LOCATION AND GEOGRAPHY
HOW TO REACH THE MALDIVES
CULTURE, MUSIC AND DANCES
The Maldives is located on the equator, 700 km South-West of Sri Lanka. Together with the Laccadive Islands to the North and with the Chagos Islands to the South, it forms a wide submarine mountain chain (2000 Km), born 2000 million years ago, with beautiful coral reefs on its crest.
Maldives stretches 820 Km from North to South and 120 km from East to West. The total surface is 90.000 sqm but emerged lands are only 0,3%.
The Maldives archipelago is made up of 1190 islands covered by palms and mangroves. No more than 200 islands are inhabited and only 90 host tourist resorts.
It is difficult to define the exact number of islands in the archipelago. If sandbars and coral outcrops were included in the figure, they would have been approximately 2000. The estimation is also complicated by the fact that islands come and go: some of them combine, others split in two and sometimes islets emerge from the coral reef.
The majority of these island is very small and they can be walked across in less than 10 minutes. Maximum height is usually 3 meters on the sea level.
If the water level continues to increase due to the earth heating as many scientists state - the Maldives could disappear in about 30 years.
Islands are however susceptible to erosion by winds, currents and tides. This is also the reason why an island can have different shapes in different seasons, showing for some months sandbars or wide beaches and a completely different aspect for the rest of the period.
The word Atoll (deriving from the word atholhu in the official Maldivian language, Dhivehi), indicates a reef belt of different sizes and shapes, including lagoons, islands and reef with pass or channels.
The origin of these atolls is unknown. In 1842 Charles Darwin, after having studied other atolls in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, suggested that these islands were created by a volcano sunk in the sea. About 50 million years ago, the volcano gradually sank into the sea after an eruption, and corals grew around its edge in order to remain near the surface, where was easier to find food. Sand and coral debris, brought by tides and currents, filled the crater during the centuries and plants and animals colonized the islands.
Even if Darwin himself did not completely believe in his thesis, most scientists agreed with him. More recently, however, the Austrian scientist Hans Hass suggested another theory: for hundreds of thousands of years, the coral has been growing on the mountain chain submerged in the Indian Ocean, creating a coral platform exceeding the sea surface. Porous and unstable, the coral platform bended in the middle, leaving only a ring of the hardest and highest coral, creating the edges of the atolls. The coral debris, sand and vegetation contributed in creating the island with this particular shape.
Up to now nobody knows the exact origin of these islands, but perhaps this is also the charm of the Maldives. It is possible to find islands with no name, not shown on any map and with no footprint on them.
Desert islands belong to the Maldivian government but are rented by Maldivian families. Tourists can visit them only after the approval of these families and after a government permission.
HOW TO REACH THE MALDIVES
The Maldives can be reached by plane. There is an international airport on the Hulhule island, near Male’ (the capital) and four local airports (Hanimaadhoo, Kaadedhdhoo, Gan e Kadhdhoo).
EIt is allowed to introduce a maximum of 200 cigarettes for a personal use, while it is absolutely forbidden to import alcoholic drinks, narcotics, psychotropic substances, pork meat, drugs, pornographic material, underwater guns, weapons, ammunitions and explosives of any nature.
Also leaflets, books or publication promoting different religions are forbidden.
In case you need a special medicine, you must bring a certificate translated into English.
When you leave the Maldives, you cannot bring with you madreporas, corals, shells and sand.
It is possible to buy the most common shells in Male’ or in the fishermen’s villages, with the exception of the triton shell.
The South-West monsoon, Hulhangu, from May to November, is humid and with seldom and persistent rainfalls. In this period the sea is heavy and winds are strong.
The North-East monsoon, Iruvai, from December to April, has very little rainfalls and lower humidity.
The hottest month is April, while the coldest is December. The driest month is February, but the whole period between January and April is relatively dry. May and July are the months with the highest rain rate.
The best period, but also the most expensive, is from the third week of December to the end of March. The worst period is from mid May to the beginning of July, while the rest of the year is relatively good. During the last years, due to a climate change, the difference between the humid and the dry monsoon is no more so clear. Therefore it is possible to have some rainy days during the dry season and some sunny days during the humid one.
The Maldives is on the equator and has therefore the same number of light and dark hours. Every day has 12 hours light and at 6 p.m. it starts darkening.
