Since thousands of years, these floating jewels have continued to call visitors from around the globe-- once as lost travelers and now as tourists. Even some diehard fans compare Maldives to certain beauty queens—beautiful and intriguing. We prefer to think of it as “tranquil.” If you’re looking for exotic local color or sizzling rum and music-filled nights, and if you need to escape the stress and strain of daily life, come to Maldives.
These quiet islands are one of the best places in the world for a honeymoon or a celebration of any romantic occasion. The joint may not be jumping, but it’s the most relaxing—and safest—of the foreign islands, with a relatively hassle-free environment where you can concentrate on your tan, minus the annoyance of aggressive vendors and worries about crime. If you’re into sunning and swimming, it doesn’t get much better than Maldives at any time of the year. White sand and turquoise seas—it sounds like a corny travel poster, but it’s for real.
Frankly, Maldives is predictable, and its regular visitors wouldn’t have it any other way. The tiny island chains have attracted vacationers for some decades now, and there aren’t many secrets left to uncover. But those sandy white beaches remain just as inviting as ever, no matter how many times you return.
If you’re looking for some of the best diving spots in the world, Maldives is your Mecca. It has the scenery, the varied diversity of organisms, and the long stretches of unspoiled and untouched reefs. Even the most demanding diver is exceedingly satisfied with the islands’ offerings.
If you’re a sailor, you’ll find the waters of Maldives reason enough for a visit. The farther you go from shore, of course, the greater the visibility. You can’t drive here—they won’t rent you a car. Hop on a bike and zip from one end of the island to the other.
We could go on and on with reasons for you to come to Maldives, from exploring its natural beauty to playing on choice tennis courts with gentle sea breezes and warm sunshine.
If you want change, go to the Maldives. We stay the same in Maldives. In a changing world, Maldives remains . . . well, Maldives
A picturesque island nation thrown into Indian Ocean like a garland, Maldives lies at the southern edge of the Arabian Sea, 520km west-southwest of the Indian. It sits atop the Laccadive Maldives Ridge, a major oceanic feature which also includes the Chagos Archipelago. Maldives straddles the equator with the latitudinal and longitudinal extent of Maldives being 3°15′N and 73°00′E respectively. So the exact location of Maldives is in Southern Asia. As measured from the claimed archipelagic baselines, the location of Maldives is 200 nm in exclusive economic zone and 24 nm in contiguous zone, with its territorial and internal waters extending over 12nm.
An idyllic paradise, Maldives is a massive archipelago which boasts of more than 1200 coral islands. The islands are formed around a ring shaped coral reef encircling a lagoon. This reef structure, typical of Maldives, is called an “atoll”. The word, “atoll” itself is derived from the wordatholhu used in Dhivehi, the Maldivian language. There are 20 natural atolls in the Maldives that fall generally into two parallel lines and spread over an area of approximately 90,000 square kilometers, making this one of the largest concentrations of these formations anywhere on the world. The reef structures are cut by deep channels, and navigation through these channels require years of experience and expertise, which the locals have mastered in.
The islands are coralline cays, rarely more than 2m above sea level, which makes Maldives the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.3 m. It is precisely because the Maldives is so low-lying, which makes the water transparent and perfect for snorkeling. Each of the 1200 coral islands on Maldives is a captivating paradise of marine treasures. Many islands embrace strings of colorful coral reefs, powdery sand banks and enormous lagoons, where bright blue-green water laps gently on brilliant white sand beaches. Sand shifts continuously through action of wind and sea, and banks, beaches and cays come and go as sand is deposited and eroded. A total of 200 remarkably shaped sand banks are found in these crystal clear waters. These sand banks constantly change their shapes due to currents. Some of them are moved away to another location, some disappear totally or for a while, and some other are newly formed, which makes Maldives’ landscape uniquely dynamic. The islands and its reefs are composed mainly of reef rock, relict reef rock, cay sandstone and beach rock. Most of the islands have shallow, humus topsoil layers only where there is vegetation. Residential areas are almost free of topsoil layers. The northern islands are reported to be generally more fertile.
Out of 1200 islands, 200 islands are inhabited and the rest includes the 90 tourist resorts and uninhabited islands, some of which are used for industrial and agricultural purposes. The capital city Male’, the centre of the government, trade, commerce, business, health and education, is located in the middle of the atoll chain. The Maldives are the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. Although the population is at a diminutive figure of 400,000, Maldives relentlessly welcomes thrice as many tourists annually.
