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Maldives

Madhadhugaa by Hulhudhoo Abdulla

A song by Hulhudhoo Abdulla [Abdulla Hassan] a music legend of Maldives.

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Maldives, officially the Republic of the Maldives and also referred to as the Maldive Islands, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean consisting of a double chain of twenty-six atolls, oriented north-south, that lie between Minicoy Island (the southernmost part of LakshadweepIndia) and the Chagos Archipelago. The chains stand in the Laccadive Sea, about 700 kilometres (430 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometres (250 mi) south-west of India.

For the majority of its history, the Maldives has been an independent polity, despite three instances during which it was ruled by outside forces. In the mid-16th century, for fifteen years, the Maldives was dominated by the Portuguese Empire. In the mid-17th century, the Dutch Empire (Malabar) dominated Maldives for four months. Finally, in the late 19th century, on the brink of war, the Maldives became a British protectorate from 1887 until 1965. The Dutch referred to the islands as the “Maldivische Eilanden” (pronounced [mɑlˈdivisə ˈɛi̯lɑndə(n)]), while the British anglicised the local name for the islands first to the “Maldive Islands” and later to the “Maldives”. The islands gained independence from the British Empire in 1965 and became a republic in 1968 ruled by a president and an authoritarian government.

The Maldives archipelago is located on top of the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean. Maldives also form a terrestrial ecoregion together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep.  The Maldives atolls encompass a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi), making the country one of the world’s most geographically dispersed. Its population of 328,536 (2012) inhabits 192 of its 1,192 islands.  In 2006, Maldives’ capital and largest city Malé, located at the southern edge of North Malé Atoll, had a population of 103,693.  Malé is one of the Maldives’ administrative divisions and, traditionally, it was the “King’s Island” where the ancient Maldive royal dynasties were enthroned.

The Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. With an average ground level elevation of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet’s lowest country.  It is also the country with the lowest natural highest point in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in).  Forecasts of Maldives’ inundation is a great concern for the Maldivian people.

The Maldives has pledged to become a carbon-neutral country by 2019.

Etymology – Names of Maldives

The name Maldives may derive from Sanskrit mālā (garland) and dvīpa (island), or මාල දිවයින Maala Divaina (“Necklace Islands”) in Sinhala.  The Maldivian people were called Dhivehin. The word Dheeb/Deeb (archaic Dhivehi, related to Sanskrit dvīpa (द्वीप)) means “island”, and Dhives (Dhivehin) means “islanders” (i.e., Maldivians). During the colonial era, the Dutch referred to the country as Maldivische Eilanden in their documentation, while Maldive Islands is the anglicised version of the local name used by the British, which later came to be written as “Maldives.”

The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle Mahawamsa refers to an island called Mahiladiva (“Island of Women”, महिलादिभ) in Pali, which is probably a mistranslation of the same Sanskrit word meaning “garland.”

Hogendorn theorises that the name Maldives derives from the Sanskrit mālādvīpa (मालाद्वीप), meaning “garland of islands.”  In Tamil, “Garland of Islands” can be translated as MalaiTheevu (மாலைத்தீவு).  In Malayalam, “Garland of Islands” can be translated as Maladweepu (മാലദ്വീപ്). None of these names is mentioned in any literature, but classical Sanskrit texts dating back to the Vedic period mention the “Hundred Thousand Islands” (Lakshadweepa), a generic name which would include not only the Maldives, but also the LaccadivesAminidivi Islands, Minicoy and the Chagos island groups.

Some medieval travellers such as Ibn Batuta called the islands Mahal Dibiyat (محل دبيأت) from the Arabic word Mahal (“place”), which must be how the Berber traveller interpreted the local name, having been through Muslim North India, where Perso-Arabicwords were introduced into the local vocabulary.  This is the name currently inscribed on the scroll in the Maldive state emblem. The classical Persian/Arabic name for Maldives is Dibajat.

History of the Maldives – Ancient History and Settlement

Comparative studies of Maldivian oral, linguistic and cultural traditions and customs indicate that the first settlers were Dravidian people from Kerala in the Sangam period (300 BC–AD 300), most probably fishermen from the southwest coasts of what is now the south of the Indian Subcontinent and the western shores of Sri Lanka. One such community is the Giraavaru people descended from ancient Tamils. They are mentioned in ancient legends and local folklore about the establishment of the capital and kingly rule in Malé.

