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‘No government will’ to protect Maldives cultural heritage

Yumna Maumoon, the former heritage department director, said there was no point in signing agreements that could not be honoured.



Plans to document Maldivian cultural artifacts have been criticised by the former director of the heritage department, who said the government had “no will” in protecting them in the first place.

Yumna Maumoon, who is also the niece of President Abdulla Yameen and daughter of ex-ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said there was no point in signing agreements that could not be honoured.

She made the remarks after the government on Tuesday launched the Maldives Heritage Survey, an online database documenting the country’s tangible cultural heritage.

It will catalogue historical structures and is led by Dr Michael Feener from the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.

His 13-member team is supported by an international advisory board including Mauroof Jameel, who has documented the ancient coralstone mosques of the Maldives, and Xavier Romero-Frias, a scholar whose books about Maldivian culture are banned in the country.

“The materials documented through this work are critically endangered, facing both natural and human threats that jeopardize the survival and accessibility of historical information for this vital node in pre-modern global economic and religious networks,” said the Maldives Heritage Survey on its website.

But Yumna, who resigned from her heritage director post in 2016 after plans for Kalhuvakaru Mosque’s relocation, blasted the new project.

“What is the point of signing agreements if we cannot honour them?” she tweeted on Wednesday, adding that the Maldives had not honoured UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention despite being a signatory.

“There is no will by the government to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the Maldives. Take the Kalhuvakaru mosque and Malé Friday Mosque as examples. The Coral Stone Mosques are not being look after as they should be,” she added.

In November the government stalled plans to develop a cafe at the Malé Friday Mosque site after a backlash. The mosque, built in 1658, is on UNESCO’s Tentative World Heritage List and is described as “the most important heritage site of the country” and “one of the finest coral stone buildings in the world.”

Yumna also previously revealed plans by the government to relocate the minaret, built in 1675, in a bitter Twitter campaign to save Maldivian heritage.

The heritage field survey will document mosques, Muslim grave markers, the remains of Buddhist stupas, and other historical structures and physical objects through digital photography, 3D terrestrial scanning and GIS to create an open-access online heritage database.