99% of the country is covered by sea, with the total land area estimated to be around 300 km². Sea Surface Temperature (SST) stays constant throughout the year with little fluctuations-- rarely varying below 27° or above 31°C. Surface currents show a reversing trend based on Monsoons, running eastward during the Southwest Monsoon, and westward from December to April. The side of the Maldives exposed to the monsoon receives clear oceanic waters from offshore. Maldivian fishermen use a traditional calendar in which the year is divided into 27 periods, or nakaiy, based on the constellations of Monsoons. Maldives is also home to the most diverse species of corals on the world, with almost 200 coral species being recorded there. These corals are breeding ground for an array of marine life species, representing different kinds of turtles, octopuses, rays, eels, sharks, lobsters and other reef fishes. Most of the land within island and the aquatic habitats that surround much of the island´s terrestrial habitats are protected from the storms and high waves of the Indian Ocean by the reefs composed of coral debris and living coral ---acting as barrier reefs of the islands.
Music and dance have always played a prominent role in Maldivian culture and in all types of local festivities. Rooted in African, Arabian and Indian cultures, music is played to the accompaniment of drums, tambourine and harmonicas. The guitar is a relatively recent foreign import which plays a prominent role in today’s music. The country’s rich, colourful and vibrant culture was inherited from ancestors; likewise the traditional music and song performed and enjoyed today are also passed down from generation to generation, but are not as diverse as it was in the past. Due to the rapid westernizing of country, the musical tastes are changing drastically- unfortunately, making the traditional arts obsolete. Here is a mention of some of the most popular musical acts practiced today.
Boduberu is the most lively and popular form of indigenous music and dance performed by the Maldivians today. Missing the Boduberu performance in any given function or festival on a visit to one of the islands is extremely unlikely. The renowned music of Boduberu is enjoyed by both men and women of all age groups. Boduberu is commonly known as Baburu Lava (Negrod Song) due to its resemblance to African drumming. There are some accounts that credit the origin of this music to the African slaves from East Africa who were said to be liberated in Maldives in the early 19th century.
Almost every inhabited island has a Boduberu troupe, usually consisting of a lead singer, three drummers and a chorus of ten to fifteen singers. The musical instruments used in Boduberu consist of three or four drums and a variety of percussion instruments. The drums are made from hollowed coconut wood and covered on both ends with manta ray skin or goat hide. The percussion instruments include a small bell and an Onugandu- a small piece of bamboo with horizontal grooves, from which croaky sounds are generated by scrapping.
The songs vary in mood and rhythm depending on the occasion. Usually the songs are about patriotism, romance or on some occasions the singers spoof on someone or something. Sometimes the lyrics might not make any sense as the lyrical content might be a mixture of local, neighboring and some African words. On most occasions, the songs begin slowly and gain tempo progressively, reaching a frantic crescendo at which point the enthusiastic crowd would be clapping and chanting along with the engrossing troupe. And the most enthralling point is when the beat becomes faster and one or two dancers from troupe jump and jerk to the beat and sway the hips, resulting in a trance. The crowd go astray as they throw themselves into the arena and start flinging their legs and arms and sway to the beat. The old men in particular, gyrate and grimace in their dance, teaching the young what they have learnt from their forefathers.
Bandiyaa Jehun, is an art form strictly confined to the young women. It is one of the best examples of the traditional dancing, which show cases the diverse and effervescent culture of the Maldives. It is most likely that this art form has been inspired from the Indian pot dance, where the women carrying amphora type metal water pots align in two parallel lines facing each other. A melodic classic song would be sung and the dancers swing and sway to the beat of its tune while tapping the pots at marked specific times to create a perfect synchronization. In order to make the sound of tapping more vivid, they tap the pot with metal rings worn in their fingers, which add a distinct metallic beat to the music. The dance is performed in both standing and seated positions, switching from one to the other as the dance proceeds. What makes the dance more intriguing is that each movement is perfectly coordinated to the harmony.
To cope up with the changing trends, drums and harmonicas are employed as an accompaniment today. While the basic art of Bandiyaa Jehun has been passed on from the ancestors, no specific rules for wearing the outfits are inherited. But to make the dance more spectacular, the dance troupe usually wears colourful uniform dresses, which on most occasions is the traditional dress, dhigu hedhun – a blouse and a long frilly skirt. While many art forms have completely been obscured by the modern wave of westernization, Bandiyaa Jehun is one of the few musical acts which have survived. The driving factor for this is the introduction of tourism as these dances have a high demand among the tourists who are as curious to discover the culture as getting engrossed into the stunning panorama of the islands.
Thaara is a traditional music art which is exclusively performed by men. Thaara is the local word for tambourine, a sort of handrum used to play the music. Unlike the drums used to playBoduberu, drums used in this act are flatter and the ends are covered with sting ray skin, locally called, Madi Hun. It is most probable that this musical art was introduced by the Gulf Arabs who travelled in the Maldivian waters during 17th Century. A similar form of Thaara is still played in gulf and South Arabia, which gives more evidence to its origin. It is no surprise that this art has a semi-religious touch as it has roots from Arabs. Thaara is not a sort of dance hosted by resorts during the, "Maldivian nights" at their restaurants or bars. You can see it being played only at national events. Today it might have decreased in its importance, but it used to have more majestic significances in the past. Thaara used to be played in the fulfillment of vows, locally called nadhuru and on special occasions it was accompanied by a pseudo act called vajid. This wilder form of “Thaara” has been banned by the Maldivian government for safety reasons, as it involves stabbing using an iron spike sterilized with hot water. This shows the Sufi influence in the Maldivian culture.
