History of Maldives

Maldives Flag

MALDIVES IS AN ISOLATED nation and is among the smallest and poorest countries in the world. In olden times, the islands provided the main source of cowrie shells, then used as currency throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast. Moreover, historically Maldives has had a strategic importance because of its location on the major marine routes of the Indian Ocean. Maldives' nearest neighbors are Sri Lanka and India, both of which have had cultural and economic ties with Maldives for centuries. Although under nominal Portuguese, Dutch, and British influences after the sixteenth century, Maldivians were left to govern themselves under a long line of sultans and occasionally sultanas. Maldives gained independence in 1965. The British, who had been Maldives' last colonial power, continued to maintain an air base on the island of Gan in the southernmost atoll until 1976. The British departure in 1976 almost immediately triggered foreign speculation about the future of the air base; the Soviet Union requested use of the base, but Maldives refused.

The greatest challenge facing the republic in the early 1990s was the need for rapid economic development and modernization, given the country's limited resource base in fishing and tourism. Concern was also evident over a projected long-term rise in sea level, which would prove disastrous to the low-lying coral islands.

Maldivians consider the introduction of Islam in A.D. 1153 as the cornerstone of their country's history. Islam remains the state religion in the 1990s. Except for a brief period of Portuguese occupation from 1558-73, Maldives also has remained independent. Because the Muslim religion prohibits images portraying gods, local interest in ancient statues of the pre- Islamic period is not only slight but at times even hostile; villagers have been known to destroy such statues recently unearthed.

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and he returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. Historians have established that by the fourth century A.D. Theravada Buddhism originating from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) became the dominant religion of the people of Maldives. Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands." In the mid-1980s, the Maldivian government allowed the noted explorer and expert on early marine navigation, Thor Heyerdahl, to excavate ancient sites. Heyerdahl studied the ancient mounds, called hawitta by the Maldivians, found on many of the atolls. Some of his archaeological discoveries of stone figures and carvings from pre-Islamic civilizations are today exhibited in a side room of the small National Museum on Male.

Heyerdahl's research indicates that as early as 2,000 B.C. Maldives lay on the maritime 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 in Maldives 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.

The interest of Middle Eastern peoples in Maldives resulted from its strategic location and its 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 had just begun to take over the Indian Ocean trade routes in the tenth century A.D. and found Maldives to be an important link in those routes. The importance of the Arabs as traders in the Indian Ocean by the twelfth century A.D. may partly explain why the last Buddhist king of Maldives converted to Islam in the year 1153. The king thereupon adopted the Muslim title and name of Sultan Muhammad al Adil, initiating a series of six dynasties consisting of eighty-four 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 venerated tomb now stands on the grounds of Hukuru Mosque, or miski, in the capital of Male. Built in 1656, this is the oldest mosque in Maldives. Arab interest in Maldives also was reflected in the residence there in the 1340s of the well-known North African traveler Ibn Battutah.

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 Thakurufaan organized a popular revolt and drove the Portuguese out of Maldives. This event is now commemorated as National Day, and a small museum and memorial center honor the hero on his home island of Utim on South Tiladummati Atoll.

In the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch, who had replaced the Portuguese as the dominant power in Ceylon, established hegemony over Maldivian affairs without involving themselves directly in local matters, which were governed according to centuries-old Islamic customs. However, the British expelled the Dutch from Ceylon in 1796 and included Maldives as a British protected area. The status of Maldives as a British protectorate was officially recorded in an 1887 agreement in which the sultan accepted British influence over Maldivian external relations and defense. The British had no presence, however, on the leading island community of Male. They left the islanders alone, as had the Dutch, with regard to internal administration to continue to be regulated by Muslim traditional institutions.

During the British era from 1887 to 1965, Maldives continued to be ruled under a succession of sultans. The sultans were hereditary until 1932 when an attempt was made to make the sultanate elective, thereby limiting the absolute powers of sultans. At that time, a constitution was introduced for the first time, although the sultanate was retained for an additional twenty-one years. Maldives remained a British crown protectorate until 1953 when the sultanate was suspended and the First Republic was declared under the short-lived presidency of Muhammad Amin Didi. This first elected president of the country introduced several reforms. While serving as prime minister during the 1940s, Didi nationalized the fish export industry. As president he is remembered as a reformer of the education system and a promoter of women's rights. Muslim conservatives in Male eventually ousted his government, and during a riot over food shortages, Didi was beaten by a mob and died on a nearby island.

