Maldives

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Asia; Asian Countries

ދިވެހިރާއްޖޭގެ ޖުމުހޫރިއްޔާ
Republic of Maldives
Flag of Maldives Coat of arms of Maldives
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: None
Anthem:  Gavmii mi ekuverikan matii tibegen kuriime salaam
"In National Unity Do We Salute Our Nation"

Location of Maldives
Capital
(and largest city)
Malé
Official languages Dhivehi
Demonym Maldivian
Government Republic
 -  President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
Independence
 -  from the UK 26 July 1965 
Area
 -  Total 298 km² ( 204th)
115  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) negligible
Population
 -  July 2006 estimate 300,000 ( 176th1)
 -  2006 census 298,842  
 -  Density 1,105/km² ( 9th)
2,862/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 -  Total $2.569 billion ( 162nd)
 -  Per capita $7,675 ( 79th)
HDI (2007) 0.741 (medium) ( 100th)
Currency Rufiyaa ( MVR)
Time zone ( UTC+5)
Internet TLD .mv
Calling code +960
1 Rank based on UN estimate for 2005.

The Maldives (or Maldive Islands) (IPA: /ˈmɔlˌdaɪvz/ or IPA: /ˈmɔlˌdivz/), officially the Republic of Maldives, is an island nation consisting of a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives is located south of India's Lakshadweep islands, and about seven hundred kilometres (435  mi) south-west of Sri Lanka. The Maldives' twenty-six atolls encompass a territory featuring 1,192 islets, roughly two hundred of which are inhabited.

The name "Maldives" derives from Maale Dhivehi Raajje ("The Island Kingdom [under the authority of] Malé")." Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands", or from mahila dvipa, meaning "island of women", but these names are not found in ancient Sanskrit literature. Instead, classical Sanskrit texts mention the "Hundred Thousand Islands" ( Lakshadweepa); a generic name which would include not only the Maldives, but also the Laccadives and the Chagos island groups. Some medieval Arab travellers such as Ibn Batuta called the islands "Mahal Dibiyat" from the Arabic word Mahal ("palace")" . This is the name presently inscribed in the scroll of the Maldive state emblem.

The inhabitants were Buddhist, probably since Ashoka's period, in the 3rd century BC. Islam was introduced in 1153. The Maldives came then under the influence of the Portuguese (1558) and the Dutch (1654) seaborne empires. And in 1887 it became a British protectorate. In 1965, the Maldives obtained independence from Britain (originally under the name "Maldive Islands"), and in 1968 the Sultanate was replaced by a Republic.

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

History

Comparative studies of the Maldivian oral tradition suggest that the first settlers were Dravidian people from the nearest coasts, probably fishermen from the southwest coasts of the Indian Subcontinent and the western shores of Sri Lanka.

Maldives is made up of a chain of 1192 small coral islands that are grouped into clusters of atolls
Maldives is made up of a chain of 1192 small coral islands that are grouped into clusters of atolls

Buddhism came to the Maldives at the time of Emperor Ashoka's expansion and became the dominant religion of the people of the Maldives until the 12th century AD.

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on the 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. He studied the ancient mounds, called havitta or ustubu (these names are derived from chaitiya or stupa) ( Mahl: ހަވިއްތަ) by the Maldivians, which are found on many of the atolls.

Although Bell asserted that the ancient Maldivians followed Theravada Buddhism, many local Buddhist archaeological remains now in the Malé Museum display in fact Mahayana and Vajrayana iconography.

According to a legend from the Maldivian Folklore, a prince named Koimala from India or Sri Lanka entered the Maldives from the North (Ihavandhu) and became the first king from the House of Theemuge. Prior to that the Maldives had been settled by people of Dravidian origin from the nearest coasts, like the group today known as the Giravaaru who claim ancestry from ancient Tamils. It is unlikely that the Giraavaru islanders were the only early settlers in the Maldives. The importance they have been given is because they are mentioned in the legend about the establishment of the capital and kingly rule in Malé. The Giraavaru people were just one of the island communities predating Buddhism and the arrival of a Northern Kingly dynasty and the establishment of centralized political and administrative institutions.

The ancient Maldivian Kings promoted Buddhism and the first Maldive writings and artistic achievements in the form of highly developed sculpture and architecture are from that period. The conversion to Islam is mentioned in the ancient edicts written in copper plates from the end of the 12th century AD. There is also a locally well-known legend about a foreign saint (Persian or Moroccan according to the versions) who subdued a demon known as Rannamaari.

Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors and traders from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Until relatively recent times, Mappila pirates from the Malabar Coast – present-day Kerala state in India – harassed the islands.

Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate from 1153 to 1968, the 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 centralism, the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls protested against the government. They formed the United Suvadive Republic and elected, Abdullah Afeef as president and Hithadhoo as capital of this republic.

After independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another three years under King Muhammad Fareed. On November 11, 1968, the monarchy was abolished and replaced by a republic, although this was a cosmetic change without any significant alteration in the structures of government. The official name of the country was changed from Maldive Islands to the Maldives in a progressive manner. Tourism began to be developed on the archipelago about five years later, by the beginning of the 1970s.

