(Dhivehi Raa'jeyge Jumhooriyya)
Republic of Maldives
|Anthem: Qaumii salaam
|≈100% Maldivians  (Excluding Foreigners)
|Ibrahim Mohamed Solih
|Speaker of the Majlis
|Ahmed Muthasim Adnan
|from United Kingdom
|26 July 1965
|298 km² (187th)
115 sq mi
|≈100% (land negligible)
|37.4 (76th (CIA))
|Maldivian Rufiyaa (
Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is an island nation consisting of a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean. The country's name may mean "a thousand islands." Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands," or from "mahila dvipa," meaning "island of women."
Holding the record for being the flattest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 7.5 feet, (2.3 meters), Maldives is also the smallest Asian country in terms of population. It is also the smallest predominantly Muslim nation in the world.
Maldives was dominated by the Portuguese beginning in the mid-1500s. Their being driven out is celebrated to this day as "National Day." Two-hundred years later the Dutch, who had replaced the Portuguese as the dominant power in Ceylon, established hegemony over Maldivian affairs. But the British expelled the Dutch from Ceylon and by 1887, the Maldives was a British protectorate. During the British era, which lasted until 1965, Maldives continued to be ruled under a succession of sultans, although the sultan's authority was increasingly taken over by the chief minister. Consequently, Britain encouraged the development of a constitutional monarchy, and the first constitution was proclaimed in 1932.
This nation suffers from one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Though the legal age for marriage is 18, most young women marry by the age of 15. A 1977 census recorded 50 percent of women over the age of 30 had been married at least four times. Polygamy is legal though not common. Most other cultures supporting marriage at such a young age practice arranged marriages; Maldives does not. The culture of divorce prevalent in Maldives prevents the important aspects of trust in the family, filial piety towards the parents, devotion to loving a spouse and the creation of a safe and stable home environment from being created. Such instability within the building blocks of a society (the family) cannot but have a negative affect on the society as a whole.
The country's name may mean "a thousand islands." Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands," or from "mahila dvipa," meaning "island of women."
The Maldives are located south of India's Lakshadweep islands, and about 435 miles (700 kilometers) south-west of Sri Lanka. The 26 atolls encompass a territory featuring 1192 islets, roughly 200 of which are inhabited. The land area is 116 square miles (300 square kilometres) or about 1.7 times the size of Washington D.C. in the United States.
Composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, the atolls are situated atop a submarine ridge 596 miles (960km) long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs from north to south. Only near the southern end of this natural coral barricade do two open passages permit safe ship navigation through the territorial waters of Maldives.
Most atolls consist of a large, ring-shaped coral reef supporting numerous small islands. Islands average only one to two square kilometers in area, and lie between one and 1.5 meters above mean sea level. Maldives has no hills or rivers. No individual island is longer than five miles (eight kilometres).
Each atoll has approximately five to 10 inhabited islands, and 20 to 60 uninhabited islands. Several atolls, however, consist of one large, isolated island surrounded by a steep coral beach, such as the large island of Fuvammulah.
The Maldives temperature ranges between 75°F and 91°F (24°C and 33°C) throughout the year. Although the humidity is relatively high, the constant sea breezes help to keep the air moving. There is a dry season associated with the winter northeast monsoon and the rainy season brought by the summer southwest monsoon. The annual rainfall averages 100 inches (2540mm) in the north and 150 inches (3,810mm) in the south.
Vegetation comprises groves of breadfruit trees and coconut palms towering above dense scrub, shrubs, and flowers. The soil is sandy and highly alkaline, and is deficient in nitrogen, potash, and iron, severely limiting agriculture. Ten percent of the land is cultivated with taro, bananas, coconuts, and other fruit. Only the lush island of Fuvammulah produces oranges and pineapples, partly because the terrain of is higher, leaving the groundwater less subject to seawater penetration.
Fresh water floats in a layer, or "lens," above the seawater that permeates the limestone and coral sands of the islands. These lenses are shrinking rapidly on Malé and on islands where there are resorts. Mango trees on Male are dying because of salt penetration.
A tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake caused parts of Maldives to be covered by sea water and left many people homeless. After the disaster, cartographers are planning to redraw the maps of the islands due to alterations by the tsunami. The people and government are worried that Maldives could be wiped from the map eventually.
Malé (pronounced: "Maa-lay") is the capital. The city is located on Malé Island in the Kaafu Atoll. A commercial harbor is located in the island. It is the heart of all commercial activities in the country. Many government buildings and agencies are located on the waterfront. Malé International Airport is on adjacent Hulhule Island which includes a seaplane base.
