Words by Daniel Bosley; Pictures by Aishath Naj
The address of a Maldivian house is about far more than making sure your mail finds its way to you.
In fact, the absence of house numbers makes finding specific houses difficult for outsiders.
Maldivian houses are given registered names rather than numbers, which continue to play an important role in Dhivehi society. House names were traditionally derived from an ancestor or place, but more creative names have become the norm in modern times.
Dhivehi and English language names are common, though recent regulations from the Dhivehi Academy have sought to limit the latter.
With inter-island movement rare up until recent decades and permanent registration still in place, a Maldivian’s house name will often form a key part of their identity throughout their lives – particularly if they are from an elite family (beyfulhun). The house name will appear on their national ID card, and is used to confirm their identification, often years after they have moved to Male.
Politically, houses have often been interchangeable with families – particularly among the elites of the capital.* Famous ‘houses’, such as Akakage and Atareege have been sources of patronage and power, with the loyalty expected from all those currently residing within.
Since that time, new money, new patronage, and mass inward migration into the capital mean the political importance of houses may be reducing, though they’re undoubtedly still much more than bricks (coral) and mortar.
*Studying the country in the 1970s, anthropologist Liz Colton wrote at length about the house as the basic political unit of the Maldives.