In November 1988, a group of Maldivians headed by Mr. Lutfee a small time businessman used Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka to stage a coup against President Gayyoom. After an appeal by the Maldivian government for help, the Indian military intervened against the mercenaries in order to reinstate Gayyoom in power. 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 the 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 earthquake">2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Only nine islands were reported to have escaped any flooding, while fifty-seven islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, fourteen islands had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were decimated. A further twenty-one 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 six 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

Typical Maldives market
Typical Maldives market

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

In ancient times the Maldives were renowned for the 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 transport them to other harbours in the Indian Ocean.

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

Fisheries

A dhoni without lateen sails.
A dhoni without lateen sails.

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 the 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

Presidential Office in Malé
Presidential Office in Malé
Muleeaage (Former Presidental Palace in Malé)
Muleeaage (Former Presidental Palace in Malé)
Mosque in Hulhumalé
Mosque in Hulhumalé

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 is confirmed by national referendum.

The unicameral Majlis of the Maldives is composed of fifty members serving five-year terms. Two 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 thirty-six members of the existing parliament joined the Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (the 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 fifty 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 - Malé) 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 Hitam 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 Roadmap provides the deadline of 31 May 2007 for the Assembly to conclude its work and to pave the way for the first multi-party 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.

The political structure of the Maldives has remained practically unchanged for centuries. Despite the passage from Monarchy to republic, the contemporary political structure shows a continuity with the feudal past in which power was shared among a few families at the top of the social structure. In some islands, the offices have remained within the same family for generations. The village is ruled by an administrative officer called Katību, who serves as the executive headman of the island. Above the Katībus of every atoll is the AtoỊuveriya (Atoll Chief). The power of these local chiefs is very limited and they take few responsibilities. They are trained to report to the government about the situation in their islands and to merely wait for instructions from the central power and to follow them thoroughly.

Judiciary

Al 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 world's first Muslim criminal code. 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.

Meanwhile, Islam remains the only official religion of The Maldives, with the open practice of all other religions being forbidden.

The Maldives and the Indian Ocean Commission

Satellite Image of the Maldives by NASA. Note that the southern most Atoll of the Maldives, Addu Atoll, is not visible on the image.
Satellite Image of the Maldives by NASA. Note that the southern most Atoll of the Maldives, Addu Atoll, is not visible on the image.

Since 1996, the 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 Cooperation, 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, who 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

The Maldives has twenty-six natural atolls, which have been divided into twenty-one administrative divisions (twenty administrative atolls and Malé city).

In addition to a name, every administrative division is identified by the Maldivian code letters, such as " Haa Alif" for Thiladhunmati Uthuruburi (Thiladhunmathi North); and by a Latin code letter.

The first corresponds to the geographical Maldivian name of the atoll. The second is a code adopted for convenience. It began in order to facilitate radio communication between the atolls and the central administration. As there are certain islands in different atolls that have the same name, for administrative purposes this code is quoted before the name of the island, for example: Baa Funadhoo, Kaafu Funadhoo, Gaafu-Alifu Funadhoo. Since most Atolls have very long geographical names it is also used whenever the name of the atoll has to be quoted short, for example in the atoll website names.

This code denomination has been very much abused by foreigners who didn't understand the proper use of these names and have ignored the Maldivian true names in publications for tourists. Maldivians may use the letter code name in colloquial conversation, but in serious geographic, historical or cultural writings, the true geographical name always takes precedence. The Latin code letter is normally used in boat registration plates. The letter stands for the atoll and the number for the island.

Each atoll is administered by an Atoll Chief (Atholhu Veriyaa) appointed 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.

The introduction of code-letter names has been a source of much puzzlement and misunderstandings, especially among foreigners. Many people have come to think that the code-letter of the administrative atoll is its new name and that it has replaced its geographical name. Under such circumstances it is hard to know which is the correct name to use.

Geography

Maldive reefs
Maldive reefs

The 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 centimetres (8  in). The ocean is likely to continue rising and this threatens the existence of Maldives.

The first accurate maritime charts of this complex Indian Ocean atoll group were the British Admiralty Charts. In 1834-36 Capt. Robert Moresby, assisted by Lieutenants Christopher and Young, undertook the difficult cartography of the Maldive Islands. The resulting charts were printed as three separate large maps by the Hydrographic Service of the Royal Navy.

A tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake caused parts of the 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.

Demographics

Malé, the capital of the Maldives.
Malé, the capital of the Maldives.

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 and Sri Lanka.

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. Traditionally, instead of a complex caste system, like the Vedic one, there was merely a distinction between noble (bēfulhu) and common people in the Maldives. 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.

A census has been recorded since 1905, which shows that the population of the country remained around 100,000 for the first seventy years 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.

The Maldives has one of the highest birth rates in the world. The result is that many islands have become overpopulated and are completely covered by homesteads. Hence the country is becoming less self-sufficient by the day.

As of July 2006, more than 50,000 foreign employees live in the country. They comprise mainly of people from the neighbouring South Asian countries of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

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-seven tourist resorts in operation. The year 2006 recorded 467,154 tourist arrivals.The first tourist resorts were opened in 1972 with Bandos island resort and Kurumba Village.

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