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The Maldives ( or ), (Dhivehi: ދިވެހިރާއްޖެ Dhivehi Raa'je) or Maldive Islands, officially Republic of Maldives, is an island country in the Indian Oceanmarker formed by a double chain of twenty-six atoll stretching in a north-south direction off Indiamarker's Lakshadweepmarker islands, between Minicoy Islandmarker and Chagos Archipelagomarker. It stands in the Laccadive Sea, about seven hundred kilometres (435 mi) south-west of Sri Lankamarker.

The atolls of Maldives encompass a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometers, making it one of the most disparate countries in the world. It features 1,192 islets, of which two hundred islands are inhabited. The Republic of Maldives capital and largest city is Malémarker, with a population of 103,693 (2006). It is located at the southern edge of North Malé Atollmarker, in the Kaafu Atollmarker. It is also one of the Administrative divisions of the Maldives. Traditionally it was the King's Island, from where the ancient Maldive Royal dynasties ruled and where the palace was located.

The original inhabitants of the Maldives were Buddhist, probably since Ashoka's period, in 300 BC. Islam in Maldives was introduced in 1153 and has remained dominant since, being the smallest predominantly Muslim nation in the world. During the period of European exploration and colonialism, the Maldives came under the influence of the Portuguese in 1558 and the Dutchmarker in 1654. In 1887 the islands became a British protectorate. In 1965 the country obtained independence from Britainmarker under the name "Maldive Islands". Three years later the reigning Islamic Sultanate was replaced by a quasi-Islamic presidential Republic; in 2008, submission to the Islamic faith became a legal requirement for citizens.

The Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and area. With an average ground level of above sea level, it is the lowest country on the planet. It is also the country with the lowest highest point in the world, at .

Etymology of "Maldives"

The name "Maldives" may derive from Maale Dhivehi Raajje ("The Island Kingdom [under the authority of] Malémarker"), the local name for the Maldives. The island nation was synonymous with its capital "Maale"marker and sometimes called 'Mahaldeeb', and the people were called Maldivian 'Dhivehin'. The word Dheeb/Deeb (archaic Dhivehi, a corruption of Dweep in Sanskrit) means 'island' and Dhives (Dhivehin) means 'islanders' (i.e., the Maldivians). During the colonial era, the Dutchmarker referred to the country as Maldivische Eilanden in their documentation, while "Maldive Island" is the anglicized version of the local name used by the British, which later came to be written as Maldives.

The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle, the Mahawamsa refers to an island called Mahiladiva or 'Island of Women' in Pali. The Mahawamsa is derived from an even older Sinhala work dating back to the 2nd century BC.

Some scholars theorize that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit mālādvīpa, meaning "garland of islands". None of the names are mentioned in any literature, but classical Sanskrit texts dating back to the Vedic times mention the "Hundred Thousand Islands" (Lakshadweepa), a generic name which would include not only the Maldives, but also the Laccadivesmarker and the Chagos islandmarker groups.

Some medieval Arab travelers such as Ibn Batuta called the islands "Mahal Dibiyat" from the Arabic word Mahal ("palace"). This is the name currently inscribed in the scroll of the Maldive state emblem. The classical Yemeni name for Maldives is Dibajat.Akhbar al-Sin wa 'l-Hind (Notes on China and India), which dates from 851 Saudi Aramco world Magazine, Volume 56, Number 4, The seas of sinbad, By Historian and Arabist Paul Lunde

Philostorgius, an Arian Greek historian who relates (circa AD 354) about a Divoeis (the Divaeans, pronounced Divians) hostage after fulfilling his mission to the Homerites, sailed to his island home known as "Divus" (Maldives). The current name 'Maldives' also might have come from the Sinhalese word Maala Divaina, which means Necklace Islands, perhaps referring to the shape of the archipelago.


A view of an island in the Maldives.
Cross section of a coral reef in the Maldives.

The Maldives consists of approximately 1,190 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls, along the north-south direction, spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometers, making this one of the most disparate countries in the world. The atolls are composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometers long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Oceanmarker 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 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 and the total length of the road is .

The Maldives holds the record for being the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only , with the average being only above sea level, although in areas where construction exists, this has been increased to several metres. The reef is composed of coral debris and living coral. This acts as a natural barrier against the sea, forming lagoons. Other islands, set at a distance and parallel to the reef, have their own protective fringe of reef. An opening in the surrounding coral barrier allows access to the calmer lagoon waters. The barrier reefs of the islands protect them from the storms and high waves of the Indian Ocean.

A layer of humus -thick forms the top layer of soil on the islands. Below the humus layer are of sandstone, followed by sand and then fresh water. Due to high levels of salt in the soil near the beach, vegetation is limited there to a few plants such as shrubs, flowering plants, and small hedges. In the interior of the island, more vegetation such as mangrove and banyan grow. Coconut palms, the national tree, are able to grow almost everywhere on the islands and are integral to the lifestyle of the population.

