Maldives

Location: Asia
Status: UN Country
Capital City: Malé
Population: 241,000
Area: 300 km2
Currency: 1 Maldivian rufiyaa = 100 laari
Languages: Divehi
Religions: Sunni Muslim

Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is an island nation consisting of a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives are located south of India's Lakshadweep islands, and about seven hundred kilometers (435 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka. The twenty-six atolls encompass a territory featuring 1,192 islets, roughly two hundred of which are inhabited by people. The country's name may stand for "Mountain Islands" (malai in Tamil, meaning "mountain" and teevu in Tamil meaning "island") or it may mean "a thousand islands". Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands", or from "mahila dvipa", meaning "island of women". Others believe the name means "palace" (from Mahal in Arabic).

Following the introduction of Islam in 1153, the islands later became a Portuguese (1558), Dutch (1654), and British (1887) colonial possession. In 1965, Maldives obtained independence from Britain (originally under the name "Maldive Islands"), and in 1968 the Sultanate was replaced by a Republic. However, in 38 years, the Maldives have had only two Presidents, though political restrictions have loosened somewhat recently.

Maldives is the smallest Asian country in terms of population. It is also the smallest predominantly Muslim nation in the world.

History

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins.

By the fourth century AD, Theravada Buddhism came from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and became the dominant religion of the people of Maldives. Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands". Also "Mal" is fish "deeb" is land is also a favored suggestion by many islanders.

In the mid-1980s, the Maldivian government allowed the noted explorer and expert on early marine navigation, Thor Heyerdahl, to excavate ancient sites. Heyerdahl studied the ancient mounds, called hawitta by the Maldivians, found on many of the atolls. Some of his archaeological discoveries of stone figures and carvings from pre-Islamic civilizations are today exhibited in a side room of the small National Museum in Male'.

Heyerdahl's research indicates that as early as 2000 BC, Maldives lay on the maritime trading routes of early Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus Valley civilizations. Heyerdahl believes that early sun-worshipping seafarers, called the Redin, first settled on the islands. This was evident then in many mosques facing the sun and not Mecca, lending credence to this theory. Because building space and materials were scarce, successive cultures constructed their places of worship on the foundations of previous buildings. Heyerdahl thus surmises that these sun-facing mosques were built on the ancient foundations of the Redin culture temples. Heyerdahl's early mosques have now in large part been converted to face Mecca, as Islam gained solidarity in Maldives, in the earlier half of the modern Republic.

According to Maldivian legend, a Sinhalese prince named Koimala was stranded with his bride – daughter of the king of Sri Lanka – in a Maldivian lagoon and stayed on to rule as the first sultan from the House of Theemuge. Prior to that Malé had belonged to a group of people today known as the Giravaaru who claim ancestry from ancient Tamils (Tamilas).

The Maldivians followed Buddhism before they converted to Islam and the conversion is explained in a controversial mythological story about the demon Rannamaari.

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. Mappila 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 July 25, 1965. In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt to form a republic, but the sultanate was re-imposed. In 1959, objecting to Nasir's changes, the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls protested against the government. They formed the United Suvadive Republic and elected a president, Abdulla Afeef Didi.

After independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another three years. On November 11, 1968, it was abolished and replaced by a republic, and the country assumed its present name. Tourism and fishing are now being developed on the archipelago.

In November 1988, Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka invaded the Maldives. After an appeal by the Maldivian government for help, India launched a military campaign to throw the mercenaries out of Maldives. On the night of November 3, 1988, the Indian Air Force airlifted a parachute battalion group from Agra and flew them non-stop over 2,000 kilometres (1,240 mi) to 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.

On 26 December 2004 the Maldives were devastated by a tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Only 9 islands were reported to have escaped any flooding, while 57 islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, 14 islands had to be totally evacuated, and 6 islands were decimated. A further 21 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 6 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 14 feet high.

Economy

Current GDP per capita of Maldives registered a peak growth of 26.5% in the 1980s and stabilised around 11.5% in the 1990s.

Tourism and Fisheries form the two key components of Maldivian economy. The country's shipping, banking and manufacturing sectors are also growing at a considerable pace. Among the South Asian nations, Maldives has the second highest per-capita GDP at 3,900 USD (2002 figure). Major trading partners include India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Fisheries
The Maldivian economy was entirely dependent on fishing and other marine products for many centuries. 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 Maldives for fisheries has further enhanced the growth of the fisheries sector. Today, fisheries contribute over fifteen percent of the GDP and engage about thirty percent of the country's work force. It is also the second-largest foreign exchange earner after tourism.

Cottage industries
The development of the tourism sector gave a major boost to the country's fledging 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.

Politics

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. The President is nominated to a five-year term by a secret ballot of the Majlis (parliament), a nomination which must be confirmed by national referendum.

