The most widely known form of indigenous dance and music in the Maldives is known as Boduberu or Bodu Beru. Bodu simply means “big” and Beru signifies “drum.” The performance has multi-ethnic influences with strong roots in East Africa and is thought to have been first created in the 11th century. Boduberu is mesmerizing due to the intensity of the drum beats and the intervening choir of chants. And, although uncommon on many levels, it is known as “the dance of the common people.” While Boduberu has come to be an important element of cultural expression today, it was originally performed after a hard day’s work as a means of keeping entertained.
Like the Mauritian Sega, the dance begins with a slow beat and eventually crescendos with frenetic drum beats and dancing. Unlike Sega, however, these dances include 15 to 22 people, depending upon which of the eight dominant dances is being observed. Most troupes include a lead singer, a trio of drums (made from the wood of a coconut tree trunk), a bell and a small bamboo stick with horizontal grooves called onugandu, which emits a raspy sound when scraped.
Some of these dances are performed only by men, such as the Thaara, and are generally religiously themed. Others are exclusively danced by women as in the Maafathi Neshun or the Bolimalaafath Neshun. Still, others involve both genders with stories being told about heroism, romance and even sat-ire. Regardless of specific type, the majority end with only one or two dancers remaining who, due to the frantic movements to the drum beats, often appear to be in a trance-like state. Hence, the term “hypnotic” is often used to describe Boduberu.
These dances are reported to have evolved, as not only an alternative to the court music and dance of the time, but also as a rebellion against such cultural forms. In combination, the beats of the drums and the abandoned expressions of the dance form what is referred to as “vibrating the island.”
In addition to East African influences on Boduberu, the effects of Northern India cannot be underestimated. The affinity most Maldivians feel toward India is related to both culture and language. As a consequence, several popular local dances include Hindi movements and instruments. Besides the drum, the favorite instrument of the islands is the bulbul tarang, which is essentially a horizontal accordion. The first bulbuls were estimated as being brought from Calcutta in the early 19th century. Thus, whether one is attracted to calm and devotional Hindi dances or the immense power of the percussion, the Maldives offer both experiences.
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