Beginning in the 1950s, political history in Maldives was largely influenced by the British military presence in the islands. In 1954 the restoration of the sultanate perpetuated the rule of the past. Two years later, Britain obtained permission to reestablish its wartime airfield on Gan in the southernmost Addu Atoll. Maldives granted the British a 100-year lease on Gan that required them to pay £2,000 a year, as well as some forty-four hectares on Hitaddu for radio installations. In 1957, however, the new prime minister, Ibrahim Nasir, called for a review of the agreement in the interest of shortening the lease and increasing the annual payment. But Nasir, who was theoretically responsible to then sultan Muhammad Farid Didi, was challenged in 1959 by a local secessionist movement in the southern atolls that benefited economically 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 (1959-62), called the United Suvadivan 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 from Male with government police on board to eliminate elements opposed to his rule. Abdulla Afif Didi fled to the then British colony of Seychelles, where he was granted political asylum.

Meanwhile, in 1960 Maldives allowed Britain to continue to use both the Gan and the Hitaddu facilities for a thirty-year period, with the payment of £750,000 over the period of 1960 to 1965 for the purpose of Maldives' economic development.

On July 26, 1965, Maldives gained independence under an agreement signed with Britain. 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. 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 under the constitution as amended in 1972, which extended the presidential term to five years and which also provided for the election of the prime minister by the Majlis. In March 1975, newly elected prime minister Zaki was arrested in a bloodless coup and was banished to a remote atoll. Observers suggested that Zaki was becoming too popular and hence posed a threat to the Nasir faction.

During the 1970s, the economic situation in Maldives suffered a setback when the Sri Lankan market for Maldives' main export of dried fish collapsed. Adding to the problems was the British decision in 1975 to close its airfield on Gan in line with its new policy of abandoning defense commitments east of the Suez Canal. A steep commercial decline followed the evacuation of Gan in March 1976. As a result, the popularity of Nasir's government suffered. Maldives's twenty-year period of authoritarian rule under Nasir abruptly ended in 1978 when he fled to Singapore. A subsequent investigation revealed that he had absconded with millions of dollars from the state treasury.

Elected to replace Nasir for a five-year presidential term in 1978 was Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a former university lecturer and Maldivian ambassador to the United Nations (UN). The peaceful election was seen as ushering in a period of political stability and economic development in view of Gayoom's priority to develop the poorer islands. In 1978 Maldives joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Tourism also gained in importance to the local economy, reaching more than 120,000 visitors in 1985. The local populace appeared to benefit from increased tourism and the corresponding increase in foreign contacts involving various development projects. Despite coup attempts in 1980, 1983, and 1988, Gayoom's popularity remained strong, allowing him to win three more presidential terms. In the 1983, 1988, and 1993 elections, Gayoom received more than 95 percent of the vote. Although the government did not allow any legal opposition, Gayoom was opposed in the early 1990s by Islamists (also seen as fundamentalists) who wanted to impose a more traditional way of life and by some powerful local business leaders.

Whereas the 1980 and 1983 coup attempts against Gayoom's presidency were not considered serious, the third coup attempt in November 1988 alarmed the international community. About eighty armed Tamil mercenaries landed on Male before dawn aboard speedboats from a freighter. Disguised as visitors, a similar number had already infiltrated Male earlier. Although the mercenaries quickly gained the nearby airport on Hulele, they failed to capture President Gayoom, who fled from house to house and asked for military intervention from India, the United States, and Britain. Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi immediately dispatched 1,600 troops by air to restore order in Male. Less than twelve hours later, Indian paratroopers arrived on Hulele, causing some of the mercenaries to flee toward Sri Lanka in their freighter. Those unable to reach the ship in time were quickly rounded up. Nineteen people reportedly died in the fighting, and several taken hostage also died. Three days later an Indian frigate captured the mercenaries on their freighter near the Sri Lankan coast. In July 1989, a number of the mercenaries were returned to Maldives to stand trial. Gayoom commuted the death sentences passed against them to life imprisonment.

The 1988 coup had been headed by a once prominent Maldivian businessperson named Abdullah Luthufi, who was operating a farm on Sri Lanka. Ex-president Nasir denied any involvement in the coup. In fact, in July 1990, President Gayoom officially pardoned Nasir in absentia in recognition of his role in obtaining Maldives' independence.

Maldives Geography

Maldives Map Maldives Map - Click for larger view

Maldives consists of approximately 1,200 coral islands grouped in a double chain of twenty-seven atolls. Composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, these atolls are situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometers 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 from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of Maldives. For administrative purposes the Maldives government organized these atolls into nineteen administrative divisions. 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. The highest island is situated at three meters above sea level. Maldives has no hills or rivers. Although some larger atolls are approximately fifty kilometers long from north to south, and thirty kilometers wide from east to west, no individual island is longer than eight kilometers.