The unicameral Majlis of the Maldives is composed of fifty members serving five-year terms. Two male members from each atoll are elected directly by universal suffrage. 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. Nearly 36 members of the existing parliament joined the Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (which translates to Maldivian People's Party) and elected President Gayoom as its leader. Twelve members of parliament became the Opposition and joined the Maldivian Democratic Party. Two members remained independent. In March 2006, President Gayoom published a detailed Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, providing time-bound measures to write a new Constitution, and modernise 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 50 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 - Male') 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 Hitham 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 call for an Orange Revolution on 10 November by MDP is seen as a mistake by many observers and even supporters, leading to fragmentation of the party and alienation of the members of the public. According to the registrar of parties, the DRP is the largest party in the country with over 35,000 card carrying members while the MDP, the second largest party, has 14,000.

The Roadmap provides the deadline of 31 May 2007 for the Assembly to conclude its work and to pave the way for the first multiparty elections in the country by October 2008.

On 19 June 2006, the Assembly voted to hold a public referendum to decide the form of government under the new constitutional settlement.

Judiciary

Ustaz Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim from Fuvahmulah is the present chief justice of Maldives. All judges in the Maldives are appointed by the president. Islamic law is the basis of all judicial decisions.

The Maldives have, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), undertaken to write the first Muslim criminal code in the history of the world. 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.

Maldives and the Indian Ocean Commission

Since 1996, 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 founder member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, 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 Seychelles and Mauritius, whom 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 Territory, pointing out that under international law, the sovereignty of the Chagos archipelago rests with the UK, with whom negotiations were started in 1991.

Administrative divisions

Maldives has twenty-six natural atolls which have been divided into twenty administrative atolls and one city. ] The northern most atoll is Haa Alif Atoll and the southern most is Seenu Atoll. The smallest atoll is Gnaviyani Atoll with only one island (the largest island in Maldives). The largest atoll in both Maldives and the whole world is Gaafu Alif Atoll which is just south of the One and a Half Degree Channel.

Each atoll is administered by an Atoll Chief (Atholhu Veriyaa) appointed by the President (Maumoon Abdul Gayoom). 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 President. The Island Chief's immediate superior is the Atoll Chief.

Geography

Maldives holds the record for being the flattest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.3 m (7½ ft), though in areas where construction exists this has been increased to several metres. Over the last century, sea levels have risen about twenty centimeters (8 in). The ocean is likely to continue rising and this threatens the existence of Maldives.

A tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake caused parts of Maldives to be covered by sea water and left many people homeless. After the disaster, cartographers are planning to redraw the maps of the islands due to alterations by the tsunami. The people and government are worried that the Maldives could be wiped from the map eventually.

Demographics

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. Indo-Aryan speakers followed them from Sri Lanka in the fourth and fifth centuries. In the 12th century, sailors from the Malayan Archipelago, East Africa and Arab countries inhabited the islands, creating the present heterogeneous blend of ethnicity amongst Maldivians.

Originally Buddhis, Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the mid-twelfth century. Islam is the official religion of the entire population, as adherence to it is required for citizenship.

The official and common language is Dhivehi, 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 along lines similar to the Indian caste system 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.

Census has been recorded since 1905, which shows that the population of the country remained around 100,000 for the first 7 decades of the last century. Following independence in 1965, the health status of the population improved so much that the population doubled by 1978, and the population growth rate peaked at 3.4% in 1985. By 2005, 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 enrolment stands in the high 90s.

In addition to the ethnic Maldivians, more than 50 000 (2006 july ) foreign employees live in the country. They comprise mainly of people from the neighbouring South Asian countries of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Culture

Maldivian culture is derived from a number of sources and factors. These include its proximity to Sri Lanka and South India, East Africa, the Malayan Archipelago and the Middle East via its conversion to Islam in the 12th century, and its location as a crossroads in the central Indian Ocean. Maldivians are of Sri Lankan and Southern Indian origin. There are also elements of Arabian, African, and Indonesian origin as well. Maldivian culture shares many aspects with Sri Lanka and Kerala, namely a strong matriarchal tradition.

The music of the Maldives, such as Bodu-Beru (literally "Big Drum"), showcase their African roots, and other cultural activities resemble similarity to those of Arab and North Indian regions.

A unique feature of Maldivian society is a very high divorce rate by either South Asian or Islamic standards, which demonstrates the high degree of autonomy that Maldivian women have over their lives.

The Maldives is an almost exclusively Islamic society. It is common to hear Maldivians refer to their country as a "100 percent Muslim country." But the isolation of Maldives from the historical centers of Islam in the Middle East and Asia has allowed some pre-Islamic beliefs and attitudes to survive.

There is a widespread belief in jinns, or evil spirits. For protection against such evils, people often resort to various charms and spells. The extent of these beliefs has led some observers to identify a magico-religious system parallel to Islam known as fanditha, which provides a more personal way for the islanders to deal with either actual or perceived problems in their lives. However this is a dying tradition that can be seen in only rural areas.

Tourism

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. Today, tourism is the country's biggest foreign exchange earner, contributing to twenty percent of the GDP. With eighty-six tourist resorts in operation, the year 2000 recorded 467,154 tourist arrivals.

Source: Wikipedia

 

 

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