The skilled troupe enters the arena with a person holding a flag led by other performers. Usually the group consists of thirty men, and they align in two lines and sit opposite to each other. To bring uniformity, the men are attired in white sarongs and white shirts with a green scarf wrapped around their necks. The performers sit on the ground and sing beating hand drums while others dance between them. Due to the majestic touch, the lyrical content of the song is more about blessings and words of gratitude. The early songs had more Arabian words inducted but today Dhivehi versus are sung predominantly. Thaara songs start at a typically slow tempo and then gradually gain tempo to reach a frenzied crescendo.
Dhandi Jehun, is yet another form of entertainment popularly performed throughout the country, though the style varies from atoll to atoll. Dhandi is the local word for stick, making it obvious that it is an art form which involves the hitting of sticks. Dhandi Jehun is the derivative of a dance known as Malik Dhandi which is popular in Malik (Minicoy Islands) culture. This form of folk dance is distinctly for men. It is often held during festive events such as Eid, on the streets or on open grounds of the island which are particularly used for celebrations. You can catch the event on any instance of the day of celebration, as there is no special time to hold the event.
A group of 30 men usually makes the troupe, who are dressed uniformly, usually wearing dresses especially bespoken for the occasion. The outfits usually worn are a sarong, a T-shirt, a white head cloth, a sash around waist and a white under-garment. Much like Boduberu, the performing troupe consists of a lead singer, while others give back-up vocals. Each dancer holds a Dhandi(stick) of about three feet long, which are splendidly customized for the event. On certain occasions, you can see two additional people walking behind the group with drums and tambourines, managing the pace and beat of the song. The songs usually sung are Thaara songs and Unbaa songs. While the lead singer sings, the rest of the group sing in chorus and walk in a synchronized movement dancing to the beat of the song. As they dance, they hit the Dhandi with another partner’s who is facing opposite to them, generating a clapping sound which is perfectly in accord with the beat of the song. What makes this art form more impressive for spectators is the perfect orchestration, as the performers sing, walk, dance and clap the sticks simultaneously, keeping up the pace at the same time.
After an enthralling day in the island, finish the day in a high notch by walking into a cabaret or a bar and experience one of the most popular forms of indigenous dance performed in the country – The Fathigandu Jehun. Being very popular among the tourists, no “Maldivian Night” hosted in the resort is complete without this music. This is basically an all-men stage music show and this may only be enjoyed in the evening time.
The troupe may vary in size as sometimes a group of men dance while on certain occasions, only one seated person is involved. Each performer holds two pieces of bamboo sticks, about six inches long. The song kicks-off when a drummer beats on a tin, at which point the performers start dancing and singing. The songs usually sung in this form of folk music are epic. Burnee Raivaru is a famous native song which narrates the story of a sultan’s expedition in search of a wife. The performers create a sort of dance sequences where their skills in twisting and swaying of body are demonstrated, concentrating on the hitting of bamboo sticks at the same time. The clapping sound of bamboo sticks coupled with the tunes of music create a compelling environment.
Bolimalaafaiy Neshun is an expressive form of folk dance popularly performed during special occasions such as the Eid festival on the stage shows. Performed only by women, it involves the art of depicting an old tradition of women offering gifts to the sultans. A specially customized wooden container with lacquer known as Kurandi Malaafaiy is filled with gifts- usually with shells,Boli, as the name indicates. The lid and the surface of the container are skillfully decorated by the locals, making a beautiful vase, locally called malafaiy, especially designed for the occasion. TheMalaafaiy is covered in a piece of colorful silk cloth. The women participating in the dance wear equally bright-colored dresses.
A group of 24 performers dance and sing to the melody of song. The songs usually sung are sentimental or based on national themes. As the dance proceeds the performers form small groups of two, three, four or even six, and walk towards the sultan to present the Kurandi. In 1968, a referendum in Maldives approved a constitution to abolish monarchy and make Maldives a republic. Hence, the tradition of offering gifts to the sultan came to an end. But the dance is still performed throughout Maldives, more like a play act on the stage shows. In fact, it is one of the most important dances performed by Maldivian women.
Gaa Odi Lava
Gaa Odi Lava is a traditional folk music popular amongst the working community of the society. Gaa Odi Lava was born during the reign of sultan Mohamed Imadudeen I (1620-1648). The sultan wanted to build a breakwater around Male’- the capital, in an effort to defend the island. So the workforce was divided into various Odi or vessels by the sultan and entrusted them with harvesting and carrying coral stones from many reefs around the capital. When each boat carrying coral stones completed their task they paid a ceremonial visit to the sultan singing songs and dancing to express their happiness. These dances and the accompanying songs eventually became known as Gaa Odi Lava- (Gaa meaning stone and Odi meaning oat). Gaa Odi Lavacontinues to be performed as an expression of satisfaction marking the completion of major community works. In the olden days, the songs sung were in Arabic.
