The Maldives are known as the paradise on earth mainly for their stunning beaches, turquoise lagoons and rich marine life. However, this beautiful string of islands also has a rich culture with roots that go back to several centuries.
Maldives is a republic and its President serves as head of state, government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President nominates the Prime Minister and other cabinet members who then must be approved by parliament. The judiciary is independent and a constitution was ratified in 2008 which provides for greater governmental checks and balances, reduces the executive powers of the president and strengthens the parliament.
Despite its small population, Maldivians have managed to build and preserve an exclusive cultural identity. Throughout the years, Maldivians have developed and adapted their traditions according to the various influences they encountered from their neighbors and foreign visitors.
The archipelago was first inhabited as early as the 5th century bce by peoples who were probably from Sri Lanka and southern India. It remained Islamic, resisting all attempts to convert it to Christianity, even during the period of Portuguese control that lasted on and off into the 17th century. Ibn Battuta, the famous North African traveler, resided here during the mid-1340s and noted that women were free to move about without men’s permission.
Boatbuilding and handicrafts are the main sources of income. In addition, fishing employs about 45% of the workforce. The country has a balance-of-trade deficit and a current-accounts deficit. Maldives follows a nonaligned policy and maintains friendly relations with all countries, including the United States.