The limited vegetation and land wildlife is supplemented by the abundance of marine life. The waters around the Maldives are abundant in rare species of biological and commercial value, with tuna fisheries being traditionally one of the main commercial resources of the country. The Maldives have an amazing diversity of sea life, with corals and over 2,000 species of fish, ranging from reef fish to reef sharks, moray eels, and a wide variety of rays: Manta rays; Stingray; and Eagle ray. The Maldivian waters are also home for the whale shark.


Sunset in the Maldives
The Indian Ocean has a great effect on the climate of the country by acting as a heat buffer, absorbing, storing, and slowly releasing the tropical heat. The temperature of Maldives ranges between 24 and throughout the year. Although the humidity is relatively high, the constant cool sea breezes keep the air moving and the heat mitigated.

The weather in the Maldives is affected by the large landmass of the South Asia to the north. The presence of this landmass causes differential heating of land and water. These factors set off a rush of moisture-rich air from the Indian Ocean over the South Asia, resulting in the southwest monsoon. Two seasons dominate Maldives' weather: the dry season associated with the winter northeast monsoon and the rainy season brought by the summer southwest monsoon. In Maldives, the wet southwest monsoon lasts from the end of April to the end of October and brings strong winds and storms. The shift from the moist southwest monsoon to the dry northeast monsoon occurs during October and November. During this period, the northeast winds contribute to the formation of the northeast monsoon, which reaches Maldives in the beginning of December and lasts until the end of March. However, the weather patterns of Maldives do not always conform to the monsoon patterns of the South Asia. The annual rainfall averages 2,540 millimeters in the north and 3,810 millimeters in the south.

Environmental issues

Over the last century, sea levels have risen about ; further rises of the ocean could threaten the existence of Maldives, being the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only , with the average being only above sea level. However, around 1970, the sea level there dropped . In November 2008, President Mohamed Nasheed announced plans to look into purchasing new land in Indiamarker, Sri Lanka, and Australia, due to his concerns about global warming and the possibility of much of the islands being inundated with water from rising sea levels. Current estimates place sea level rise at by the year 2100. The purchase of land will be made from a fund generated by tourism. The President has explained his intentions:
"We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades".

A tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakemarker caused serious damage to the socioeconomic infrastructure which left many people homeless, and irreversible damage to the environment. After the disaster, cartographers are planning to redraw the maps of the islands due to alterations caused by the tsunami.

On 22 April 2008, then Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom pleaded for a cut in global greenhouse gas emissions, warning that rising sea levels could submerge the island nation of Maldives. In 2009, subsequent president Mohamed Nasheed pledged to make the Maldives carbon-neutral within a decade by moving to solar and wind power. Most recently, President Nasheed held the world's first underwater cabinet meeting on October 17, 2009 to raise awareness of threats from climate change to low-lying nations such as the Maldives.


Comparative studies of Maldivian oral, linguistic and cultural traditions and customs confirm that the first settlers were Dravidian people from Keralamarker in the Sangam period (300 BCE – 300 CE), most probably fishermen from the southwest coasts of what is now the south of the Indian Subcontinent and the western shores of Sri Lankamarker. One such community is the Giraavaru people descended from ancient Tamils. They are mentioned in ancient legends and local folklore about the establishment of the capital and kingly rule in Malémarker. They are considered to be the earliest community of settlers on the islands. A strong underlying layer of Tamil population and culture is present in Maldivian society, with a clear Tamil-Malayalam substratum in the language, which also appears in place names, kin terms, poetry, dance, and religious beliefs. Keralan sea faring led to Tamil settling of the Laccadives, and the Maldives were evidently viewed as an extension of the archipelago. Some argue that Gujaratis also were an early layer of migration. Seafaring from Gujaratmarker began during the Indus valley civilization. The Jatakas and Puranas show abundant evidence of this maritime trade. Another early settlers might have been from Southeast Asia. The arrival of Sinhalese, who were descended from the exiled Kalingamarker Prince Vijaya (Vijaya was a Banga or Bengal Prince whose maternal ancestor was Kalinga) and his party of several hundred, in the Maldives occurred between 543 to 483 BCE. They were made to leave their native regions of Orissamarker and the Sinhapura kingdom in north west India. 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 Mahiladvipika, 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 some of the Maldives marks a significant change in demographics and the development of the Indo-Aryan language Dhivehi a branch off language of Sinhala). There are some signs of Arab and east Asian inhabitants mostly in southernmost atolls.

