People of Maldives
January 08 2019
January 08 2019
The very thought of the gorgeous tropical surrounds and flawless tranquil shores of the Maldives is sure to make any avid traveller want to pack their bags immediately. Synonymous with luxury island paradise, the Maldives has transitioned from hidden gem to highly-coveted, must-visit holiday destination, and with exclusive water villas that rise out of aquamarine lagoons and picture-perfect beaches, it’s not difficult to understand why. But there’s another reason people should visit the Maldives; here, you will find an exceptional culture and the absolutely amazing people of the Maldives.
The people in the Maldives are often referred to as Maldivians or Maldive Islanders. They are an ethnically diverse group native to the Republic of the Maldives and the Minicoy Island in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, India. Typically, Maldivians share the same culture and speak Dhivehi, which forms part of the Indo-Aryan Languages.
The Maldivian people can be understood in three subgroups based largely on their geographic distribution:
The “main” group of Maldivians: This group consists of over 70% of the population and some 250 000 people. This group is made up of people who inhabit the atolls from Haa Alif to Laamu in the Maldives. The main dialect of the island stems from this group and is spoken in the capital of the Maldives, Malé, as well as the central atolls but some of the surrounding islands have slightly different variations of this Maldivian dialect.
The group of Maldivians in the south: This refers to the Maldivians living in the three southernmost atolls in the Maldives. These are considered to be in the equatorial zone in the Maldives and include the Huvadhu, Fuvahmulah and Addu Atolls. This group represents 20% of the Maldivian population with some 60 000 people. The first signs of inhabitants in the Maldives were found in this area.
Interestingly, based on the findings by researchers, the Maldivians in the south are said to be closest in ethnicity as well as language to the original people of the Maldives. The three different atolls in the south each have unique dialects of Maldivian (Huvadhu bas, Mulaku bas and Addu bas), which are quite different to other variations in the country.
The people of Minicoy: There are about 10 000 people of the Maldives that live on Minicoy Island, which is in the northern atoll chain. This group makes up around 3% of the Maldivian population. Technically, they form part of the main group of Maldivians, as they are identical in ethnicity and in language, but because Minicoy was succeeded from Maldivian rule, and they have non-Maldivian citizenship, this group is now considered a subgroup of the population. This group is in the process of undergoing acculturation, due to the island’s isolation from the rest of the Maldives. While the dialect here is similar to the northern Maldivian dialect, it also exhibits Malayalam influences.
The largest ethnic group, which is said to be similar genetically to Indians, Sri Lankans, Africans, Arabs and Malays (the groups from which most Maldivians are said have descended) are the Dhivehis. The mixed race of the people of the Maldives means the country has a rich history and culture. Approximately 98.4% of the population is Muslim, with 0.9% of the population practising Christianity and around 0.7% of the population who practice another religion.
Most Maldivians, however, adhere to the Sunni School of Islam, which has played an enormous role in their society and evidence of the religion which can be seen in famous Maldivian landmarks and architecture. The majority of Maldivians have been practising Islam since 1153 AD, before which it is said that they practised Buddhism and paganism. There are some ancient Buddhist ruins and artefacts from this time exhibited in the National Museum in Malé.
The Maldivians are known to be kind, helpful and extremely welcoming, in fact, they are famous for their hospitality. They are also hardworking, yet unhurried, playful, yet respectful and family-oriented, and while they have modern lifestyles, they balance them with their many traditions (such as welcoming guests with fresh coconut drinks and delectable snacks). Traditional attire for Maldivian women includes ‘libaas’ and men often wear ‘sarongs’.
The current population of the Maldives is around 341 256, with around 60 000 registered foreigners. About a quarter of the Maldivian population live in the capital Malé, while the rest live on the local islands in the atolls. Because of this, just over half of the population is classified as ‘rural’, living in villages on the small local islands. Only 20 of the almost 1200 islands are inhabited by more than 1000 people.
All people of the Maldives have access to education with the intention that they are able to play a vital role in the economy of the country, and great strides have been made to ensure the people of the Maldives enrol in schools and are able to get an education. The literacy rate here is impressive at 98%. While access to higher secondary schools has improved over the years, access to tertiary education is still limited and males are favoured over females for higher levels of education.
The people of the Maldives are united through their shared cultural heritage, history, language, religion and ancestry. The mixed Maldivian culture is evident in the arts, with the local Bodu Beru music drawing inspiration from Africa, the Dhoni (a Maldivian boat) resembles the Arabian Dow, the intricate details in the architecture resembles Southeast Asian design elements and distinct geometric designs used in local wares is perhaps uniquely Maldivian. It’s clear that the Maldivian culture evolves over time.
The food in the Maldives is wonderful, with a strong focus on fresh tropical fruits, rice and fish (visitors are sure to see fishermen who spend their days at sea). Many of the products found here are actually imported.
Thanks to the country’s truly sensational surrounds, tourism is at the heart of the economy here (as are the fisheries and the manufacturing industry) and the natural splendour of the country is wonderfully enriched by the incredible beauty of the people of the Maldives.