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Maledives
Prodivers Maldives

FACTS AND INFORMATION ABOUT THE MALDIVES

  • Fast facts
  • Geography
  • History
  • Culture
  • People & population
  • Weather & climate

Location
Southwest of Sri Lanka, on the equator.

Geography
1,190 coral islands, forming an archipelago of 26 major atolls. Stretches 820 kilometres north to south and 120 kilometres east to west. 202 islands are inhabited, 87 are exclusive resort islands.

Climate
Generally warm and humid. The sun shines all year round. Average air temperature around 29 - 32 degrees Celsius.

What to wear
Dress is generally casual. T-shirts and cotton clothing are most suitable. In Male, the capital island, and on other inhabited islands it is recommended that women wear modest clothing without baring too much.

Population
About 310,000 - according to 2003 estimates. The origin of the Maldivians is lost in antiquity, but history reveals that the islands have been populated for over 3,000 years. Early settlers were travelers on the Silk Route and from the Indus Valley civilization. Inherently warm, friendly and hospitable by nature, it is easy to feel comfortable and relaxed with a Maldivian.

Culture

A proud history and rich culture evolved from the first settlers who were from various parts of the world traveling the seas in ancient times. The Maldives has been a melting pot of different cultures as people from different parts of the world came here and settled down. Some of the local music and dance for instance resemble African influences, with hand beating of drums and songs in a language that is not known to any but certainly represents that of East African countries. As one would expect there is a great South Asian influence in some of the music and dancing and especially in the traditional food of the Maldives. However many of the South Asian customs, especially with regard to women - for instance the Sub Continent's tradition of secluding women from public view - are not tenets of life here. Infact, women play a major role in society - not surprising considering that the men spend the whole day out at sea fishing. Many of the traditions are strongly related to the seas.

Language
Dhivehi is the language spoken in all parts of the Maldives. English is widely spoken by Maldivians and visitors can easily make themselves understood getting around the capital island. In the resorts, a variety of languages are spoken by the staff including English, German, French, Italian and Japanese.

Economy
The Maldives economy has been growing at an annual average of 10% for the past two decades. Tourism is the main industry, contributing close to 20% of the GDP. Fisheries and trade follow close behind. The Maldivian economy is regarded as exemplary in the region and welcomes foreign investment.

Currency
The Maldivian currency is the Rufiyaa and Laaree. The exchange rate for US Dollar at the time of writing is MRf.12.75 for the dollar. One Rufiyaa is equivalent to 100 laarees. Rufiyaa bank notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500. Coins are in the denominations of MRf.2.00, MRf.1.00, 50 laarees, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 laaree. The US Dollar is the most commonly used foreign currency. Payments in the resorts and hotels can be made in most hard currency in cash, travellers cheques or credit cards. Commonly used credit cards are American Express, Visa, Master Card, Diners Club, JCB and Euro Card.

Education
The functional literacy rate is 98%. Educational standards are among the highest in the region and schools follow the British system of education.

Health
Health care facilities are improving almost on a daily basis. The Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male is the biggest hospital in the country providing sophisticated medical care. ADK Hospital is the biggest private health care facility and follows high medical standards. Some resorts have in-house doctors. A decompression chamber is within easy reach of most resorts in case of a diving emergency.

Local Time
GMT + 5 hours
Kuredu, Komandoo & Vakarufalhi have Island Time which is GMT +6 hours

Business Hours
From Sunday to Thursday 7.30 - 14.30 in the government sector and generally from 9.00 to 5.00 in the private sector, although most offices in the private sector open for a half day on Saturday. Weekend falls on Friday and Saturday.

Communication
Up-to-date technology and international satellite links allow the Maldives to have a sophisticated communications system. IDD facilities are available on all resorts and card phones are available on all inhabited islands. Dhiraagu, the Maldives Telecommunications Company also provides mobile telephones for daily rental. It is also the Internet service provider.

