The name Maldives conjures up images of pristine white beaches and turquoise lagoons, but the island nation is much more than that. It is home to a culture that has been shaped by the many peoples who have passed through, as well as its own traditions.
A strong Indian influence can be seen in cuisine, music and dance. Rice and fish are staple foods and curries using spices such as turmeric and ginger are popular dishes. Vegetables are rare, as there is little room to grow them due to lack of land, so they are often imported. The local bread, roshi is eaten with meals. Betel leaf with areca nut, cloves and lime, known as foh, is chewed after meal and elders smoke guduguda (an elongated pipe that goes through a trough of water) and drink the traditional brew raa.
Islam is the main religion and it is against the law to openly practice other religions. The government and civil service are run by Sunni Muslim. The president is the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. There are four political parties registered in the country.
Maldivian society is family oriented with a high level of respect for elders. Families are nuclear in nature and children are raised with a close bond with immediate family members. Women enjoy a highly respected role in the community and retain their maiden names after marriage. Married men may have up to four wives but polygamy is uncommon.