Kadhaa Maali is a form of traditional music and dance that is exclusively performed in Kulhudhuffushi in the south Thiladhunmathi atoll. Although the origin of the dance is shrouded in mystery, it is evident that the dance form has influences from the superstitious beliefs of the locals. The dance is linked with a tradition practiced over many generations, where the elders, who are well experienced with the fanditha- a mixture of folk medicine, charms and black magic, based on ancient beliefs and superstitions, with the addition of Arabic Quranic verses - walk at late night around the island to keep the evil spirits off the bay. These spirits are believed to bring bad omen to the island, like terrible sicknesses which threatens the existence of the island community. The midnight walking usually starts after the late evening prayer and continue the same thing over for another three consecutive nights. On the third night, the end of the walking is marked with certain celebrations including different types of music and dancing. The main event of the ceremony is Kadhaa Maali.
The Kadhaa Maali performance kicks-off with the beating of drums and a Kadhaa, an instrument made up of a copper plate and a copper rod. A group of people, who participate in the dance, wear fancy costumes and undergo special make-ups to emulate different types of evil spirits and ghosts. These people imitating the evil spirits are called Maali, in local language. The Maali bring about certain dance movements and postures trying to create a fearsome environment but is obscured by the fun-filled music. While the dance is performed, people of different skills come in hordes to the arena and live up the night by displaying their talent and handiness with the instruments that accompany them.
Langiri is a folk dance derived from the Thaara, and is popularly performed during the Eid festival. It is an early 20th century performance introduced to the Maldivians during the sovereignty of Sultan Shamsuddin III. It basically resembles the Thaara performance with the exception that sticks are used instead of tambourines. The youth of that time modified the then popular Thaarato suit their tastes paving way for the new art form, Langiri.
This form of folk dance and music is usually performed by young men as an evening stage show to entertain the people on the day of celebration. To perform Langiri, each dancer is provided with two intricately designed sticks, Langiri Dhandi, which is about two feet long. To give an extra adornment, the end of each stick is bound with a colorful artificial flower. In the dance, the performers sit in two parallel rows of twelve or six, facing each other. As the music starts, the dancers raise their bodies in a certain way so that their waist is up as they ascend. At the same time, they keep clapping the Langiri Dhandi in different fashions, alternating from one way to the other. Each dancer hits six Langiri Dhandi belonging to that of three people’s seated in the front row, creating a well synchronized dance sequence.
Unlike in some Muslim societies, women in the Maldives actively take part in traditional dances. This is evident from the numerous folk dances attributed specifically for women. Maafathi Neshunis yet another form of folk music and dance performed exclusively by women. The alignment of the dancers, postures and the basic movements in this dance form, are similar to Langiri, with the exception that the performers in Langiri hold a string of flowers instead of sticks. This string is semi circular in shape, has three feet in length and artificial flowers are attached to it. A group of women attired in traditional dress, align in two rows. They hold the strings and bring about different movements in small rows or groups of two or three displaying different symbols.
For such a small country, Maldives has a vivacious art scene that encompasses painters, sculptors, writers and poets, artisans of many types, musicians and dancers. Painters have traditionally taken inspiration from the richness of Maldives’ natural beauty to produce a wide range of works using mediums ranging from water-colors to oils, acrylics, collages, wood, fabrics, gouache, varnishes, recycled materials, embossing, etching, and giclee prints. Local sculptors produce fine works in wood, stone, bronze and cartonnage. Local writers and poets have also used the magnificent backdrop of Maldives as the inspiration for historical accounts, fascinating works documenting the social history of the islands and its people and collections of short stories, poems and songs ( Raivaru, Farihi and Bandhi ) that evoke the passions of island living.
Art Calligraphy is one of the best examples of Maldivian art, which reflects the versatility and deftness of local sculptors. Historical monuments such as The Hukuru Miskiy, the old Friday mosque in Male’, display amazingly intricate stone carvings including an assortment of skillfully carved tombstones with beautifully inscribed verses from the Holy Quran, manifesting the intricate skills of Maldivians in calligraphy. The art of calligraphy is rooted in Islam, bearing the evidence to the strong connection between Maldivian tradition and Islam. But unfortunately, this craft has now become obsolete, due to the lack of skilled stone cavers and its requirement of a high degree of deftness and precision.
