The Banning of a Book in the Maldives

from Press News, posted 09/22/2014 - 12:12

Trying to find out about the process in which my book has been banned by the current Maldivian regime has reminded me of Franz Kafka's 'the Castle'. It has given me insight, although this would imply that I have at least seen something -which I didn't, in the hidden and uncanny ways the Maldivian government works.

For the past six months I have been seeking to elucidate why my publisher NIAS Press has had no success trying to get my book 'Folktales of the Maldives' published and distributed in the Maldives.

The place would be an ideal market since there is a big tourist industry and this is the first time a comprehensive collection of traditional tales is published in one volume. Long ago the publisher approached Novelty and the months passed. I was telling him to be patient. Maldivians are usually very slow, and things in the islands take time. But two years have passed and this is far from normal. After much prying I have found out from my Maldivian friends that somebody high up is blocking the permission to publish and distribute. Letters and applications are useless. They say that it must be someone very powerful within the administration. They made it clear this is no second-level official, but a topmost figure who is unshakable and very secure in their high position. The process is subtle and absolutely noiseless.

To the local would-be publisher a discreet hint is given from above; he is quick to realize that this is really a command, and freezes on the spot, immediately submitting to the will of the lofty master. Following this brief but intense event, no acknowledgement whatsoever is made that there has been a vehement order forbidding the publication of the book. The person receiving the "hint" will protect the source, keeping mum about the fact that any such powerful veto has been given. The increasingly desperate reminders of the foreign publisher are repeatedly ignored in the hope that NIAS just gets weary of requesting. A pall of silence falls after the last puzzled appeals, and the potential questions hang in the air. Thus the book has been banned.

I got this assurance that the book has definitely been banned only after much inquiring and from a couple of good sources who are too afraid to be named.

Now the questions in my mind are: 'Why has this book on local tales been forbidden?' Is there someone who wants to keep the folklore of the country buried? Could it be that the current administration does not want to be seen as promoting syncretistic traditions? Do religious hardliners truly have a lot of weight within the system? Do they feel threatened by customs that are not strictly Islamic, but which still are very much part of the character of the nation? It is difficult to know.

~Xavier Romero-Frias



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