Two Thousand Isles: Memoirs of a Ge

Back garden of a house in S. Hithadhoo. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

Back garden of a house in S. Hithadhoo. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

By Daniel Bosley

Far from the resort’s water villas and the grand buildings of Male’, every Maldivian house has its stories and its secrets – telling tales of family and community.

Here’s one exemplary house and home from Seenu Hithadhoo.

The stones, they brought from the beach, hauled from the edge of the island nearby. Surrounded by palms, yams, and mango trees, they were broken up and mortared using lime seared from the same coral shore, fired over coconut husks.

A house in S. Hithadhoo. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

A house in S. Hithadhoo. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

From much further away came the finance. British wages – coins of pounds, shillings, and pence – were hoarded temporarily inside kadjan huts; preferable to perishable paper money in homes that could barely keep out the humidity. An RAF Gan salary of £5 a week in 1970 could add another stone house to Medhuvalu in under a year, even after the heavy taxes needed to soothe Male’s irritation at the foreigners’ disruptive presence.

Next came the people; three generations born inside, mostly in the same room from which the builder/architect/owner would often lead family and friends in prayer. The ge continued to grow with its family, beyond coral and concrete, though new arrivals have increasingly had to follow jobs off the island after the foreign financiers had left by ’76.

A street in S. Hithadhoo. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

A street in S. Hithadhoo. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

To the rear, the garden is still populated mainly by mosquitoes, palms and yams – the Maldives’ southern staple. The mango tree to the south keeps the midday rays off the corrugated iron roof, which repels rain but hoards heat better than its thatched forebear. The space directly beneath, once the realm of the family chickens, is today occupied by a tangle of electrical wires.

Motorbikes now sleep in the kitchen after the lights go out, and the old outdoor toilet area is used to hang machine-washed clothes. A few old tables and chairs from the Gan base survive, smuggled out piece by piece as firewood but saved from the flames by the arrival of kerosene lamps and imported gas for cooking, which allowed the cooks to move inside too.

Garden well still used for drinking water in a house in S. Hithadhoo. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

Garden well still used for drinking water in a house in S. Hithadhoo. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

In front, the well-maintained well maintains the neighborhood supply of fresh water when electric pumps prove themselves less dependable. Hulking rainwater storage tanks have also joined the effort. Delivered after the 2004 tsunami, they are the only obvious sign that time ticks on, other than the foot-worn stones upon which the faithful joali still rests; and, of course, the passing of the patriarch.

If coral-stone walls could talk, what stories they’d tell.


Editor’s Note: “Two Thousand Isles” is a collaboration between Maldivian photographer Aishath Naj and her husband, British writer Daniel Bosley in partnership with Mihaaru to document the untold stories of the Maldive islands.

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