Although many visitors consider the Maldives to be an earthly paradise, it has had a stormy past both physically and politically. The archipelago was inhabited as early as the 5th century bce, most likely by Buddhist peoples from Sri Lanka and southern India. Islam was introduced around 1153 ce and the Maldives became a Sultanate in 1558. A North African traveler, Ibn Battuta, stayed in the Maldives in the mid-1340s.
Today, the service sector is a major source of income for the islands. Annually, more than 1.5 million tourists visit the country and occupy resort islands or spend time on private island homestays. A smaller number of locals live on inhabited islands where the majority are employed in agriculture or fisheries. Industries include coir (coconut-husk fibre), a small shipbuilding industry, and textiles and garment production. Tourism is one of the largest contributors to GDP and the country is renowned for its diving, snorkelling and water sports.
Traditionally fishing was a key occupation. Men would spend the whole day out at sea fishing using pole and line, and return to their island in the late afternoon. Upon their return the islanders would gather on the beach to welcome the fishing boats and watch them unload their catch. The fish would then be cleaned and brought home for dinner.
The population is mostly Muslim and alcohol is banned outside of resorts. Local food is rich and spicy influenced by Indian cuisine, with curry being especially popular. Rice and seafood are staples. Traditional dishes include Roshi, which is made with tuna, coconut milk and spices. Unlike in other parts of South Asia, the practice of secluding women from public view is not widespread. Young children and women are often seen walking together on the streets.