Folk Tales of the Maldives

Xavier Romero-Frias

  • Published: 2012
  • Pages: 240 pp., illustrated
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 7694 104 8, £65
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7694 105 5, £22.50

 This selection of 80 traditional short stories and legends from the vast Maldivian oral tradition - the first of its kind - offers a unique insight into the history, culture and beliefs of the Maldivians and into the world they live in. Of great interest not only to scholars but also would-be travellers.

 

The Maldives are mainly known as an equatorial tourist paradise to the south of India but some will know the archipelago risks drowning owing to global warming. Far less is known about the people, who have occupied these islands for millennia but whose deep indigenous culture is today under threat from a multitude of external forces.

This volume is a collection of 80 traditional short stories and legends selected from the large corpus of stories in the local oral tradition, and translated and illustrated by the author who is the foremost authority on the language and anthropology of the Maldives. These folk tales offer keen insights both into the history, culture and beliefs of the people of the Maldives and into the world they live in. The close relationship the Maldivians have with their environment is clear, likewise the syncretic nature of their Islamic faith, the tales bustling with spirits, sorcerers and monsters as well as local people, seabirds, etc.

Would-be travellers to the Maldives will find this a unique insight into the real country behind the tourist brochures. For scholars, the folk tales and analytical material offer a wonderful literary/folklore resource as well as fresh perspectives on the effects of globalization.

author image not supplied

Born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1954, Xavier Romero-Frias is the foremost authority in the anthropology of the Maldives. He lived in the Maldive Islands between 1979 and 1991 studying the oral traditions and other folk expressions, like arts and crafts.

Born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1954, Xavier Romero-Frias is the foremost authority in the anthropology of the Maldives. He lived in the Maldive Islands between 1979 and 1991 studying the oral traditions and other folk expressions, like arts and crafts. Fluent in the language of the Maldives, including dialectal forms, Dr Romero-Frias is considered the world’s leading non-Maldivian expert in the Maldivian language. In addition, as part of his work with Maldivian folklore, he carried out research on the ancient Divehi scripts. He is also a talented artist whose work has been exhibited in public and used to illustrate several books. In 1999 he published a monograph on the ethnography and the oral tradition of Maldives, the bulk of which has been personally recorded by him.

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by Scott Morrisson, Associate Professor, Akita University, Japan
From journal:
IIAS Newsletter, Issue 66, 2013

"Considering the obstacles to a project of this kind Xavier-Romero Frias has made an estimable achievement of benefit both to Maldivians and to foreigners, by at once recording and translating a wide range of Dhivehi folk tales.

"Considering the obstacles to a project of this kind Xavier-Romero Frias has made an estimable achievement of benefit both to Maldivians and to foreigners, by at once recording and translating a wide range of Dhivehi folk tales.

…Romero-Frias claims at the outset that the book was written for those interested in but not yet informed about the Maldives (including possible tourists and visitors) as well as researchers and South Asian specialists or (it might be added) those engaged in comparative work on microstates and island cultures. The inherent novelty and freshness of these stories, with their quirky twists and punchlines furnish ample entertainment for the former. Supported by the author’s seamless and consistently understated yet effective translation, the originality and inherent interest of this volume will equally engage the latter. In sum, the book offers unprecedented access for the curious and the specialist alike into Maldivian folk stories. It has also helped to preserve for posterity a tradition that would otherwise not long survive."

by Vaughan Rapatahana
From journal:
Asian Review of Books

Folk Tales of the Maldives is, all in all, a quite delightful collection, not merely because it is well-presented and has prolific and cogent notation throughout, but more obviously because the tales – as we dive in here and there over a period of a few days – are rather charming in what I would nominate as their ingenuous innocence, a reflection of a Maldives which has lar

Folk Tales of the Maldives is, all in all, a quite delightful collection, not merely because it is well-presented and has prolific and cogent notation throughout, but more obviously because the tales – as we dive in here and there over a period of a few days – are rather charming in what I would nominate as their ingenuous innocence, a reflection of a Maldives which has largely disappeared in an increasingly globalized and cynical world, but which at the same time offer a welcome escape from this very world.

by (admin)
From journal:
Maldivian American Friendship Society

 Preeminent ethnographer of Maldivian culture, Xavier Romero-Frias, has published a fascinating new book that should be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about the history, culture, and beliefs of the Dhivehi people. [Review continues here.]

 Preeminent ethnographer of Maldivian culture, Xavier Romero-Frias, has published a fascinating new book that should be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about the history, culture, and beliefs of the Dhivehi people. [Review continues here.]

by Eva-Maria Knoll, Austrian Academy of Sciences
From journal:
Journal of Folklore Research, 2013

There is little that compares with how oral tradition is able to reveal linkages between past and present and between a culture’s knowledge and its environment. The volume discussed here can be seen as a particularly fine piece in this regard. …

There is little that compares with how oral tradition is able to reveal linkages between past and present and between a culture’s knowledge and its environment. The volume discussed here can be seen as a particularly fine piece in this regard. …

The strength of his publication lies in a comprehensive introduction into Maldivian literary genres, oral traditions, and lifestyles that allows the reader to put the following folktales into a broader cultural context. … Beyond this valuable background information Folk Tales of the Maldives is of particular significance in three regards. First, it is the first comprehensive collection of Maldivian short stories and legends. Second, this treasure of a centuries-old tradition of storytelling is made accessible to a wider audience in English. Third, Romero-Frias provides a first attempt at classifying Maldivian folktales by suggesting six categories. …

[T]he collection of well written folktales accompanied by the author’s charming illustrations is generally convincing and a pleasurable and profitable read. … Together with the comprehensive introduction, the illustrative footnotes and the useful glossary and index make this volume highly recommendable for scholarly work. The author dedicates the book both to travelers who would like to gain insights into Maldivian culture and history and to scholars such as folklorists, anthropologists, linguists, and Islamic scholars. I would further recommend this publication to scholars with research interests in South Asia, the Indian Ocean, island and maritime studies, and—since the Maldivian art of storytelling is on the decline—the volume might also be of value to the inhabitants of the archipelago.

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