Buddhism came to the Maldives at the time of Emperor Ashoka's expansion and became the dominant religion of the people of the Maldives until the 12th century AD. The ancient Maldivian Kings promoted Buddhism and the first Maldive writings and artistic achievements in the form of highly developed sculpture and architecture are from that period. Isdhoo Lōmāfānumarker is the oldest copper-plate book to have been discovered in the Maldives to date. The book was written in AD 1194 (590 AH) in Evēla form of the Divehi akuru with the exception of the first plate, during the reign of Siri Fennaadheettha Mahaa Radun {Dhinei Kalaminja}. Tusites Maakri, the god of war in Maldivian mythology was said to overtake any leader that may have done wrongful deeds while wearing the crown.

First archaeological study of the remains of early cultures on the Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a Britishmarker commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. He studied the ancient mounds, called havitta or ustubu (these names are derived from chaitiya or stupa) ( ) by the Maldivians, which are found on many of the atolls.

Although Bell asserted that the ancient Maldivians followed Theravada Buddhism, many local Buddhist archaeological remains now in the Malémarker Museum display in fact Mahayana and Vajrayana iconography.

In the early 11th century the Minicoymarker and Thiladhunmathi also possibaly other northern Atolls was conquered by the medieval Chola Tamil emperor Raja Raja Chola I, becoming a part of the Chola empire.

According to a legend from the Maldivian Folklore, in the early 12th century AD a medieval prince named Koimala nobleman of the Lion Race from Ceylon, sailed to Rasgetheemu island (literally King's Town) in North Maalhosmadulu Atoll and from there to Malé and established a kingdom there. By then, the Aadeetta (Sun) Dynasty had for sometime ceased to rule in Malé, possibly due to invasions by the Cholas of Southern India in the Tenth Century. The indigenous people in Malé Atoll, the Giraavaru invited Koimala to Malé and permitted him to be proclaimed king. Koimala Kalou (Lord Koimala) reigned as King Maanaabarana, was a king of the Homa (Lunar) Dynasty, which some historians call House of Theemuge. Since Koimala's reign, the Maldive throne was also known as the Singaasana (Lion Throne). Before then, and in some situations since, it was also known as the Saridhaaleys (Ivory Throne). Some Historians accredit Koimala of freeing the Maldives from Tamil Chola rule.

Several foreign travellers, mainly Arabs, had written about a kingdom over the Maldives ruled by a queen. This kingdom pre-dated Koimala's reign. al-Idrisi referring to the writings of earlier writers mentions the name of one of the queens. Her name was Damahaar. She was a member of the Aadeetta (Sun) dynasty. The Homa (Lunar) dynasty sovereigns inter-married with the Aaditta (Sun) Dynasty. This was why the formal titles of Maldive kings until 1968 contained references to "kula sudha ira" which meant "descended from the Moon and the Sun". No official records exist of the Aadeetta dynasty's reign.

The conversion to Islam is mentioned in the ancient edicts written in copper plates from the end of the 12th century AD. There is also a locally well-known legend about a foreign saint (a Persian from the city of Tabrizmarker or a Moroccan Berber according to the versions) who subdued a demon known as Rannamaari. Dhovemi Kalaminja who succeeded Koimala converted to Islam in the year AD 1153.

Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors and trader from countries on the Arabian Seamarker and the Bay of Bengalmarker.

In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt to form a republic, but the sultanate was re-imposed. In 1959, objecting to Nasir's centralism, the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls protested against the government. They formed the United Suvadive Republic and elected Abdullah Afeef as president and Hithadhoo as capital of this republic.

Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate from 1153 to 1968, the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until 25 July 1965.


The agreement giving the Maldives full political independence was signed on behalf of His Majesty the Sultan by Ibrahim Nasir Rannabandeyri Kilegefan, Prime Minister and on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen by Sir Michael Walker British Ambassador designate to the Maldive Islands. The Ceremony took place at the British High Commissioner's Residence in Colombo on 26 July 1965. After independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another three years under King Muhammad Fareed Didi. On 11 November 1968, the monarchy was abolished and replaced by a republic under the presidency of Ibrahim Nasir, although this was a cosmetic change without any significant alteration in the structures of government. The official name of the country was changed from Maldive Islands to the Maldives. Tourism began to be developed on the archipelago by the beginning of the 1970s.

However, political infighting during the '70s between President Nasir's faction and other popular political figures led to the 1975 arrest and exile of elected prime minister Ahmed Zaki to a remote atoll. Economic decline followed the closure of the British airfield at Ganmarker and the collapse of the market for dried fish, an important export. With support for his administration faltering, Nasir fled to Singaporemarker in 1978, allegedly with millions of dollars from the treasury.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom began a 30-year role as President in 1978, winning six consecutive elections without opposition. His 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. Tourism flourished and increased foreign contact spurred development in the islands. However, his rule is controversial, with some critics saying Gayoom was an autocrat who quelled dissent by limiting freedoms and political favoritism.

