The Maldives (/ˈmɒldiːvz/, /ˈmɔːldiːvz/, Listeni/ˈmɔːldaɪvz/ or /ˈmældaɪvz/), officially the Republic
of Maldives (Maldivian: ދިވެހިރާއްޖޭގެ ޖުމްހޫރިއްޔާ, Dhivehi Raa'jeyge Jumhooriyya), is a South
Asian island country, located in the Indian Ocean, situated in the Arabian Sea. It lies southwest
of India and Sri Lanka. The chain of twenty-six atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in
the north to the Addu City in the south. Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres
(115 sq mi), the Maldives is one of the world's most geographically dispersed countries, as well
as the smallest Asian country by both land area and population, with a little over 393,500 inhabitants.
Malé is the capital and most populated city, traditionally called the "King's Island" for its
The Maldives archipelago is located atop the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain
range in the Indian Ocean, which also forms a terrestrial ecoregion, together with the Chagos
and the Lakshadweep. With an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above
sea level, it is the world's lowest country, with even its highest natural point being the lowest
in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in). Due to the subsequent risks posed by rising sea-levels,
the government pledged in 2009 to make the Maldives a carbon-neutral country by 2019.
The Maldives have been historically and culturally linked to the Indian subcontinent since the fourth
century BCE. The Maldivian archipelago was Islamised in the 12th century and consolidated as
a sultanate, developing strong commercial and cultural ties with Asia and Africa. From the mid
16th-century, the region came under the increasing influence of European colonial powers, with
the Maldives becoming a British protectorate in 1887. Independence from the United Kingdom was
achieved in 1965 and a presidential republic was established in 1968 with an elected People's
Majlis. The ensuing decades have been characterised by political instability, efforts at democratic
reform, and environmental challenges posed by climate change.
The Maldives is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
It is also a member of the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non
Aligned Movement. The World Bank classifies the Maldives as having an upper middle income economy.
Fishing has historically been the dominant economic activity, and remains the largest sector
by far, followed by the rapidly growing tourism industry. Along with Sri Lanka, it is one of
only two South Asian countries rated "high" on the Human Development Index (HDI),with its per
capita income the highest among SAARC nations.
Archaeological finds indicate that the Maldives was inhabited as early as 1,500 BC but much of the country's
origin is lost in time due to a lack of surviving written records. However, there are all kinds of
fascinating folklores and myths about the history of the Maldives.
It is believed that the most important factor that contributed to the first ever settlement of people
in the Maldives is its geographical location. Large ruins and other archaeological remains found
in the islands including those bordering the equatorial channel and the One and a Half Degree channel
bear testimony to the fact that people of antiquity had indeed stumbled upon the country during their
travels. It is believed that permanent settlements were established in around 500 BC by Aryan immigrants
from the Indian subcontinent. Many customs, traditional practices and superstitious beliefs that
still prevail in the country also attest to the influence of the early Dravidian culture of the Maldives.
Although it is most probable that early Maldivians were Buddhist or Hindus migrating from the Indian
subcontinent, the archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl, who carried out extensive archaeological research
in the Maldives and has contributed significantly to theories of the origins of the country, stated
that some of the figures unearthed from the ancient mounds bore a striking resemblance to the figures
he had investigated on Easter island in the Pacific Ocean. Many of these theories, however, are still
a matter of controversy and the Maldives still holds many more secrets about its past which are yet
to be unearthed.
The accounts of travellers who had stopped over for supplies and due to shipwrecks (as the Maldives is
located along the ancient marine trade routes from the West to the East) also serve as useful guides
to the history of these small islands. Cowrie shells were used as one of the oldest forms of currency
amongst traders who traversed the region, and the Maldives offered one of the most plentiful supplies
of these shells.
Among the travellers were the Chinese historian Ma Huan and the famous Arab travelerIbnBatuta. It is
also understood that the Maldivians themselves ventured far beyond their own shores; Pliny, for example
states that Maldivian emissaries bore gift to the Roman Emperor.
The Maldives was briefly part of the Portuguese Empire, for 15 years from 1558 onwards, before being
overthrown in an uprising.
The country was never part of the British Empire but from 1887 to 1965 it was classed as a Protectorate
of Great Britain before becoming a republic.
The Maldives consists of 1,192 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls, along the north-south
direction, spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi), making this one of the world's
most dispersed countries. It lies between latitudes 1°S and 8°N, and longitudes 72° and 74°E. The
atolls are composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometres
(600 mi) long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs north to south.
Only near the southern end of this natural coral barricade do two open passages permit safe ship navigation
from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of Maldives. For administrative
purposes the Maldivian government organised these atolls into twenty one administrative divisions.
The largest island of Maldives is Gan, which belongs to Laamu Atoll or Hahdhummathi Maldives. In
Addu Atoll the westernmost islands are connected by roads over the reef (collectively called Link
Road) and the total length of the road is 14 km (9 mi).
