Maldives’ master craftsmen share the secrets of their wares on a small island.
As striking as sunset and finely fashioned as nature’s intricate coral, this island country’s jewellery epitomises the Maldives’ rich traditions of art and craft. Historically, citizens of all social statuses adorned themselves with bangles and necklaces of lacquered wood, shells or coral. Meanwhile, the sultan and his court in Malé adorned themselves with fine gold and silver jewellery that was sometimes even studded with precious stones from Ceylon and Burma.
Legend has it that a few hundred years ago, the reigning sultan discovered that his personal jeweller had pilfered gold from the royal treasury. Upon hearing the news, he exiled the disgraced craftsman to the remote island of Rinbudhoo in the Dhallu Atoll for life. To survive, the jeweller taught his skills to the islanders in exchange for food and shelter. According to the story, his pupils have kept the knowledge they learned alive to this day by passing it down through the generations.
Whether the legend is true or not, it’s a remarkable fact that almost all the goldsmiths and silversmiths of the Maldives come from either Rinbudhoo or the neighbouring island of Huludheli. On British Admiralty charts from the 19th century, Rinbudhoo is marked as ‘Jewellers’ Island’, and even today, every family on the island has a connection to the trade.
In the past, the islanders would spend months making chains, bracelets and necklaces with traditional tools such as a little anvil and a kerosene lamp (fulhi-batthi),at his shop, along with two workers, even though he has a government job.
''There is a strong local demand for jewellery,” Rashid says. “However, most of it is for modern styles, as the traditional designs take a lot of skill and time to produce and are more expensive. I know a lot of families in Malé still have old family heirlooms, as I sometimes get to repair them. I learn how these older pieces were made and use the ideas to make new jewellery.''
Kurumba shares Rashid’s love for traditional Maldivian jewellery, which we know you’ll agree is breathtakingly beautiful.
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