A series of coup attempts (in 1980, 1983, and 1988) by Nasir supporters and business interests tried to topple the government without success. While the first two attempts met with little success, the 1988 coup attempt involved a roughly 200-person force of the PLOTE Tamil militant group who seized the airport and caused Gayoom to flee from house to house until the intervention of 1600 Indian troops airlifted into Malémarker restored order.

In November 1988, a group of Maldivians headed by Muhammadu Ibrahim Lutfee, a small time businessman, used Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka to stage a coup against President Gayoom. After an appeal by the Maldivian government for help, the Indian military intervened against the mercenaries in order to reinstate Gayoom in power. On the night of 3 November 1988, the Indian Air Force airlifted a parachute battalion group from Agramarker and flew them non-stop over 2,000 kilometres (1,240 mi) to the Maldives. The Indian paratroopers landed at Hulule and secured the airfield and restored the Government rule at Malé within hours. The brief, bloodless operation, labelled Operation Cactus, also involved the Indian Navy.

2004 Tsunami

On 26 December 2004, following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakemarker, the Maldives were devastated by a tsunami. Only nine islands were reported to have escaped any flooding, while fifty-seven islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, fourteen islands had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were decimated. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to shut down due to serious damage. The total damage was estimated at over 400 million dollars or some 62% of the GDP. A total of 108 people, including six foreigners, reportedly died in the tsunami. The destructive impact of the waves on the low-lying islands was mitigated by the fact there was no continental shelf or land mass upon which the waves could gain height. The tallest waves were reported high.

Multi-party democracy

Violent protests in 2004 and 2005 led to a series of reforms by President Gayoom to legalize political parties and improve the democratic process. Multi-party, multi-candidate elections were held on 9 October 2008, with 5 candidates running against incumbent Gayoom. A 28 October runoff election between Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed as the Presidential Candidate, a former journalist and political prisoner who is a staunch critic of the Gayoom regime, resulted in a 54-percent majority for Nasheed and his vice-president candidate Dr. Waheed. In a speech prior to handing over power to his successor on 11 November 2008, Gayoom said: "I deeply regret any actions on my part ... (that) led to unfair treatment, difficulty or injustice for any Maldivian." At the time, Gayoom was the longest serving leader of any Asian nation.

Mohamed Nasheed became the first President to be elected by a multi-party democracy in the Maldives, and Dr. Waheed was the first elected Vice President in the Maldives. Their election victory ended the 30 year rule of President Gayoom.

The new government of President Nasheed faces restoring the islands and economy after the 2004 tsunami, addressing concerns for the effect of global warming on the future of the islands, unemployment, government corruption, and increasing drug use, especially among youth. On 10 November 2008, Nasheed announced an intent to create a sovereign wealth fund with money earned from tourism that could be used to purchase land elsewhere for the Maldives people to relocate should rising sea levels due to climate change inundate the country. The government is reportedly considering locations in Sri Lanka and India due to cultural and climate similarities, and as far away as Australia.


Politics in the Maldives takes place in the framework of a presidential republic, whereby the President is the head of government. The President heads the executive branch and appoints the cabinet which is approved by the Parliament. The President is nominated to a five-year term by a secret ballot of the Majlis (parliament), a nomination which is confirmed by national referendum. The constitution precludes non-Muslims from voting.

The unicameral Majlis of the Maldives is composed of fifty members serving five-year terms. Two members from each atoll are directly elected. Eight are appointed by the president, which is the main route through which women enter parliament.

The country introduced political parties for the first time in its history in July 2005, six months after the last elections for the parliament. Thirty-six members of the parliament joined the Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (the Maldivian People's Party) and elected Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to the presidency. Twelve members of parliament formed the opposition as members of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and two members remained independent. In March 2006, President Gayoom published a detailed roadmap for his reform agenda, providing a time-line to write a new constitution, and modernize the legal framework. Under the roadmap, the government has submitted to the Parliament a raft of reform measures. The most significant piece of legislation passed so far is the Amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act, making the new body fully compliant with the Paris Principles.
The fifty members of parliament sit with an equal number of similarly constituted persons and the Cabinet to form the Constitutional Assembly, which has been convened at the initiative of the President to write a modern liberal democratic constitution for the Maldives. The Assembly has been sitting since July 2004, and has been widely criticised for making very slow progress. The Government and the Opposition have been blaming each other for the delays, but independent observers attribute the slow progress to weak parliamentary traditions, poor whipping (none of the MPs were elected on a party ticket) and endless points of order interventions. Progress has also been slow due to the commitment of the main opposition party, MDP, to depose President Gayoom by direct action ahead of the implementation of the reform agenda, leading to civil unrest in July-August 2004, August 2005 and an abortive putsch in November 2006. Significantly, the leader of the MDP, Ibrahim Ismail (MP for the biggest constituency - Malé) resigned from his party post in April 2005 after having narrowly beat Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan only a couple months earlier. He eventually left MDP in November 2006 citing the intransigence of his own National Executive Committee. The government had engaged the services of a Commonwealth Special Envoy Tun Musa Hitam to facilitate all party dialogue, and when the MDP boycotted him, enlisted the services of the British High Commissioner to facilitate a dialogue. The ensuing Westminster House process made some progress but was abandoned as MDP called for the November revolution.

