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The Republic of Maldives
Information from the President's Office of the Republic of Maldives
Name:
the Republic of Maldives

NATIONAL SYMBOLS OF THE MALDIVES

National Flag

The colors green, red and white characterize the Maldivian National flag: The green rectangle, which represents the innumerable palm trees, the life source of the islands, is surrounded by red, the blood of the nation’s martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the nation, and is dominated by a white crescent in the centre – the symbol of Islamic faith.

National Emblem

The crescent, a star, a coconut palm, two national flags and a banner with the traditional title of the state “ Ad–Dawlat Al–Mahaldheebiyya” (“The State of the Maldives”) represent the National emblem.

National Tree

Maldivians have done the beneficial coconut palm justice by declaring it the National Tree in 1985. All parts of it can and are used; there is no waste. Its leaves/branches are used as material for the roofs. The product, cadjan, is widely used for roofing the bungalows at the newly built resorts. The branches are also used for making local brooms, essential for the daily sweeping of the roads and yards in the islands. On special occasions you can admire huge fish or other objects and decorations made out of these branches – an art form in itself.

The fruit itself is an essential part of Maldivian cuisine, the juice of a young fruit “kurumba”, is a delicious, refreshing drink. The ripe coconut is used with dried fish, in short eats or as coconut milk. Coconut shells are a good source of fuel keeping a fire burning for a long time and on the islands you can still find specially made irons heated by these shells.

National Flower

The pink rose was declared the National Flower in 1985. It is a rare beauty – just like the country it represents.
 

HISTORY, CULTURE AND LANGUAGE

Early Settlers

Legend has it that a prince and his wife, the daughter of the King of today’s Sri Lanka, stopped at Raa Atoll during a voyage and were invited to stay as rulers.

Later King Koimala and his wife settled in Malé with permission of the Giraavaru tribe, the aboriginal tribe of Kaafu atoll. Nowadays Giraavaru people are still easily recognisable through their clothes and hairstyle, but only a few hundred of them are left and were resettled in Malé in 1978. Their island, Giraavaru has been transformed into a tourist resort. Aryans from India and Sri Lanka are believed to have settled in the Maldives from 1500 BC onwards - according to latest archaeological findings. “Elu”, an archaic form of Sinhala (spoken in Sri Lanka) shows great similarities to Dhivehi. As a favourite stop-over on the busy trade routes, the Maldives have had many visitors and influences, trading with Arabia, China and India with coconut, dried fish and above all the precious cowry shell, a small white shell found on the beach, used as currency in countries near the Indian Ocean. These shells were found as far away as Norway or West Africa showing the extent of the trade relations of the Maldives.

Conversion to Islam

Mohamed Ibn Batuta, a Moroccan traveller who visited the Maldives in the 14th century recorded an interesting legend on how the country converted to Islam. Abul Barakaath Yoosuf Al Barbary, an Islamic scholar, visited the Maldives during a time when people lived in fear of the “Rannamaari”, a sea-demon, who came out of the sea once a month threatening to destroy everything unless a virgin was sacrificed. The unfortunate young girls were chosen by lot, had to stay in a temple near the seashore and were found raped and dead in the morning. The daughter of the house he was staying at had been selected to be the victim and he decided to save her. Disguised as a girl he spent the night in the temple reciting continuously from the Holy Quran. In the morning when people went to find out the fate of the chosen girl they were amazed to find him alive and still reciting the Quran. When the King found out that the demon had been defeated through the power of the Holy Quran he embraced Islam and ordered all the subjects to follow him.

Maldivian Heroes

The Portuguese had a keen interest in the Maldives due to the availability of cowry shells, and ambergris, an important ingredient in perfumes, and had been approached by the formerly expelled Sultan, Hassan IX to help him regain his throne. Three attempts were repelled mainly due to Ali Rasgefaanu, who proved to be a brave and tough fighter. He became Sultan Ali VI but only for a few months as he was killed during another Portuguese attack, dying a martyr’s death. His tomb, built at the very spot where he died in the sea is now on dry land due to the reclamation of land in Malé. Martyr’s day, a public holiday, has been devoted to him. The next 15 years saw the darkest period in Maldivian history, when the Portuguese tried to enforce Christianity upon the islanders. Mohamed Thakurufaanu and his two brothers from the island of Utheemu, used a form of guerilla warfare for eight long years, during which one of the brothers was caught and beheaded. Their strategy was to land on an island at night, kill the Portuguese in a surprise attack and sail off before dawn. Thakurufaanu sought the help of the Malabari, killed the Portuguese leader Andreas Andre, locally known as Andiri Andirin, and recaptured Malé. He was made Sultan and reigned for 12 years forming a trained standing army, introducing coins, improving trade and religious observance and founding a dynasty that lasted for 132 years.