Electricity
The electric system is 220-240 Volts

The Republic of the Maldives looks just like a string of pearls against the deep blue of the Indian ocean and is probably one of the last unspoilt places left on Earth. It lies south-west of the southern tip of India, and spans a vast area of the west Indian Ocean. It forms the central part of an underwater mountain chain stretching for over 2000 kilometres from the Laccadives in the north, to the Chagos Archipelago in the south. The area of the Maldives is about 90,000 square kilometres, yet less than an estimated 0.5% is dry land! There are 1190 islands with some kind of vegetation on them, 990 of which are uninhabited. An estimated 310,000 people make up the local population, mostly concentrated in or near the capital, Male. Most of the north and central part of the Maldives is made up of two separate chains of atolls; in the south the atolls form a single chain. On both the east and west sides of the archipelago depths of 2000 metres can occur within 5.5 kilometres of the outer reefs. The inside of the atolls are usually at depths of between 30 and 50 metres.

The atolls themselves vary a great deal in size from a diameter of 2.5 kilometres to over 80 kilometres. The atolls are said to have formed as a mountain range gradually subsided and the surrounding fringing reefs built up to form roughly circular shapes enclosing a lagoon. The coral reefs that make up the atolls are created by a tiny animal, called a polyp, that secretes a hard limestone skeleton, it is this that provides the reefs structure. Fragile branching coral grows between 20 and 30 centimetres per year but the large boulder-shaped corals grow only a few millimetres per year. Inside some of the atolls, mysterious submerged islands rise up from the atoll floor, providing a home for the huge population of tropical reef fish. Along the outside of the atolls there are spectacular drop-offs, sloping reefs, caves and channel entrances.
Ocean water temperature rarely varies beyond 27-30°C although thermoclines can sometimes be experienced. Water temperatures inside the lagoons can be considerably warmer, influencing the water temperatures inside the atolls. The currents in the Maldives can be very unpredictable, ranging from a relaxing swim around the reef to an exhilarating fly-by!

The islands themselves provide that true castaway feeling... pure white sandy beaches, swaying palms, turquoise lagoons and endless sunshine. Whilst standing on the beach you can look out to neighbouring islands and, on a clear day, even the next atoll. From the beach you can see the nurseries of baby fish, with baby reef sharks practising their hunting skills. If you go snorkeling or diving a whole new world awaits you, there are turtles, dolphins, sharks, mantas, eagle rays, and huge schools of fish, sometimes so many that you cannot see through them! On land there are ghekos calling to each other, lizards doing press ups in the sun, fruit bats hanging in the trees, and lots of tiny hermit crabs checking out the empty shells as potential homes.

Legend has it that a prince and his wife, the daughter of the King of todays Sri Lanka, stopped at Raa Atoll during a voyage and were invited to stay as rulers.
Later King Koimala and his wife settled in Male with permission of the Giraavaru tribe, the aboriginal tribe of Kaafu atoll. Nowadays Giraavaru people are still easily recognisable through their clothes and hairstyle, but only a few hundred of them are left and were resettled in Male in 1978. Their island, Giraavaru has been transformed into a tourist resort. Aryans from India and Sri Lanka are believed to have settled in the Maldives from 1500 BC onwards - according to latest archaeological findings.  A favourite stop-over on the busy trade routes, the Maldives have had many visitors and influences, trading with Arabia, China and India with coconut, dried fish and above all the precious cowry shell, a small white shell found on the beach, used as currency in countries near the Indian Ocean. These shells were found as far away as Norway or West Africa showing the extent of the trade relations of the Maldives.

