Though performances of traditional music and dance are not everyday events, there is a contemporary Divehi culture which is strong and adaptive, despite foreign influences which range from Hindi movies and Oriental martial arts to Michael Jackson and Muslim fundamentalism. Western fashions, pop music and videos are visible in the capital, but on public occasions, like the beginning and end of Ramadan, the celebrations always have a distinctly Maldivian touch. There are three daily newspapers and several magazines in the unique national language, rock bands who sing Divehi lyrics, and multi-storey buildings which echo the architecture of Maldivian island houses.
A bodu beru means a big drum, and gives its name to the best known form of traditional music and dance. It's what tourist resorts put on for a local culture night, and it can be quite sophisticated and compelling. Dancers begin with a slow, nonchalant swaying and swinging of the arms, and become more animated as the tempo increases, finishing in a rhythmic frenzy. There are four to six drummers in an ensemble, and the sound has strong African influences. Contemporary local rock bands often perform at resorts where they do credible covers of the usual old favourites. Performing for a local audience they may incorporate elements of bodu beru in their music, with lots of percussion and extended drum solos. Cassettes from local bands are sold in Malé music shops.
Islam is the national religion and all Maldivians are Sunni Muslims. No other religions are permitted, though ancient beliefs survive: for example, islanders fear jinnis - evil spirits which come from the sea, land and sky. These are blamed for everything that cannot be explained by religion or science.
Fish and rice are the staple foods of Maldivians with meat and chicken eaten only on special occasions. National dishes include fried fish, fish curry and fish soup. Arecanut (an oval nut chewed with betel leaf, cloves and lime) is the equivalent of an after-dinner mint. Alcohol is only available in tourist resorts. The local brew is raa, a sweet and delicious toddy tapped from the crown of the palm trunk. Apart from coconuts, there are very few fruits and vegetables grown on the islands, so most of the food served at tourist resorts is imported.
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