In order to have more light, many resorts set the clocks forward one hour ahead of Male’ time.
Anyway, reserve your vacation according to your needs: Maldives is a tropical region and it is not easy to forecast the weather conditions.
Water temperature is constant between 28-30°C. Water is clear from the beginning of November to the end of March, while in the other periods it is full of plankton brought by the currents.
The best period for sailing is from October to January, as winds are constant.
The Dhivehi is the official language of the Maldives and has Arabic and Indian influences.
English is well-known at the Maldives, so tourists can easily communicate in Male’ and in the fisherman’s villages.In the resorts, it is easy to find the staff speaking English, German, French, Italian or Japanese.
The Maldivian currency is the Rufiyaa. The exchange rate for the US Dollar is 12,85 Rf. for 1 Dollar (2006).
One Rufiyaa corresponds to 100 lari. The banknotes are in denomination of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500. Coins are in denomination of MRf. 2.00, MRf.1.00 and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, 1 lari.
The US Dollar is the most used foreign currency. Resorts and hotels can be paid in dollars, travellers cheques or with the main credit cards.
In the past 2 years many resorts accept also the Euro.
Rufiyaas can be changed at the airport before the departure, as it is very unlikely to use them at the resorts.
The electric system is 230-240 Volts. In many resorts the adaptor is not necessary, but many still have the English triple plugs. In this cases the reception supplies the adaptors. Before leaving is better to ask in advance about the plugs used in your resort.
Up-to-date technology and international satellites allow Maldives to have a sophisticated communication system. From the resorts it is possible to use the IDD telephone (expensive), one own mobile telephone (sometimes the outmost atolls are not enabled), send fax and connect to the Internet.
On all the inhabited islands it is possible to call from public places with card phones.
Dhiraagu, the Maldives Communication Company, provides mobile telephones for rental and is also the local Internet provider.
Since a few months another mobile telephone operator is active: the Arab company Wataniya.
The SMS can be received and sent (provided that the roaming exists) , but it is not possible to send them with all operators. It is advisable to check in advance with your telephone operator.
In Male’ there are some Internet points where you can download your mail or surf the Web and almost all resorts have an Internet point too. Some of them supply the connection in the rooms.
On the live-aboard it is hard to find it, but some of them are already equipped. Very often the only way to connect your own pc to the net is with a pre-paid Maldivian card and with the mobile phone via GSM or GPRS.
Maldivian inhabitants are approx. 395.000, 229.000 of which are men and 166.000 are women. About 85.000 live in the capital Male’ and 35% of the inhabited islands hosts less than 500 people. Life expectation is 72 for men and 77 for women.
The origin of this population is still unknown, but history tells us that these islands were inhabited more than 3000 years ago. The first settlers were travelers coming from the South of India and from Sri Lanka following the Silk route and then entered in contact with populations coming from east Africa and Arab countries. Also today many Maldivian people have Negroid, Arabic and Indian somatic features.
The Maldivian people are very warm, friendly, hospital: it is very easy to feel comfortable with them.
The Maldives is a Presidential Republic and, according to its constitution, the President is the chief of the State, of the armed forces, of the executive committee and of the 48 Parliament members.
According to the current constitution, the candidate is voted by the Parliament through a secret second ballot and is confirmed by a national referendum.
The President is the chief of the executive committee and is helped by the ministries appointed by him, who are responsible towards the Parliament.
At administration level, the country is divided into 20 districts.
Before the Maldives became an Islamic country, the national religion was Buddhism.
According to a legend, Abul Barakat Yoosuf Al Barbary, an Islamic scholar, converted the country to Islam.
He visited the Maldives when people were afraid of the “Rannamaari”, a sea-demon, who emerged from the sea once a month threatening to kill and destroy everything unless a virgin was immolated.
In the evening, the unlucky girls were brought to a temple near the shore and were found dead the next morning. One day, the daughter of the house where Abul Barakat Yoosuf was staying at, was chosen as the victim and he decided to save her. He disguised as a girl and spent the night in the temple reciting the Quran. In the morning, people found him alive while was still praying. When the king acknowledged that the demon had been defeated by the power of the Quran, he embraced Islam and ordered all the people to do the same.
Since then, Abul Barakat Yoosuf has been worshipped and his grave is today a holy place located in the Presidential garden in Male’.