H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service, who was shipwrecked on the Maldives in 1879, was the first westerner to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins there. In the mid-1980s, Thor Heyerdahl, studied ancient mounds (hawitta) found on many atolls. Heyerdahl's research indicates that in 2000 B.C.E., Maldives lay on the trading routes of early Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus Valley civilizations. Heyerdahl believes that early sun-worshipping seafarers, called the Redin, first settled on the islands. Even today, many mosques there face the sun and not Mecca, lending credence to this theory. Because building space and materials were scarce, successive cultures constructed their places of worship on the foundations of previous buildings. Heyerdahl thus surmises that these sun-facing mosques were built on the ancient foundations of the Redin culture temples.
Maldives had an abundant supply of cowrie shells, a form of currency that was widely used throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast since ancient times. Middle Eastern seafarers ventured out on the Indian Ocean trade routes in the tenth century C.E.
The last Buddhist king of Maldives, who had the old Divehi title of "Maha radun," converted to Islam in 1153, and adopted the Muslim title of Sultan Muhammad al Adil. His was the first of a series of six islamic dynasties consisting of 84 sultans and sultanas that lasted until 1932 when the sultanate became elective.
The person responsible for this conversion was a Sunni Muslim visitor named Abu al Barakat. His tomb stands on the grounds of Hukuru Mosque, or miski, in the capital of Malé. Built in 1656, this is the oldest mosque in Maldives.
In 1558, the Portuguese established themselves on Maldives, which they administered from Goa on India's west coast. Fifteen years later, a local guerrilla leader named Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Azam led a revolt that drove the Portuguese out. This event is commemorated as National Day.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch, who had replaced the Portuguese as the dominant power in Ceylon, established hegemony over Maldivian affairs. But the British expelled the Dutch from Ceylon. By 1887, the Maldives was a British protectorate.
During the British era, which lasted until 1965, Maldives continued to be ruled under a succession of sultans, although the sultan's authority was increasingly taken over by the chief minister. Consequently, Britain encouraged the development of a constitutional monarchy, and the first constitution was proclaimed in 1932.
The new arrangements favored neither the aging sultan nor the chief minister, but rather a young crop of British-educated reformists. As a result, an angry mob publicly tore up the constitution. Maldives remained a British protectorate until 1953 when the sultanate was suspended and the First Republic was declared under the short-lived presidency of Muhammad Amin Didi.
While serving as prime minister during the 1940s, Didi nationalized the fish export industry, and is remembered for reforming the education system and promoting women's rights. Muslim conservatives in Malé eventually ousted his government, and during a riot over food shortages, Didi was beaten by a mob and died.
In 1954 the restoration of the sultanate perpetuated the rule of the past. Two years later, the United Kingdom obtained permission to re-establish its wartime airfield on Gan on the southernmost Addu Atoll. Maldives granted the British a 100-year lease on Gan (with a £2000-a-year rent), as well as 440,000 square metres on Hitaddu for radio installations.
In 1957, the new prime minister, Ibrahim Nasir, wanted to shorten the lease and increase the annual payment. But Nasir, who was theoretically responsible to then sultan Muhammad Farid Didi, was challenged in 1959 by a secessionist movement in the southern atolls that benefited from the British presence on Gan. This group cut ties with the Maldives government and formed an independent state with Abdulla Afif Didi as president.
The short-lived state (1959-1962), called the United Suvadive Republic, had a combined population of 20,000 inhabitants scattered in the atolls then named Suvadiva—since renamed North Huvadu and South Huvadu—and Addu and Fua Mulaku. In 1962 Nasir sent gunboats to eliminate opposition. Abdulla Afif Didi fled to the then British colony of Seychelles, where he was granted asylum.
In 1960, Maldives allowed the United Kingdom to continue to use both the Gan and the Hitaddu facilities for a 30-year period, with the payment of £750,000 over the period of 1960 to 1965 for Maldives' economic development.
On July 26, 1965, Maldives gained independence. Under an agreement signed with the United Kingdom, the British government retained the use of the Gan and Hitaddu facilities. In a national referendum in March, 1968, Maldivians abolished the sultanate and established a republic, although the sultanate continued for three years.
The Second Republic was proclaimed in November 1968 under the presidency of Ibrahim Nasir, who had increasingly dominated the political scene. Under the new constitution, Nasir was elected indirectly to a four-year presidential term by the Majlis (legislature). He appointed Ahmed Zaki as the new prime minister.
In 1973, Nasir was elected to a second term. In 1975, newly elected prime minister Zaki was arrested in a bloodless coup and banished to a remote atoll.
