India > Maldives #worldinterview #6

India > Maldives

Interviewee: Shiura Jaufar

What is the relationship between politics and archaeology in Maldives generally?

Just like the majority of the countries in the world, archaeology is very much politically driven in the Maldives as well. Archaeological work is carried out by the Department of Heritage that runs directly under the Ministry of Education. All permits for any archaeological work or any kind of funding has to be approved by the department and the ministry. Politics play a  major role in what can or cannot be done in this field and all archaeological work is directly influenced by politics in the Maldives.

How do local communities relate to archaeological sites and archaeological investigations conducted at their land and findings found from their land? Do they have any power or right to control archaeological investigation at their land and to own artefacts found from their land?

To conduct any archaeology, we always have to get permission from the relative councils. So for instance, if we wanted to do archaeology on an inhabited island, the department would write to the island council. If the community living on this island does not approve of the work to be done, they can raise this with the council and the council can reject the permission. We always deal with the councils on such issues and this is how the community issues are addressed. There have been instances before where we were not given permission to work since the locals opposed to it. Also, when carrying out archaeology, we give a special focus on engaging locals as much as we can, by hiring locals to work for us as well as organizing community outreach programs for schools, councils as well as the general public. This way they can have a say in what we do and raise any concerns they have. Regarding artefacts, yes! If they wanted items not to be removed from the island, we do all that we can to do so. However, in some cases items need to be taken to elsewhere for further research due to the lack of resources on the island and in this case, an agreement is made with the council to return the items to the island within an agreeable period. So, I guess to answer the question, the local communities have, to a considerable amount of extent, a say in what can be done on their land and they also have a say on finds from their land. Usually, in most islands, the locals are very open and eager for such research since we lack archaeological investigations and histories of many islands and so any thing that can shed to the past of these islands are usually very welcomed and acknowledged.

Where does Maldivian archaeology get its funding from? How do archaeologists strike a balance between funding/funders requirements, and academic/research requirements?

We do not get much funding for archaeological work here and that’s a major problem. State funding is almost impossible to get since archaeology is amongst the least prioritized fields with very limited scope. The only way we get funding for archaeology is through foreign aid (we have received a lot of support from UNESCO and SAARC for conservation and research related activities). Therefore, archaeological work in the Maldives are very limited and very rare. The second part of the question is a difficult one to answer since archaeology is a very new discipline and like I mentioned before we rarely get offers to conduct archaeological investigations here in the Maldives. I guess it would not be entirely wrong to say that at the moment we do not have any set of standards or requirements for funders/research as long as the funders/research complies with our laws and as long as necessary permissions are attained through the department and as long as all parties agree with the department’s conditions (which are usually points of general ethics) as well as export rules of finds i.e. to return back the finds upon completion and proper dissemination of information and updates.

Maldives is seen as a holiday destination, a fun getaway island. Does this impact history/archaeology in any way – either as a hindrance or as a help? Do archaeologists/historians try to reach out to holidayers/travellers/tourists to communicate the country’s heritage?

The tourism sector does not hinder our history/archaeology. If at all it would help us and is a good way to promote our archaeology and create awareness. The new approach to promoting/managing archaeology is through cultural tourism although we are yet only at the very beginning of this. Some very few tourist resorts are now being promoted as cultural heritage resorts and a lots of tourists visiting the Maldives get to visit the archaeological/heritage sites in these resorts as well as in neighboring islands including Male’, the capital. Heritage sites in neighboring islands as well as Male are promoted in resorts and every tourist visiting Male goes to see the key heritage sites in Male.

About Shiura:

Currently I am doing my PhD on Maldivian archaeology (mainly looking at pottery finds after excavations to create a chronology) at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. I also worked as an archaeologist at the Department of Heritage for about 03 years in the Maldives before I came to UK. I also want to let you know that I am the first archaeologist in the Maldives which I am very proud of and at the moment the only one in the Maldives with this title although two more Maldivians are currently doing their undergraduate degree in archaeology.


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