History of the Maldives
The Maldives islands total more than thousands land areas in the Indian Ocean. The Republic which is located on the Indian Ocean’s atolls has population over 400 000 people today, but once the history of the state of the Maldives began with the ancient tribes. In the course of its development, the country has completely moved away from its original Buddhism towards Islam, which has changed both the culture and mentality of its inhabitants. The history of the Maldives is a story about one proud and rebellious people. Naturally, so many events in the country have led to the formation of a number of national and public holidays of the Maldives. These days it is worth visiting the Maldives as a tourist.
The table of contents
- Origin of settlements and the Middle Ages
- Battles with the rulers
- Battles today
- The life of the common people
Two thousand years ago, the Maldives’ archipelago was inhabited by people from today’s India and Sri Lanka. They were Sinhalese, Indian and Malay tribes who practiced Buddhism. The ancient and modern culture of the Maldives was also influenced by the Dravidians, the peoples of Southern India, who created the Harappa civilization.
The first islanders did not leave any major archaeological traces, but historians believe that the houses were made of wood, palm leaves and other natural materials, which quickly deteriorated due to high humidity and large amounts of salt in the air.
Thus, the tropical climate made serious demands on the islanders’ housing, but even then the rulers did not make luxury fortified palaces. There were no large religious buildings, either, as the religion of the first settlers did not provide for rich, large temples.
The only thing scientists could establish from an analysis of Maldivian ancient traditions and customs was the genealogical tree of one of the early settlers in the Maldives. It is believed that he was a descendant of the Tamil. The territory of the ancient state of Tamilakam included the states of former India, but also some settlements were discovered as a result of excavations in both Maldives and Sri Lanka. Tamilakam reached its peak in the Sangam period (300 BC).
In the V-VII centuries, Persians and Arabs squeezed out of Tamilakam, India and Sri Lanka. Buddhism then continued to be practiced by the majority of the population. At the beginning of the 12th century, a major preacher of Islam (also an Arab) came to the Maldives from Tabriz, who was so active that he managed to convert almost all the inhabitants to a new religion. The preacher himself proclaimed himself a sultan by the name of Muhammad Ul-Abdala and became the forefather of a powerful dynasty that had maintained its leadership positions in the Maldives for a long time.
An ancient legend has survived, as if the capital of the Maldives was visited by a treacherous genie that regularly ate seven beautiful girls in the Male’. And after a loud reading of the Koran by a preacher for several nights, a dangerous spirit did not appear in the Maldives anymore.
The history of the Maldives would not have been complete without mentioning the European settlers on the islands. In 1558, belligerent Portuguese came to Male’ and built their fort in the captured capital. Their power did not last long: in 1573 the inhabitants of the Maldives destroyed the Portuguese colonizers and expelled their descendants. Some time later, the Dutch wanted to establish a government in the archipelago, but they also failed to break the free spirit of the indigenous and independent Maldivians.
In 1887, the protectorate over the Maldives was established by England. And in the next century, in 1959, a new separatist state appeared on several atolls — the United Republic of Suvadive (in honor of the archipelago of the same name). Its formation was the beginning of a new chapter of the islanders’ struggle for independence.
The Maldivians did not suffer from the power of Portugal and the Netherlands. Rebellion against English rule began in the Maldives in 1964. The airport was destroyed and the residence of the British administrator was seized. In 1965, Great Britain regained independence for the islands. At the same time, the Suvadive Archipelago was reunited with the rest of the Maldives. In 1968, a referendum was held in the country, according to the results of which the state became a republic.
In 1978, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom took office as President. He led the Republic of Maldives for six five-year terms without interruption, which gradually increased the political situation in the country. In 2004, the capital city of Male’ was the scene of mass unrest that forced the President to promise greater freedoms and democratic reforms. A year later, Gayoom permitted political parties, and by 2008 the first popular elections were scheduled, with several candidates for the Maldives’ leader.
This sequence of events in the life of the country has led to an original model of development for the Maldives. Tourists can be very interested in the cultural sights of the Maldives.
At the end of 2008, elections were indeed held in the Maldives. Mohamed Nasheed was the first elected national. He held office until 2012, when protests involving the police led to the resignation of the President. The reason for the riots was the arrest of the head of the country’s Criminal Court and the banning of spa centres at the state level. Mohamed Nasheed was eventually arrested along with the Maldivian Minister of Defence.
After the coup d’état, there was a slight lull. However, in 2018 (February), President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency in the Maldives for 14 days. At that time, the former political leader, Gayoom, was detained. Interestingly, Yamin is the only brother of Momun Abdullah.
The Constitution of 2008 is still in force in the Maldives. According to its provisions, the President is the head of the executive branch of government and leads the Cabinet of Ministers. He is elected by Parliament but has no general term limits. It has a multi-party system and local self-governance. The unicameral Parliament, the legislative branch, is elected for a term of five years and has 50 members, of whom only 8 are appointed by the President. The last parliamentary elections in the Maldives were held in 2005, when Ahmed Zahir became Speaker.
The Judiciary is represented by local courts, lower courts and the Supreme Court. Sunni Islamic law, which is an important chapter in the life of any Maldivian, is not weakened by secular norms. For example, freedom of speech and assembly is only guaranteed if there is no conflict with Sharia law. According to the 2014 study, the Maldives was ranked 7th in the list of states where Christian rights were being oppressed.
The current Maldives lives off of tourist services and fishing. The female part of the population is engaged in sewing clothes, making simple souvenirs, and the male part is engaged in production of boats and designing of buildings. Agriculture is growing slowly here, so most products are imported. Coconuts, yams, bananas and breadfruits are grown. The centre of agricultural activity is the island of Thoddoo, where papaya, cucumber, melon, eggplant and watermelon farms are located.
The country’s foreign trade is firmly established only with Thailand, Britain, France, Italy and Sri Lanka. In addition to fish, surprisingly, postage stamps are also available. In turn, oil, boats, food and clothing are imported from Singapore, Malaysia, India, and the Emirates.
Today, the population of the Maldives is descended from South Asia and the Middle East. The official language is Indo-Aryan or Dhivehi, but many people speak Arabic and English. Writing is based on the Arabic-Persian alphabet. Most people live in Male’, although some islands are still uninhabited. However, only 16 per cent of the population is below the poverty line.
If you want to visit this unique country, you can start choosing a hotel in the Maldives.