Maldivian Lacquer Art: A Masterpiece from Paradise Awaits

Maldivian Lacquer Art

Sunday, 1st October 2023

The cultural identity of the Maldives is akin to a mosaic patchwork, with pieces of this painting distributed among its two hundred inhabited islands. During our journey, we gather these pieces, along with some others, to get acquainted with the true civilization and identity of the Maldives. Here, we visit Thulhaadhoo Island to explore its distinctive cultural role in shaping this identity.

This small island, located in Baa Atoll, measures four hundred meters in length and two hundred meters in width and is inhabited by a population of one thousand five hundred people. While this may seem like a small number, it is a record-breaking figure when compared to its small land area or when compared to the population of islands with the same area, which typically houses a maximum of five hundred people.

Thulhaadhoo, like most of Maldivian local islands, boasts beautiful beaches and breathtaking ocean views, adorned by a forest of coconut palm trees at one end.

The Chinese were the first to engage in lacquer trade, which spread from their homeland across the Indian Ocean to the Maldives. In ancient times, the Maldives had strong trading connections with China, and it’s believed that Maldivians learned the craft of Lacquer work, locally known as ”liyelaa jehun” or ”laa jehun”, from the Chinese. While today, Maldivian lacquer works are mainly created for decoration, originally, they were used to make wooden items last longer. The practice of “liyelaa jehun” was once widespread throughout the country. The initial purpose of lacquer coating was to protect wood from moisture and damage. Over time, it evolved into an art form specialized by local families, with designs featuring botanical motifs passed down from generation to generation through the preservation of these patterns in memory.

Nowadays, the art form is thriving on Thulhaadhoo Island in Baa Atoll, where a few families are keeping the tradition alive. They continue to craft lacquered wooden souvenirs like vases and jewelry boxes, preserving this beautiful art form for generations to come.

Lacquer is a viscous plant-based liquid, similar to paint, that is heated and mixed with the desired colored pigments and then allowed to dry. In Thulhaadhoo, they primarily use three colors: yellow, red, and black.

Maldivian artisans have only a few primitive tools, yet they sculpt their works with finesse and finish them with the utmost dedication. Prices for these lacquerware items and vases can range from ten dollars for a single piece to two hundred and fifty dollars for a half-meter tall vessel.

After lacquer is applied, it is polished either with dried banana leaf sheets or coconut palm leaf sheets to give the pieces a shiny appearance. Lacquerware craftsmanship is a part of Thulhaadhoo’s unique heritage, and it is renowned for it.

One of the most essential elements of any lacquered product, “Laa” is not anyone’s cup of coffee. Making them requires creativity and precious time and a never give up attitude. With variety of colors to choose from, “Laa” is made out the necessary color needed for a particular product. The whole product is finalized after a lots these “Laa” comes in together to bring a final one.

Artisans often make the traditional method of crafting items seem easy and straightforward, but in reality, it is not. This method of wood coloring has been in use for hundreds of years here, and it continues to be used for making these tools to be gifted to the royal families in the Maldives and neighboring countries.

Maldivian style lacquered chess set

The art of lacquer can be found on Thulhaadhoo Island, where they have developed their unique techniques for crafting vases, jewelry boxes, and cooking utensils for members of the royal families and nobility. Thulhaadhoo, as the solitary island deeply engaged in this art, has earned the reputation as the leading hub of lacquer craftsmanship in the Maldives. It is a unique Maldivian beauty, and during your visit to Maldives, you will encounter many lacquered wooden pillars in the mosques scattered across the country.

Lacquer art enjoys immense popularity among tourists visiting the Maldives, making it a sought-after souvenir. These exquisitely handcrafted pieces not only enhance the décor of your home but also serve versatile purposes, such as containers, vases, and more.

When you purchase Lacquer, you’re not just acquiring a piece of art; you’re actively supporting small businesses in the Maldives and the local communities on these picturesque islands, contributing to the growth of the local economy. This isn’t just a souvenir; it’s an Authentic piece of Maldivian culture and an embodiment of the true essence of the Maldives.

If you’re interested in acquiring lacquerware, you can explore our collection of Maldivian lacquer and place an order directly from our website here , or contact us by WhatsApp. Furthermore, we offer Free delivery of this best Souvenirs from Maldives to Velana International Airport (MLE), before your international flight departure, ensuring a seamless shopping experience.

Experience the beauty, support the artisans, and bring a piece of Maldivian culture into your life.

Zubairube from Thulhaadhoo shares his story of 47 years experience in traditional Lacquer work (Liyela Jehun). His next goal is to write a book based on his experience and techniques, and to open a public museum to showcase some of his best works and his collection of historical relics.

Videos Credit to Mohamed Amaan (@Amanteyy)

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