A strong underlying layer of Dravidian population and culture survives in Maldivian society, with a clear Dravidian-Malayalam substratum in the language, which also appears in place names, kinship terms, poetry, dance, and religious beliefs. Malabari seafaring culture led to Malayali settling of the Laccadives, and the Maldives were evidently viewed as an extension of that archipelago. Some argue (from the presence of Jat, Gujjar Titles and Gotra names) that Sindhis also accounted for an early layer of migration. Seafaring from Debal began during the Indus valley civilisation. The Jatakas and Puranas show abundant evidence of this maritime trade; the use of similar traditional boat building techniques in Northwestern South Asia and the Maldives, and the presence of silver punch mark coins from both regions, gives additional weight to this. There are minor signs of Southeast Asian settlers, probably some adrift from the main group of Austronesian reed boat migrants that settled Madagascar.

The earliest written history of the Maldives is marked by the arrival of Sinhalese people, who were descended from the exiled Magadha Prince Vijaya from the ancient city known as Sinhapura. He and his party of several hundred landed in Sri Lanka, and some in the Maldives circa 543 to 483 BC. According to the Mahavansa, one of the ships that sailed with Prince Vijaya, who went to Sri Lanka around 500 BC, went adrift and arrived at an island called Mahiladvipika, which is the Maldives. It is also said that at that time, the people from Mahiladvipika used to travel to Sri Lanka. Their settlement in Sri Lanka and the Maldives marks a significant change in demographics and the development of the Indo-Aryan language Dhivehi, which is most similar in grammar, phonology, and structure to Sinhala, and especially to the more ancient Elu Prakrit, which has less Pali.

Alternatively, it is believed that Vijaya and his clan came from western India – a claim supported by linguistic and cultural features, and specific descriptions in the epics themselves, e.g. that Vijaya visited Bharukaccha (Bharuch in Gujarat) in his ship on the voyage down south.

Philostorgius, a Greek historian of Late Antiquity, wrote of a hostage among the Romans, from the island called Diva, which is presumed to be the Maldives, who was baptised Theophilus. Theophilus was sent in the 350s to convert the Himyarites to Christianity, and went to his homeland from Arabia; he returned to Arabia, visited Axum, and settled in Antioch.

Buddhist Period

The Buddhist Stupa (the best preserved, the largest and the last of the Buddhist temples that were destroyed) at Kuruhinnain Gan Island (Haddhunmathi Atoll).

Buddhism came to the Maldives at the time of Emperor Ashoka‘s expansion, and became the dominant religion of the people of the Maldives until the 12th century AD. The ancient Maldivian Kings promoted Buddhism, and the first Maldive writings and artistic achievements, in the form of highly developed sculpture and architecture, are from that period. Before embracing Buddhism as their way of life, Maldivians had practised an ancient form of Hinduismritualistic traditions known as Śrauta, in the form of venerating the Surya (the ancient ruling cast were of Aadheetta or Suryavanshiorigins).

The first archaeological study of the remains of early cultures in the Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. He studied the ancient mounds, called havitta or ustubu (these names are derived from chaitiya and stupa) (Dhivehi🙂 by the Maldivians, which are found on many of the atolls. Although Bell asserted that the ancient Maldivians had followed Theravada Buddhism, many local Buddhist archaeological remains now in the Malé Museum in fact also display elements of Mahayana and Vajrayana iconography.

Isdhoo Lōmāfānu is the oldest copper-plate book to have been discovered in the Maldives to date. The book was written in AD 1194 (590 AH) in the Evēla form of the Divehi akuru, during the reign of Siri Fennaadheettha Mahaa Radun (Dhinei Kalaminja).

In the early 11th century, the Minicoy and Thiladhunmathi, and possibly other northern Atolls, were conquered by the medieval Chola Tamil emperor Raja Raja Chola I, thus becoming a part of the Chola Empire.

According to a legend from Maldivian folklore, in the early 12th century AD, a medieval prince named Koimala, a nobleman of the Lion Race from Sri Lanka, sailed to Rasgetheemu island (literally “Town of the Royal House”, or figuratively “King’s Town”) in the North Maalhosmadulu Atoll, and from there to Malé, and established a kingdom. By then, the Aadeetta (Sun) Dynasty (the Suryavanshi ruling cast) had for some time ceased to rule in Malé, possibly because of invasions by the Cholas of Southern India in the 10th century. Koimala Kalou (Lord Koimala), who reigned as King Maanaabarana, was a king of the Homa (Lunar) Dynasty (the Chandravanshi ruling cast), which some historians call the House of Theemuge. The Homa (Lunar) dynasty sovereigns intermarried with theAaditta (Sun) Dynasty. This is why the formal titles of Maldive kings until 1968 contained references to “kula sudha ira“, which means “descended from the Moon and the Sun”. No official record exists of the Aadeetta dynasty’s reign. Since Koimala’s reign, the Maldive throne was also known as the Singaasana (Lion Throne). Before then, and in some situations since, it was also known as the Saridhaaleys (Ivory Throne).  Some historians credit Koimala with freeing the Maldives from Tamil Chola rule.