Maldivians possess one of the most distinguished skills and deftness in representing verities of craftsmanship. These skills have been passed down through generations and the craftsmen take pride in possessing these artistic skills. Throughout Maldives, there are many artisans producing works of art that are as varied and diverse as their surrounds and which include products made from coconut shell, husk, seashells and corals, clothing, gold, silver and other forms of jewellery, recycled materials, fibres, metal and pottery. Maldivian handicrafts, sculptures, wood carvings and other forms of art and craft have their own unique charm and beauty. The most common traditional Maldivian handicraft includes mat weaving, embroidery for traditional dresses, coir making and lacquer work. Almost all these skills are usually confined to certain atolls or islands in Maldives. Over the years, the population of people who practice these traditional crafts has been diminishing. Largely thanks to the many of older craftsmen’s teaching- especially within their own families- which have prevented these skills from being completely lost and obsolete.
Wooden lacquer ware (Liye Laajehun)
Wooden Lacquer Ware is the best manifestation of the Maldivians’ convoluted skill and creativity from a wide range of crafts. Being the most typical of the Maldivian handicrafts, these products are exclusively made in Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll. The process is locally known as Liye Laajehun, and requires a monotonous process of hollowing and coring out pieces of wood-the most commonly used wood being Alexandrian Laurel or Funa, using locally available materials and the expertise the craftsmen have inherited from past generations. This process results in brilliantly crafted boxes, containers and other ornamental objects, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The finished design is then lacquered, layer by layer, in strands of various colors, usually black, orange, green and yellow. These finished products are then dusted with silver and gold sometimes, and polished with dry coconut leaves giving them an exotic lustrous effect. What makes it more interesting is that, the craftsmen rarely contemplate about the intricate design found on finished lacquer products, before making them. They are usually inspired while engraving the designs by hand.
Mat Weaving (Kunaa Viyun)
Mat weaving is an integral part of Maldivian craftsmanship. Unlike other traditional crafts, womenfolk of the country predominantly undertake mat weaving. The island Gadhdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll is especially renowned, for its fine hand-woven mats of striking colors which come in an assortment of shapes and sizes. The mats are hand woven-locally called kunaa viyun- on a loom of wood with the reed of split bamboo, which are dried in the sun. The designs in these mats are in four colors – natural, yellow, brown and black.. Mat weavers cultivate their own grass and collect the leaves and roots which are used for dyeing. Each colour of dyes requires a special method for processing. The mats are woven in different patterns and sizes to meet the needs. Sleeping mats, prayer mats, swing seat mats, etc each have specific patterns. Each of these patterns is uniquely identified by its name such as ´cutlines design´, ´lockmat´, ´large mat´ ´dhigulu kunaa´, ´gon´di kunaa´ and ´namaadhu kunaa´, etc. In the past, the Dutch and British governors had been offered with kunaa as royal gifts, which were sometimes trimmed with gold lace work. The trend continues till today as grass mats are gifted to foreign dignitaries. One of the most common uses of these mats today is as floor mats and wall hangings in tourist resorts and hotels. They are very popular as souvenirs to tourists too.
Boat Building (Maldivian Dhoni)
Boat building can be taken as yet another outstanding example of the Maldivians’ craftsmanship and execution. The traditional Maldivian sailboat, Dhoni, is an art with significant resemblance to Arabian Dows, which shows that mixing of culture plays a pivotal role in shaping the Maldivian craft and art. Dhoni have been perfected since ancient times by craftsmen for use as fishing vessels, but now some are customized to be used as transportation mode between islands- carrying passengers and goods.
What makes it more intriguing is that these boats were built without a pre-planning or a blueprint of its outline. Dhoni are made under the supervision of a chief carpenter, locally called Maavadi,who is entrusted with eliciting the shape and symmetry based on his observations and expertise. Though the skill of boat building has been handed over from generation to generation, the vessels have undergone different stages of development down the years. In olden days, Dhoni, were made entirely using different parts of coconut tree. The hull of the vessel was built with coconut wood and the planks of the Dhoni were held together by coir, a natural fibre extracted from coconut husk. By 16th century wooden pegs were used instead of coir and copper rivets replaced the pegs. Today, imported hard wood has replaced coconut wood and the sail has undergone similar changes. The archaic square sail made from palm fronds were customized to a more convenient triangular lateen sail. Eventually diesel engines replaced these sails, but they are still carried on board, to be used as backup in case of engine failure. Though the technique of boat building has changed drastically, the basic style and design has remained the same till today.
Maldives enjoys a tropical climate round the year. Sunshine is practically an everyday affair in Maldives. The term “sunny side of life” has come to mean sunny days and clear skies. The fact that the Maldives shedders the equator, Maldives receives copious sunshine throughout the year. On average Southern atolls of the Maldives receives 2704.07 hours of sunshine each year while central parts of the country receives 2784.51 hours of sunshine per year. Maldives is one of the few countries in the world, where the temperature remains almost constant with rare fluctuations. The year-round temperature of Maldives averages at 30°C. At the beach, the average daytime high is 86°F (30°C), while the average nighttime low is 77°F (25°C). But how warm it is on any given day really depends on where you are on the island.
