Welcome to a rich culture that embraces and celebrates its ancient heritage.
The Maldivian people have always had close ties to the seas that surround them. The first settlers may have reached here before the Christian era, blown to the islands on fishing boats from the coasts of Tamil Nadu in ancient India and Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka). However, it is the later waves of migration from the south coast of Sri Lanka that gave the country its language and Buddhism (superceded by Islam after AD 1153). It also provided the predominant ethnicity, with a later dash of Arab and Persian traders and East Africans completing the racial mix of the modern-day Maldivians.
Hardworking, but unhurried, playful and respectful, Maldivians have been able to blend tradition and modernity. Shy but beaming smiles are the Maldivians’ common response to visitors, they are a warm and welcoming people. Curious of outsiders, they prefer to observe newcomers from a distance at first before extending a gracious hospitality. Most live on tiny islands where everyone knows one another and tourists provide a happy diversion.
All Maldivians have open access to education, resulting in strikingly high literacy rates and a felicity with many languages. English is taught in most schools, so is spoken by many islanders; the indigenous language of Dhivehi (in script called Thaana) is spoken only in Maldives, so be sure to listen for this rarely-encountered native patois. Great respect is felt for the head of the national 'family' as well as for the head of each household. The family unit is strong. Many of the roughly 200 inhabited islands are overseen by a Katheeb, or Chief, who upholds local laws, reporting to an Atolhuveri, or atoll chief, who in turn reports to the authorities in the capital Malé. Reform of this age-old system of governance is now under way, with the powers devolving to the atolls.
Islam is the predominant religion in Maldives, it is in fact practiced exclusively, and five times a day finds the nation expressing religious devotion in prayer at one of the many mosques. Festivals give way to fun-loving, talented men and women singing and dancing. And the Islamic culture allows for venerable traditions, like continued respect for the spirits of the sky, land and sea.