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From African Dance Drumming to Maldivian Bodu Beru

Translated and adapted from an original article by Saud Abdul Kareem, Feridhoo

According to oral tradition the people of Feridhoo in North Ari Atoll are descended from Negroes.  Feridhuans trace their origins to three slaves freed by King Mueenuddin and settled in the island more than a hundred years back.  They even trace the origins of the popular Maldivian dance drumming, “bodu beru”, to these emancipated slaves.     

Feridhuans and their neighbors have very little doubt about their African roots.      Up to this day  neighbors call the locals ‘Feridhoo Negroes" in inter-island arguments.  Though this may be intended as an insult, Feridhuans take it as a compliment. They are quite proud of their ancestry. 

African drummers

Drummers in Modern Africa: Dance drumming has spread to many parts of the world through the slave trade route.

The original 3 Negro migrants were Marujan, Bilal and Sangor.  The first two had no offspring.   Sangor had three children, Aisa, Ahammad and Unbusheim.  This family grew and today it is said that nearly all inhabitants of Feridhoo and many in Maalhos are its progeny.

[The author’s mother happens to be the great grand daughter of Sangor.  Her Family line is: Sangor – Ahammad – Aisa – Dhon Kamana – author’s mother.]

 The Negroes of Feridhoo were big and powerful people.  They had typical Negroid features, curly hair, dark skin and all.  It is said that some decades back most Feridhuans were dark, but with racial mixing over the years, many light skinned babies were born.  Feridhuans  called them ‘fair Negroes’.  The majority of today’s Feridhuans are fair Negroes, but typical Negroes with dark skin are not uncommon.

Lady drummers

Women dance drummers in 21st century Maldives:  There is little doubt that this art form came from Africa.  

Over the years Feridhuans have lost their legendary strength.  In the olden days it was said that a single angry Feridhuan could overpower 10 men.  Outsiders were afraid of confronting them.  But today things have changed. 

 Sangor and his companions introduced African dance drumming to Feridhoo.  Dance drumming was centered on captivating rhythms played on special drums.  There were several different rhythms including fona, maana and ragguda.  Dance drumming soon caught on with the locals and spread to many other islands of the Maldives including the capital Male. It survives to this day as ‘bodu beru’ (Dhivehi = big drum). 

Modern dancers

Even  modern dance drummers work themselves into a frenzy of ecstasy  

Even in modern bodu beru one can see glimpses of the heady excitement of the African original.   Sometimes as the crescendo mounts drummers beat not just their own drums but also those of others nearby, all the while maintaining perfect rhythm using hands and even the head.  It is not unusual for them to injure themselves in the process.  Dancers also shared in this excited mood, gyrating their way into unconsciousness.

 Bodu Beru is accompanied by ‘baburu’ (Negro) songs and dances.  These days most songs are in Dhivehi, but Feridhuans still preserve many original African songs.   Here are the words of a very popular song:

“Kadoodoo kayaavei kadoodoo kaa ayaavei,
Ado yathan boake thanoodei uppani keikei,
Niya negoala bumbaisa,
Ahei lailaka maye bothei,
Ahei lailaka rugunja,
Ahei lailaka muruguja,
Ahei lailaka sikka thibei."

 Though today people don’t understand their meaning, these songs are still extremely popular with the crowds.  Perhaps their rhythm is connected with the pulse of Feridhuans.