Exploring Minicoy

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Almost too small to be found on a map, Minicoy Island is part of the Lakshadweep archipelago, a cluster of islands off the western coast of India. But Minicoy's size is no indicator of its cultural wealth. With a rich history dating back hundreds of years, Minicoy has much to offer in its food, natural history, and local traditions.

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Archaeological evidence suggests that Minicoy was inhabited by Buddhist settlers over 800 years ago. However, it was not until the late thirteenth century that Minicoy was noticed by western explorers, when Marco Polo visited and noted the island's rare matrilineal system. Matrilineal customs continue today, with men frequently returning to their mothers' homes to partake in family meals. The island was controlled by Great Britain for several decades, and is now part of India. Though sharing Muslim religion and a common language with the nearby Maldives, Minicoy boasts plenty of its own distinct cultural traditions.

Recently, Minicoyans celebrated their heritage at the Minicoy Island Festival, organized by the Centre for Action Research on Environment Science and Society (CARESS), an Indian nonprofit group. Intended to familiarize outsiders with the island's culture, the week-long festival highlighted Minicoy's unique customs and cuisines. The traditional Minicoyan dishes served at the festival included rie riha (red fish curry), kavaabu (kebab), teluli mas (fried fish), tora riha (ridge gourd curry), burubo riha (pumpkin curry), huli bashi (sour brinjal). As an island, Minicoy has historically been dependent on fish, and the locals have developed a method of creating hikimas, or dried fish. In addition to food, festival visitors viewed traditional crafts, such as vibrantly carved and painted coconut scrapers, ladles, and other kitchen tools. Brightly colored traditional Minicoyan outfits were also on display.

Wealthy in natural as well as cultural resources, Minicoyans are very aware of their environment. As part of an atoll, Minicoy rests on coral reefs and borders a saltwater lagoon, both of which are high in biodiversity. In this age of globalization, Minicoy is a beacon of sustainability, having recognized the fragility of their marine surroundings and implementing self-imposed fishing restrictions to prevent overfishing and habitat destruction.

Seacology recently collaborated with CARESS to support a project on Minicoy. With Seacology's funds, the islanders are constructing a natural and cultural heritage museum, which will enable them to preserve their history and traditions. In exchange for Seacology's support, Minicoy has agreed to protect almost 2,500 acres of marine and mangrove habitat. We are so thrilled to be helping to preserve the environment and culture of such a vibrant community!

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This page contains a single entry by Carynne McIver published on January 15, 2010 2:49 PM.

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