Each atoll has approximately five to ten inhabited islands; the uninhabited islands of each atoll number approximately twenty to sixty. Several atolls, however, consist of one large, isolated island surrounded by a steep coral beach. The most notable example of this type of atoll is the large island of Fua Mulaku situated in the middle of the Equatorial Channel.

The tropical vegetation of Maldives comprises groves of breadfruit trees and coconut palms towering above dense scrub, shrubs, and flowers. The soil is sandy and highly alkaline, and a deficiency in nitrogen, potash, and iron severely limits agricultural potential. Ten percent of the land, or about 2,600 hectares, is cultivated with taro, bananas, coconuts, and other fruit. Only the lush island of Fua Mulaku produces fruits such as oranges and pineapples partly because the terrain of Fua Mulaku is higher than most other islands, leaving the groundwater less subject to seawater penetration. Freshwater 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 Male and on many islands where there are resorts catering to foreign tourists. Mango trees already have been reported dying on Male because of salt penetration. Most residents of the atolls depend on groundwater or rainwater for drinking purposes. Concerns over global warming and a possible long-term rise in sea level as a result of the melting of polar ice are important issues to the fragile balance between the people and the environment of Maldives in the 1990s.

The Maldives Atolls List

The Maldives is a long and narrow country formed by 26 natural atolls. Some atolls are in the form of a number of islands by time and in the form of isolated reefs, which could be classified as smaller atoll formations.

- Ihavandhippolhu
- Thiladhunmathi
- Maamakunudhoo
- Etthingili Alifushi Atoll
- Maalhosmadulu Uthuruburi
- Fasdhu-ethere- (Fasdhu-there-)
- Maalhosmadulu Dhekunuburi
- Goidhu Atoll
- Faadhippolhu
- Kaashidhu Atoll
- Gahaafaru (Gaafaru) Atoll
- Male'atholhu Uthuruburi
- Male'atholhu Dhekunuburi
- Thoddu Atoll
- Rasdhu Atoll
- Ari Atoll
- Felidhe Atoll
- Vattaru Atoll (Falhu)
- Mulaku Atoll
- Nilandhe Atholhu Uthuruburi
- Nilandhe Atholhu Dhekunuburi
- Kolhumadulu
- Haddhunmathi
- Huvadhoo Atoll
- Fuvahmulah
- Addu Atoll

Society, Culture and Environment

The Maldivian government is centered in the capitol city of Male, population 104,000, on the Kaafu Atoll. Male is the largest city in the archipelago.

Under the constitutional reforms of 2008, the Maldives has a republican government with three branches. The President serves as both head of state and head of government; presidents are elected to five-year terms.

The legislature is a unicameral body, called the People's Majlis. Representatives are apportioned according to the population of each atoll; members are also elected for five-year terms.

Since 2008, the judicial branch has been separate from the executive. It has several layers of courts: the Supreme Court, the High Court, four Superior Courts, and local Magistrate Courts. At all levels, judges must apply Islamic sharia law to any matter that is not specifically addressed by the Constitution or laws of the Maldives.

With just 394,500 people, the Maldives has the smallest population in Asia. More than one-quarter of Maldivians are concentrated in the city of Male.

The Maldive Islands were likely populated by both purposeful immigrants and ship-wrecked sailors from southern India and Sri Lanka. There seem to have been additional infusions from the Arab Peninsula and East Africa, whether because sailors liked the islands and stayed voluntarily, or because they were stranded.

Although Sri Lank and India traditionally practiced a strict division of society along Hindu caste lines, society in the Maldives is organized in a simpler two-tier pattern: nobles and commoners. Most of the nobility live in Male, the capitol city.

The official language of the Maldives is Dhivehi, which seems to be a derivative of the Sri Lankan language Sinhala. Although Maldivians use Dhivehi for most of their daily communications and transactions, English is gaining traction as the most common second language.

The official religion of the Maldives is Sunni Islam, and according to the Maldivian Constitution, only Muslims may be citizens of the country. Open practice of other faiths is punishable by law.

The Maldivian culture is rich with flavours from most of the seafarers who set foot on its soil. Traditional dances and music may not be an everyday event but there are occasions where traditional music and dances are performed. Though traditional dresses are not used by present day generation there are many types of traditional dresses made for both sexes.

