Maldives: The Romeo and Julia before Romeo and Julia

Going back to the letter M for a short trip. I was happy to find apparently the only book from the Maldives available in English.. It would be fantastic if every country would do the same, publishing one book from the country free online. It would make this journey a lot easier, which would be great, but on the other hand looking for all these books is part of the adventure. Because Dhon Hiyala and Ali Fulhu by Abdullah Sadiq is the only book available in English, I naturally ended up reading it.

It is a short book and the book and its background is explained in detail after the book. I found it to be a great way of getting to know a specific culture better with all the traditions, myths and legends, as well as explaining some parts of the book I would otherwise not have fully understood. This would be a fantastic worldwide project – a book, and explanations regarding the book and its cultural context open to everyone.

The book is passed on as an oral tradition normally, and it is supposed to be based on a true story, entangled with a bit of magic, religion and folklore. It is the Maldives version of Romeo and Juliet set in the 1400s AD, so it is the other way around, Romeo and Juliet is based on this story. Dhon Hiyala was born an exceptional beauty on the island of Buruni. Her parents tried to hide her from the world, but Ali, living on another island, saw her in a dream and found her, and they got secretly married.

However, there were many obstacles for them along the way, especially a brutal king who wanted Dhon for himself. He made life extremely hard for Ali, and did everything in his power to keep Dhon and Ali apart. The only way they could be together was in the eternal afterlife. There is a gravesite on one of the atolls where Dhon and Ali are supposed to be buried.

The general theme of forbidden and hidden love is easy to understand, some myths and legends typical to Maldives not so much. The specifics are explained after the story, which makes it easier to understand. The story is short, easy to read, and at least I felt the way of island life while reading. I found that I learned a lot through the story about the way of thinking in the Maldives, since this story is very much alive and orally told from generation to generation. It is worth a read, especially for anyone travelling to the region, who wants to understand the culture and beliefs.

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