Lacquered wooden ornaments

This traditional Maldivian craft is known as liye laajehun, liyun meaning shaping wood with hand tools, and laajehun which refers to the process of adorning the piece with designs using lacquer. The finest lacquer work is found on Thulhaadhoo, in Baa Atoll where the craft is practiced even today. Wooden containers, boxes and vases of all shapes and sizes display beautiful abstract patterns in red, black and yellow.

The wood is first lathed into the desired shape. Traditionally this is done on a hand driven lathe, powered by a cord pulled around a spindle. Various hand tools are used to sculpt the wood to achieve the desired shape. While any type of strong wood can be used, funa (Alexander Laurel Wood) is the most commonly used by the craftsmen.

Once the wood is sculpted, the pieces are then coated with several layers of dyed lacquer and the motifs are etched by hand. When the outer layer is etched, the inner colours become visible. The designs are usually floral motifs in red, yellow and green, on a black background.

The deft skill of Maldivian lacquer artists can be seen not only in the exquisite pieces produced today but also at some of the oldest mosques that were built hundreds of years ago, in the lacquer art that adorns the columns and super structures of these buildings.