They married local fishermen and had children of their own, but they would always keep with them the cherished memories, of the lazy moon and the starry nights, and of the charming, handsome man of Boat Number Ten.
The Tale of Hawwa Didi
One day many years ago, a housewife by the name of Hawwa Didi was boiling a pot of water in her home. Through the window, a woman walking past saw her removing the burning hot metal off the fire using only her bare hands. Bewildered by what she had witnessed, the passerby dashed off to tell the other islanders, for this was the hallmark of the most wretched of all diseases.
News soon reached the island authorities, who agreed that the disease must be contained. They decided to take Hawwa Didi to a clearing in the middle of the jungle, close to an area at the southern end of Fuvahmulah called Kuduheraivali. There, construction soon began on a water well and a small hut.
Meanwhile, Hawwa Didi noticed the village folk starting to act very cold towards to her. She appealed to Sanfa Dhiye, her 12-year-old confidante. Sanfa described to her in length the recent tidings, of the villagers’ fear of the evil curse Hawwa Didi was carrying. Upon hearing this, Hawwa finally realized the truth about the painless burns all over her arms; she was a leper!
A few days later, the island authorities came by Hawwa Didi’s house to take her away to the hut they had built. Her husband did not object, and her only son was left behind. Hawwa was desolate as she made her way to the middle of the jungle. Her first few nights alone were dreary. She was careful in making as little noise as possible so as not to attract the jungle spirits, but often found herself crying miserably to sleep.
Months passed, and she eventually grew accustomed to the dark, and to her loneliness. She learned to walk along the twilit beach for hours on end, her soul feeding hungrily on the salt of the sea spray. She repeatedly tore her clothes to make bandages for her wounds out of the fabric, and she would often end up naked, sitting on large boulders by the waves.
Although the disease disfigured her limbs, it left her face completely untouched. Hawwa Didi was as beautiful in death as she ever was. People say that when she passed, she had a smile of repose upon her lips, completely detached from the grim reality she had lived.