Coir Rope Making: A Traditional Maldivian Craft

June 27, 2024

Coir rope making, or Roanu Veshun in Dhivehi, stands as one of the most cherished traditional handicrafts in the Maldives. Coconut trees, ubiquitous across every island of the archipelago, have long been integral to Maldivian culture and livelihood.

Resourceful Maldivians utilize various parts of the coconut palm to craft essential items for their daily needs. Historically, coir rope played a crucial role in boat-building and the construction of traditional houses, showcasing its versatility and importance.

An old woman in the Maldives weaving coir rope

The coir rope-making process is a meticulous endeavour, often spanning two months or more to produce a single batch of high-quality ropes. This time-honoured craft begins with the coconut's husk, the source of coir fibres.

Initially, a piece of ironwood (Kuredhi), sharpened at both ends, is anchored to the ground. This tool, used in a process locally known as 'Kaashi Hehun', efficiently separates the coconut from its husk. The valuable coconut itself is then repurposed for food and other uses.

To prepare the husks for rope-making, they undergo a process called 'Bo'nbi Faakurun'. The raw husks are strategically buried where waves break at the shore, ensuring constant moisture. On some islands, swampy areas are preferred for this purpose. Sticks mark these burial sites, allowing artisans to track their location.

The duration of the coir rope-making process largely depends on how long it takes for the coconut husks to achieve the desired tenderness. After one to two months, the husks are carefully unearthed and placed on a sturdy wooden surface, often a log. In a step known as 'Bo'nbi Thelhun', the husks are rhythmically beaten with a wooden club to loosen the fibrous coir strands. These fibres are then meticulously washed with seawater to remove impurities and sun-dried to perfection.

Once completely dry, the coir fibres are ready for transformation into ropes. Skilled artisans, typically women, engage in 'Roanu Veshun' - the art of coir rope making. They masterfully separate coir strands by hand and spin them together, adjusting the thickness according to the rope's intended use.

While coir rope was indispensable in traditional boat-building and house construction, its applications extended far beyond. It was skillfully used to create the iconic Maldivian hammock or 'Joali', durable doormats, and even the supportive framework for bed mattresses.

In contemporary Maldives, coir rope has found new life in decorative applications and the production of authentic Maldivian souvenirs. Modern architectural designs often incorporate coir rope as a striking decorative element, wrapping columns and supports to evoke a sense of traditional Maldivian aesthetics.

The enduring popularity of coir rope is evident in its continued use for making 'joali', which remains a common fixture in islanders' households. This resilient craft once served as a vital source of income for many Maldivians, with high-quality coir rope being a sought-after export to China, Yemen, and the Persian Gulf.

The unique style of coir rope produced by Maldivian artisans garnered international acclaim for its exceptional beauty, slenderness, and durability. This testament to Maldivian craftsmanship not only contributed to the nation's economy but also helped preserve a significant aspect of its cultural heritage.

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