Several foreign travellers, mainly Arabs, had written about a kingdom of the Maldives ruled over by a queen. This kingdom pre-dated Koimala’s reign. al-Idrisi, referring to earlier writers, mentions the name of one of the queens, Damahaar, who was a member of theAadeetta (Sun) dynasty.

Islam Period

A Plaque in Juma Mosque, Malé, Maldives, on which Yusuf Tabrizi‘s name is written. Yusuf Tabrizi was an Iranian who is said to have converted Maldives in 12th century AD to Islam.

The conversion to Islam is mentioned in the edicts written in copper plates from the end of the 12th century AD.

The famous Moroccan traveller Ibn Batutta, who visited the Maldives in the 14th century, wrote how a Moroccan, one Abu Barakat the Berber, was believed to have been responsible for spreading Islam in the islands. Even though this report has been contested in later sources, it does explain some crucial aspects of Maldivian culture. For instance, historically Arabic has been the prime language of administration there, instead of the Persian and Urdu languages used in the nearby Muslim states. Another link to North Africa was the Maliki school of jurisprudence, used throughout most of North-Africa, which was the official one in the Maldives until the 17th century.

Some scholars have suggested the possibility of Ibn Battuta misreading Maldive texts, and have posited another scenario where this Abu Barakat might have been a native of Berbera, a significant trading port on the Somalian coast.  This scenario would also help explain the usage of the Arabic language and the predominance of the Maliki school on the islands.

Another interpretation, held by some of the islanders, is that Abu Barakat was an Iranian from Tabriz. In the Arabic script the words al-Barbari and al-Tabrizi are very much alike, owing to the fact that Arabic has no letters to represent vowels. The first reference to an Iranian origin dates to an 18th-century Persian text.

Over the centuries, the islands have been visited, and their development influenced, by sailors and traders from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The main export of medieval Maldivians was cowrie shell, which they cultivated by floating branches of coconut palms in the sea, to which the shells attached themselves.

The Maldives was the first landfall for traders from Basrah, sailing to Sri Lanka or Southeast Asia. In the Maldives, ships could take on fresh water, fruit and the delicious, basket-smoked red flesh of the black bonito, a delicacy exported to Sindh, China and Yemen. The people of the archipelago were described as gentle, civilised and hospitable. They produced brass utensils as well as fine cotton textiles, exported in the form of sarongs and turban lengths. These local industries must have depended on imported raw materials.

The other essential product of the Maldives was coir, the fibre of the dried coconut husk. Cured in pits, beaten, spun and then twisted into cordage and ropes, coir’s salient quality is its resistance to saltwater. It stitched together and rigged the dhows that plied the Indian Ocean. Maldivian coir was exported to Sindh, China, Yemen, and the Persian Gulf.

“It is stronger than hemp“, wrote Ibn Battuta, “and is used to sew together the planks of Sindhi and Yemeni dhows, for this sea abounds in reefs, and if the planks were fastened with iron nails, they would break into pieces when the vessel hit a rock. The coir gives the boat greater elasticity, so that it doesn’t break up.”

British Protectorate, 1887–1965

On 16 December 1887, the Sultan of the Maldives signed a contract with the British Governor of Ceylon turning the Maldives into a British protected state, thus giving up the islands’ sovereignty in matters of foreign policy, but retaining internal self-government. The British government promised military protection and non-interference in local administration in exchange for an annual tribute, so that the islands were akin to an Indian princely state.

In 1953, there was an abortive attempt to form a republic, but the sultanate survived. In 1957 the British established an air base in the strategic southernmost atoll of Addu, paying £2000 a year, employing hundreds of locals. Nineteen years later, the British government (Labour’s Harold Wilson) gave up the base, as it was too expensive to maintain.

In 1959, objecting to Ibrahim Nasir‘s centralism, the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls protested against the government. They formed the United Suvadive Republic and elected Abdullah Afeef as president and chose Hithadhoo as capital of this republic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maldives

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