Maldives Culture

Positioned at a crossroads in the Indian Ocean, the islands originally attracted seafarers, merchants, and settlers from neighboring countries who appreciated the calm waters of the lagoons and the bounty of coconuts and fish. Whether people were marooned there by shipwreck or arrived as exiles from places such as India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Africa, and even Greece and the Roman Empire, the struggle for survival left little time for disputes so gradually an ad-hoc nation of Islanders came into being.

Evidence suggests the islands were inhabited over 3,500 years ago with Aryan immigrants starting settlements around 500BC. Historic remains indicate that Buddhists and Hindus brought their own beliefs and, logically, Arab settlers would have brought Islam with them. However, Islam did not become the official religion until 1153 while conversion of all the Islanders took a further 60 years, uniting the settlers of the atolls into a nation ruled by a Sultan, and sometimes a Sultana. The post was never hereditary and the ruling council, which included women selected the sultan.

Various dynasties ruled the Maldives without attracting much attention from the rest of the world, surviving through fishing and trading including the export of cowrie shells which became a currency accepted worldwide and earning the Maldives the nickname of Money Islands. Peace was shattered with the arrival of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and they eventually invaded the islands in 1558.

Their occupation lasted 15 years until they were ousted by Mohamed Thakurufaanu, a resident of Utheemu, who led a band of Maldivians in seaborne guerrilla warfare against the Portuguese and thwarted their attempts to convert the islanders to Christianity.