Despite the islands’ long history of outside contact they have developed their own unique culture. The music and dance of the Maldives displays a strong influence from East Africa, Arabia and the Indian subcontinent. Maldivians are incredibly spiritual and are known for their deep faith in Islam.
The country’s 2008 constitution established greater governmental checks and balances and multiparty politics. The president is elected by direct national vote for five years, the legislature – the Majlis of the Maldives – is unicameral, and the judiciary consists of a high court and 19 atoll courts. The official language is Dhivehi, but English is widely spoken. The islands are almost completely rural, with most people living in villages on small islands scattered across the archipelago. Population density is extremely low, and the birth rate is higher than the death rate.
A large number of islands have been damaged by climate change and erosion, but a significant portion remains intact, as does the capital city, Male. Tourism contributes a substantial portion of the nation’s income.
The first documented contact with the outside world was in 947 AD when Arab traders visited the Maldives. The islands became a trading destination for pearls, spices and cowrie shells, which were used as currency in many countries until the seventeenth century. These trades deeply influenced Maldivian society and culture, and the islands were officially converted to Islam in 1153 AD. In the modern era, the archipelago has become a popular tourist destination.