Any society has games and sporting activities that are passed down through generations and provide insight into local cultures and traditions. The Maldives is no exception to this. We, in fact, have many games and sports with similarities to activities from different parts of the world. Most of these games and sporting activities were created by our ancestors, not just for fun, but also as a way of stimulating our minds and enhancing social interaction within the community. It served as something adults enjoy after a busy day at work, or one that would keep our kids occupied and active after school. Some of these sports are, unfortunately, not as widely played anymore but we still see communities come together and enjoy them during Eid and other festive seasons.
So, let’s look at some games and sporting activities that have remained favourites amongst locals throughout the years. You may also be lucky enough to witness some games or get the chance to play some of these in resorts or on local islands.
Bashi was the national sport of the country before football took centre stage in recent years. This woman's-only sport has some resemblance to tennis and dodgeball. While tennis is played on grassed flat courts, Bashi is played on sand pitches.
A Bashi game comprises two innings and is played between teams of seven or eleven players, with both teams given the chance to consequently throw and catch the ball during fresh rounds. One member of the pitching team stands, with their back to the net, during a game and knocks the ball over their head and the net. The opponent’s task is to capture this ball. The servers are eliminated with each successful catch until the entire team is out. Each pitcher is given 12 chances. They receive four additional points if they can continue without losing. Girls in local islands play Bashi in their early years and often join island teams in their late teens. Although it is played for fun during the evening in some areas, islands/atolls organise major Bashi tournaments occasionally to mark national holidays and such.
Initially, the game was played using a ball fashioned from rolled coconut palm leaves and used wooden rackets or metal ones. Now the game is played using tennis balls and rackets.
Baibalaa is a rugged and physically demanding outdoor sport that brings in two teams to battle each other and puts their speed, strength and agility to the test. This sport has ties to the old Indian sport of Kabaddi and Turkish Oil Wrestling. One main difference between the Indian version and ours is that Baibalaa is played on a ring field, whereas Kabaddi is played on a rectangular one.
During a Baibalaa match, one group is inside the ring and the other outside. A player from outside the ring enters and tries to tag a player from the team inside the ring by physically touching them. The opposing side needs to make sure its members are secure and not allow outsiders to tag a player and make it out of the staging area. They attempt to capture the player and hold him inside the ring until they motion that they give up. The team member cannot play again until the next round if they are captured.
Baibalaa played at a beach (on the soft powdery sand), to minimise chances of injuries to players. The sport has developed throughout the years and every year, the Maldives Baibalaa Association organises an annual national-level tournament for the Eid al-Adha holidays. Baibalaa tournaments are also held on the islands or between atolls.
This multi-generational indoor game with two players called “Thin Hama” requires strategy and is like chess. “Thin Hama” is a game that makes you ponder about your moves and those of your opponents. Participants must strive to decipher the game strategy of their rivals, to plan their own movements in advance.
The original version of this beloved family game involved marking out the square play area on a wooden surface. This playing board can be customised with cardboard, or paper, or can be drawn on the ground. Both players have 18 pieces as the game begins and in the past, residents used shells as playing pieces. Players position each piece individually at various line intersections on the board, but cannot line them up three in a row.
On the board, there are only two directions in which you can move. The goal of the game is to get three chips in a row or stop your opponent from acquiring three markers in a row. A player may take away one of their rivals’ pieces once they have three markers in a row. The same thing keeps happening until there are just two opponents’ chips left, which seals the final defeat.
The Maldivian version of Chess, Raazuvaa, has a unique set of rules from the original. It is believed that islanders learned the fundamentals of the game while travelling, but could not recreate them accurately. The pawns in Raazuvaa, for instance, move differently from pawns on a chess board, however, the pieces and board remain the same.
The goal of the game is the same as in chess, even though the casting and placement of the king and queen vary. A classic Raazuvaa board, made with wood and Maldivian lacquer work, is a wonderful gift to take back home as a souvenir. These are available in souvenir shops in resorts, islands and even in the capital Malé City.
Interestingly, and unlike regular chess boards, the pattern on the board can combine any dark and light theme rather than always being black and white. You’ll also see that the game pieces have a distinctive Maldivian pattern that gives the Raazuvaa a distinctive island feel. Raazuvaa is a fantastic traditional Maldivian game for developing young minds and improving concentration.
Ohvalhu Gondi, which means “game of 8 holes,” is not a game of mini-golf, despite its name. One of the most popular traditional games in the Maldives, it draws inspiration from the Congkak and Dakon games of Indonesia, but like the other games and sports, specific rules apply to the Maldivian version.
The typical Ohvalhu Gondi has eight holes and is played using cowrie shells or small pebbles. The target is for each player to empty their side of the board and get as many shells/pebbles into their designated keyhole, which is placed at the end of the board. Moves are allowed for each player counterclockwise and their designated ‘home’ hole is on their left side. The first player to empty their 8 holes wins the game.
This is a popular game played by adults and kids alike. In some islands, when there is no board, people used to make the board on the beach ground using coconut shells and play it using any small items they find on the beach such as shells or pieces of coral.
Football - The Maldives’ National Sport
While this is not a native sport, Football is the national sport of the Maldives and the most widely enjoyed activity amongst Maldivians. This is a sport which is enjoyed by locals, at a national and social level. Maldivians have a ‘football spirit’ which includes actively playing as well as zealously watching this sport. Football is embedded in our society so much that we have island, atoll and national-level competitions throughout the year. Almost every island has its own football field. Patches of green in the midst of our tiny islands are a common sight for those who take seaplane rides within the country. Even resorts have fields where staff and tourists alike can enjoy a friendly match of football just for the fun of it.
And there you have it, a few of the games that have been passed down through generations and enjoyed by Maldivians across the 1200 isles. These games may not be widely played at present, but many service providers curate itineraries, which allow guests to experience and enjoy local games and sports, especially during national holidays. So ask your agent or the management of your chosen resort/hotel/liveaboard to see if you can enjoy some local games while vacationing in the Sunny Side of Life.