The origins of the Maldivian people are shrouded in mystery. The First
settlers may well have been from Sri Lanka and Southern India. Some
say Aryans, who sailed in their reed boats from Lothal in the Indus
Valley about 4,000 years ago, probably followed them. Archeological
evidence suggests the existence Hinduism and Buddhism before the
country embraced Islam in 1153 A.D.Not surprisingly, the faces of
today’s Maldivian display the features of various faces that inhabit
the lands around the Indian Ocean shipping and maritime routes, the
Maldives has long been a melting pot for African, Arab and South East
The language of the Maldivians is Dhivehi, a language which is
placed in the Indro-Indian group of languages. Dhivehi with its roots
in Sanskrit and according to some researchers Elu, an ancient form of
Sinhala, (spoken in Sri Lanka), is strongly influenced by the major
lanuguages of the region. The language has been influenced heavily
from Arabic since the advent of the Islam in 1153 and English in more
recent times, especially since the introduction of English as a medium
of education in the early 1960s.
Given the wide dispersion of islands it is not surprising that the
vocabulary and pronunciation vary from atoll to atoll, with the
difference being more significant in the dialects spoken in the
southernmost atolls. The Maldivian script known as thaana was invented
during the 16th century soon after the country was liberated from
Portuguese rule. Unlike former scripts thaana is written from right to
left. This was devised to accommodate Arabic words that are frequently
used in Dhivehi. There are 24 letters in the thaana alphabet.
The close-knit island communities practice mutual aid to survive
difficult circumstances. A system of extended families provide a
safety net for members of a family going through a difficult period.
In addition to the parents other members of the family also contribute
in the care of children. Traditionally men go out fishing during the
day and women are responsible to look after the affairs of the family
and vary often the community. This remains so even today in smaller
Since Maldives embraced Islam in 1153, Island has been central to
the life of Maldivians. The main events and festivalss of Maldivian
life follow the Muslim Calendar. From infancy children are taught the
Arabic alphabet. Religious education is provided both at home and at
school. Islam is part of the school curriculum and is taught
concurrently with other subjects.
ART AND CRAFT
The beautifully carved tombstones in some of the old cemeteries
and the fine stone carving of the Hukuru Miskiiy in Male’ bear witness
to the intricate skills of Maldivian stone carvers of the past.
Maldivians are deft craftsman producing beautifully crafted pieces
mostly out of what is available locally. Although many of the skills
have been passed on from generation to generation and lives on even
today.The art calligraphy has strong connections with the Islam. Old
and new mosques display beautifully penned versus from the Holy Quran.
The Islamic Center exhibits some of the finest samples of the work of
modern calligraphers in the country. While many crafts have become
obsolete, others have found new life with the advent of tourism. The
production of ornaments from tortoise shells and black coral once
valued by visitors has now ceased completely because of the growing
careness among the public on the need to preserve the environment.
Wooden Lacquer Ware
Perhaps the most distinctive of the Maldivian handicrafts, these are
almost exlclusively produced in Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll. Liye
Laajehun as it is called in Dhivehi involves the process of shaping
and hollowing out pieces of wood to form beautifully crafted boxes,
containers and ornamental objects. Made from the local funa,
(Alexandrian laurel) which grows abundantly throughout the country,
they come in various shapes and sizes; small pillboxes, vases of
various sizes to round and oval plates with lids. These elegant pieces
are lacquered in strands of red, black and yellow resin and delicately
carved with flowing flowery patterns.
Beautiful red mats are woven throughout the country, the most famous
of which are those that are woven by the women of Gadhdhoo in Gaafu
Dhaalu Atoll. Thundu Kunaa as they are known in Dhivehi ranges in size
from that of a place mat to a full size single mattress. The women of
Gadhdhoo collect the reeds called haa from the nearby island of Fioari.
They are dried in the sun and stained with natural dyes, the colour
varying from fawn to black. These mats with their intricate abstract
designs are woven on a handloom according to the imagination and skill
of the weaver.
Although the tools used in the building of dhonis have changed, little
has changed of its basic design. As in the past, the boats are still
being built without a documented plan. The design and symmetry of the
boat emerges as the boat is being built. Imported hardwoods are used
in the place of coconut wood, which was used in place of coconut wood,
which was used in the past to make the hull. Copper rivets are used to
hold the planks together instead of coir, which was used for the
purpose even half a century ago. The square sail made of coconut
fronds gave way to a triangular lateen sail. Even though this is still
considered essential and is carried on board, it is used only during
emergencies or to ease the strain of the engines. Almost all Dhonis
are driven by diesel power.
Dhonis are mainly used for fishing and provide the livehood for a
large proportion of the population. Others are modified to be used for
transportation of passengers. A dhoni may be as small as 10ft. (3 m)
used mostly to travel across short distances or to traverse the
shallow waters of the lagoon. Islanders often use these ferry across
to nearby islands for firewood. The average fishing dhoni used to be
around 10 metres (33 feett), however the new generation fishing
vessels can be twice the size or even larger. The basic design of
dhonis has proven to be seaworthy as it has been tested and tuned for
centuries. Even the luxury cruise vessels that are built in the
country uses the same basic hull design and can be as long as 30
meters (100 feet) or more.