Conversion to Islam
Mohamed Ibn Batuta, a Moroccan traveller who visited the Maldives in the 14th century recorded an interesting legend on how the country converted to Islam. Abul Barakaath Yoosuf Al Barbary, an Islamic scholar, visited the Maldives during a time when people lived in fear of the Rannamaari, a sea-demon, who came out of the sea once a month threatening to destroy everything unless a virgin was sacrificed. The unfortunate young girls, chosen by lottery, had to stay in a temple near the seashore and were found raped and dead in the morning. The daughter of the house where he was staying had been selected to be the victim and he decided to save her. Disguised as a girl he spent the night in the temple reciting continuously from the Holy Quran. In the morning when people went to find out the fate of the chosen girl they were amazed to find him alive and still reciting the Quran. When the King found out that the demon had been defeated through the power of the Holy Quran he embraced Islam and ordered all the subjects to follow him.

Maldivian heroes
The Portuguese had a keen interest in the Maldives due to the availability of cowry shells, and ambergris, an important ingredient in perfumes, and had been approached by the formerly expelled Sultan, Hassan IX to help him regain his throne. Three attempts were repelled mainly due to Ali Rasgefaanu, who proved to be a brave and tough fighter. He became Sultan Ali VI but only for a few months as he was killed during another Portuguese attack, dying a martyrs death. His tomb, built at the very spot where he died in the sea is now on dry land due to the reclamation of land in Male. Martyrs day, a public holiday, has been devoted to him. The next 15 years saw the darkest period in Maldivian history, when the Portuguese tried to enforce Christianity upon the islanders. Mohamed Thakurufaanu and his two brothers from the island of Utheemu, used a form of guerilla warfare for eight long years, during which one of the brothers was caught and beheaded. Their strategy was to land on an island at night, kill the Portuguese in a surprise attack and sail off before dawn. Thakurufaanu sought the help of the Malabari, killed the Portuguese leader Andreas Andre, locally known as Andiri Andirin, and recaptured Male. He was made Sultan and reigned for 12 years forming a trained standing army, introducing coins, improving trade and religious observance and founding a dynasty that lasted for 132 years.

The British Protectorate
On December 16, 1887 the Sultan of the Maldives signed a contract with the British Governor of Ceylon turning the Maldives into a British protectorate. The British government promised the Maldives military protection and non-interference in local administration in exchange for an annual tribute paid by the Maldives. In 1957 the British established a RAF base in the strategic southernmost atoll of Addu for £2000 a year, where hundreds of locals were employed. 19 years later the British government decided to give up the base, as it was too expensive to maintain.

Independence
The Maldives gained independence on July 26, 1965. Three years later a republic was declared with Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir as the first president. In 1978 President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became president and has been re-elected three times since then. A coup attempt in 1988 by Sri Lankan mercenaries was successfully repelled. Small as it is the Maldives has always maintained independence and a strong unity despite influences and threats from outside. They are now an internationally renowned country, a member of the UN, WHO, SAARC, Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement and others and play an important role in advocating the security of small nations and the protection of the environment.

Ethnicity
The origins of the Maldivian people are shrouded in mystery. The First settlers may well have been from Sri Lanka and Southern India. Some say Aryans, who sailed in their reed boats from Lothal in the Indus Valley about 4,000 years ago, probably followed them. Archeological evidence suggests the existence Hinduism and Buddhism before the country embraced Islam in 1153 AD. Not surprisingly, the faces of todays Maldivian display the features of various faces that inhabit the lands around the Indian Ocean shipping and maritime routes, the Maldives has long been a melting pot for African, Arab and South East Asian mariners.

Language
The language of the Maldivian population is Dhivehi, a language which is placed in the Indro-Indian group of languages. Dhivehi with its roots in Sanskrit and according to some researchers Elu, an ancient form of Sinhala, (spoken in Sri Lanka), is strongly influenced by the major languages of the region. The language has been influenced heavily from Arabic since the advent of the Islam in 1153 and English in more recent times, especially since the introduction of English as a medium of education in the early 1960s.
Given the wide dispersion of islands it is not surprising that the vocabulary and pronunciation vary from atoll to atoll, with the difference being more significant in the dialects spoken in the southernmost atolls.
The Maldivian script known as thaana was invented during the 16th century soon after the country was liberated from Portuguese rule. Unlike former scripts thaana is written from right to left. This was devised to accommodate Arabic words that are frequently used in Dhivehi. There are 24 letters in the thaana alphabet.

