The Lacquer Crafts of the Maldives


The beautiful Island Nation of the Maldives presents one of its finest example of artistic mastery and skill; Liyelaa Jehun. 

Liyelaa Jehun in the Maldives
Lacquer work or liyelaa jehun as known locally is an outstanding form of handicraft practiced in Maldives. It usually involves 2 different stages
Preparation of Laa (Lacquer)
Lacquer pieces are imported from neighboring countries. Different colors of lacquer are created by mixing with coloring pigments.

Lacquer melts easily. In the Maldives, it is stuck on a stick and melted over fire.

Lacquer is scrapped off the stick onto a flat stick while it is hot to add the coloring pigments.

A pigment locally called uguli is added to the lacquer while it is hot.

Lacquer is folded after color is added. While constantly being flipped to bring out the perfect hue, it is beaten with a large hammer.

This is the technique used in mixing lacquer with any coloring pigment.

Yellow lacquer is made by using a traditional medicine called Risseyo.

After a lacquered piece cools down, it is rolled flat and stretched thin.

The lacquer is then cut into small strips to be used to add color to objects.

Liyun & Laa Jehun
Liyun: The sculpting of wood. Laa jehun is the process of applying lacquer on the object.

Any type of strong wood can be used for this craft. However, the most commonly used wood is Funa (Alexander Laurel Wood).

The sculpting wood is attached to the end with melted lacquer; the metal shafts used to be made out of wood as well. A person pulls on the rope to create a spinning motion.

There are many different sizes and types of tools used to sculpt wood.

Each tool has a distinctly designed tip in varying shapes and sizes, which is used for different purposes

The sculpting tools are used while the wood is being spun on the Kandhu.

The tools have to be used with precision to guarantee that the final product is refined and smooth.


Bringing out the desired shape takes a lot of time and practice.

after the piece of wood has been sculpted into shape, lacquer is applied onto it. Yellow is usually the first layer.

Lacquer is applied onto the wood as softly and smoothly as possible.

The second layer is applied after the first one is completed. The placement of the color depends on the design chosen by the craftsman. Here, individual artistic taste matters.

Knife: used for engraving designs. Ihaa Gondi: used to evenly spread the lacquer. Dried coconut palm leaf: used for polishing.

A piece of wood (Ihaa Gondi) is used to evenly spread the lacquer after it is applied.

The red and yellow layers are polished before another layer is applied.

The yellow-coated object is concealed with another lacquer color: black. This is done so that designs can be created when the black layer is scratched off.

The surface is continuously smoothened while applying color to make it as even as possible.

A special tool is used to dig inside the wood to give it the shape of a container.

The ihaa gondi is continuously moved around to uniformly distribute the lacquer across the object

After the lacquer is smoothened, the product is polished, giving it a glossy look.

The end product is simple, attractive, and usable.

laa Negun
After the lacquer coats has been applied designs are engraved on the object.

After applying lacquer, craftsmen scratch the top lacquer layer off, revealing the layer beneath which is in another color to highlight the created intricately beautiful designs.

varying styles of designs can be found on lacquered objects.

These intricate designs are made without any stencils, making each artifact a unique one in both design and shape.

The Final Product
There are unimaginably many designs and types of lacquered products, here are some of the examples.

Small lacquered containers like this are very popular for storing jewellery and small belongings.

Craftsmen conventionally use red, black, and yellow lacquer colors.

However, craftsmen improvize new more radiant mixtures of colors.

Boduberu is a traditional drum used during ceremonies and for songs.

This model of a traditional Maldivian Dhoani is one of the greatest pieces of art ever created. Creating a piece with so much details and intricacy is a meticulous task that can only be completed by the finest of artists.

Department of Heritage, Maldives
Credits: Story

Exhibition Designed by Hassan Mohamed, Department of Heritage, Maldives

Photography and Videography by Ibrahim Mujah and Hassan Mohamed, Department of Heritage, Maldives

Project Team: Ahmed Zameer, Ibrahim Mujah, Hassan Mohamed, Department of Heritage, Maldives

Special Thanks to Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahman of B. Thulhaadhoo Island for performing Liyelaa Jehun and the generous hospitality given to the Project Team

Project funded by International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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