The Roadmap provides the deadline of 31 May 2007 for the Assembly to conclude its work and to pave the way for the first multi-party elections in the country by October 2008. The election was close enough to trigger a second run-off election in which challenger Mohamed Nasheed and Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan prevailed.Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan will come to Maldives to participate in elections. President Nasheed and Vice President Dr. Waheed was sworn into office on 11 November 2008.

Despite the passage from monarchy to republic, the contemporary political structure shows a continuity with the feudal past in which power was shared among a few families at the top of the social structure. In some islands, the offices have remained within the same family for generations. In the modern day, the village is ruled by an administrative officer called Katību, who serves as the executive headman of the island. Above the Katībus of every atoll is the AtoỊuveriya (Atoll Chief). The power of these local chiefs is very limited and they take few responsibilities. They are trained to report to the government about the situation in their islands and to merely wait for instructions from the central power and to follow them thoroughly. Although islands are of considerably long distances from the governing capital, administrative rights over the lawmaking body of a particular island is withheld to a minimum, hence centralizing representatives from islands to a general parliament; the People's Majlis located in Male' which houses members from all over the country.

Administrative divisions

The Maldives has 7 provinces each consisting of the following administrative divisions (the capital Malémarker is its own administrative division):

  1. Mathi-Uthuru Province; consists of Haa Alif Atoll, Haa Dhaalu Atollmarker and Shaviyani Atollmarker.
  2. Uthuru Province; consists of Noonu Atollmarker, Raa Atollmarker, Baa Atollmarker and Lhaviyani Atollmarker.
  3. Medhu-Uthuru Province; consists of Kaafu Atollmarker, Alifu Alifu Atollmarker, Alifu Dhaalu Atoll and Vaavu Atoll.
  4. Medu Province; consists of Meemu Atollmarker, Faafu Atollmarker and Dhaalu Atollmarker.
  5. Medhu-Dhekunu Province; consists of Thaa Atollmarker and Laamu Atollmarker.
  6. Mathi-Dhekunu Province; consists of Gaafu Alifu Atoll and Gaafu Dhaalu Atollmarker.
  7. Dhekunu Province; consists of Gnaviyani Atollmarker and Seenu Atollmarker.

These provinces correspond to the historic divisions of Uthuru Boduthiladhunmathi. Dhekunu Boduthiladhunmathi, Uthuru Medhu-Raajje, Medhu-Raajje, Dhekunu Medhu-Raajje, Huvadhu (or Uthuru Suvadinmathi) and Addumulakatholhu (or Dhekunu Suvadinmathi).

The Maldives has twenty-six natural atolls and few island groups on isolated reefs, all of which have been divided into twenty-one administrative divisions (twenty administrative atolls and Malémarker city).

In addition to a name, every administrative division is identified by the Maldivian code letters, such as "Haa Alif" for Thiladhunmati Uthuruburi (Thiladhunmathi North); and by a Latin code letter.

The first corresponds to the geographical Maldivian name of the atoll.The second is a code adopted for convenience. It began in order to facilitate radio communication between the atolls and the central administration. As there are certain islands in different atolls that have the same name, for administrative purposes this code is quoted before the name of the island, for example: Baa Funadhoo, Kaafu Funadhoo, Gaafu-Alifu Funadhoo. Since most Atolls have very long geographical names it is also used whenever the name of the atoll has to be quoted short, for example in the atoll website names.

This code denomination has been very much abused by foreigners who didn't understand the proper use of these names and have ignored the Maldivian true names in publications for tourists. Maldivians may use the letter code name in colloquial conversation, but in serious geographic, historical or cultural writings, the true geographical name always takes precedence. The Latin code letter is normally used in boat registration plates. The letter stands for the atoll and the number for the island.

Each atoll is administered by an Atoll Chief (Atholhu Veriyaa) appointed by the President. The Ministry of Atoll Administration and its Northern and Southern Regional Offices, Atoll Offices and Island Offices are collectively responsible to the President for Atolls Administration. The administrative head of each island is the Island Chief (Katheeb), appointed by the President. The Island Chief's immediate superior is the Atoll Chief.

The introduction of code-letter names has been a source of much puzzlement and misunderstandings, especially among foreigners. Many people have come to think that the code-letter of the administrative atoll is its new name and that it has replaced its geographical name. Under such circumstances it is hard to know which is the correct name to use.


The Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of the cultures reflecting the peoples who settled on the islands, reinforced by religion and language. The earliest settlers were probably from southern India and Sri Lanka. They are linguistically and ethnically related to the Indo-Aryan people in the Indian subcontinent

Some social stratification exists on the islands. It is not rigid, since rank is based on varied factors, including occupation, wealth, Islamic virtue, and family ties. Traditionally, instead of a complex caste system, there was merely a distinction between noble (bēfulhu) and common people in the Maldives. Members of the social elite are concentrated in Malé. Outside of the service industry, this is the only location where the foreign and domestic populations are likely to interact. The tourist resorts are not on islands where the natives live, and casual contacts between the two groups are discouraged.

A census has been recorded since 1905, which shows that the population of the country remained around 100,000 for the next sixty years. Following independence in 1965, the health status of the population improved so much that the population doubled ( 200 000 ) by 1978, and the population growth rate peaked at 3.4% in 1985. By 2007, the population had reached 300,000, although the census in 2000 showed that the population growth rate had declined to 1.9%. Life expectancy at birth stood at 46 years in 1978, while it has now risen to 72 years. Infant mortality has declined from 127 per thousand in 1977 to 12 today, and adult literacy stands at 99%. Combined school enrollment stands in the high 90s.

As of April 2008, more than 70,000 foreign employees live in the country and another 33,000 illegal immigrants sums up more than one third of Maldivian population. They consist mainly of people from the neighbouring South Asian countries of Indiamarker, Sri Lankamarker, Bangladeshmarker and Nepalmarker.


Typical Maldives market
In ancient times the Maldives were renowned for cowry shells, coir rope, dried tuna 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 harbors in the Indian Ocean.From the 2nd century AD the islands were known as the 'Money Isles' by the Arabs who dominated the Indian ocean trade routes — The Maldives provided enormous quantities of cowry shells, an international currency of the early ages. 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 liberalized 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.

In late December 2004, the major tsunamimarker 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 a 18% increase on 2006. 2007 estimates show the Maldives enjoy the highest GDP per capita $4,600 (2007 est) amongst south Asian countries excluding rich Persian Gulf countries.


Typical Maldivian beach with tall palm trees and blue lagoons.

The Maldives was largely terra incognita for tourists until the early 1970s. Strewn across the equator in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives archipelago possesses an exceptionally unique geography as a small island country. Nature has fragmented the archipelago into 1,190 tiny islands that occupy a mere one per cent of its 90,000 km2 territory. Only 185 islands are home to its 300,000 population, while the other islands are used entirely for economic purposes of which tourism and agriculture are the most dominant.Tourism accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. . The development of tourism has fostered the overall growth of the country's economy. It has created direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities in other related industries. The first tourist resorts were opened in 1972 with Bandos island resort and Kurumba Village.
Maldivian beach video
According to the Ministry of Tourism website,the emergence of tourism in 1972 transformed the economy of the Maldives, moving rapidly from the dependence on the fisheries sector to the tourism sector. Just in three and a half decades, the industry has become the main source of income and livelihood of the people of the Maldives. Tourism is also the country's biggest foreign currency earner and the single largest contributor to the GDP. Today, there are 89 resorts in the Maldives with a bed capacity of over 17,000, providing world class facilities for tourists whose annual arrival figure exceeds 600,000.

The number of resorts has increased from 2 to 92 between 1972 and 2007. As at 2007, over 8,380,000 tourists had visited Maldives.

Practically all visitors arrive at Malé International Airportmarker, located on Hulhulémarker Island right next to the capital Malé. The airport is served by a wide array of flights to Indiamarker, Sri Lankamarker, Dubaimarker and major airports in South-East Asia, as well as an increasing number of charters from Europe. Many flights stop in Colombomarker (Sri Lanka) on the way.

Gan Airportmarker, on the southern atoll of Addu, also serves an international flight to Milanmarker several times a week.

Fishing industry

Maldives rudder fish (Kyphosus cinerascens)

For many centuries the Maldivian economy was entirely dependent on fishing and other marine products. Fishing remains the main occupation of the people and the government gives special priority to the development of the fisheries sector.

The mechanization of the traditional fishing boat called dhoni in 1974 was a major milestone in the development of the fisheries industry and the country's economy in general. A fish canning plant was installed in the island of Felivaru in 1977, as a joint venture with a Japanese firm. In 1979, a Fisheries Advisory Board was set up with the mandate of advising the government on policy guidelines for the overall development of the fisheries sector. Manpower development programs were begun in the early 1980s, and fisheries education was incorporated into the school curriculum. Fish aggregating devices and navigational aids were located at various strategic points. Moreover, the opening up of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Maldives for fisheries has further enhanced the growth of the fisheries sector.Today, fisheries contribute over fifteen percent of the country's GDP and engage about thirty percent of the country's work force. It is also the second-largest foreign exchange earner after tourism.

Agriculture and Cottage industries

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 labor. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about 7% of GDP.The development of the tourism sector 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.


