Maldives of ficially the Republic of Maldives is an island country and archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It lies southwest of India and Sri Lanka. The chain of twenty six atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll to the Addu Atoll. The capital is Malé, traditionally called the “King’s Island.”
Historically linked with the Indian subcontinent, Maldives is a Muslim-majority country. From the mid-sixteenth century colonial powers dominated the islands: Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain. The islands gainedindependence from the United Kingdom in 1965, becoming a republic in 1968. The country is ruled by a president and its government is authoritarian. The Maldivian economy is dominated by tourism and fishing. The World Bank classifies the country as having an upper middle income economy.
Encompassing a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi), Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries. It is the smallest Asian country in both land area and in population. The archipelago is located atop the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean, which also forms a terrestrial ecoregion, together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep. With an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet’s lowest country. It is also the country with the lowest natural highest point in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in). The government has pledged to make Maldives a carbon-neutral country by 2019 amid concerns about rising sea-levels.
Maldives became a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and it hosted the 17th SAARC summit in 2011. It is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Comparative studies of Maldivian oral, linguistic and cultural traditions and customs indicate that early settlers wereDravidian people from Tamil Nadu in the Sangam period (300 BC–AD 300), most probably fishermen from the southwest coasts of what is now the south of the Indian Subcontinent and the western shores of Sri Lanka. One such community is theGiraavaru people descended from ancient Tamils. They are mentioned in ancient legends and local folklore about the establishment of the capital and kingly rule in Malé.
A strong underlying layer of Dravidian population and culture survives in Maldivian society, with a clear Dravidian-Malayalam substratum in the language, which also appears in place names, kinship terms, poetry, dance, and religious beliefs. Malabari seafaring culture led to Malayali settling of the Laccadives, and the Maldives were evidently viewed as an extension of that archipelago. Some argue (from the presence of Jat, Gujjar Titles and Gotra names) that Sindhis also accounted for an early layer of migration. Seafaring from Debal began during the Indus valley civilisation. The Jatakas andPuranas show abundant evidence of this maritime trade; the use of similar traditional boat building techniques in Northwestern South Asia and the Maldives, and the presence of silver punch mark coins from both regions, gives additional weight to this. There are minor signs of Southeast Asian settlers, probably some adrift from the main group of Austronesianreed boat migrants that settled Madagascar.
The earliest written history of the Maldives is marked by the arrival of Sinhalese people, who were descended from the exiled Magadha Prince Vijaya from the ancient city known as Sinhapura. He and his party of several hundred landed in Sri Lanka, and some in the Maldives circa 543 to 483 BC. According to the Mahavansa, one of the ships that sailed with Prince Vijaya, who went to Sri Lanka around 500 BC, went adrift and arrived at an island called Mahilad vipika, which is the Maldives. It is also said that at that time, the people from Mahiladvipika used to travel to Sri Lanka. Their settlement in Sri Lanka and the Maldives marks a significant change in demographics and the development of the Indo-Aryan language Dhivehi, which is most similar in grammar, phonology, and structure to Sinhala, and especially to the more ancient Elu Prakrit, which has less Pali.
Alternatively, it is believed that Vijaya and his clan came from western India – a claim supported by linguistic and cultural features, and specific descriptions in the epics themselves, e.g. that Vijaya visited Bharukaccha (Bharuch in Gujarat) in his ship on the voyage down south.
Philostorgius, a Greek historian of Late Antiquity, wrote of a hostage among the Romans, from the island called Diva, which is presumed to be the Maldives, who was baptised Theophilus. Theophilus was sent in the 350s to convert the Himyaritesto Christianity, and went to his homeland from Arabia; he returned to Arabia, visited Axum, and settled in Antioch.
The Maldives consists of 1,192 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls, along the north-south direction, spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi), making this one of the world’s most dispersed countries. It lies between latitudes 1°S and8°N, and longitudes 72° and 74°E. The atolls are composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometres (600 mi) long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs north to south.
Only near the southern end of this natural coral barricade do two open passages permit safe ship navigation from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of Maldives. For administrative purposes the Maldivian government organised these atolls into twenty one administrative divisions. The largest island of Maldives is Gan, which belongs to Laamu Atoll or Hahdhummathi Maldives. In Addu Atoll the westernmost islands are connected by roads over the reef (collectively called Link Road) and the total length of the road is 14 km (9 mi).
Maldives is the lowest country in the world, with maximum and average natural ground levels of only 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in) and 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, respectively. In areas where construction exists, however, this has been increased to several metres. More than 80 per cent of the country’s land is composed of coral islands which rise less than one metre above sea level. As a result, the Maldives are at high risk of being submerged due to rising sea levels. The UN’s environmental panel has warned that, at current rates, sea level rise would be high enough to make the Maldives uninhabitable by 2100.
The shift from the moist southwest monsoon to the dry northeast monsoon occurs during April and May. During this period, the northeast winds contribute to the formation of the northeast monsoon, which reaches Maldives in the beginning of June and lasts until the end of August. However, the weather patterns of Maldives do not always conform to the monsoon patterns of South Asia. The annual rainfall averages 254 centimetres (100 in) in the north and 381 centimeters (150 in) in the south.
Since the 12th century AD there were also influences from Arabia in the language and culture of the Maldives because of the conversion to Islam and its location as a crossroads in the central Indian Ocean. This was due to the long trading history between the far east and the middle east. Somali travellers discovered the island for gold in the 13th century, before the Portuguese. Their brief stay later ended in a bloody conflict known by the Somalis as “Dagaal Diig Badaaney” in 1424.
