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Viral hashtag inspires love of traditional Maldivian dress

#LibaasSabbees prompted a flurry of posts celebrating local culture.



A hashtag launched by a pair of young women went viral as the Maldives celebrated its 54th Independence Day on July 26, prompting a flurry of posts celebrating the traditional dress called libaas.

Dubbed #LibaasSabbees – as Independence Day is commonly referred to as Julaain Sabbees (July 26) in Dhivehi – the hashtag was born out of a Twitter conversation between Mariyam Rifga Rasheed and Hawwa Sanaya.

The viral hashtag #KimOhNo “made Sanaya realise how little focus and importance we’ve given to our own traditional dresses,” Rifga told the Maldives Independent.

Synonymous with Maldivian culture, the unique dress showcases an embroidery technique known as kasabu viyun on the neckline and is worn with an underskirt called feyli

Rifga said the initial idea was to organise an annual libaas party. “We thought Independence Day would be the perfect date for this and Sanaya came up with the hashtag,” she explained.

The Maldivian online community quickly joined the conversation and a Telegram group chat was formed for further discussions and planning. 

“The idea was to encourage modern Maldivians, especially the youth, to embrace the libaas and normalize wearing Dhivehi hedhun [clothes],” Rifga said. “We might see children dressed up, but rarely adults. We wanted to change that!” 

Rifga and Sanaya were thrilled with the response and overwhelming support on social media platforms. #LibaasSabbees was trending on Twitter as well as on Instagram and Facebook as hundreds of people, including prominent political figures and celebrities, posted photos wearing the libaas. Several also shared photos of their grandmothers and daughters wearing the dress.  

“We didn’t even have a prompt, everyone just freely and proudly posted their libaas photos…There were even some throwback wedding pictures and tributes to grandparents,” said Rifga.

“It proved just how much we as Maldivians love and value our traditions and cultural wear.” 

The success inspired the pair to create a new Twitter handle called @TheLibaasMvmnt, which they are using to share information posted by knowledgeable Twitter users about the history and origins of the dress.

After #LibaasSabbees, fans are now looking forward to #LibaasEid.  

“Eid is the perfect time to wear traditional. […] we want Maldivians to make their Eid Hedhun something traditional this time,” said Rifga.

She hoped the president and first lady will also participate during the upcoming holidays. 

As libaas is commonly known as a feminine piece of clothing, there were a lot more posts from women than men. But Rifga added, “Since it was not clear the first time, we want men and boys to know #LibaasMovement includes them as well and they should totally rock their mundu or feyli [sarong] this Eid.”

Photo of gender minister and top officials at Independence Day reception from State Minister Ifham Hussain