During the 1970s, the Maldives' main export market for dried fish, in Sri Lanka, collapsed, and the British decided to close its airfield on Gan. A steep commercial decline followed and the popularity of Nasir's government suffered. Maldives's 20-year period of authoritarian rule under Nasir abruptly ended in 1978 when he fled to Singapore—with millions of dollars from the state treasury. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a former university lecturer and Maldivian ambassador to the United Nations was elected to replace Nasir for a five-year term in 1978.
Despite the popularity of Gayoom, those connected to the former President hired ex-SAS mercenaries in 1980 to attempt a coup to oust him. A further coup was attempted in 1983. In November 1988, Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka invaded, and were evicted with help from India.
On December 26, 2004, a tsunami following the Indian Ocean earthquake devastated the Maldives. Only nine islands escaped flooding, while 57 islands faced serious damage, 14 islands had to be evacuated, and six islands were decimated. A further 21 resort islands closed. The total damage was estimated at over $400-million dollars or some 62 percent of the GDP. One hundred eight people, including six foreigners died.
Government and politics
Politics in the Maldives takes place in the framework of a presidential republic. For the executive, the president is both the chief of state and head of government, and appoints a cabinet. The president is nominated to a five-year term by a secret ballot of the Majlis (parliament) and requires 51 percent support. The nomination must be ratified by a national referendum.
The legislature, the unicameral people’s Council or Majlis of the Maldives, is composed of 50 members—42 are elected by popular vote, while the president appoints eight. The members serve five-year terms.
The legal system is based on Islamic law mixed with English common law for commercial matters. It has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction. The president appoints all judges. The Maldives have, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), undertaken to write the first Muslim criminal code.
The country introduced political parties in July 2005, six months after the last elections for the parliament. Nearly 36 members of the existing parliament joined the Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (Maldivian People's Party) and elected President Gayoom as its leader. Twelve members of parliament became the opposition and joined the Maldivian Democratic Party. Two members remained independent. In March 2006, President Gayoom published a detailed Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, provided to write a new constitution, and modernise the legal framework. Under the roadmap, the government has submitted to parliament a raft of reform measures.
Since 1996, Maldives has monitored the Indian Ocean Commission, is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, SAARC, and joined the Commonwealth in 1982, some 17 years after gaining independence from the United Kingdom. In October 2016, Maldives announced its withdrawal from the Commonwealth in protest at allegations of human rights abuse and failing democracy. The Maldives continued to have close ties with Commonwealth members Seychelles and Mauritius. Following his election as president in 2018, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his Cabinet decided that the Maldives would apply to rejoin the Commonwealth. The Maldives successfully rejoined the Commonwealth on February 1, 2020 after showing evidence of functioning democratic processes and popular support.
Maldives has 26 natural atolls which have been divided into 20 administrative atolls and one city. Each atoll is administered by an atoll chief appointed by the president.
Tourism is Maldives' largest industry, with close to 100 tourist resorts in operation. Over 90 percent of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. The development of tourism gave a boost to traditional cottage industries such as mat weaving, lacquer work, handicraft, and coir rope making. New industries that have since emerged include printing, production of PVC pipes, brick making, marine engine repairs, the bottling of aerated water, and garment production.
Fishing is the second leading sector, employing about 30 percent of the country's work force. The Maldivian economy was dependent on fishing and other ocean activities for many centuries. Fishing remains the main occupation and the government gives priority to the development of fisheries. The mechanization of the traditional fishing boat called "Dhoni" in 1974 was a milestone.
A fish canning plant was installed in the island of Felivaru in 1977, as a joint venture with a Japanese firm. In 1979, a Fisheries Advisory Board was set up to advise the government. Manpower development programs were begun in the early 1980s, and fisheries education was incorporated into the school curriculum. Fish aggregating devices and navigational aids were located at strategic points.
Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a lesser role, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of labor. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about seven percent of GDP.
The Maldivian Government began an economic reform program in 1989 initially by lifting import quotas and opening some exports to the private sector. Subsequently, it has liberalized regulations to allow more foreign investment.
As a result of the 2004 tsunami, that left more than 100 dead, and 12,000 displaced, the GDP contracted by about 3.6 percent in 2005. A rebound in tourism, post-tsunami reconstruction, and development of new resorts helped boost GDP by nearly 18 percent in 2006. The trade deficit has expanded sharply as a result of high oil prices and imports of construction material.
Diversification beyond tourism and fishing is the economic challenge facing the government.
The population of the country remained around 100,000 for the first 70 years of the twentieth century. Following independence in 1965, the population doubled by 1978, and the population growth rate peaked at 3.4 percent in 1985. By 2005, the population had reached 300,000, and that number has continued to increase, reaching half a million.