Like the unique geographical formation, the cultural events and ceremonials are unique according to the event that is celebrated or performed. Naming a newborn child, Bodumaloodhu (a prayer accompanied with festive meal), Eid festival and circumcision of male child are few events that take place where the taste of rich cultural 'cocktail' can be experienced. Bodu beru (big drum) performanceis the best-known form of performance of traditional music and dance where females and males participate. Bandiyaa (a dance performed by woman), Thaara (dance performed by male) is among the top traditional music and dances practiced in the Maldive Islands.

Traditional food basically fish used as the main component has been influenced from the Indian subcontinent. Garudhya (tuna soup), spicy curry and rice are the stable food of most of the population. Most other dishes such as western meals like pasta are normally modified with a flavour of tuna in it when prepared for local consumption. Other meats and chicken are normally eaten in special occasions.

The Environment
The Maldivian President who dived underwater with his cabinet has givena new light to the association between Maldives and ‘environment’. The worldnow knows how dependent the Maldives is on its natural environment.

The environment has a direct affect on all facets of a Maldivian’s life.The islands are protected by thousands of reefs that need to be alive for this unique archipelago to exist in future. The corals on our reefs need its countlessinhabitants to feed on them for the corals to re-grow. Locals need the fish in the water for livelihood and they depend on the beauty of its reefs and islands to sustain our tourism industry. Most importantly, the Maldives needs its citizens and visitors to take care of its wonderful natural environment in order to survive as one of the most magical places on earth.

Several government regulations have been set up to enable a system to provide natural protection for the otherwise fragile 1,190 islands of Maldives. Important marine areas are selected as protected regions, starting from 1995. Endangered marine species like the whale shark, turtles, dolphins as well as corals are also protected by law. Hanifaru, a bay like lagoon in Baa atoll of Maldives, is among the most recently protected marine areas. This area is home to rays from around the Maldives that gather here to feast on the masses of planktons brought into the lagoon by water currents.

The currency is the rufiyaa (MVR). Major credit cards are accepted at resorts and hotels. U.S. dollars can be exchanged at the airport, banks and hotels. Automatic banking machines (ABMs) in Male accept certain foreign bank cards. Credit cards should be used with caution due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity.

Health Care
Health facilities are improving on a daily basis. The Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Male' is the biggest hospital in the country providing sophisticated medical care. ADK Hospital is the biggest private health care facility, and follows high medical standards. Experienced European doctors work at the AMDC Clinic, and some resorts have an in-house doctor. Decompression chambers are within reach of most resorts in case of a diving emergency. The Maldives is tropical and generally a healthy environment abounds. Most will be safe here but please get advice from your doctor regarding vaccinations you may require before arrival.

Weather and Climate

Maldives Current Weather Find more about Weather in Male, MV

The weather in the Maldives is usually picture perfect: sunlit days, breezy nights, balmy mornings, and iridescent sunsets. The temperature hardly ever changes - which makes packing for your holiday an easy task (see what to pack). With the average temperature at about 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year, the sun is a constant on most days, shining through treetops, creating lacy patterns on your feet, healing cold-bones with its warmth. Throughout the day, the sun will make itself known, ensuring that it will be remembered and missed, like an old friend, as you pack up your suitcases to leave.

Maldives has two distinct seasons; dry season (northeast monsoon) and wet season (southwest monsoon), with the former extending from January to March and the latter from mid-May to November.

The rare thunderstorm in the Maldives (especially around the southwest monsoon months) can be a welcome respite from the sun. Cloudy skies and slate grey seas, and crashing thunder makes up for lovely reading weather. The warm temperatures will allow you to go for a walk in the rain, a verdant, wet, thoroughly enjoyable experience. For extra exhilaration, take a swim in the rain - the sea will be extra warm.

Public Holidays

MALDIVES Public Holidays Year 2014
No. Month Date Week Day Holiday

1 January 1 Wednesday New Years Day
2 January 2 Thursday National Day
3 January 13 Monday Id-e-Milad
4 February 2 Sunday The Day Maldives Embraced Islam
5 May 1 Thursday Labour Day
6 June 28 Saturday First Day of Ramzan
7 July 26 Saturday Independence Day
8 July 27 Sunday On the Occasion of Independence Day
9 July 28 Monday Eid-ul Fithr
10 July 29-30 - On the Occasion of Eid-ul Fithr
11 October 14 Tuesday Hajju Day
12 October 15 Wednesday Eid-ul Al’haa
13 October 16-18 - On the Occasion of Eid-ul Al’haa
14 November 3 Monday Victory Day
15 November 4 Tuesday Islamic New Year(1436)
16 November 11 Tuesday Republic Day


