Revealing the secrets of Maldivian traditional medicine.
The islands of the Maldives are separated from mainland India and Sri Lanka by hundreds of miles of empty sea. Long used to their isolation from the continental land masses the inhabitants of the islands have learned to fend for themselves since ancient times, making self sufficiency an integral part of their culture. When islanders got sick or hurt they did not have the luxury of a nearby hospital or clinic to seek out medicine or treatment. Instead they would turn to their traditional healers known as hakeems who practiced an indigenous traditional medicine known as dhivehi beys.
While the precise origins of dhivehi beys are shrouded in mystery and lost in the mists of time, it seems certain that over the centuries Maldivian healers acquired medical knowledge and secrets from travellers who passed through the islands, and adapted them using locally available and sometimes imported ingredients. Researchers have identified dhivehi beys core beliefs and treatments as having similarities with Arab, Persian, Indian, Chinese and even ancient Greek medicinal traditions, pointing to their influence in the formation of this indigenous medicine.
Maldivian history records legends about miraculous healers from the past such as Buraki Ranin, the 16th century queen of Sultan Mohammed who was said to be able to cure sword wounds overnight with her special remedies. In modern times, a healer known as El-Sheikh El-Hakeem Ahmed Didi from Seenu Atoll is recognised as the founder of dhivehi beys as it is practiced today. Before he died in 1937 he achieved wide renown in the islands for his medical skill and knowledge, and his book, Tibbl Fuqara fee hikmathil Umarai, is still considered the essential text for those who would study the Maldivian art of healing
The core philosophy of dhivehi beys is that good health is a result of achieving the proper balance between the four ‘humours’ of the body. This derives from the ancient Unani school of medicine that has roots in Greece and Persia, and arrived in India during the Mughal Empire in the 12th century. Following the Unani system, certain ‘cold’ foods are recommended for someone with a fever, and dried fish for example is regarded as a palliative for flu. Many practitioners of Unani medicine, including the hakeems of the Maldives, integrate modern medicine with traditional techniques to treat the whole person rather than just the affected part of the body.
Today, hakeems are still well respected by the village communities on the islands. Much of their knowledge is of practical benefit and their herbal medicines are widely appreciated due to their non-toxicity and efficacy for a wide range of complaints from headaches, fevers and intestinal problems.
There are now probably no more than 40 traditional healers, both men and women, left in the Maldives. Their numbers aredeclining as people tend to prefer the supposedly instant cures they believe they can get from modern drugs, while fewer of the younger generation are interested in undertaking the long study that is necessary to become a dhivehi beys practitioner
An exception is Kurumba’s Spa Manager, Aishath Zulfishan, who believes that this ancient knowledge is too important to lose. In her spare time she studies with a hakeem, now in his seventies, who lives on an island near Malé, whose vast store of knowledge is at risk of being lost.
He has taught her how to prepare massage oils and herbal poultices that she now uses in three original spa treatments that are offered to guests at the Veli Spa. Many of the ingredients for these preparations are grown in the organic gardens of the resort. Kurumba is the first spa in the Maldives to incorporate traditional Maldivian treatments into its menu of therapies, and we are proud to promote what is a significant part of our local culture and tradition.
Our signature Maldivian treatment is the Akarakara Theyo Dhemun massage that uses these essential herbal oils to improve blood circulation, strengthen tissues and muscles, and relieve nerve tightness on the scalp that can cause migraines and dizziness. Those who suffer from arthritis, inflammation of the joints and muscle pain will benefit most from this wonderfully soothing massage.
For the Lansimoo Theyo Dhemun back, neck and shoulder massage, a hot poultice filled with a secret blend of Maldivian herbs is gently pressed onto key areas of the body. The herbal poultice acts in a gentle but effective way to release nerve tightness and reduce migraines and muscle spasms.
The Tamburu Fai foot massage uses a blend of Akarakara, Lansimoo, and other local herbs that are used to improve blood circulation, promote healing and soothe joint pain.
By offering these original spa treatments to our guests, Kurumba hopes to not only raise appreciation for the Maldives’ long history of traditional healing but to inspire a resurgence of knowledge and interest in this important and unique element of our island life.