British Museum collections, £12.99
Length: 200.000 cm
Width: 75.000 cm
Purchased with the Christy Fund (23 November 1893)
Asia Ethno 1972 Q.2697
From the Maldives, Indian
Late 19th century AD
The Maldives are an archipelago of over a thousand islands grouped into atolls in the Indian Ocean. Although there is linguistic and cultural uniformity throughout the archipelago, some atolls have specialized in specific economic activities. For example, the rush that is used to make mats like this grows particularly well in the south on Suvadiva atoll. Despite a short period of decline in the early twentieth century, Suvadiva has remained the centre of mat production in the Maldives.
The rush is picked and left to dry in the sun. The different colours are traditionally obtained with dyes made from local plants. The work is done by women. From an early age, young girls start weaving samplers which they will use as inspiration for patterns throughout their life. Depending on their size and design, the larger mats are used as furnishings on beds and chairs and for prayers. Although of unidentified use, the size of this particular mat suggests it was probably used for sleeping. Smaller decorative mats are increasingly being made for the tourist market.
A. Forbes and A. Fawzia, Weaving in the Maldive Islands, British Museum Occasional Paper 9 (, 1980)
N.F. Munch-Petersen, 'The Maldives: history, daily life and art-handicraft', Bulletin du CEMOCI, I (1982), 1/2