The Maldives is a tropical paradise with stunning beaches, vibrant coral reefs and luxurious resorts offering top-of-the-range facilities. But what many travellers don’t realise is that the region also has a rich and colourful culture.
This reflects the fact that many of the first Maldivian settlers were seafarers who traversed the oceans and brought traditions with them from the places they visited. A distinct South Asian influence is apparent in Maldivian cuisine which includes curries and rotis made with rice, fish and coconut milk.
Traditional music and dancing are heavily influenced by neighbouring nations too, with the rhythmic beat of drums and songs in a language resembling East African countries evident in performances like boduberu. A love of art is reflected in the country’s crafts, with lacquer works, mat weaving and coir rope making available in most resorts and on inhabited islands.
In addition to their fishing industry, which is the second largest economic activity in the country, Maldivian residents grow vegetables and cassava as staple foods. Home gardens are also common, with locals growing sweet potatoes, bananas and breadfruit along with other fruits and nuts. Starches are an important part of the diet, with tubers such as cassava (dandialuvi) and sweet potato (manduguda) served alongside fish and other meats.
In 2008, following decades of uncontested rule by former president Maumoon Gayoom, the Maldives adopted a new constitution that introduced greater governmental checks and balances, multicandidate elections and the right to freedom of expression. The president is elected by the people of the country’s 20 atolls and the legislature, the Majlis of the Maldives, is unicameral – it has 87 members who are elected for five years from each of the atolls and eight are appointed by the president.