From that moment, all the Buddhist temples were destroyed and the first mosque was built in Male’.
There are 21 hospitals all around the atolls.
The Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’ is the biggest hospital of the country with 250 beds and provides specialized medical cares.
ADK hospital is the biggest private hospital of the country with 50 beds and offers high level medical cares.
The total number of beds in the hospitals around the archipelago is around 800. In Male’ there are 150 doctors while 152 are in the rest of the country.
Some resorts have doctors on the island. At Alimathà (670088), Bandos (6640088), Kuramathi (6660527) and Kandohlhudhoo (6660527) there are decompression chambers.
98% of the population has an average educational level. The most important school system in the atolls is the traditional Islamic school, where pupils learn math and to read and write in Dhivehi and Arabic.
Pupils attending a high school are taught subjects such as Islam, Dhivehi, English, Math, Arts, Environmental Study, Writing, Gym and Quran.
In Male’ there are private and public British schools, which give a proper education to access the British school system.
In the biggest islands there are the mandatory schools for a primary culture. Children are transported by sea from the neighboring islands, where there are no schools.
Pupils must move to Male’ to attend the high school, where there are proper structures to host them.
The juridical system at the Maldives is based on the Islamic Sharia, which contains theological, moral and ritual rules, further to rules regarding the private, fiscal, penal, process and war laws.
Sharia means “the way to follow”, but this word can be also translated as “Divine Law”.
Tourism, Maldives' largest economic activity, accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Fishing is the second leading sector, but the fish catch has dropped sharply in recent years. Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a lesser role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labor. Most staple foods must be imported.
In the biggest islands, where possible, also watermelon, cabbages, red pepper, eggplants, potatoes, beans and onions are cultivated.
Coconuts plantations are the main agricultural resource as they provide nuts, palm fibers and coco-oil.
The Foammulah island, in the extreme South of Gnaviyani atoll, is completely cultivated, as there are two sweet water lakes.
The boats building (dhoni) has always been considered a handicraft but now this sector is playing a leading role in the country economy thanks to the high request of boats for fishery or for material transportation.
In the last decade, real GDP growth averaged around 6% per year except for 2005, when GDP declined following the Indian Ocean tsunami, and in 2009, when GDP shrank by 3% as tourist arrivals declined and capital flows plunged in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The Maldives is a very old country, even if for many years historians have been traced its origin to the conversion to Islam in 1153.
Heavy stones with symbols of the sun, similar to the Maya and Egyptian carvings, witness the existence of the Maldives before 1153.
Historians think that these finds belong to the first settlers, the Redin, a civilization who worshipped the “Sun King”, as confirmed also by the location of some mosques (e.g. Hukuru Miskiy in Male’) oriented towards the sun and not towards the Mecca.
This civilization was first assimilated by Buddhist sailors and fishers coming from Sri Lanka and then by populations coming from West Africa, China and Arab countries.
The Maldives was a meeting place for people who stopped and traded after long navigations in the Indian Ocean.
Coconuts, dried fish and the famous cowries shells were only a few of the numerous goods bargained and sold at that time.
The cowries, small white shells, were collected and used as money in the Indian Ocean countries. Some of them were even found in Norway and West Africa.
In the II century BC, the Arab countries started visiting these islands and converted the population to Islam. From that moment, the Maldives had 84 Sultans, a Portuguese settlement in 1558, which lasted 15 years, and in 1752 Male’ was conquered by the Indian pirates. The latter remained on the islands only a few weeks as they were soon driven away by the Maldivian soldiers.
After that, the Sultan governed until the Republic of the Maldives was created.
On December 16, 1887 the Sultan of the Maldives signed a contract with the British governor in Ceylon, turning the Maldives into a British protectorate. The British government promised the Maldives military protection and non-interference in local and administration in return of an annual tribute.
In 1957 the British established a RAF base in the Addu Atoll (Gan Island), where many Maldivian people were employed, but nineteen years later, the British government decided to leave the island as it was too expensive.
On July 26, 1965 the Maldives became an independent country and three years later it became a Republic with the Prime Minister, Ibrahim Nasir, as President.
In 1978 Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became President and since then he was elected six times (next elections will be in 2008).
