With such glorious beaches and ultra-luxurious resorts, it’s easy to leave with Maldives without much of a sense of what life is like beyond your little tropical island. I decided to dig a bit deeper and found some interesting facts about this tiny country!
1. Many historians believe the Maldives were ruled by Queens in ancient times
Although the earliest written history of the Maldives dates back to about 500 BC, the true history of the islands span far before that. According to legends that have been passed down orally, as well as writings by foreigners such as Arabian traveller al-Idrisi, Maldivian society was thought to be matriarchal (led by women), with queens ruling over the kingdom. The name of one of these queens, according to al-Idrisi, was Damahaar, who ruled during the Aadetta (Sun) Dynasty. The image to the left is one of the earliest ‘books’ found in the Maldives. It dates from the 12th century.
2. There is a strong Tamil influence
Due to the Maldives’ strong relationship to Islam (more on that later), many Divedhis (Maldivians) consider themselves closely related to the Arabs. However, academic study of the language – Divedhi – and parts of Maldivian culture show very strong Tamil influence. This is probably because it is thought that many fishermen arrived from Sri Lanka and north west India, settling and bringing their language and aspects of their culture (Hinduism and Buddhism originally).
3. The Maldives was known as “money island”
Although the Maldives is very small, it was an important trading post in years gone by. The Maldives was rich in cowry shells, which was an international currency thousands of years ago. Money literally washed up on Maldivian shores – a big contributor to how Islam came to be so important to the Maldives.
4. Islam arrived in the Maldives in the 12th Century
Before the 12th Century, the Maldives was influenced by the Buddhist and Hindu beliefs of settlers from Sri Lanka and India. However, in the 12th Century, Islam arrived – thought to be by Abu al Barakat, a Somalian scholar now referred to as ‘Saint’ or ‘Father’ in the Maldives. Legend has it he successfully turned a demon, Ranna Maari, back into the sea. After that, monks were executed and statues destroyed. Islam has endured strongly and underpins much of Maldivian society today, despite Portuguese attempts to convert the nation to Catholicism (this was all together unsuccessful). It is now mandated by the Constitution that all citizens of the Maldives must be Muslim.
5. Today, the Maldives is independent
Over the years, the Portuguese, Dutch and British have all exerted political influence or control over the Maldives, with varying degrees of success. The Portuguese attempts to convert Maldivians to Catholicism lasted just fifteen years before they were enthusiastically driven out. The Dutch were also involved during the mid-17th century, and then the British established the Maldives as a British protectorate after WW2. However, the Maldives achieved independence in 1968. There has been rapid economic improvement since tourism opened in approximately 1970, and most Maldivians today enjoy a good standard of living.