The history of Maldives is as interesting as its people. It’s a bit of a hazy past up to the arrival of the Muslims with myths, which are supported by somewhat questionable archaeological discoveries. Until recently, there is a recorded history that has been defined by the dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the president of Maldives for three decades until he was very recently replaced by Mohammed Nasheed. Local island tourism and guest houses like ours were not permitted until recent years – tourists were restricted to private resort living. Lucky for you it’s welcomed now and is getting off to a great start as people begin to discover the hidden gems of the history of Maldives.
The Early Days
According to archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl, Maldives was a trading point for many civilizations like Romans, Egyptians, Indus Valley and Mesopotamians from the time of 2000 BC. It is also believed that the sun-worshipper Redin were present in the island country till 500 BC when they were most probably overtaken by Buddhists from Sri Lanka and Hindus from northwest India. Certain excavations like Buddhist stupas have revealed the influence of Buddhism in Maldives.
Islamic Influences in the History of Maldives
Arab traders frequented the Maldives for a long time while en route to Far East. The first recorded visit of the Arabs in Maldives was in 2nd century AD and they called the islands, Dibajat. The Maldives islands were also known as the ‘Money Isles’ as the country had huge quantities of cowry shells, which was used as a currency in the early ages. It was Abu Al Barakat, a North African Arab who is believed to have converted the Maldivians to Islam. After that, there was a series of 6 sultan dynasties that ruled the country but at one point of time, there were two ruling dynasties, probably during the arrival of the Portuguese.
Competing Interests for the History of Maldives
Maldives history mentions that the Portuguese arrived in the island country in the 16th century in their attempt to expand trade over the Indian Ocean. One version of the story states that they first just built a fort and a factory in Male but soon they forced them to invade and defeat the army of the ruling sultan and the Portuguese under Captain Andreas Andre ruled for the next 15 years. Another popular version of the story suggests that the Portuguese had not ruled Maldives but merely created a trading post in the country. In any case, the Portuguese were defeated by Mohammed Thakurufaanu who succeeded in defeating the foreigners and successfully created the next Muslim dynasty.
The Portuguese attempted to conquer the country several times after that along with the rajahs of Cannanore, South India. The Maldivians took the protection of the Dutch but many limitations including the lack of good ports, outbreak of malaria and other diseases, its remote position and other factors neither compelled the British nor the Dutch to establish colonial administration in the Maldives.
It was only to save the islands from the monopoly trade of the Bombay Borah merchants that the ruling sultan signed a treaty with the British that would recognize the statehood of the British and formalize their status as protector.
More Recent History of Maldives: The 20th Century
It was the 20th century that witnessed the introduction of the Maldives consitution and statehood. The century also saw some real hardships like shortage of rice and other basic necessities, the outbreak of illness and also death because of World War II. A new constitution was constructed again in 1942 and a new prime minister, Mohammed Amin Didi was elected.
The Maldives received its independence from the British on 26th of July in 1965 and also became a member of the UN.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Maldivian ambassador to the UN became the President of the country and ruled it for three decades. It was under him that the country achieved an international profile and became a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) and the Commonwealth. Gayoom was replaced by Mohammed Nasheed and his Democrats in 2008 after Nasheed fought against the government, even going to prision for his controvercial criticisms and actions.
Interestingly and fittingly for the president of the low-lying Maldives islands, Nasheed is an advocate for climate change and environmental policy and even held a one-of-a-kind underwater, ‘scuba’ cabinet meeting. He has been recognised internatinally for his eco-efforts and has even been referred to as an ‘eco-rock star’.
This focus on environmental preservation is good news for tourists and all the more reason to stay at our guest house where your impacts are minimized compared to resorts. Thanks to independent tourists like you the reefs, beaches and waters of this stunning island getaway will be maintained for years to come – you’re helping to shape the history of the Maldives.