Each island has a leeward side (the side sheltered from the wind) and a windward side (the side that gets the wind’s full force). The leeward sides are usually hot and dry, while the windwardsides are generally cooler and moist. When you want arid, sun baked, desert like weather, go leeward. When you want lush, wet, jungle like weather, go windward.
Because Maldives lies at the equator, it technically has two seasons, both of them warm and determined by monsoons. There’s a dry season with mild balmy breeze, which lasts from around December to April. This is during northeast monsoon, when the wind blows mainly from the northeast. The current flows to the west and is known as northeast monsoon drift. Off the west coast of India there is a strong northward surface flow, and the influence of this is felt off the northern Maldives, particularly in January. During the southwest monsoon, the wind blows mainly from the west and southwest. The ocean current is also from the west and is regarded as the rainy season. The southwest monsoon lasts from about June to October. There are significant differences in the climate in Maldives of Northern Atolls and Southern Atolls. The South Atoll has more rainfall than North Atoll. The North experiences higher temperature and fewer showers than that of South Atoll.
The side of the Maldives exposed to the monsoon receives clear oceanic waters from offshore. In contrast, on the downstream or lee side of the Maldives the water is far from clear. Tidal mixing, upwelling and sediment stirring all bring nutrients into the surface waters, which leads to a plankton bloom on the lee side. Plankton-feeding fish such as manta rays and among tunas the frigate tuna are on the downstream side. In contrast, oceanic fish such as juvenile yellowfin tuna are brought to the exposed side. These fish on the exposed side tend to be concentrated under floating objects (known locally as oivaali) and along ocean slicks (usdhandi). Fishermen report that usdhandi onIy occur on the exposed side of the Maldives, that they see only one or a few per season, and that they move relatively slowly.
Maldivian fishermen use a traditional calendar in which the year is divided into 27 periods, or nakaiy, based on the constellations. The nakaiy calendar is widely used by both fishermen and farmers. The southwest monsoon season (hulhangu moosun) traditionally starts on 8 April and is divided into 18 nakaiy. The northeast monsoon season (iruvai moosun) traditionally starts on 10 December and is divided into 9 nakaiy. Since 1980, 10 December each year has been marked as ´Fishermen´s Day´ in the Maldives.
The genesis of Maldivian culture is shrouded in mystery and the lively and homogenous culture of Maldives traces its roots to the colorful traditions of the diverse communities that have made this stunning paradise their home. Though they share a homogeneous culture, it’s difficult to exactly define the Maldivian culture. It’s largely because the culture reflects a blend of many cultures as the population consists of a mix of people who trace their descent from Sri Lanka, India, Arabian countries, and Africa. Since ancient times, Maldives has attracted travelers from all over the world as the location of the Maldives on major marine routes gave it a strategic importance. Moreover the rich reserve of cowry shells, coir rope, dried tuna fish, ambergris (Maavaharu) and coco de mer (Tavakkaashi), contributed to Maldives’ early economic ties with foreign trading ships. And Maldives has also served as a quiet, peaceful port for traders and other shipwrecked travelers. All these factors coupled with Maldives’ geographical proximity to the shores of Srilanka and South India, have helped in shaping the rich culture and tradition of Maldives.
Religion in Maldivian Culture
Maldives embraced Islam in the 1153 AD, and since then the religion has significantly affected the life and day to day routines and beliefs of Maldivians. Maldivians are brought up to respect elders and those who are educated while conforming to an Islamic code of conduct. Although daily life of Maldivians is regulated according to the tenets of Islam, the folklores and Buddhist traditions of the islands’ first settlers before conversion to Islam continue to play a major role in most island communities. One such example is the widespread belief in a superstitious system known as fandita.
Dhivehi is the official and most commonly used language in Maldives, which is not spoken in any other part of world. Therefore Dhivehi language plays an integral part in shaping the rich culture of Maldives. Dhivehi is an Indo-European language closely related with Elu, the ancient Sinhalese language. Dhivehi is written from left to right and the present day written script is called Thaana, while in the olden days, the language was inscribed on the copper plates, popularly known as the "Loamaafaanu", and the script used to write Dhivehi were Eveyla akuru and later a script called Dhives akuru was introduced. Although, Dhivehi was used as the medium of teaching in schools earlier, the rapid globalization o f Maldives meant the need to introduce English syllabus. Today, English is widely spoken by the locals of Maldives and is widely used in commerce. There are several dialects that are spoken in different atolls all over Maldives, with the southern atolls showing remarkable contrasts.
People & Family
The religious, linguistic and cultural homogeneity among Maldivians have contributed to the society’s stability and unity, since many generations. Historically, the society has been closely knit and disciplined as a result of this homogeneity. Unlike households in many other Muslim countries, households in Maldives typically do not include extended family members. Nuclear families consisting of a married couple and their children comprise roughly 80 percent of the households, with the father typically recognized as the head of the family. The island communities outside of Malé-the capital, are generally cohesive, self-contained groups in which mostly everyone is related through generations of intermarriage.