The earliest settlers were probably Tamils from southern India. Indo-European speakers followed them from Sri Lanka in the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. In the twelfth century, sailors from East Africa and Arab countries came to the islands. Today, the Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of people of South Indian, Sinhalese, and Arab ethnicity.
Originally Buddhist, Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the mid-twelfth century. Islam is the official religion. Adherence to it is required for citizenship, and property ownership, therefore the Maldives is an almost exclusively Islamic society.
Isolation from the historical centers of Islam in the Middle East and Asia has allowed some pre-Islamic beliefs and attitudes to survive. There is a widespread belief in jinns, or evil spirits. For protection, people often resort to various charms and spells. The extent of these beliefs has led some observers to identify a magico-religious system parallel to Islam known as fanditha, which provides a more personal way for the islanders to deal with either actual or perceived problems. However, this is a dying tradition that can be seen in only rural areas.
The political, judicial, and religious systems are so closely linked that the political leaders and judges are the country's religious leaders. The president is the top religious leader. Judges are responsible for interpreting Islamic law in the courts.
On the inhabited islands, the miski, or mosque, forms the central place where Islam is practiced. Friday is the most important day for Muslims to attend mosque. Shops and offices close around 11:00 AM, and the sermon begins by 12:30 PM. Prayer sessions are held five times daily. Mudimu, the mosque caretakers, make the call. Most shops and offices close for 15 minutes after each call. During the ninth Muslim month of Ramadan, cafés and restaurants are closed during the day, and working hours are limited.
Inhabited islands have several mosques. Malé has more than 30. Most mosques are whitewashed buildings constructed of coral stone with corrugated iron or thatched roofs. In Malé, the Islamic Center and the Grand Friday Mosque, built in 1984 with funding from Pakistan, Brunei, and Malaysia, are imposing elegant structures. The gold-colored dome of this mosque is the first structure sighted when approaching Malé. In mid-1991 Maldives had a total of 724 mosques and 266 women's mosques.
Holidays are based on the Islamic lunar calendar. In addition to the Golden Grand Friday mosque, 20 other mosques are scattered around Malé. Mosques are located on each of the islands. People believe they go to heaven or hell after death, depending on how faithfully they adhered to the five tenets of Islam while alive.
Marriage and the family
The legal age for marriage is 18, although most women marry by age 15. Marriages are not arranged. A man can have four wives at any time if he can support them financially, but polygamy is not common. Sex before marriage is an offense. Only Muslims can marry. With one of the highest divorce rates in the world, a 1977 census recorded 50 percent women over the age of 30 had been married at least four times. This could demonstrate the high degree of autonomy that Maldivian women have.
Nuclear families consisting of a married couple and their children comprise 80 percent of households. The father is recognized as the head of the family. Unmarried persons live with their families. Maldivians are brought up to respect elders and those who are educated while conforming to an Islamic code of conduct. Strong loyalties tie the individual to the extended family.
Land belongs to the state and is given to families in their home island to build houses upon. Public servants lease land where they work. Employees are provided with temporary accommodation. Both men and women may inherit property.
The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language related to Sinhalese, the language of Sri Lanka. The written script is called Thaana and is written from right to left. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools.
Class and caste
Some social stratification along lines similar to the Indian caste system exists. It is not rigid, since rank is based on occupation (especially with the government), wealth, Islamic virtue, and family ties. Members of the social elite are concentrated in Malé. Outside of the service industry, this is the only location where the foreign and domestic populations are likely to interact. Tourist resorts are located away from islands where the natives live, and casual contacts between the two groups are discouraged.
Rice and fish are the staple foods, fish being the most important source of protein. Few vegetables are eaten. Betel leaf with arecanut, cloves, and lime, is chewed after meals. Old people smoke an elongated pipe that goes through a trough of water. Meat other than pork is eaten only on special occasions. Alcohol is not allowed, except in tourist resorts. The local brew is a sweet toddy made from the crown of the coconut palm.
Malé, the capital, has a maze of narrow streets with over 20 mosques and markets. Poor people live in thatched palm houses with tin roofs. The more prosperous have houses made of crushed coral with tile roofs.
Primary school education is for five years. Lower high school takes five years and higher secondary school takes two years. Education is not compulsory. There are traditional religious schools that teach the Koran, basic arithmetic, and the ability to read and write Divehi; there are modern Divehi-language primary schools; and there are modern English-language schools. Primary and secondary schooling is based on the British system.
The Science Education Centre in Malé provides pre-university courses. Seven post-secondary technical training institutes provide work skill training.
