Mr A. Writinghawk (writinghawk) wrote,
Mr A. Writinghawk

Koadi: the making

The dry weather lasted longer on Saturday, with the result that the bashi, the making of the koadi, and the football were successfully dispatched, in that order. But the koadi procession in the evening was again rained off.

The football match was played between teams of married and unmarried men. Given the tendency to early marriage here, this sets the age bar between the teams considerably lower than for the bashi tournament. There was no score when I left; it is a much less interesting game than bashi. Incidentally, the school sports tournaments for boys and girls are respectively in football and netball; conversely, there is a boys' game that like bashi is peculiar to Maldives, where there are regular tournaments, called baibalaa. Apparently it involves two teams, one encircling the other, and what sounds from rather incoherent descriptions like some kind of cross between tag and capture-the-flag. But I have yet to see it played.

Koadi is an annual custom at bodu Eid, which is to say 'big Eid' or Eid al-Adha. Bodu Eid is the major festival of the year: all public offices, schools, etc close for five days and many people go to their home islands to visit family. Because the Islamic calendar is shorter by eleven days than the solar year, Eid can come at any time of the Western year, which is the one followed by the schools and colleges. (The same is true of the holy month of Ramadan, a fasting time when the school day must be drastically curtailed, and both naturally play modest amounts of havoc with the school timetables.)

I can speak only for Kudfari customs, but details of the koadi celebration vary, I understand, quite widely from island to island. Some elements are persistent - such as the requirement for a boy and a girl to get married as a result of it, not of course adhered to, but supposedly a traditional feature.

To start with there is the making of the koadi. What is a koadi? The Dhivehi-English Dictionary says it is an 'ornate hat', but from this description you might not visualise something that stands over six feet tall and requires quite an effort to carry. When I arrive at the beach where the koadi is being made the main elements are already in place: a long wooden pole topped presumably with a square platform of some kind, now hidden, from which there hangs a long thick skirt of half-fronds of coconut palm, and above it the beginnings of a crown of spiky stalks like decorative ceremonial swords (or feathers, I suppose). Sitting and standing round about are a few women of various ages, a few small children, and a few young men - variously chatting, industriously adding to the koadi, or turning out more of the spiky stalks, which are also manufactured from half-fronds, by cutting a series of notches at intervals of about an inch and then folding them up in some complicated way.

(A mature palm frond is a good couple of feet long and has two halves divided by a spine. Old women can be seen sitting placidly in their courtyard stripping the greenery off the spines, which bound together in quantity make excellent brooms. Maldivians will tell you over and again that every part of the coconut palm is put to use. The coconut shell, which has many uses, is surrounded by a husk - there is a special tool in many front yards for removing it - which can be used to make coir. The leaves, before they open, are sheathed in a tough fibrous webbing which can be used to strain liquids or as a kind of cheesecloth when making coconut milk.)

Round the edge of the platform a frieze of other vegetation is being added to. The koadi is circled with the tight clusters of small greenish white berries of boashi, a broad-leaved plant growing on the beaches. Someone tells me berries can be popped and eaten like popcorn. (Someone else suggests, by their incredulous snort of laughter when I ask if this is true, that it is poppycock.) More palm-fronds are ingeniously folded into the shapes of boxes, or fish, or birds, which dangle down like Christmas-tree decorations. Two types of flower, red and white, are studded into the frieze like stars.

A person can carry the koadi by the pole and be completely hidden by the frond skirt. This is no accident, as in the processions, the identity of the bearer who leaves the koadi in its final location is a closely-guarded secret. The first night it is left by a boy at a girl's house, and the second, the other way round. Last year the koadi was left on the second night at the house of my sometime student Shahud: he is therefore responsible for arranging this year's procession. The koadi is being assembled near his house, to which, when finished, it is carried in readiness for the event.

The weather that evening was again unkind, so there the koadi stayed till the next day, when the twice-delayed proceedings finally got under way. But that is for another post.
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