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Why visit Maldives?

Maldives At A Glance

Name Republic of Maldives
Area 298km2
Capital Malé
President Mohamed Nasheed
Currency Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR)
No. Of Islands 1190
Inhabited Islands 200
Population (2010 estimate) 396,334
Language Dhivehi
Main Industries Tourism and Fishing
Local Time GMT + 5 hours

History

The Maldives was formerly known as the Maldive Islands and it is believed that the first inhabitants in the Maldives were Giraavaru tribe in the 5th century BC. Before 1153 AD the settlers of the Maldives were Aryans from Sri Lanka and India, which is the reason for the similarities between old Sinhala and Dhivehi. Archaeological findings state that before the Maldivians embraced Islam Buddhism was practiced by the then Maldivians. Islam was first brought by the Arab traders and travelers who were settled in the Malabar Coast of India who travelled to the Maldives as it was on route of those traders. A Moroccan traveler and historian Mohammad Abdullah Ibn-Battuta visited Maldives during 14th century and documented that the Maldives embraced Islam after an Islamic scholar, Abul Barakaath Yoosuf Al Barbaree visited to the Maldives.

For centuries the Maldives remained a Sultanate and in 1887 the Maldives became a British protectorate. Its first Republican form of Government was established in 1952 but the sultanate was restored in 1954. However, in 1968 as a result of a referendum a republic was established again in the Maldives, which had already signed the declaration of independence with the British on 26 July 1965.

Geography and Climate

Maldives is a long and narrow South Asian country situated deep in the Indian Ocean, with a shortest distance to India of approximately 340km.  Maldives is made up of around 1,190 coral islands grouped into a double chain of 26 atolls. The islands, spread over 90,000km2, are very flat and on average only 1.8m above sea level.  In fact, with the country’s highest point being the lowest of any country in the world, Maldives is the flattest country in the world. Malé, the capital and most populous city in the Maldives, has a population (as of 2006) of 103,693 people, and an area of 5.789km2.

Maldives enjoys a lot of sunshine and a warm climate all year round. The temperature is fairly constant throughout the year, with an average maximum temperature of 30°C and an average minimum temperature of 25.2°C. The Maldives has a hot tropical climate with two monsoon seasons, the first from December to April and the second from May to November, but severe storms are rare. The temperature hardly ever falls below 25°C (77°F).

Maldivian People

Situated on historical maritime routes, Maldives became inhabited by diverse ethnic groups including Sinhalese speakers from Sri Lanka, Arabs, Africans, and Tamils and Malayali from Kerala in India. Maldivian, or Dhivehi, belongs to the Indo-Aryan language group. It is the official language of the Maldives and also nearly 10,000 people from the island of Minicoy, which is to the north of the Maldives. The language has adopted some foreign words over time from languages such as Hindi, Arabic, Sinhala and English. Until the 1960s, Dhivehi was the medium of all education but English is now increasingly used in schools and in commerce. Despite this, Dhivehi is flourishing.

Maldivians converted to Islam by the mid-12th century.  Islam is the official religion of the Maldives and article two of the revised Constitution states that the republic is ‘based on the principles of Islam’.  100% of the population are practising Sunni Muslims.  However, this does not mean that non-Muslim tourists are excluded from visiting the Maldives.  There are prayers five times a day at the mosques in Malé and other inhabited islands.

Food and Culture

Food

Incredibly, the Maldives is 99% water so it is not surprising that the second largest industry in the Maldives is fishing. Fish isn’t only an integral part of the Maldivian economy; it is also an integral part of the Maldivian diet. Traditional Maldivian Cuisine is based around fish, coconuts and starchy items.  The nation’s favourite fish is skipjack tuna, which can be served fresh or dried. However, many types of tuna and other types of fish which can be found in the beautiful open waters are also loved, including yellow fin tuna (kanneli), frigate tuna (raagondi) and bigeye scad (mushimas).  Maldivians don’t eat raw fish, as do some other Asian countries, but do serve it freshly caught, boiled, smoked and sun-dried or just smoked.  Combined with ingredients such as chilli, coconut, lime juice and onions, fish is served for virtually every meal of the day. The food of the Maldives is delicious and diverse, having been influenced by fine cuisines from across the world. In the past, the Maldives was an important location on many trade routes, and therefore many traders from the Indian Ocean region who visited or settled in the Maldives have had an effect on Maldivian cuisine over time.

Festivals

Celebrating festivals in the Maldives brings out a great sense of national pride. Almost every holiday leads to the green and red national flags covering the main streets as well as being displayed in people’s houses. Everybody works together to prepare food, decorations and entertainment, which may include folk dancing, modern jazz or pop music, the marching of bands or a parade of smartly dressed children. Whether it is a religious festival or a national occasion, the Maldivian people celebrate in unity with great enthusiasm. The Maldives is a Muslim country and therefore Maldivians celebrate the Prophet’s birthday, Ramadan, Kula Eid and Eid-ul-Al’h’aa. Other than religious festivals, there are also national holidays, which are celebrated with just as much excitement and enthusiasm. National Day celebrates the victory of Mohamed Thakurufaanu over the occupying Portuguese forces in 1573 and Independence Day, which marks the date in 1965 when the Maldives attained independence from Britain after being a British Protectorate for 78 years, is celebrated on the 26th July.

Handicrafts

A traditional aspect of Maldivian culture is the making of a wide range of handicrafts, such as mats, baskets, coir rope and many products using coconut shell. Many islands specialise in a particular handicraft, for example, the best lacquer work can be seen on the island of Thulaadhoo, where delightful pots, vases and boxes can be found. On Bandos Island, one can see mats being weaved by local people. The important tradition of craft making is still doing well due to the availability of key materials; for example, coconut leaves are often used for weaving mats and the shell is used to make products such as cooking utensils, jewellery and souvenirs. The combination of practised craftsmanship and creative methods has been passed down from generation to generation.

Mat weaving is definitely one of the most important forms of Maldivian craftsmanship. The mats (kunaa) have many uses; sleeping, sitting, praying and wall hangings among others. The mats are weaved with traditional patterns, and are dyed to black, brown and yellow with natural dyes, but there are variations from weaver to weaver. Besides a simple loom, only a knife is necessary, which makes it all the more astounding that these uncomplicated tools created such wonderful mats that they were used as royal gifts in the past and even now are presented to foreign dignitaries. These mats were sometimes adorned with gold lace work to make them even more beautiful. The art of mat-weaving is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter, ensuring that the craft will live on for a long time yet!

Boduberu

Another important aspect of Maldivian culture is a form of music called Boduberu, which is both the most familiar and most popular form of indigenous music, particularly in the Northern Atolls. It is a type of music which is very similar to that of eastern and south-western Africa and as such it is believed that it may have been introduced to the Maldives by sailors coming from East Africa or somewhere else in the Indian Ocean region in the 11th century or possibly even earlier. Boduberu is a group activity; it is typically performed by about 15 people, including three percussionists and lead singer, as well as a bell, a set of double-headed drums also known as a bodu beru, and a small stick of bamboo called an onugandu, which has horizontal grooves and is scraped to make the required sounds.   People of all age groups can participate and do so enthusiastically, with spectators joining in by clapping and dancing.

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