As a stop on ancient trade routes, Maldives has been exposed to diverse genetic and cultural influences over the centuries. Traces of Africa, Arabia, Indonesia and India are discernible in physical traits as well as Maldivian music and dance. The drumming Bodu Beru, for example, has echoes of Africa. The main religion of the Maldives is Islam; if you intend to attend a mosque, it’s important to dress appropriately – cover your shoulders and knees and keep your hands below your waist.
The people of the Maldives are expert craftsmen. They weave beautiful mats made of reeds, dye them and make jewellery. They also are skilled at wood carving and lacquer work. Local cuisine is heavily influenced by the islands’ natural environment. Traditional dishes include a variety of fish and spicy curries, served with roshi (thin flatbread).
Although a secular state, the Maldives has strong ties to its Islamic past. A sultanate ruled the archipelago for 235 years. In 1968, a referendum was held to decide whether the country should continue as a constitutional monarchy headed by a sultan or become a presidential republic. Eighty percent voted in favor of the latter, which ended the 853-year monarchy and led to the formation of the Republic of Maldives.
The President of the Maldives is elected for five years through direct national vote. The legislature, the Majlis of Maldives, is unicameral – 87 members are chosen from seven provinces and 20 atolls for five-year terms, and eighty-two are appointed by the President. The legal system is based on the Sharia, or Islamic law.