Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Length: 148.000 cm
Width: 57.000 cm
Gift of Zoe Bell
Prayer mat (musallaa kunaa)
From the Maldives, late 19th / early 20th century AD
Mats are made in the Maldives for a variety of different uses. This particular example can be identified as a prayer mat by the asymmetry of the design of the central block and would be orientated towards Mecca for the daily Muslim prayer.
The Maldives were an Islamic sultanate from the twelfth century until 1961 when the sultanate was abolished. An archipelago of over a thousand islands, it remained independent throughout most of its history. The language and culture of the Maldives have been influenced by their location on the trade routes of the Indian Ocean. Fine mats were one of the items used by the sultans as gifts to neighbouring rulers.
Harry C.P. Bell was an archaeologist working for the British administration in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was also one of the earliest specialists on the Maldives and visited the islands in 1879, 1920 and 1922 to record details about the archaeology and history of the sultanate. He too sent mats as gifts to relatives and friends in Britain while also acquiring them for himself. His daughter later gave this prayer mat to The British Museum in 1939.
A. Forbes and A. Fawzia, Weaving in the Maldive Islands, British Museum Occasional Paper 9 (, 1980)
B.N. and H.M. Bell, H.C.P. Bell: archaeologist of (Clwyd, Archetype Publications, 1993)
H.C.P. Bell, The Maldive Islands: an accoun (Ceylong Government Press, 1883)