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'The Island Kingdom'

For a long time, the Republic of the Maldives was one of the best-kept secrets in the world; a beautiful string of low-lying coral islands in the Indian Ocean, a paradise for watersports enthusiasts and sunseekers alike. Now the tourism potential of the country has developed significantly: the islands have become an increasingly popular long-haul destination.

However, the Maldives is somewhat divided between being an idyllic tourist destination, and being a country with indigenous peoplewho rarely intermix with the tourists. The Dhivehin, as the islanders are called, are a mixed people of Aryan, Negroid, Sinhalese, Dravidian and Arab descent. The mix reveals their history: the islands were under Muslim control from the 12th century, then Portuguese rule from 1518, a dependency of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1645, then a British Protectorate with an elected sultan as head of state in 1887. The islands achieved full independence as a Sultanatein 1965. Three years later, the Republic of the Maldive Islands established Ibrahim Nasir as president, who was succeeded by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 1978, who has been the dominant figure in the islands’ politics since then.

Somehow it is difficult to think about the Maldives’ history when relaxing on one of the country’s 26 natural atolls. The resort islands offer nautical delights from night-fishing trips, windsurfing and scuba-diving. Many islands embrace enormous lagoons, where bright blue-green water laps gently. Indeed, photos of the Maldivian sea look doctored: it is only when you travel there that you discover the sea really is that luminous, enchanting colour.

Yet, even in paradise, trouble can bubble beneath the surface. It is precisely because the Maldives are so low-lying (80% of the territory is less than 1m/3.3ft above sea level), so transparent and perfect for snorkelling, that their very existence is especially threatened by global warming. They are also particularly vulnerable to natural catastrophe, as shown in the devastating tsunami on 26 December 2004: of the Maldives’ 199 inhabited islands, 20 were totally destroyed.

These factors need to be seriously discussed by the international community in future years. Otherwise, paradise really might be lost.

General Information 
298 sq km (115 sq miles).
338,000 (UN estimate 2005).
Population Density
1,134 per sq km.
Malé. Population: 70,000 (2005).
Republic since 1965. Gained independence from the UK in 1965.
The national language is Dhivehi. English is widely used as a business language in government offices and the commercial sector. Other languages are widely used within tourist areas.
The indigenous population is almost entirely Sunni Muslim.
GMT + 5.

The Maldives have a hot tropical climate. There are two monsoons, the southwest from May to October and the northeast from November to April. Generally the southwest brings more wind and rain in June and July. The temperature rarely falls below 25°C (77°F).

 Required Clothing:   Lightweight cottons and linens throughout the year. Light waterproofs are advised during the rainy season.

Social Conventions 
Dress is informal, but locals who are Muslim will be offended by nudity or scanty clothing in public places, and the government rigidly enforces these standards. Bikinis and other scanty beachwear are not acceptable in Malé or on any other inhabited island; they should be restricted to resort islands only. When entering a mosque, the legs and the body, but not the neck and the face, should be covered. Handshaking is the most common form of greeting. The indigenous population not involved in the tourist trade lives in isolated island communities maintaining almost total privacy. A large number of locals smoke, but smoking and eating during Ramadan is discouraged.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Round-pin plugs are used, although square-pin plugs are now becoming more common.
Head of State
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom since 1978.
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