The most popular form of indigenous music is called boduberu, which appeared in the Maldives in about the eleventh century, and may have East African origins. It is a dance music, performed by about 15 people, including a lead singer and three percussionists. Instruments include a bell and a small stick of bamboo with horizontal grooves called an onugandu. Boduberu songs begin with a slow beat, which eventually enters a wild crescendo accompanied by frenetic dancing. Lyrics can be about any number of subjects, and often include vocables (meaningless syllables).
Thaara music is performed by about 22 people seated in two opposing rows. It is performed by men and is somewhat religious. Like boduberu, thaara songs begin slowly and come to a peak. Thaara is said to have arrived from Arabs who came from the Persian Gulf in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Gaa odi lava is a special type of song performed after the completion of manual labor. It was said to have been created during the reign of Sultan Mohamed Imadudeen I (1620-1648), for the workers who built defenses for the city of Malé.
Young people developed a form of music called langiri in the early twentieth century, using thaara as the major source and modifying its performance.
The bolimalaafath neshun is a dance performed by women on special occasions or when giving gifts to the sultan. These gifts, most often shells, are kept in an intricately-decorated box or vase called the kurandi malaafath. About 24 women typically participate, in small groups of two to six. They march towards the sultan singing songs of patriotism or loyalty. Since becoming a republic in 1968, and without a sultan, this dance is no longer performed.
Another woman's dance is called maafathi neshun, which is similar to langiri. It is performed by women dancing in two rows of 10 each, carrying a semi-circular string with fake flowers attached.
A dance called fathigandu jehun is performed by either one person or a group of men, using two pieces of short bamboo sticks to accompany the dancers and a drummer, who also sings. These songs are typically epics, most famously one called Burunee Raivaru.
Bandiyaa jehun is perhaps related to the Indian pot dance, and is performed by women. Dancers mark the beat with a metal water pot, while wearing metal rings. Modern groups perform either standing or sitting, and have added drums and harmonicas.
Kulhudhuffushi (on Haa Dhaalu Atoll) is known for kadhaamaali, which is performed with numerous drums and a kadhaa, which is made of a copper plate and rod. About 30 men take part, dressed in costumes of evil spirits ("maali"). Kadhaamaali is associated with a traditional walk around the island late at night by the elders, in order to ward of maali. This walk lasted for three days, and was followed by music and dancing.
Kudaeid celebrates the sighting of the new moon at the end of Ramadan. National Day, the day Mohammad Thakurufaan overthrew the Portuguese in 1573, occurs on first day of the third month of the lunar calender. Victory Day, on November 3, celebrates the defeat of the Sri Lankan mercenaries who tried to overthrow the government. Republic Day, on November 11, commemorates the foundation of the republic.
- David Levinson, Ethnic Groups Worldwide: A Ready Reference Handbook (Greenwood, 1998, ISBN 978-1573560191).
- Maldives World Bank. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- World Economic Outlook Database, April 2019: Maldives International Monetary Fund. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- 2015 Human Development Report Statistical Annex United Nations Development Programme, 2015. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- Patricia Scotland,Secretary-General statement on Maldives decision to leave the Commonwealth, October 13, 2016. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- Michael Safi, Maldives quits Commonwealth over alleged rights abuses The Guardian, October 13, 2016. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- Maldives rejoins Commonwealth after evidence of reforms The Guardian, February 1, 2020. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Adney, M., and W. K. Carr. 1975. "The Maldives." In J. M. Ostheimer, ed. The Politics of the Western Indian Ocean Islands. ISBN 0275288390
- Anderson, R. C., and A. Hafiz. 1985. The State of the Maldivian Tuna stock: Analysis of Catch and Effort Data and Estimation of Maximum Sustainable Yield
- Cole, R. V. 1986. "The Island States of the Indian Ocean: A View from the South Pacific." Pacific Economic Bulletin 1 (2): 41–46.
- Levinson, David. Ethnic Groups Worldwide: A Ready Reference Handbook. Greenwood, 1998. ISBN 978-1573560191
- Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment. 1998. Statistical Year Book of Maldives
- Sathiendrakumar, S. 1983. Development of Resources of the Sea for Regional Cooperation and National Development.
- Heyerdahl, Thor. 1986. The Maldive mystery. Bethesda, Md: Adler & Adler. ISBN 0917561198
- Masters, Tom, and James Lyon. 2006. Maldives. Footscray, Vic: Lonely Planet. ISBN 1740599772
All links retrieved November 5, 2022.
- Ministry of Tourism Republic of Maldives – official website.
- Satellite image of the Maldives – Google Maps.
- Pictures of the Maldives – Terra Nomada.
- Maldives – Countries and Their Cultures.
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