As a Republic the Constitution came into force in 1968 by a (and amended in 1970, 1972, and 1975) has been repealed and replaced by a another Constitution assented to by the President Gayoom on 27 November 1997. 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. Under Intense pressure from the opposition a new Constitution was Ratified, dated 7 August 2008, whereby the power of judiciary was separated from the head of state.

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."

The independent Judicial Services Commission is the core of the judiciary, who oversee the appointment and dismissal of judges, and act as a 'watchdog' to ensure that Judges uphold their own codes of conduct. Currently in an interim stage, one is appointed by the president other member from the Civil Service Commission, parliament, the public, high court judge, lower court judge and a supreme court member. Contradiction in the commission's makeup, which requires a Supreme Court member to be present on the commission, even though the Supreme Court must be composed with the advice of the commission.

There has been raised concerns over the independence of the commission, given that of eight interim members, the President appoints one and all current judges were appointed by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom under the previous constitution, of them two were appointed to the commission.

The Supreme Court of Maldives is headed by a Chief Justice, who is the head of judiciary. Right now at a interim stage the President appointed 5 judges, who was approved by the Parliament. The interim court will sit until a new permanent Supreme Court is nominated under the constitution. Underneath the Supreme Court a High Court and a Trial court. The constitution requires an uneven number rulings in the High Court of Maldives, therefore three justice is appointed. Any verdict there must be reached by a majority, but must also include a 'minority report'.

As part of the newly independent judiciary a Prosecutor General is appointed, who is responsible for initiating court proceedings on behalf of the government, will oversee how investigations are being conducted and have a say in criminal prosecutions, duties previously held by the Attorney General. Also has the power to order investigations, monitor detentions, lodge appeals and review existing cases. The Prosecutor General of Maldives is appointed by the President and has to be approved by the Parliament.

The Maldives have, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), undertaken to write the world's first Muslim criminal code. This project would formalize the proceedings of criminal justice in this tiny nation to one of the most comprehensive modern criminal codes in the world. The code has been written and awaits action by the parliament.

Meanwhile, Islam remains the only official religion of The Maldives. The open practice of all other religions is forbidden and such actions are liable to prosecution under the law of the country. According to the revised constitution, in article two, it says that the republic "is based on the principles of Islam." Article nine says that "a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives"; number ten says that "no law contrary to any principle of Islam can be applied in the Maldives." Article nineteen states that "citizens are free to participate in or carry out any activity that is not expressly prohibited by sharia or by the law."

The requirement to adhere to a particular religion and prohibition on public worship in other religions would seem to be 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 the Maldives has recently become party and was thus addressed in the 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."

Military of Maldives

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) is a combined security force responsible for defending the security and sovereignty of the Maldives, having the primary task of being responsible for attending to all internal and external security needs of the Maldives, including the protection of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Fire & Rescue Service boats.
The MNDF component branches are the Coast Guard, the Fire & Rescue Service, Infantry Services, Defence Institute for Training & Education (Training Command), and Support Services.

Coast Guard

As a water-bound nation much of the security concerns lie at sea. Almost 90% of the country is covered by sea and the remaining 10% land is scattered over an area of 415 km x 120 km, with the largest island being not more than 8 km². Therefore the duties assigned to the MNDF of maintaining surveillance over Maldives' waters and providing protection against foreign intruders poaching in the EEZ and territorial waters, are immense tasks from both logistical and economic view points. Hence, for carrying out these functions, it is the Coast Guard that plays a vital role. To provide timely security its patrol boats are stationed at various MNDF Regional Headquarters.

Coast Guard is also assigned to respond to the maritime distress calls and to conduct search and rescue operations in a timely manner. Maritime pollution control exercises are conducted regularly on an annual basis for familiarization and handling of such hazardous situations.

Coast Guards also undertake armed sea transport of troops and military equipment around the country.

The Indian Ocean Commission

Since 1996, the Maldives has been the official progress monitor of the Indian Ocean Commission. Since 2002, the Maldives has expressed interest in the work of the Indian Ocean Commission but has not applied for membership. The interest of the Maldives relates to its identity as a small island state, especially in relation to matters of economic development and environmental preservation, and its desire to forge close relations with France, a main actor in the IOC region. The Maldives is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, SAARC, and as former protectorate of Great Britain, joined the Commonwealth in 1982, some 17 years after gaining independence from Great Britain. The Maldives enjoys close ties with Seychellesmarker and Mauritiusmarker, who like the Maldives are members of the Commonwealth. The Maldives and Comoros are also both members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference. The Maldives has refused to enter into any negotiations with Mauritius over the demarcation of the maritime border between the Maldives and the British Indian Ocean Territorymarker, pointing out that under international law, the sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelagomarker rests with the UK, with whom negotiations were started in 1991.

Language and culture

Thaana script
Maldivian culture is heavily influenced by geographical proximity to Sri Lanka and southern India.