Most holidays are based on the Islamic lunar calendar and the dates vary from year to year. The most important religious event is Ramadan (known locally as rorda mas), the Islamic month of fasting. Other noteworthy events are Kuda Id, the sighting of the new moon (celebrated at the end of Ramadan), and the Prophet's Birthday, which commemorates the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. Fixed holiday dates include: National Day (the day Mohammed Thakurufaan and his men overthrew the Portuguese on Malé in 1573, the first day of the third month of the lunar calendar); Victory Day (victory over Sri Lankan mercenaries who tried to overthrow the Maldivian government on 3 November 1988); and Republic Day (which commemorates the current republic, founded on 11 November 1968).

Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and the dates given above are approximations. During the lunar month of Ramadan that precedes Eid al-Fitr, Muslims fast during the day and feast at night and normal business patterns may be interrupted. Many restaurants are closed during the day and there may be restrictions on drinking in public places. Some disruption may continue into Eid Al-Fitr itself, although this is generally unlikely to affect life on the resort islands. Eid Al-Fitr and Eid El-Kebir may last anything from two to 10 days, depending on the region.

Travel Tips and Advisory

Maldives Visa Information: Free 30 days Visa upon arrival for all visitors
No prior visa is required to enter the Republic of Maldives. Entry permit will be granted to visitors on arrival at designated ports of entry, based on the immigration requirements.

Travel Advisory
Protests and demonstrations are not uncommon, especially in the capital Malé. You should take care, seek up to date information, and keep away from any demonstrations. Previous demonstrations have led to violence and arrests.

Although there is no nationwide advisory in effect for the Maldives. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the prevalence of petty crime and the possibility of civil unrest.

Take care of your valuables and other personal possessions. Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

Strict laws prohibit the importation of pornographic material, firearms, alcohol and illegal drugs into the country. Exports of coral, shells and other object removed from the marine environment is also prohibited.

What to wear
Nudism is an offence in the Maldives and this includes bare breasts. Dress is generally casual. T-shirts and cotton clothing are most suitable. In Male', the capital island, it is recommended that women wear modest clothing without baring too much and when visiting inhabited islands, thighs and shoulders must be covered by both men and women.

Tipping is discouraged in the Maldives. Unofficially, if the service is good - and it usually is - it's quite customary to tip room staff and waiters in your resort. US$10 per week is a suitable amount. A few resorts add a 10% service charge, in which case there's no need to tip. Bargaining is limited to tourist shops in and around Singapore Bazaar in Male? and at island village souvenir shops where prices are not fixed.

Food and Beverages
Restaurants, coffee shops and well stocked bars in all resorts provide varied and delicious meals with wide choice of fresh fruit juices, punches, cocktail, wines and spirits. All resorts serve food and beverages to suite demanding palates, be it favourite international dishes and or the fresh and exotic delights of seafood. Many offer a-la-carte services that cover eastern and western flavours. Maldivian short eats served with tea or coffee are popular with most visitors as a snack in between meals while grills and barbecues are much in demand in most resorts. A few resorts have specialised restaurants each for favoured cuisines as European, Indian and Chinese.

Alcohol and Drugs
Maldivians, being Muslims, are prohibited by law from consuming alcohol, hence there is a strict restriction on the alcohol available in inhabited islands. Foreigners who reside in Maldives can have a private supply arranged by an authorised licensing procedure. All tourist resorts and hotels, as well cruise ships and yachts have alcohol for consumption for guests. The Maldives is amongst one of the toughest countries in dealing with drugs. Lengthy jail sentences are normal if found in possession or whilst using them, even with a marijuana joint. Please do not try to import any form of drug into Maldives. Also, please do not use drugs even if offered whilst here, it is not worth the risk.

Prohited for Export
The following items may not be exported in any form:

  • Black Coral/products of black coral
  • Stony Coral
  • Triton Shell
  • Pearl Oyster
  • Lobster
  • Turtle
  • Turtle Shell
  • Eel
  • Puffer fish
  • Parrot fish
  • Skate and Ray
  • Bigeye Scad under 15 cm.
  • Bait fish used in tuna fishery
  • Dolphin
  • Whale
  • Trochus shell

Protected Marine Life
Fishing or collection of these species is prohibited:

  • Black Coral
  • Triton Shell (Conch Shell)
  • Giant Clam
  • Berried and Small Lobsters
  • Turtles
  • Napoleon Wrasse
  • Dolphins
  • Whale Shark
  • Whales
Enjoy your stay in Maldives!