General information about the Republic of Maldives
The Republic of Maldives (formerly called the Maldive Islands) is an island nation in the Indian Ocean south-southwest of India and approximately 700
kilometers south-west of Sri Lanka.
Its 26 atolls contain 1,192 islands,approximately 200 of which are inhabited and approximately 80 more are home to tourist resorts.
The location of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean
The country’s 26 natural atolls, which stretch over a distance of about 800 km north to south, are divided into 20 administrative atolls and one city. The
northern most atoll is Thiladhunmathi and the southern most is Addu.
The smallest atoll is Fua Mulaku with only one island (the largest island in the Maldives, approximately 8 sq km). The largest atoll in both the Maldives and
the world is Huvadhu which is just south of the One and a Half Degree Channel.
The city is the capital, Male, which occupies an entire island (1.7 x 1.1 km) near the middle of the chain. While the population of most islands varies
between a few hundred to a few thousand, Male has about 70,000 inhabitants, about one quarter of the country’s entire population.
Each atoll is administered by an Atoll Chief (Atholhu Veriyaa) appointed by the President. Atoll chiefs administer as directed 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 Ministry of Atolls Administration. The Island Chief's
immediate superior is the Atoll Chief.
The Maldives is the flattest country in the world, with a maximum elevation of only 2.3 metres and an average of between 1 and 2 metres. Although there
have been reports of rising sea levels threatening the islands, the sea level has actually lowered in recent decades.
The research of the famous explorer Thor Heyerdahl indicates that as early as 2000 BC the Maldives lay on the maritime trading routes of early Egyptian,
Mesopotamian, and Indus Valley civilizations.However, they were first settled in the 5th century BC by Buddhist seafarers from India and Sri Lanka. Islam was
first introduced into the country in AD 1127 by Arab-colonialist missionaries and was for a long time confined largely to the southern atolls. Later this spread
to the north as the tolerant Buddhist rulers of the realm, who were based in Malé, made no attempt to forcibly reconvert the new Muslims back to Buddhism.
In 1153 the islands became Portuguese then Dutch in 1654 and a British colonial possession in 1796. In 1965 Maldives declared its independence from
Britain and in 1968 the Sultanate became a Republic.
Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean
littorals and Mopla pirates from the Malabar Coast, present-day Kerala state in India, harassed the islands.
Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate for most of its history from 1153 to 1968, Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until 25 July
1965. There was a brief, abortive attempt to form a republic in 1953, but the sultanate was re-imposed.
After independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another 3 years. On 11 November 1968 it was abolished and replaced by a
republic and the country assumed its present name.
The present President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was first elected in 1978 and has retained power ever since. He survived a coup attempt that was foiled with
help of Indian troops in 1988.
The Maldivian economy was for many centuries, entirely dependent on fishing and other marine products; therefore fishing has been and still remains the
main occupation of the people. The government gives special priority to the development of the fisheries sector.
The mechanization of the traditional fishing dhoani in 1974 was a major milestone in the development of the fisheries industry and the country's economy in
general. Today, fisheries contribute over 15 percent of the GDP and engage about 30 percent of the country's work force. It is also the second-largest foreign
exchange earner after tourism.
The development of tourism has fostered the overall growth of the country's economy since the first resort island was established in 1972. It has created direct
and indirect employment and income generation opportunities in other related industries. Today, tourism is the country's biggest foreign exchange earner,
contributing to 20 percent of the GDP, with over 80 tourist resorts in operation and, before the 2004 tsunami, over 500,000 tourist arrivals annually.
The Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of the cultures of peoples who settled on the islands, southern Indians, Sri Lankans, East Africans and Arabs,
reinforced by religion and language.
Originally Buddhists, Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the mid-12th century. Islam is the official religion of the entire population. Strict
adherence to Islamic precepts and close community relationships have helped keep crime low and under control.
The official and common language is Divehi, an Indo-European language related to Sinhalese, the language of Sri Lanka. The written script is called
Thaana and is written from right to left. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools.
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. 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.
On 26 December 2004 the Maldives was devastated by a tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The absence of land mass against which
waves could be built up reduced the destructive impact, preventing the waves from reaching much more than 1.2 - 1.5 meters in height. Despite this, the
archipelago's low lying nature meant that nearly all of the country was swamped. At least 75 people perished, including six foreigners, and all infrastructure
was lost on 13 of the inhabited islands and 29 of the resort islands.
A view of our atoll from above. Note that the larger blue patches inside white borders are lagoons surrounded by shallow reefs. The
actual islands are the tiny grey spots.
Click here to return to Home Page