The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language having some similarities with Elu, the ancient Sinhalese language. The first known script use to write Dhivehi is Eveyla akuru script which is found in historical recording of kings (raadhavalhi). Later a script called Dhives akuru was introduced and used for a long period. The present-day written script is called Thaana and is written from right to left. Thaana is said to be introduced by the reign of Mohamed Thakurufaanu. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools.

The language is of Indic Sanskritic origin, which points at a later influence from the north of the subcontinent. According to the legends, the kingly dynasty that ruled the country in the past has its origin there.

Possibly these ancient kings brought Buddhism from the subcontinent, but the Maldivian legends don't make it clear. In Sri Lanka there are similar legends, however it is improbable that the ancient Maldive royals and Buddhism came both from that island because none of the Sri Lankan chronicles mentions the Maldives. It is unlikely that the ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka would have failed to mention the Maldives if a branch of its kingdom had extended itself to the Maldive Islands.
After the long Buddhist period of Maldivian history, Muslim traders introduced Sunni Islam. Maldivians were converted, by the mid-12th century. The island has a long history of Sufic Orders, as can be seen in the history of the country such as the building of mausoleums. These mausolems were used until as recent as 1980s, for seeking the help from the dead Saints. They can been seen today, next to some old mosques of the Maldives and are considered today as, Cultural heritages. Other aspects of tassawuf such as ritualized dhikr ceremonies called Maulūdu, 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.

Since the 12th century AD there are also influences from Arabia in the language and culture of the Maldives because of the general conversion to Islam in the 12th century, and its location as a crossroads in the central Indian Ocean.

See also


  3. J Hogendorn and M Johnson, The Shell Money of the Slave Trade, pp 20-22.
  4. Apte, Vaman Shivram (1985). Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi, 1985.
  5. Ibn Batuta, Travels in Asia and Africa. translated by A.R. Gibb.
  6. Maldives Royal Family Website
  7. A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise
  9. Paradise almost lost: Maldives seek to buy a new homeland. The Guardian
  10. Maldives president seeks help for 'paradise drowning'. AFP.
  11. Carbon-neutral goal for Maldives. BBC.
  12. Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom
  13. Maldives
  14. Maldives Atolls from
  15. Divehiraajjege Jōgrafīge Vanavaru. Muhammadu Ibrahim Lutfee
  16. like Thor Heyerdah's book The Maldive Mystery for example
  17. Ministry of Tourism website; ; accessed on 03rd April 2009
  18. Report 'Fathuruverikamuge Tharaggeege Dhuveli, 35 Aharu' translated to english 'Pace of Tourism, 35 years'Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, volume 23. ; accessed on 03rd April 2009
  21. Clarence Maloney; People of the Maldive Islands
  22. Untitled Document at


  • Divehiraajjege Jōgrafīge Vanavaru. Muhammadu Ibrahim Lutfee. G.Sōsanī. Malé 1999.
  • H. C. P. Bell, The Maldive Islands, An account of the Physical Features, History, Inhabitants, Productions and Trade. Colombo 1883, ISBN 81 206 1222 1
  • H.C.P. Bell, The Maldive Islands; Monograph on the History, Archaeology and Epigraphy. Reprint Colombo 1940. Council for Linguistic and Historical Research. Male' 1989
  • H.C.P. Bell, Excerpta Maldiviana. Reprint Colombo 1922/35 edn. Asian Educational Services. New Delhi 1999
  • Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom. Barcelona 1999, ISBN 84 7254 801 5
  • Divehi Tārīkhah Au Alikameh. Divehi Bahāi Tārikhah Khidmaiykurā Qaumī Markazu. Reprint 1958 edn. Malé 1990.
  • Christopher, William 1836-38. Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, Vol. I. Bombay.
  • Lieut. I.A. Young & W. Christopher, Memoirs on the Inhabitants of the Maldive Islands.
  • Geiger, Wilhelm. Maldivian Linguistic Studies. Reprint 1919 edn. Asian Educational Services. Delhi 1999.
  • Hockly, T.W. The Two Thousand Isles. Reprint 1835 edn. Asian Educational Services. Delhi 2003.
  • Hideyuki Takahashi, Maldivian National Security –And the Threats of Mercenaries, The Round Table(London), No. 351, July 1999, pp. 433–444.
  • Malten, Thomas: Malediven und Lakkadiven. Materialien zur Bibliographie der Atolle im Indischen Ozean. Beiträge zur Südasien-Forschung Südasien-Institut Universität Heidelberg, Nr. 87. Franz Steiner Verlag. Wiesbaden, 1983.
  • Vilgon, Lars: Maldive and Minicoy Islands Bibliography with the Laccadive Islands. Published by the author. Stockholm, 1994.

External links

  • The President's Office - Republic of Maldives
  • / Information Ministry
  • Documented Trip to the Maldives

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