The British Protectorate

On December 16, 1887 the Sultan of the Maldives signed a contract with the British Governor of Ceylon turning the Maldives into a British protectorate. The British government promised the Maldives military protection and non-interference in local administration in exchange for an annual tribute paid by the Maldives. In 1957 the British established a RAF base in the strategic southernmost atoll of Addu for £2000 a year, where hundreds of locals were employed. 19 years later the British government decided to give up the base, as it was too expensive to maintain.

Independence

The Maldives gained independence on July 26, 1965.Three years later a republic was declared with Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir as the first president. In 1978 President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became president and has been re-elected thrice since then.A coup attempt in 1988 by Sri Lankan mercenaries was successfully repelled. Small as it is the Maldives has always maintained independence and a strong unity despite influences and threats from outside. They are now an internationally renowned country, a member of the UN, WHO, SAARC, Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement and others and play an important role in advocating the security of small nations and the protection of the environment.

Ethnicity

The origins of the Maldivian people are shrouded in mystery. The First settlers may well have been from Sri Lanka and Southern India. Some say Aryans, who sailed in their reed boats from Lothal in the Indus Valley about 4,000 years ago, probably followed them. Archeological evidence suggests the existence Hinduism and Buddhism before the country embraced Islam in 1153 A.D.Not surprisingly, the faces of today’s Maldivian display the features of various faces that inhabit the lands around the Indian Ocean shipping and maritime routes, the Maldives has long been a melting pot for African, Arab and South East Asian mariners.

Language

The language of the Maldivians is Dhivehi, a language which is placed in the Indro-Indian group of languages. Dhivehi with its roots in Sanskrit and according to some researchers Elu, an ancient form of Sinhala, (spoken in Sri Lanka), is strongly influenced by the major languages of the region. The language has been influenced heavily from Arabic since the advent of the Islam in 1153 and English in more recent times, especially since the introduction of English as a medium of education in the early 1960s.

Given the wide dispersion of islands it is not surprising that the vocabulary and pronunciation vary from atoll to atoll, with the difference being more significant in the dialects spoken in the southernmost atolls.

The Maldivian script known as thaana was invented during the 16th century soon after the country was liberated from Portuguese rule. Unlike former scripts thaana is written from right to left. This was devised to accommodate Arabic words that are frequently used in Dhivehi. There are 24 letters in the thaana alphabet.

CLIMATE AND WEATHER

In a nation with less than one percent land and over 99 percent sea, the weather obviously plays a significant role in day-to-day life. For a long time Maldivians have organized their lives based on a system on nakaiy. Each nakaiy is 13 or 14 days long and is divided into two seasons; iruvai northest monsoon and hulhangu south west monsoon. The nakaiy calendar is still used to determine such things as the best time for fishing, travel or planting crops.

The Maldives has a tropical climate with warm temperatures year round and a great deal of sunshine. The warm tropical climate results in relatively minor variations in daily temperature throughout the year. The hottest month on average is April and the coolest, December. The weather is determined largely by the monsoons.

There is a significant variation in the monthly rainfall levels. February is the driest with January to April being relatively dry, May and October records the highest average monthly rainfall. The southwest monsoon or hulhangu from May to September is the wet season. Rough seas and strong winds are common during this period. The northeast monsoon iruvai falls between December to April. This is a period of clear skies, lower humidity and very little rain. The Maldives is in the equatorial belt and therefore severe storms and cyclones are extremely rare events. However the country is affected whenever cyclones form in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea. The spiraling clouds of the weather systems appear over the Maldives causing spells of rain.

ECONOMY

The Maldives has adjusted to the challenges of the modern world with laudable agility and success. Since 1980, the country has seen rapid economic growth, averaging 8 percent per annum, largely based on the fast development of fisheries and tourism. Such growth has been accompanied by considerable gains in human welfare. Life expectancy has risen to 71 years, and the literacy rate to over 98 percent. A liberal economic policy has allowed the private sector to prosper and to participate fully in national development.

The Maldives can also be proud of its social harmony. A healthy civil society, based on family values, active non-governmental organisations, professional bodies, ward councils and island committees, are contributing to the Maldives' enduring political stability and economic vibrancy.

POLITICS

The Maldives is a republic, with an Executive President elected for a term of five years. Members of the legislative assembly, the People’s Majlis, are elected every five years. Two members are elected from Male’, and from each of the twenty administrative atolls, and eight members are appointed by the President. As of 1 January 1998, a revised Constitution, with a stronger focus on civil liberties, decentralisation, transparency and accountability has been in force.

As a small country, the Maldives faces many developmental constraints. However, careful planning and foresight coupled with a flourishing private sector and overseas assistance, has made the Maldives a land of opportunity for those with energy, enthusiasm and enterprise. With its youthful population and a buoyant economy, the Maldives looks to the future with confidence and optimism.
 
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