However, unlike the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka and most of the Arabs, Africans and Europeans whose influence can be seen in borrow-words, material culture, and the diversity of Maldivian phenotype, Maldivians do not have the highly embedded patriarchal codes of honor, purity, corporate marriage, and sedentary private property that are typical of places where agriculture is the key form of subsistence and social relations have been built, historically, around tribute taking.
Reflective of this is the fact that the Maldives has had the highest national divorce rate in the world for many decades. This, it is hypothesized, is due to a combination of liberal Islamic rules about divorce and the relatively loose marital bonds that have been identified as common in non- and semi-sedentary peoples without a history of fully developed agrarian property and kinship relations.
Maldives is a presidential republic, with the President as head of government andhead of state. The President heads the executive branch and appoints the cabinet which is approved by the People’s Majlis (Parliament). Following the introduction of a new constitution in 2008, direct elections for the President take place every five years, with a limit of two terms in office for any individual. The current President isAbdulla Yameen. Members of the unicameral Majlis serve five-year terms, with the total number of members determined by atoll populations. At the 2009 election, 77 members were elected. The People’s Majlis, located in Male, houses members from all over the country.
The republican constitution came into force in 1968, and was amended in 1970, 1972, and 1975. On 27 November 1997 it was replaced by another Constitution assented to by the President Gayoom. This Constitution came into force on 1 January 1998. All stated that the president was the Head of State, Head of Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Police of the Maldives. A third Constitution was ratified in2008, which separated the judiciary from the head.
According to the Constitution of Maldives, “the judges are independent, and subject only to the Constitution and the law. When deciding matters on which the Constitution or the law is silent, judges must consider Islamic Shari’ah”. Article 15 of the Act Number 1/81 (Penal Code) gives provision for hudud punishments. Article 156 of the constitution states that law includes the norms and provisions of sharia.
Islam is the official religion of the Maldives and open practice of any other religion is forbidden and liable to prosecution. Article 2 of the revised constitution says that the republic “is based on the principles of Islam”. Article nine says that “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen”; article ten says that “no law contrary to any principle of Islam can be applied”. Article nineteen states that “citizens are free to participate in or carry out any activity that is not expressly prohibited by sharia [Islamic law] or by the law”.
The requirement to adhere to a particular religion and prohibition of public worship following other religions is contrary to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Maldives has recently become party and was addressed in Maldives’ reservation in adhering to the Covenant claiming that “The application of the principles set out in Article 18 of the Covenant shall be without prejudice to the Constitution of the Republic of the Maldives.
In ancient times the Maldives were renowned for cowry shells, coir rope, driedtuna fish (Maldive Fish), ambergris(Maavaharu), and coco de mer(Tavakkaashi). Local and foreign trading ships used to load these products in Sri Lanka and transport them to other harbours in the Indian Ocean.
Historically Maldives provided enormous quantities of cowry shells, an international currency of the early ages. From the 2nd century AD the islands were known as the ‘Money Isles’ by the Arabs. Monetaria moneta were used for centuries as a currency in Africa, and huge amounts of Maldivian cowries were introduced into Africa by western nations during the period of slave trade. The cowry is now the symbol of the Maldives Monetary Authority.
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 liberalised regulations to allow more foreign investment. Real GDP growth averaged over 7.5% per year for more than a decade. Today, the Maldives’ largest industry is tourism, accounting for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives’ foreign exchange receipts. Fishing is the second leading sector.
The Maldivian economy is to a large degree based on tourism. In late December 2004, the major tsunami left more than 100 dead, 12,000 displaced, and property damage exceeding $400 million. As a result of the tsunami, the GDP contracted by about 3.6% in 2005. A rebound in tourism, post-tsunami reconstruction, and development of new resorts helped the economy recover quickly and showed an 18% increase on 2006. 2013 estimates show Maldivians enjoy the highest GDP (PPP) per capita $11,900 (2013 est) among south Asian countries.
Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a lesser role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labour. Tourism gave a major boost to the country’s fledgling 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, bottling of aerated water, and garment production.
After the long Buddhist period of Maldivian history, Muslim traders introducedSunni Islam. Maldivians converted to Islam by the mid-12th century. The islands have had a long history of Sufic orders, as can be seen in the history of the country such as the building of tombs. They were used until as recently as the 1980s for seeking the help of buried saints. They can be seen today next to some old mosques and are considered today as cultural heritage. Other aspects of tassawuf, such as ritualised dhikr ceremonies called Maulūdu (Mawlid) — the liturgy of which included recitations and certain supplications in a melodical tone—existed until very recent times. These Maulūdu festivals were held in ornate tents specially built for the occasion. At present Sunni Islam is the official religion of the entire population, as adherence to it is required for citizenship.
According to Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, the person responsible for this conversion was a Sunni Muslim visitor namedAbu al-Barakat, sailing from Morocco. He is also referred to as Tabrizugefaanu. His venerated tomb now stands on the grounds of the Friday Mosque, or Hukuru Miskiy, in Malé. Built in 1656, this is the country’s oldest mosque.
The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-Aryan language having some similarities with Elu, the ancientSinhalese language. The first known script used to write Dhivehi is Eveyla akuru script which is found in historical recording of kings (raadhavalhi). Later a script called Dhives akuru was used for a long period. The present-day script is calledThaana and is written from right to left. Thaana is said to have been introduced by the reign of Mohamed Thakurufaanu. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly in government schools.
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