History & Culture
Although archeological finds indicate that the Maldives was inhabited as early as 1500 BC, much of the country’s origin is lost in history – most of which is as much folklore and myth as fact.
It is believed that the most important factor that contributed to the settlement of people in the Maldives is its geographical location. Massive ruins and other archeological remains found in the atolls and islands bordering the Equatorial Channel and the One and a Half Degree Channel in the sound, bear testimony to the fact that people of antiquity had indeed come upon the country during their travels. It is believed that permanent settlements were established around 500 BC by Aryan immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. Many customs, traditional practices and superstitious beliefs that still prevail in the country also attest to the influence of the early Dravidian culture of the Maldives.
Although it is most probable that early Maldivians were Buddhists or Hindus migrating from the Indian subcontinent, the archeologist Thor Heyerdahl, who carried out extensive archeological research in the Maldives and has contributed significantly to the theories of the origins of the country, stated that some of the figures unearthed from ancient mounds bore a striking resemblance to figures he had investigated on Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. Many of these theories, however, are still a matter of controversy.
grave stoneThe accounts of travelers, who had stopped over (for supplies and because of shipwrecks) as the Maldives is located along the ancient marine trade routes from the West to the East, also serve as useful guides to the history of these small islands. Among these travelers were the Chinese historian Ma Huan and the famous Arab traveler Ibn Batuta. It is also understood that the Maldivians themselves ventured far beyond their own shores; Pliny, for example, states that Maldivian emissaries bore gifts to the Roman Emperor.
Islam – the present state religion of the Maldives is believed to have come to the country from the Arab traders for whom the Maldives became an important stop on their way to the Far East. The legend of how the predominantly Buddhist Maldives converted to a 100% Muslim nation is still a most popular one albeit a matter of recent controversy. Popular belief is that a Moroccan scholar and traveler, Abu Barakaat Yusuf Al-Barbaree was responsible for the advent of Islam in the country; however another version credits a renowned scholar from Tabriz – Sheikh Yusuf Shamsuddin.
Since very early times, the Maldives has remained famous for two main products – sea shells and tuna. During the time when the cowrie shell (cyprea moneta) was prized as a form of currency in many areas of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, large quantities of cowrie shells were exported from the country to many parts of the world. Foreign traders would stop over bringing rice, spices and luxury items in exchange for shiploads of cowrie. Maldive fish, which keeps for a long time without any change to its flavour or texture, was also very popular among traders who stopped over at the Maldives. It was an ideal source of protein for carrying on long voyages and its rarity rendered it a prized delicacy in most parts of the Indian subcontinent, where it remains a major ingredient in many dishes even today.
Although the Maldives was by far and large a quiet, peaceful port for traders, the tranquility of the islands was often disturbed by pirates and superpowers of the day. Though her brave sons saved the Maldives from most of the attackers and invaders in a very short time, the Portuguese invaded and reigned in the country for a period of fifteen years before they were overthrown by Maldivian heroes. A French sailor – Francois Pyrard de Laval, who was shipwrecked in the Maldives and stayed on for five years, recounts the events of this time in his chronicles.
In 1887, the Maldives became a British protectorate – in an unusual arrangement where the British ensured the defence of the Maldives yet were not involved in any way with the governing of the country. This close relationship with the British ensured a period of peace and freedom from foreign interference. During the Second World War, the British had forward bases in the north and south of the archipelago and in 1957 the Royal Air Force – RAF established a base in the island of Gan in Addu Atoll. This airbase was closed in 1967.
The Maldives gained fully independent status on July 26, 1965 and later changed the government from a Monarchy to a Republic on November 11, 1968.
Are you considering a vacation in the Maldives? Or, perhaps a destination wedding? You may simply be looking for a wonderful place for a family getaway. Regardless of why you want to travel to the Maldives you will certainly want to know all you can about this island nation, especially regarding the languages spoken in the Maldives.
maldives languageThe country’s primary language is Dhivehi. Interestingly enough, Dhivehi is a unique mixture of Arabic, English, Hindi, Sinhalese and Urdu. Hence it is similar to many of the languages spoken in North India, South East Asia, and Sri Lanka. Though there are a few dialects of Dhivehi spoken in the Maldives, formal Dhivehi is used in education and all government transactions.
Of course, since tourism is a major industry in the country, almost all popular international languages are such as English, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese are widely spoken, especially at the hotels and resorts. Most travelers will easily find someone who can communicate with them fluently.
The culture of the Maldives is influenced by different visitors who arrived in Maldives throughout the times. We can see Indian, Sri Lankan, Arabian, Persian, Indonesian, Malaysian, and African cultural traits. The Maldives is located at an important crossroad in the Indian Ocean and the visitors have left their marks. However, acting as a melting point the Maldives assimilated these influences and has created a unique cultural identity.
Maldives being at an important crossroad in the Indian Ocean, traders and visitors over time have left their mark on Maldivian cuisine in addition to contributing towards the moulding of the country’s culture and norms.
As the Maldives comprises more sea than land, it is only natural that fish (mainly tuna) have always been the most prominent element of Maldivian food. However, with travelers from different parts of the world, new seasonings and vegetables were introduced in to the country and added to the existing (limited) repertoire of seafood and tubers (e.g. taro & sweet potato). Each new discovery was incorporated into the diet in quantities most palatable to Maldivians. Thus Maldivian cuisine now comprises Arabic, Indian, Sri Lanka and Oriental tastes blended into a unique cuisine that embodies a culinary identity of its own.
Diverse international cuisine including Indian, Thai, oriental, Middle Eastern and continental are available in the resorts. Most resorts have more than one restaurant for you to choose from. If what you have in mind is only a light snack then coffee shops in resorts would be the ideal choice. If you are holidaying on one of the many liveaboard vessels operating in the Maldives then many of these too have restaurants while some may offer set menus. However, even those that offer set menus are unlikely to disappoint you. Resorts and liveaboard vessels also offer you a wide range of alcoholic beverages and pork dishes which are both items prohibited by religion and law for the Maldivians and hence not served in inhabited islands.
Eating in the capital Malé would be a very different experience. The hotels, restaurants and most guesthouses serve western and eastern specialties in addition to continental and a few local dishes. The cafés – locally known as hotaa is the best place if you would like to savour the local tastes. You must not leave the Maldives before trying out at least a few of the Maldivian short eats known locally as hedhika. Many of these are unique to the Maldives and come in sweet, sour and spicy varieties.
Here you will find a glossary of some common culinary terms of the Maldives and a few recipes that would introduce you to Maldivian food – including drinks, hedhika, curries and salads. You can have fun trying out these recipes which are guaranteed to tingle your taste buds with tastes that are uniquely Maldivian.