In 2008 the first democratic elections in the Maldives, was elected H.E. Mohamed Nasheed. On February 8, 2012 Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign in because of a coup. The day after he was elected President Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan, deputy President during the mandate of Nasheed.
From 16th November of 2013 new President is Abdulla Yamin. He is the sixth president of Maldives and he defeated Mohamed Nasheed with 51,39% of the vote.
According to the constitution, the President is the head of the state, of the executive committee and of the 48 members of the Parliament.
The Maldives belongs to the Commonwealth since 1982 and is a UN member since 1965.
JANUARY 1: New Year
JULY 26: INDEPENDENCE DAY
The Independence Day is celebrated on July 26.
Main event of the day is the official celebrations in the Republic square.
The event starts with a parade of the national security service and the of national corps of cadets, followed by traditional and modern dances and parades by pupils in gaudy uniforms.
After that, there is a boats parade with traditional and modern themes.
Extra day of Independence day.
NOVEMBER 3: VICTORY DAY
On November 3, 1988 a terrorist group from Sri Lanka tried to overthrow the Maldivian government. After they failed, they fled the country.
NOVEMBER 11: REPUBLIC DAY
On November 11 1968 the Maldives became a Republic for the second time. This day is celebrated every year with parades and marches.
Extra day of Republic day.
End of the British protectorate
The Islamic religious celebration follow the lunar calendar and therefore dates are different every year:
Ramazan (instead of Ramadan) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is characterized by 30 fasting days. During this period working hours are shorter: government offices open from 9.00 a.m. to 1.30 p.m., while private companies close at 3.00 p.m.
Eid Ul al’h’aa is celebrated on the tenth day of the Zul Hijja month of the Islamic calendar. This period is dedicated to the pilgrimage to the Mecca or to celebrations in the country. This is the longest celebration period of the year and people visit their relatives on the other islands. The celebration lasts from five to seven days and people practice modern and traditional sports, music and dances. All Maldivian people participate to the celebrations.
Being an Islamic country, the Maldives celebrates the Prophet’s Birthday. Families invite friends and relatives to their houses and offer special food.
Eid is the first day of the Shawaal month in the Islamic calendar. This period follows the end of the Ramadan and is therefore a celebration period.
Early in the morning men and women gather around the mosque and pray. In every house there are parties with friends and relatives. This national celebration lasts three days.
This day celebrates the victory of Mohamed Thakurufaanu against the Portuguese in 1573 and is celebrated the first day of the third month of the Islamic calendar.
This day celebrates the defeat of the Malabar pirates by the Haas Sultan.
Drums and songs in unknown languages confirm the origin from East African countries, while food and traditional dresses come from the South Asian region.
The “Raivaru” and the “Langiri” represent the first type of dances performed on these islands. The “Gaa odi Lava” are songs in Arab and the “Thaara” is a kind of rhythmical dance with songs in Arab.
A dance called “Bandiyya Jehun” has Indian influences and expresses joy for a fortunate and rich fishery.
The Bodu Beru, has African influences and is a mix of songs and dances performed by men at the drums rhythm.
However many Asian customs, e.g. the tradition of excluding women from public life, are no more valid. Today women play a very important role in the society, as men are often far away.
Many of the traditions are tightly linked to the sea, as it provides food.
Bodu Beru is very similar to some of the songs and dances of East Africa. Bodu Beru, known also as “Baburu Lava” (Negroid Song), appeared at the Maldives in the XI Century, if not before.
The Bodu Beru is usually performed by about 15 people, including 3 drummers and a lead singer. They are accompanied by a small bell and an “Onugandu”, a small piece of bamboo with small grooves, producing sharp sounds.
Themes are heroism, romance or satire. The prelude to the song is a long beat, accompanied by drums and dances. When the song reaches a crescendo, one or two dancers maintain the wild rhythm with their movements and sometimes end in a trance. An interesting feature of the Bodu Beru is its noise and sometimes meaningless lyrics, as they are a mix of local, neighbouring and African words. Today, only some of the meaningful songs in the local language Dhivehi are sung to the rhythm of Bodu Beru.
It is still sung and danced as entertainment for tourists and during celebrations and festivals.
The performers wear a sarong with a short sleeved banian (Hindu shirt)
Thaara means tambourine in Dhivehi. It is performed by about 22 people seated in two parallel rows facing each other. It is a kind of religious music and is performed only by men, who sing and dance. The early songs of the Thaara were in Arabic.
