All About Maldives
White Sand, Turquoise Water
The islands of Maldives persuade tourists with the promise of ‘the most beautiful place on earth’. If your idea of paradise is white sand beaches with crystal clear, turquoise waters glistening, tropical gardens exploding in beautiful color and picture perfect sunsets igniting the sky, then the Maldives will never let you down. The Maldives is also a major destination for scuba divers, who come for the magnificent coral reefs and the stunning marine life.
What Has Been Said About The Maldives
Ptolemy, the Greek geographer described the Maldives as a multitude of islands. Ancient Chinese navigators, referring to the maze of lagoons and reefs that require great care in navigation, knew it as ‘The Three Thousand Weak Waters’. Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler, found the islands to be “the flower of the Indies”. For Ibn Batuta, who traveled extensively during the 14th century and actually lived on the islands, the Maldives was “one of the wonders of the world”.
It is believed that these unique coral atolls were formed about 65 to 200 million years ago from the crust of a deceased volcanic mountain range. The atolls (the word atoll was adapted to English from its Maldivian origin “atholhu”) are formed from coral barrier reefs. The part of the reefs which protrude from the sea form into islands, as destroyed coral parts gather thus giving them the attribute of white sandy beaches. Having being protected by the reefs, the lagoons are calm, clear and pristine – with an abundance of marine species and coral.
Art & Craft
The beautifully carved tombstones in some of the old cemeteries and the fine stone carving of the Hukuru Miskiy in Male’ bear witness to the intricate skills of Maldivian stone carvers of the past. Maldivians are deft craftsmen producing beautifully crafted pieces mostly out of what is available locally. Although many of the skills are now a thing of the past several skills have been passed on from generation to generation and lives on even today.
The art of calligraphy has strong connections with Islam. Old and new mosques display beautifully penned versus from the Holy Quran. The Islamic Centre exhibits some of the finest samples of the work of modern calligraphers in the country. While many crafts have become obsolete, others have found new life with the advent of tourism. The production of ornaments from tortoise shells and black coral once valued by visitors has now ceased completely because of the growing awareness among the public on the need to preserve the environment.
Wooden Lacquer ware
Perhaps the most distinctive of the Maldivian handicrafts, these are almost exclusively produced in Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll. Liye Laajehun as it is called Dhivehi involves the process of shaping, and hollowing out pieces of wood to form beautifully crafted boxes, containers and ornamental objects. Made from local funa (Alexandrian laurel) which grows abundantly throughout the country, they come in various shapes and sizes; small pillboxes, vases of various sizes to round and oval plates with lids. These elegant pieces are lacquered in strands of red, black and yellow resin and delicately carved with flowing flowery patterns.
Beautiful reed mats are woven throughout the country, the most famous of which are those that are woven by women of Gadhdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. Thundu Kunaa as they are known in Dhivehi ranges in size from that of a place mat to a full sized single mattress. The women of Gadhdhoo collect the reeds called haa from the nearby island of Fioari. They are dried in the sun and stained with natural dyes, the color varying from fawn to black. These mats with their intricate, abstract designs are woven on a handloom according to the imagination and skill of the weaver.
When in the Maldives, communication with the rest of the world is very easy. All resorts have everything from international direct dial phone and fax service and access to the internet. Most cruising vessels offer wireless phone service. The mobile telephone network is fast expanding. Prepaid kits and roaming service is also available.
Local telecommunication providers:
Though performances of traditional music and dance are not everyday events, there is a contemporary Divehi culture which is strong and adaptive, despite foreign influences which range from Hindi movies and Oriental martial arts to Michael Jackson and Moslem fundamentalism. Western fashions, pop music and videos are visible in the capital, but on public occasions, like the beginning and end of Ramadan, the celebrations always have a distinctly Maldivian touch.
A bodu beru means a big drum, and gives its name to the best known form of traditional music and dance. It’s what tourist resorts put on for a local culture night, and it can be quite sophisticated and compelling. Dancers begin with a slow, nonchalant swaying and swinging of the arms, and become more animated as the tempo increases, finishing in a rhythmic frenzy. There are four to six drummers in an ensemble, and the sound has strong African influences. Contemporary local rock bands often perform at resorts where they do credible covers of the usual old favorites. Performing for a local audience they may incorporate elements of bodu beru in their music, with lots of percussion and extended drum solos.
Fish and rice are the staple foods of Maldivians with meat and chicken eaten only on special occasions. National dishes include fried fish, fish curry and fish soup. Areca nut (an oval nut chewed with betel leaf, cloves and lime) is the equivalent of an after-dinner mint. Alcohol is only available in tourist resorts. The local brew is raa, a sweet and delicious toddy tapped from the crown of the palm trunk. Apart from coconuts, there are very few fruits and vegetables grown on the islands, so most of the food served at tourist resorts is imported.
The Maldivian Economy has seen unprecedented growth during the last two to three decades. Traditionally dependant on fisheries, the advent of tourism in 1972 has tilted the economy in increasingly in favor of the new industry. In spite of this structural transformation, the fisheries sector has seen increased modernization while maintaining the traditional aspects of the industry that has sustained is for so long.
Maldives is one of the few countries among the Least Developed Countries that have demonstrated the capacity to lay the foundations of a sustainable development process. The fact that level of poverty found in other developing countries is virtually absent in the Maldives testifies that the benefits of growth have been well distributed.
