The pristine white-sand beaches and crystal clear seas of Maldives have earned this string of islands the reputation as an earthly paradise. But in fact, this low-lying country has had a stormy past both physically and politically.
The Maldivian people have a proud history and a rich culture that has evolved over the centuries from the many waves of people crossing the Indian Ocean who settled in these islands. The earliest settlers were Tamil-Malayalam people from southern India and Sri Lanka; they brought with them their language, customs, and Buddhism. Later, Sinhalese people from the Indian sub-continent and a number of traders from Arab countries, Malaya, Indonesia, and other places came to live here. These cultures have blended together and influenced the culture that exists today.
Islam is the official religion and most Maldivians are followers. The islanders are also very proud of their heritage and there are many cultural festivals held throughout the year, including the Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
Industries include fishing, coconut processing, coir (coconut-husk fibre) production, and boatbuilding. Tourism accounts for a significant portion of the economy. The Maldives is a religiously conservative society, and foreigners are expected to dress appropriately. This includes wearing modest clothing when outside resorts, particularly around mosques. It is also respectful to remove shoes when entering a home or mosque.
The political system is a presidential republic, with the president having executive and legislative powers. The parliament, or Majlis of the Maldives, is unicameral with 87 members representing seven provinces and 19 natural atolls. The judicial branch consists of the High Court, eight lower courts, and 19 atoll courts.