Amongst the unique traditions and cultures of Maldives, one of the most pleasing ones on the eye is certainly the traditional attire of Maldivians, especially the Kasabu Libaas, worn long before the current trends shirts and jeans and fashionista clothing of 21st century.
The Kasabu Libaas, is rarely seen in Maldives nowadays, with the exception of ceremonies, traditional styled weddings and model photoshoots. However, it is still very much embedded in the hearts of locals, much like the intricate embroidery found on the dress.
Libaas, translates roughly to dress, and it's as simple as it gets. Along with the most recognizable bright red, green, blue, and more recently white and even black dresses have been seen. However, it seems as though red remains a clear favorite.
Kasabu boavalhu, the embraided part of the dress elaborately decorating the neckline of the dress is made from imported cotton, silk, and metallic threads. A range of colors are used for the embroidery work. Green, Gold, and Silver as well as red and blue are used for the stunning designs. The technique, which is slowly fading into history today, used for making this neckline is called Kasabu Viyun.
It is by no means easy work, and today, few of the younger generation, mostly fashion designers, are well versed in the technique while it is still quite often familiar for the older generation of Maldives. It is said that the work is extremely intricate and could take hours and hours. However, this didn't deter the skillful women of Maldives who would gather around in groups in the older days to weave and spend time together having a good laugh.
Equipment used for the technique include a short wooden stout vase-like structure called a Gathaa Fai. A cloth cushion called Gathaafaige Boa is placed at the base to pin the threads in place. Around 34 (give or take) wooden weights, sometimes made out of fish bones are used to hold the threads.
Three types of ribbon referred to as Hiru, Bagiyaa, and Rodhigandu. The entire procedure is one of the most fascinating aspects of Maldivian culture. The stunning finished product is worn with an underskirt referred to as a Feyli, a wraparound often patterned in black and white. Back in the day, a necklace called a Fattaru bai was also a common accessory with the dress.
Regional variations are there on how the Kasabu Boavalhu is made. In Huvadhoo Atoll, more colorful threads are woven while in Addu Atoll a more classical silver and gold threads are used. The tradition is now mostly seen in Kulhudhuffushi, Utheemu, Huvadhu Atoll, and Addu Atoll.
The traditional importance of the dress is very much visible with it being displayed on the MVR 100 bill. It was also a part of the design incorporated into the previous passport of Maldives. Francesco Pyrard also described the dress in his writings around 400 years ago. However, it is not confirmed exactly when Maldivians first began wearing the dress.
Although it may not make a comeback in 2021, the dress is still one of the most beautiful pieces of Maldivian heritage. It is unique, it is colorful, it is truly Maldives in its purest form!