Many people imagine Maldives as being simply a tropical holiday destination for tourists but there is much more to the country’s culture than this. A large percentage of the population are locals who have built and maintained their own unique cultural identity throughout the years.
The earliest inhabitants left little archaeological remains but it is believed that the first groups of settlers came from southern India in around 1500BC. They brought the Buddhist faith with them, which lasted until it was replaced by Islam in the thirteenth century AD. This is the religion that continues to dominate local culture today.
Due to the location of the islands and its long history of seafaring, cultures from various parts of the world have influenced the Maldives. The most significant of these was the arrival of Arab and Persian traders who were attracted by the abundant pearls, spices, coconuts and dried fish in the archipelago. These merchants radically changed the Maldives, influencing religion and politics.
A conservative Islamic society persists and this can be felt strongly in Male and outside resorts. It is not uncommon for men and women to wear the veil in public and foreigners are expected to dress modestly. It is customary to remove footwear inside mosques and houses. Foreigners should also avoid wearing bikinis and topless sunbathing outside of the resorts.
A visit to some of the local villages on the mainland is a great way to see and experience local life and culture. You can hire cycles and ride out to some of the oldest and most beautiful villages that uphold centuries of tradition. The Grand Friday Mosque is another must-see. This is the biggest mosque in the Maldives and it is renowned for its stunning architecture.