Maldives is the lowest country in the world, with maximum and average natural ground levels of only 2.4
metres (7 ft 10 in) and 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, respectively. In areas where construction
exists, however, this has been increased to several metres. More than 80 per cent of the country's
land is composed of coral islands which rise less than one metre above sea level. As a result, the
Maldives are at high risk of being submerged due to rising sea levels. The UN's environmental panel
has warned that, at current rates, sea level rise would be high enough to make the Maldives uninhabitable
In ancient times the Maldives were renowned for cowries, 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 the Maldives and bring them abroad.
Nowadays, the mixed economy of the Maldives is based on the principal activities of tourism, fishing
Tourism is the largest industry in the Maldives, accounting for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives'
foreign exchange receipts. It powered the current GDP per capita to expand 265% in the 1980s and
a further 115% in the 1990s. Over 90% of government tax revenue flows in from import duties and tourism-related
Fishing is the second leading sector in the Maldives. The economic reform program by the government in
1989 lifted import quotas and opened some exports to the private sector. Subsequently, it has liberalized
regulations to allow more foreign investment.
Agriculture and manufacturing play a minor role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability
of cultivable land and shortage of domestic labour. Most staple foods are imported.
Industry in the Maldives consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts. It accounts
for around 18% of GDP. Maldivian authorities are concerned about the impact of erosion and possible
global warming in the low-lying country.
Among the 1,900 islands in the Maldives, only 198 are inhabited. The population is scattered throughout
the country, and the greatest concentration is on the capital island, Malé. Limitations on potable
water and arable land, plus the added difficulty of congestion are some of the problems faced by
households in Malé.
Development of the infrastructure in the Maldives is mainly dependent on the tourism industry and its
complementary tertiary sectors, transport, distribution, real estate, construction, and government.
Taxes on the tourist industry have been plowed into infrastructure and it is used to improve technology
in the agricultural sector.
The largest ethnic group are Dhivehis, native to the historic region of the Maldive Islands comprising
today's Republic of Maldives and the island of Minicoy in Union territory of Lakshadweep, India.
They share the same culture and speak the Dhivehi language. They are principally an Indo-Aryan people,
closely related to the Sinhalese having traces of Middle Eastern, South Asian, Austronesian and African
genes in the population.
In the past there was also a small Tamil population known as the Giraavaru people. This group have now
been almost completely absorbed into the larger Maldivian society but were once native to the island
of Giraavaru (Kaafu Atoll). This island was evacuated in 1968 due to heavy erosion of the island.
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. 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.
The population doubled by 1978, and the population growth rate peaked at 3.4% in 1985. At the 2006 census,
the population had reached 298,968, 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, and later rose to
72. Infant mortality has declined from 12.7% in 1977 to 1.2% today, and adult literacy reached 99%.
Combined school enrolment reached the high 90s. The population was projected to have reached 317,280
As of April 2008, more than 70,000 foreign employees, along with 33,000 illegal immigrants, comprised
more than one third of the Maldivian population.. There are 40,000 Bangladeshis in the Maldives,
making them the largest group of foreigners working in that country. Other immigrants include Filipinos
in the Maldives as well as various Western expatriates.
After the long Buddhist period of Maldivian history, Muslim traders introduced Sunni Islam. Maldivians
converted to Islam by the mid-12th century. The islands have had a long history of Sufic orders,
as can be seen in the history of the country such as the building of tombs. They were used until
as recently as the 1980s for seeking the help of buried saints. They can be seen today next to some
old mosques and are considered today as cultural heritage.
The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-Aryan language having some similarities with Elu,
the ancient Sinhalese language. The first known script used to write Dhivehi is Eveyla akuru script
which is found in historical recording of kings (raadhavalhi). Later a script called Dhives akuru
was used for a long period. The present-day script is called Thaana and is written from right to
left. Thaana is said to have been introduced by the reign of Mohamed Thakurufaanu.
Since the 12th century AD there were also influences from Arabia in the language and culture of the Maldives
because of the conversion to Islam and its location as a crossroads in the central Indian Ocean.
This was due to the long trading history between the far east and the middle east. Somali travellers
discovered the island for gold in the 13th century, before the Portuguese. Their brief stay later
ended in a bloody conflict known by the Somalis as "Dagaal Diig Badaaney" in 1424.
However, unlike the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka and most of the Arabs, Africans and Europeans whose influence
can be seen in borrow-words, material culture, and the diversity of Maldivian phenotype, Maldivians
do not have the highly embedded patriarchal codes of honour, purity, corporate marriage, and sedentary
private property that are typical of places where agriculture is the key form of subsistence and
social relations have been built, historically, around tribute taking.
Reflective of this is the fact that the Maldives has had the highest national divorce rate in the world
for many decades. This, it is hypothesised, is due to a combination of liberal Islamic rules about
divorce and the relatively loose marital bonds that have been identified as common in non- and semi-sedentary
peoples without a history of fully developed agrarian property and kinship relations.