Plans to destroy a 12-acre mangrove system in Kulhudhuffushi to make way for an airport have raised alarm among activists and islanders who fear environmental and economic damage due to the loss of the unique ecosystem. The Maldives Independent travelled to Kulhudhuffushi to meet a community of ropemakers whose way of life is under threat.
Ropemakers clear up coconut husk pits in the mangrove lake area. Coconut husk is soaked in the lake to soften its fibres for rope making, but the island council has ordered to empty the pits to make way for the construction of an airport in the mangrove wetlands.
Hawwa Ali removes a log used to weigh down the bags of coconut husk. “Soaking the coconut husk in the lake is part of the process in making rope. Usually it is left in the pits in the lake for up to five months, this softens and strengthens the fibres. Then it is used to weave rope,” Hawwa says, explaining how the lake’s muddy waters are integral to the industry.
A woman beats coconut husk after it has been removed from the lake. This removes the harder outer shells of the husks, making it easy for the ropemakers to weave. The Kulhudhuffushi ropemaking industry engages 404 families and is worth MVR9.3 million, according to the island’s youth association.
Fathmath Ibrahim weaves coir rope in her home. She knows she will have to stop ropemaking once the last coconut husks from the lake have been used up. “I have to stop this now, no? Is there any other way?”
Fathmath Ibrahim bundles woven coir rope. A bundle of coir rope fetches between MVR140 to MVR160, which is used to supplement income.
A man carries finished coir rope bundles on his bicycle. “This [rope making] has been going on for more than a century. Kulhudhuffushi is a hub for this. People come from all over to buy coir rope made by Kulhudhuffushi women,” Abdul Waahid, 68, says.
A woman weaves palm thatch using coir rope: As traditional uses for coir rope are replaced by cheaper synthetic rope, one of the areas where it is still used is palm thatch weaving. Palm thatch weavers, whose wares are mostly sold to resort islands, are expected to use traditional methods and materials.
A woman buys bundles of coir rope at the Saturday market. Kulhudhuffushi received royal acclaim for its traditional coir rope making industry during the reign of Sultan Mohamed Fareed Didi, but without support from authorities the tradition could come to an end.