Thundu Kunaa (mat making)

Country: Maldives
Woman weaving a Thundu Kunaa in the Maldives

Thundu kunaa is a hand woven mat. In the local language, the art of weaving this mat is called thundu kunaa viyun. The craft is practiced by the southern atolls of the Maldives and the finest of these mats are said to be woven by the women of Gaafu Dhaalu Gadhdhoo and hence the mat is also referred to as Gadhdhoo kunaa.

Intricate symmetrical patterns of the Thundu Kunaa

The mat is made from a local reed called haa or khau as in the southern dialect. The best reed for making thundu kunaa is said to be found on the island of Fiori in the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. The reeds are first plucked, cleaned and sun-dried. It takes around four days to dry them completely.

Then the reeds are dyed. The typical colours seen on the thundu kunaa mat are black, yellowish orange, browns and the natural reed colour. Locally found roots, leaves and fermented coconut water are used for dying the reeds. The bark of the sea hibiscus tree locally known as dhigga is used for making the thread.

The mat is woven by using a horizontal wooden loom that is about the size of a single bed. The loom is created by the island’s carpenters. Since it takes so much space, the ladies who make thundu kunaa often have a dedicated space for weaving outside of their homes.  The motifs of the designs seen on the thundu kunaa are symmetrical. These designs are said to be passed on from generation to generation. It’s said that there used to be 75 patterns during older times, all with specific purposes. The designs seen on the mats now are a mixture of those 75 patterns, with some having long vanished. The patterns are said to be reminiscent of Moroccan and Indian patterns, but they do not seem to be used anywhere else in the world.

In the past, thundu kunaa was an item of necessity. It was used for daily activities such as sleeping and praying. When woven according to a particular design, it also functioned as a gift that can be presented to royals. Now, smaller versions of these mats can be found in souvenir shops, while larger versions are considered a luxury item.