Dhivehi Phrases

Hello (formal) Assalaamu Alaikum
Hello (informal) Kihineh?
How are you? Haalu kihineh?
Yes Aan
No Noon
Where? Kobaa?
Why? Keevve?
Who? Kaaku?
There Ethaa
Here Mithaa
What? Koacheh?
This Mi
That E
What is (your)name? Kon nameh kiyanee?
My name is Aharenge namakee
Good Ran'galhu
Goodbye (informal) Dhanee
Where are you from? Kon rasheh?
Thank you Shukuriyaa
I am sorry  Ma-aafu kurey
How old are you? Umurun kihaa vareh?
My age is  Aharenge umurakee
Where are (you) going? Kon thanakah dhanee?
What time are (we) going? Kon irakun dhanee?
What is the price?  Agu kihaavareh?
How long will it take? Kihaa ireh nagaanee?
What time is it? Gadin kihaa ireh?
What island is that?  E-ee kon rasheh?


Family Life
The close-knit island communities practice mutual aid to survive difficult circumstances. An extended family system provides a safety net for members of a family going through a difficult period. In addition to the parents, other members of the family also contribute in the care of children. Traditionally men go out fishing during the day and women are responsible for looking after the affairs of the family and, very often, the community. This remains so even today in smaller island communities.

Religion
Since the Maldives embraced Islam in 1153, it has been central to the life of the Maldivians. The main events and festivals of Maldivian life follow the Muslim calendar. From infancy, children are taught the Arabic alphabet. Religious education is provided both at home and at school. Islam is part of the school curriculum and is taught concurrently with other subjects.

Population
The population of Maldives has increased rapidly during the last few decades. However with a population of nearly 270,000 the country still remains one of the smallest independent nations in Asia.
About a quarter of the population is resident in Male the capital. Outside Male the largest populations are in Hithadhoo in Addu Atoll, Fuamulah and Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaalu Atoll with 9,640, 7243 and 6,354 respectively. The rest is dispersed sparsely throughout the other inhabited islands.

Women
Women have always had an important role in the family and community. In the early history of Maldives, it was not uncommon to have a woman as a Sultana or ruler and it has been suggested that the society was once a matriarchy.
In todays society women hold strong positions in government and business. A large percentage of government employees are women. The male female ratio of enrolment and completion of education to secondary school standards remains equivalent. Women serve in the cabinet and the Parliament.

In a nation with less than one percent land and over 99 percent sea, the weather obviously plays a significant role in day-to-day life. For a long time the Maldivians have organized their lives based on the system of nakaiy. Each nakaiy is 13 or 14 days long and is divided into two seasons; iruvai northest monsoon and hulhangu south west monsoon. The nakaiy calendar is still used to determine things such as the best time for fishing, travel or planting crops.

The Maldives has a tropical climate with warm temperatures year round and a great deal of sunshine. The warm tropical climate results in relatively minor variations in daily temperature throughout the year. The hottest month on average is April and the coolest, December. The weather is determined largely by the monsoons.

There is a significant variation in the monthly rainfall levels. February is the driest with January to April being relatively dry, May and October records the highest average monthly rainfall. The southwest monsoon or hulhangu from May to September is the wet season. Rough seas and strong winds are common during this period. The northeast monsoon iruvai falls between December to April. This is a period of clear skies, lower humidity and very little rain. The Maldives is in the equatorial belt and therefore severe storms and cyclones are extremely rare events. However the country is affected whenever cyclones form in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea. The spiraling clouds of the weather systems appear over the Maldives causing spells of rain.

Prodivers Maldives, Kuredu Island Resort, Komandoo Island Resort, Vakarufalhi Island Resort, Rep. of Maldives
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