Friday, December 16, 2011

An overview of traditional coir rope making in the Maldives

In the past Maldivians were well known for craftsmanship on a regional basis. Coir rope making is regarded as one of the traditional handicrafts in the Maldives. People of the northern most atoll of Maldives, Haa Alif atoll is famous for the production of the highly attributed fine coir rope called "aiyvaa roanu". As Maldivians use readily available resources in their environment to produce items for their daily needs, different parts of the coconut palm is used in this regard. Coir rope was most importantly used in boats and construction of traditional "fungi" houses.

A bundle of coir rope
The coir rope making process is a lengthy process lasting as long as two months or more to produce a single batch of ropes. In the olden days this was a means of earning a living as coir rope was in high demand and exported to foreign countries. Coir comes from the husk of the coconut, which is a fibrous and strong material that protects the coconut. The husks of coconut that have not dried up were used to obtain coir. A piece of iron wood, sharpened at both ends is stuck to the ground and used to separate the coconut from its husk. The coconut is used for food and other purposes. 

To obtain coir, the husks of the coconut are first made tender by burying in water. The raw husk of the coconut is buried in muddy areas in the lagoon, where the waves break at the shore. In some islands, where swamps are present, these areas are preferred for the burial process. The length of the coir rope making process depends on how long it takes for the coconut husks to become tender as they remain buried for as long as it takes. Sticks are used to mark the area where the husks are buried. 

Coir fibres/strands
After about one and a half months to two months, the husks are dug up and the hard shell that covers the coconut husk is removed. A handful of coir fibres is held at one end and placed on a hard wooden surface such as that of a log and beaten with a wooden club. After beating it till the husk becomes tender the other end is also beaten. This is done to loosen the fibrous coir strands from the rest of the husk. The coir fibres are then washed with sea water to remove coir dust and spread in the sun to dry them.  

Spinning the coir fibers
Once they are completely dry, they are ready to be spun into ropes or the coir, as it is, can be used to produce other items. To make coir rope, a handful of coir is pulled at both ends by hands to separate strands of coir from the coir fibres. Depending on the desired thickness of the coir rope, few strands (about 6-10) are taken into the palms and the ends of these strands are joined to the ends of another few strands by spinning between the palms. This method is continued to produce a bundle of coir rope of a determined length. The process of weaving coir into rope is locally known as "roanu veshun".

The final product
It is noteworthy that coir is not only used to make rope but a range of household items which were used in the everyday lives of Maldivians. These include traditional mattresses, pillows, cushions, brooms etc. Coir rope, which the Maldivians produce in a unique style, was not limited to its use in boats and during construction of traditional houses. It was extensively used to make traditional hammock or ‘joali’, door mats and also used to make the frame work in bed for placing the mattress. 
Traditional hammock: "joali"
Nowadays coir rope is used for decorative purposes and the production of souvenirs. The designs of some buildings such as restaurants come with ostentatiously decorated columns and supports wrapped by coir rope, and coconut thatching. Maldivians still use coir rope to make ‘joali’. It is found commonly in the households of islanders. In ancient times, Maldivians exported coir rope to Sindh, China, Yemen and the Persian Gulf. Coir rope, which the Maldivians produce in a unique style was highly priced and credited for its beauty and slimness.
Coconut thatching: uses coir rope

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