Even to friends of Maldives who make an annual pilgrimage to the islands, the Maldivians can be a bit smug. They know their island is more attractive than Paris, New York, London, or Rome and they’re not above reminding you. Bit of an imperial attitude, isn’t it? Exactly! But Maldivians are one of the most peaceful and hospitable people in the world. Their religion, Islam dictates their everyday aspects of life. Highly enthusiastic and dedicated, Maldivians have a great respect towards each other and outside visitors. Don’t be surprised if you are offered with a cold coconut drink and a snack made of seafood, when you visit their place.
The Early Years
The1 origin of the first settlers of the Maldives still remains a mystery, because all traces of their lives in these islands were lost a long time ago. The first settlers didn´t leave any archaeological remains. Their buildings were probably built of wood, palm fronds and other perishable materials, which would have quickly decayed in the salt and wind of the tropical climate. Moreover, chiefs or headmen didn´t reside in elaborate stone palaces, nor did their religion require the construction of large temples or compounds.
History has it that the first settlers were Aryan immigrants, around 500 BC. Further migration from South India as well as Sri Lanka occurred during the same time around. But the latest archaeological findings, like the Maldives cowry shells found in China and Middle East, suggest the islands were inhabited as early as 1500 BC. Historically Maldives has had a strategic importance because of its location on the major marine routes of the Indian Ocean. Maldives´ nearest neighbors are Srilanka and India, both of which have had cultural and economic ties with Maldives for centuries. As a favorite stop-over on the busy trade routes, the Maldives have had many visitors and influences, trading with Arabia, China and India with coconut, dried fish and above all the precious cowrie shells, then used as a currency throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast. Maldives was the only source for this type of cowries, and was sometimes called the "Cowrie Islands" by Arab travelers.
Buddhism in Maldives
Although the history books mention scarce information about Buddhism in Maldives, the 1,400 year-long Buddhist period has a foundational importance in the history of the Maldives. It was during this period that the culture of the Maldives as we now know it both developed and flourished.
It is believed that Buddhism came to the Maldives at the time of Emperor Asoka’s expansion and became the dominant religion of the people of the Maldives until the 12th century AD. Serious studies of the archaeological remains of the 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 returned several times to investigate the ancient Buddhist ruins. H.C.P. Bell, claim that Buddhism came to the Maldives from Sri Lanka.
Following the Islamic concept that before Islam there was the time of Jahiliya (ignorance), in the history books used by Maldivians the introduction of Islam at the end of the 12th century is considered the cornerstone of the country´s history. Islam remains the state religion. And yet the Maldivian language, the first Maldives scripts, the architecture, the ruling institutions, the customs and manners of the Maldivians originated at the time when the Maldives were a Buddhist Kingdom.
Introduction of Islam
Since ancient times, the Maldives’ geographical location served as route for trade between western and eastern world. 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 exact name and origins of this scholar responsible for this conversion, is an ongoing debate. Most widely accepted account is that he was a Sunni Muslim visitor named Abu al Barakat, from Morocco. His venerated tomb now stands on the grounds of Hukuru Mosque, or miski, in the capital of Malé. Built in 1656, this is the oldest mosque in Maldives. Others say that he was from Persia and was known as Sheikh Yoosuf Shamsudheenul Thabreyzi. Mr Mohammed Ibrahim Luthufi, an acclaimed contemporary historian and researcher, claims that the name of the person who converted Maldivians to Islam was Sheikh Aburikaab Yoosuf Thabreyzi.
The Darkest Days in History
The abundance of cowry shells, coir rope and ambergris in Maldives attracted Portuguese interest in the country during the 16th century. Consequently the Portuguese launched attacks against Maldives. Their attempts were in vain until a better equipped and organized fleet attacked the capital Malé. In 1558 they seized control of the country, after defeating Ali 6th, the reigning Sultan. The next 15 years saw the darkest period in Maldivian history, when the Portuguese tried to enforce Christianity upon the islanders. When their oppression reached the threshold, a local leader named Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Azam and his two brothers organized a popular revolt and drove the Portuguese out of Maldives. Muhammad Thakurufaanu was offered the throne and remains a revered national hero. This event is now commemorated as National Day, and a small museum and memorial center honor the hero on his home island of Utheemu on South Thiladhunmathi Atoll.
The British Treaty – A protection or a Con?
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. In 1887, the Maldives officially became a British protectorate after signing a treaty, according to which British gave the military protection from the external attacks yet did not interfere in any way with the internal affairs. In return the British were offered with the utilization of the Maldivian lands and seas for various purposes like warfare. In 1957 the British established a RAF base in the strategic southernmost atoll of Addu for £2000 a year, where hundreds of locals were employed. 19 years later the British government decided to give up the base, as it was too expensive to maintain. Historians differ in their opinions as to the extent of the independence that Maldives enjoyed under the status of a British Protectorate.
