The islands of the Maldives have been inhabited for over 1500 years and the culture today has a multitude of influences from long-term and short-term visitors over the centuries. The official language is Dhivehi, but English is widely spoken and has helped the country’s tourism industry to develop. The majority of islanders live in Male, while others inhabit inhabited islands throughout the nation’s many atolls. The staple foods include fish and coconut. Vegetables such as taro, yam and banana are also common along with a variety of tropical fruits including papaya, mango and pineapple. Influences from India, Sri Lanka and Arabia are evident in the local cuisine.
A rich cultural history is reflected in the dance and music of the Maldives, particularly drumming known as ‘boduberu’ and songs in a musical style with hints of African influence. Other traditions influenced by Islam and the first settlers from across the oceans include fish broth called garadhiya, which is made from tuna, and Banbukeylu harissa, a breadfruit curry seasoned with chillies, garlic, curry leaves and ginger.
The 2008 Constitution established a republic with a president (who is head of state and government) elected for five years by direct national vote and a unicameral legislature, the Majlis of Maldives, consisting of 87 members. The legislative branch is based on sharia, Islamic law. The low-lying country has suffered from natural disasters such as the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and is vulnerable to climate change induced rising sea levels.