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Abdullah Sadiq: Dhon Hiyala and Ali Fulhu

This is not an original novel but a recounting of a well-known fable from the Maldives, its source explained in the author’s introduction to the book. It is full of magic, people taking inspiration from their dreams, diversions, trickery and, naturally, some violence. It has been called the Maldives Romeo and Juliet but it shares only the idea of ill-fated lovers with Shakespeare’s play. The story starts with Raaveri Ali who, when told to get married by his mother, meets and marries an orphan, Sakeena. They have seven sons. They both work hard and are doing so well that they attract the envy of the local chief, who feels that their sons will overtake his. The chief casts a spell and soon the seven sons and then Sakeena all die. Ali is so heartbroken, that he moves to another island. After some difficulties, he remarries. He has a son, Hussein, who, at the age of nine, leaves his parents and goes to Malè. They have a second son, Moosa, but he too goes to Malè. He stays with his brother and, as he is educated, soon gets a reputation as a teacher and is appointed keeper of the royal mosques by the king. However, he has a dream that he will meet the woman he is to marry on another island and he soon sets sail. Only after a bit of bribery on the part of her father does the woman – Aisa – agree to marry Moosa. However, another dream intervenes and they are off to another island. They, too, have lots of children but the midwife kills them all. Finally (and you have to wonder why they waited so long) they get another midwife and eventually have a daughter who survives, the eponymous Hiyala.

Before we can learn the story of the two title characters, we also learn about Ali Fulhu’s background. Initially, he had a rival for Dhon Hiyala – the Black European – but the rival soon learns he cannot marry Hiyala (we do not know why) and goes. Ali’s upbringing is religious but one day, instead of going to the mosque he is attracted by a young woman, Hawwa Fulhu (if she is a relative, this is not made clear). However, when his matchmakers propose to her on his behalf, she ignores them. At this point, he has a dream, about Hiyala, and abandons Hawwa. She is furious and does everything in her power to stop Ali going to Buruni where Hiyala lives, using all sort of magic. Of course, we know that Ali and Hiyala are going to meet and marry and they do, with a certain amount of difficulty. But the rest of the fable is about their life together, which has its problems, not least because Hiyala is very beautiful and others, including the king, are attracted to her.

It is certainly an enjoyable tale, with Hawwa’s magic spells and Ali’s ways of getting round them, the problems the lovers face with rivals for Hiyala’s hand as well as a whole range of Maldivian customs that we learn about (and some of the characters learn about), many of which are explained in the copious notes accompanying the text. We also learn about some of the differences between the different islands of the Maldives so, as a brief introduction to the Maldives and its culture, this is a worthwhile work. There is even a sequel (scroll down).

Publishing history

First published in 1976 by Novelty Press, Malè
First English translation online in 2004
Translated by Fareesha Abdullah and Michael O’Shea