Maldives Comes Into Its Own
While the British developed Gan as a base for Royal Air Force, the people of the three southern most atolls revolted against the government of Maldives. They formed a separate government and declared the ´United Suvadheeb Republic´ in 1959. The British support for them was suspected by the government, which was run by Mr.Ibrahim Nasir. The separatist uprising was brought to an end by the government of the Maldives in 1963 in some atolls with brute force. However, the unease and hostility continued. The government of the Maldives negotiated with the British for a diplomatic solution. Maldives demanded more independence than the existing agreements provided for. In 1960 an agreement was signed reducing the period of British stay in Addu to 30 years. The British finally agreed to give independence to the Maldives and an agreement was signed in 1965. The historical signing of the treaty granting independence status to the Maldives was held at 10:00am of July 26, 1965 in British High commission, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir signed the treaty on behalf of the Maldives and High Commissioner Michael Walker signed on behalf of the United Kingdom. Maldives gained independence after being a British protectorate for more than 77 years.
The activities that led to the declaration of independence 43 years ago was the granting of permission to the British to build their bases and staging military posts in Addu atoll and the policies practiced by the then Prime Minister, Ibrahim Faamuladheri Kilegefaanu.
Shortly after the end of the Second World War in 1945, the British began granting independence to some of the countries which had been their protectorates, possibly as a reward for their support during the war. India gained its independence in 1945 and shortly afterwards Pakistan was born. Neighboring Sri Lanka also gained their independence in 1947 but the Maldives still remained a protectorate. What Maldives gained instead was ‘internal’ freedom where the British agreed not to interfere with the internal affairs of Maldives and in return they ensured the security of the country. However in the issue of foreign relations, the British had to be consulted.
The treaty was signed on 24 April, 1948 and afterwards Maldives did not have to pay tribute to the British. History shows that the decision to stop paying tribute was taken by Mohamed Amin Didi, the first President of the Maldives, in order to ensure that the Maldives did not fall under the power of Sri Lanka.
After Sri Lanka gained its independence, British bases in Sri Lanka had to be relocated, for various reasons, to another location. The ideal location seemed to be Maldives. Since, during the Second World War the British had already established several military and communication posts in Addu atoll, Male’ atoll Dhoonidhoo, and Haa Alif Kelaa. And in December 1956, Prime Minister at the time Ibrahim Faamuladheri Kilegefaanu signed an agreement to lease 100 acres of land in the Maamendhoo district of Hithadhoo in Addu atoll to the British for a period of 100 years. Almost a year later, on 11 December 1957, he resigned due to the complications which arose from the agreement. He had sincerely believed that a small nation like Maldives, lacking in natural resources, could only survive as a safe and stable place if they were under the protection of a powerful country like United Kingdom.
Then Ibrahim Nasir took over the post of the Prime Minister on 12 December, 1957. Unlike Faamuladheri Kilegefaanu, Nasir believed that the Maldives could do better as an independent country, and like other neighboring countries, Maldives had a right to become an independent country with full sovereignty. By then an Air Force staging post was under construction on Gan Island in Addu. However the project wasn’t going ahead as planned since arrangements to relocate the residents of Gan to nearby Feydhoo wasn’t finalized. At the same time new laws put into force by the new Government, imposing duty on imported goods and the registering and fees charged on seafaring vessels, was not agreeable to the residents of Addu. Consequently, on 1 January, 1959, a breakaway alternative Government was formed in Addu atoll. Huvadhu atoll and Fuvahmulah also joined the rebellion later. The rebellion lasted until 24 September 1963. The incident forced the Government to work harder towards gaining independence.
A new agreement was made in 1960 leasing 110 acres of Maamedhoo area in Seenu atoll Hithadhoo to the British for a period of 30 years.
The changes brought about by the new Prime Ministers to the policies were seen visible within a short period in the education sector resulting in introduction of English medium in schools and business flourished with development activities like Hulhule Airport, national radio station, and telecommunication facilities. Not long after, talks in Male’ and Colombo were held between Maldivies and British envoys to discuss the issue of granting independence to the Maldives. The discussions went on for two or three years but in the end the Maldives finally gained independence on 26 July, 1965.
Ever since Maldives converted to Islam in 1153, and the history of the country began to be recorded, Maldives has remained an independent and sovereign country throughout the 850 years, with the notable exception of the 16 years it remained under the occupation of the Portuguese, the four months under Malabar occupation and the 77 years during which it remained under the protection of the British.
Every year the Independence Day is celebrated on 26th July and is listed in the calendar of Maldives National Festival. The highlight of this day is the official celebrations in the evening at the Republic Square in the capital Male’. The event of Independence Day celebration begins with a parade past by the National Defense force and the National Cadet Corps, followed by the presentation of items in the form of drills, traditional dances performed by hundreds of school children and public in colorful attire displaying traditional and modern themes relevant to the country and its development.