In 1999 the annual growth rate was registered at 8.5%, brining the GDP to US$ 267 million. GDP per capita for the year is USD 962. The annual average rate of growth has been maintained above the 8% mark since 1985.
Independence Day is celebrated on the 26th July. The highlight of the day is the official celebrations held in the evening at the Republic Square. The event begins with a march past by the National Security Service and the National cadet corps. This is followed by drills, traditional dances and modern drills performed by hundreds of school children in colorful attire. These events are interceded by the passing of floats and processions depicting traditional and modern themes.
On 11th November 1968 Maldives became Republic for the second time. The day is celebrated every year with parades and marches.
The National Day celebrates the great victory of Mohamed Thakurufaanu over the Portuguese in 1573. The National Day is celebrated on the 1st of Rabee-ul Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar.
Ramadhan is the ninth month in the Moslem calendar, a month during which moslems mark 30 days of fasting. The working hours are altered for the month, the government offices being opened from 9:00 AM to 1:30 PM and the private sector also closing for the day at 3:00 in the afternoon.
Eid-ul Al`h`aa falls on the 10th day of Zul Hijja in the Islamic Calendar. While those who can afford are at pilgrimage at the holy Ka`aba in Mecca, for those who stay behind it is a time for celebrations and feasting.
This is the longest holiday during the year and people make preparations well in advance to visit their friends and relatives in other islands. The holiday period is between five to seven days. All over the Maldives the period is one of celebrations. Traditional sports, music and dance go hand in hand with modern sports and music. The young, old, male and female take part in the celebrations.
As with all moslems, Maldivians celebrate the Prophet’s birthday. The Prophet’s birthday is the 12th day of Rabee-ul Awwal in the Islamic Calendar. Families invite one another to their homes to share the special dishes prepared for the day.
Kuda Eid is the first day of the month of Shawwal in the Islamic Calendar. This follows the end of Ramadhan and it is a period of feasting. Early in the morning men and women gather at the mosque to perform prayer. At each house feasting is prepared and family, friends and neighbors are invited. This is also a period of charity, when families offer Zakath in those less fortunate themselves. Kuda Eid is celebrated for the period of three days during which public holiday period is observed.
The climate in the Maldives is warm through out the year, determined by the monsoons. However, being on the equator, the monsoons are calm and not as defined as in the neighboring countries. Of the two monsoons, the southwest monsoon from May to October brings some rain and wind. The northeast monsoon from November to April is the dry season with very little rain and wind. The temperature varies little with an annual average daily maximum of 30.4º degrees Celsius and a minimum of 25.9º degrees Celsius. The annual rainfall stood at just over 1,900 millimeters in 1996. In the same year, the country, with the equator running through it, had over 2,800 hours of sunshine, an average of about 8 hours a day.
The language of the Maldives is Dhivehi, also written as “Dhivehi”. It is related to an ancient form of Sinhala, a Sri Lankan language, but also contains some Arabic, Hindi and English words.
Historically speaking the early people spoke “Elu” a form of ancient Singhalese. The language had gone many transformations and the present day Dhivehi is written from left to right, probably to incorporate many Arabic words. Modern Thaana script was invented in the 16th century following the overthrow of Portuguese. The earliest Dhivehi is inscribed on copper plates known as the “Loamaafaanu”. The script is written with letters and vowels separately on top or below the letters, depending on the sound.
Dhivehi is used equivocally in the administration of the country. Until the 1960s, Dhivehi was also the medium of teaching in al schools, but with the need for further education, Dhivehi medium syllabuses changed to English medium teaching. For this reason, English is widely understood, spoken and written by the locals.
English is widely spoken in Male’, in the resorts, and by educated people through out the country. English is also spoken in Addu, the southernmost atoll, where the British employed many of the islanders on the air base for 20 years. On other islands especially outside the tourist zone, you’ll be very lucky to find an adult who speaks anything other than Dhivehi.
Flora & Fauna
The most common and the most conspicuous of all local vegetation is the coconut palm, which grows in abundance throughout the Maldives. They stand the tallest among the island vegetation and shape the island’s tree line with their swaying palms. The coconut palm is the national tree of the Maldives and justly so. Maldivians have traditionally relied on the coconut palm for a variety of needs. The trunk was used to build dhonis, the fronds to wave cadjan for houses and the stems of the palm leaves were used to build fences and other temporary structures. The coconut in all its stages of growth from part of different recipes that are used for a variety of local delicacies. The husk is used for the production of coir rope, the shells for firewood and production of household utensils.
There are five categories of native vegetation throughout the archipelago, including 20 different species of grass and sedge that grow along the shoreline of the islands. Beyond this is an extensive growth of shrubs and pandanus trees. Here the Pemphis acidula (kuredhi) and Scaevola serica (magoo) dominates the vegetation.
In well-drained areas, the Hibiscus tiliaceus (dhiggaa) and the Cordian subcordata (kaani), which grows to a height of up to five metres, are found. Many of the larger islands have thick forests where Hernandia nymphaeifolia (kandoo) and Terminalia cattappa (midhili) are common. The tallest of all the trees found in the Maldives is the Ficus benghalensis or the banyan tree, as it is commonly known.