Thaara was introduced to the Maldives by the Gulf Arabs, mid 17th Century. A type of music very similar to Thaara is still played in the Arab Gulf and in South Arabia.
GAA ODI LAVA
Gaa Odi Lava involves music and dance and evokes the people satisfaction after a hard manual work. Gaa Odi Lava was first sung during the reign of Sultan Mohamed Imadudeen I (1620-1648). In his attempt to defend Male’, he created an enclosure wall around the island. For this reason he separated the people into different boats, called “odi”, who had to carry coral stones from the several reefs to Male’. Once completed their job, people from each “odi” visited the Sultan, singing songs to express their happiness. Therefore Gaa (stones) Odi (Vessels) was born.
During the period of the Sultans, each time a job ordered by a Sultan was completed, the people walked towards the Royal Palace, performing a special dance called “Dhigu magu negun”. They brought a container with gifts and the gift withdrawal is called “Dhafi Negun”, which is also the dance and song theme. At the beginning, the lyrics of Gaa Odi Lava were in Arabic.
The Original Langiri dates back to the time of Sultan Shamsuddin III who ruled the Maldives at the beginning of the XX century. At the time, young people modified the popular Thaara according to their own taste and called it Langiri.
Each young dancer has two 60 cm long sticks. These sticks are called "Langiri Dhandi" and have colourful flowers at the edges.
Performers are seated in two rows of six people and a lead singer seats in front of each row. A Langiri show usually consists in seven or six songs
Each dancer holds a 90 cm long stick, called “Dhandi”. When he dances, he beats his “Dhandi” against another one of a partner and continues dancing and singing to the rhythm of the music and of the sticks sound. The dancers do not have any special dress, but sometimes they wear a sarong, a T-shirt, a white head cloth, a sash around their waist and white under-garments
This dance is performed by women and represents the old tradition of women offering gifts to the Sultan on special occasions. Gifts were usually shells, kept in a small vase or box, known as the “Kurandi Malaafath”. This vase, closed and externally decorated, was covered by a colourful silk. Women carrying this vase wore bright coloured local dresses smelling of incense.
The dance is performed by 24 women who create small groups of two, three, four or even six people. Bolimalaafath Neshun is still considered one of the most important dances performed by women.
The Maafathi Neshun dance is similar to Langiri, but is performed by women with the national dress. This is a group dance in which women dance in two rows of ten. Each dancer has a 1 meter long semi-circular string decorated with artificial flowers. They hold these strings and dance in different style in small rows or groups of two or three.
In Fathigandu Jehun the songs are usually epics. The story is sung to the rhythm of the music. A famous Fathigandu song is “Burunee Raivaru” which tells the story of a Sultan who left in search of a wife.
Fathigandu Jehun is an evening performance in which a group of men or a single person dance at the rhythm of the music. This dance changes according to the different atolls. Performers are all men who dance in a single group of 30 people. The dance lasts approximately one hour and can be performed in the day or in the night, in the streets or in the squares and in each day of the week.
Bandiyaa Jehun is an adaptation of an Indian dance, performed by young women. The dancers keep time to the rhythm of a metal pot with the metal rings on their fingers.
Today the majority of the groups use a high number of musical instruments, including the drum and the harmonica, and the dance is performed both standing and seated.
Today Kadhaa Maali is performed only during the festivals, but in case of sickness or of unlucky periods, this dance is performed after the “three night walk”.
This dance, whose origin is unknown and dates back many centuries, survives only in Kulhudhuffushi island, South from Thiladhunmathi Atoll. The performance starts with the beating of drums and a “Kadhaa”, a copper instrument made up by a plate and a rod. This is usually used by 30 men, wearing different costumes, who represent the different types of evil spirits and ghosts, called “Maali”.
The dance is linked to the traditional congregation of the elders of the island, who walk in the night around the island to defend it against the evil spirits responsible of the sickness and of the epidemic diseases. The midnight walk usually starts after the late evening prayer, continues for three consecutive nights and, during the third night, the island community performs different music and dances. This is a prelude to the Kadhaa Maali which is the final and most important event of the night.
The Maldives national flower is the pink rose while the national tree is the coconut palm.