Words by Daniel Bosley; Pictures by Aishath Naj
Somewhere on the quiet streets of Laamu Gan comes a gentle thud of wood on wood. Far too quiet to make it as far as the modern link road a few hundred feet away, the sounds is immediately absorbed in the eternal present; in the sandy streets of the Thundi ward.
The Thundi ward in which Maryam stands, beneath the shade of a breadfruit tree. She raises the wooden moa – smooth like an elongated looking glass – above her head and brings it down, past her face of stoic determination, and into the van.
Inside the bowl, carved generations ago with wood from the same tree under which it stands, the binbi jumps and dances. The thuds will continue until each grain is separated from its husk; a couple of hours or more until the work is done.
The binbi – or finger millet – is actually a foreigner in this most Maldivian of scenes, imported via Male’. But the dull thud of the task is one more familiar to the atolls.
Though few realise it, in a country made up of less than one percent land – and of that, just ten percent suitable for farming – Dhivehi dhanduveriya once regularly produced grains such as this, to supplement the more abundant supply of coconuts and fish.
Fragile links with the continental mainland had once meant that the seasonal trade of coir, copra, and dried fish was the only way islanders could obtain their complex carbohydrates before today’s global cash economy changed eating habits. Back then, the far-flung atolls would have to rely on grains like binbi, donala (sorghum), and kudibaiy (common millet) before the comparative luxuries of flour and rice – which has never been successfully grown in their porous soil – became staple products.
But, despite modernity’s new menu, Maryam prefers the old method to ensure a husk-free bondibaiy, boakibaa, or as a rice replacement; something for which electric food mixers are less adept.
Sometimes the old ways, resonating with the past, are still the best. They definitely sound more satisfying.