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Maldives A Culturally Unique Gem of The Indian Ocean

Maldives The first Fairmont luxury resort in Maldives

The island nation of Maldives celebrates its independence from the British protectorate on 26 July. The Maldives regained full sovereignty in 1965 and joined the UN. In 1968, three years after separating from Britain, the nation claimed an independent republic status and abolished the sultanate. Typical Independence Day celebrations include a parade by the National Security Services and the National Cadet Corps and performances and costumes by school children.

Geography and History

The archipelago of The Maldives consists of 1,190 islands contained within 26 coral atolls sprinkled over 90,000 sq. km of the Indian Ocean of South Asia, lying just near the equator between Sri Lanka and Seychelles. Only 200 of the flat, white-sand islands are inhabited. Additionally, no island rises above 7.8 ft. from sea level. Due to this, rising sea levels are a constant threat and concern for all people calling The Maldives home. Atolls in the northern part of the archipelago are drier than those in the southern part.

REPUBLIC OF MALDIVES

Capital Malé
Population 401,000 (2014)
Area 298 sq. km
Major Language (s) Dhivehi
Major Religion (s) Islam
Life Expectancy Male: 75.81 years ; Female:77.79 years
Currency Rufiyaa (MVR)
Literacy rate Youth 99.76%, Adults 99.31%
GDP Per Capita 7,635.5 USD (2014)

Of all things, The Maldives is known for its inspiring beauty. Glassy, blue waters and powder-white sandy beaches meet the eye wherever one turns. This has allowed for a healthy tourism industry to develop for the nation. Malé is the capital and most populous city. With more than 150,000 people packed into 5.8 sq. km it is one of the most densely populated islands in the world. The waters of The Maldives consist of several ecosystems. The plentiful coral reefs and sand bars contain over 1100 species of fish, 5 species of sea turtles, 21 species of whales and dolphins, 187 species of corals, 400 species of molluscs, and 83 species of echinoderms. There are also many species of crustaceans.

Society and People

The culture in The Maldives is a mixture of its Asian-Arab heritage. The islands were first inhabited by people from South Indian and Sri Lanka. Previously a Buddhist nation, Islam was introduced to the people in the 12th century and with it Arab culture. Now, Islam remains the main religion. Arabic and Islamic teachings are taught in the public schools. Religious freedom is not permitted in country and other religions are not tolerated. Only Muslims can become citizens, get married, own property and access public services.

Maldives Maldives Culture

The national language, Dhivehi, is an Indo- Aryan language with roots in the ancient language of Sanskrit and is not spoken anywhere else in the world. The alphabet was created in the 16th century after the end of Portuguese colonisation. It consists of 24 letters in the Thaana alphabet and it writes from right to left to accommodate the frequently used Arabic words that have been integrated into the Dhivehi language. Additionally, the various atolls have their own dialects. However, despite evident differences in ethnic heritage, the high rate of linguistic and religious commonality has encouraged social stability. English is widely spoken and in the tourism dense areas some people speak Japanese and European languages.

Family structure and life is typical of agro-based communities. In the atolls the men normally go to work, many if not most are fisherman, and the women care for the home and all the other communal responsibilities in the social, economic and political spheres. In Malé women largely participate in government and business and serve in both the cabinet and the parliament, in fact 25% of women employed in Malé held government positions. Historically, it was not uncommon for a sultana to be the ruler of the island. In the atolls women hold more domesticated positions and business consists of handicrafts and farming. In the city many women are employed in the sectors of education, health and welfare, services, tourism, transport, and communication. Surprisingly, The Maldives has had the highest rate of divorce in the world with many women many multiple times.

Traditional dress of Maldivians is modest, following their Islamic way of life. For women, a long-sleeved, ankle-length dress called a libaas, which is often red in colour with gold neck embroidery, is worn with a black and white stripped underskirt called a feyli. More recently, women have started wearing a dhigu hedhun, both casually and at formal events. For men, the traditional and still current dress is a cotton sarang and a light coloured shirt. Varying between the atolls, women wear their hair tied up in a bun on the right or left side of their head or they wear the traditional Muslim headscarf.

As one would have guessed, fish and coconut make up a large part of The Maldivian diet. Fish, predominately tuna, is eaten in a variety of ways and at any time of day. Foods served in tourist hotels and resorts are almost always imported. Maldivians love football and swimming and being physically active is encouraged in society along with hard work. Traditional dance can also be seen at special events.

Economy and Industry

International tourism drives the economy, accounting for at least 30 per cent of the GDP according to The Heritage Foundation. The primary sector after that is fishing. The primary manufacturer industries in The Maldives are fish processing, shipping, boat building and coconut processing. Most of the population works in agriculture, with coconuts, corn and sweet potatoes as the top products. Fish and clothing are the main exports. The FDI Inflow is approximately USD363 million and the current GDP growth rate is a 5 per cent.

Tourism

In February of this year tourism reached a record high with more than 120,000 people visiting the island nation. For 2015, the annual number of tourists was 1.2 million. Chinese tourists make up the bulk of those visiting The Maldives. In 2015 they made up 29.1 per cent of the tourist population. Germans were the second largest market at 8.5 per cent last year. The government launched the “Visit Maldives Year 2016” to build the tourism industry. The campaign aims to help reach the goal of 1.5 million visitors by the end of this year. Various activities within the country and internationally are taking place to strengthen the country’s image and position as a primary vacation spot.

The activities for tourists on The Maldives are endless. On any given day a visitor can choose to go dolphin or whale watching, scuba diving, go in a submarine, go fishing, take a sunset cruise, do water sports, tour is a seaplane, go snorkelling, go shopping, do yoga and fitness activities and golf. There are also tailored vacations for honeymooners, budget travellers, water sport enthusiasts, health and wellness and families. Due to the fact that it is an Islamic nation, Muslim travellers can also feel comfortable knowing most food options will be halal. The country has perhaps the most lenient visa policy when it comes to tourists. Any tourist from any country who has a valid passport can get a free 30-day visa upon arrival with no prior paperwork or planning needed. Additionally, the visa can be extended to a total of 90 days for a small fee.

In addition to the normal outstanding resorts, hotels and guesthouses, tourists can choose to stay on a “liveaboard”, a large, luxurious boat that provides accommodation and can be used for excursions. One such boat is the Nautilus Two, which can accommodate up to 24 guests and is 43 metres long. It is a wooden boat made in the traditional Maldivian building method and equipped with modern luxuries, making it strong and appealing to the eye. Also appealing to the eye is witnessing the “glowing” ostracod crustaceans, known as seed shrimp, on Mudhdhoo Island that wash up on the beach. This natural phenomena, which appears as blue-green waves that glow in the dark, is seen only by the luckiest and is likely one of the most beautiful sights one can behold in a lifetime.