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First inhabitants

The beginning of the Maldives' history of habitation is still not entirely clear. Several stories and legends circulate, including the "legend" about the Redin, a sun-worshipping people of Indo-Aryan origin. In any case, archaeological research by Thor Heyerdahl and others revealed that people have lived in the Maldives as far back as 2000 BC. He also believes that Egyptians, Romans, Mesopotamians and traders from the Indus Valley visited the Maldives on their sea voyages. Around 500 B.C., the Redin left the Maldives or were simply outflanked by settlers from Sri Lanka and Hindus from northwest India.

British researcher H.C.P. Bell examined the ruins of "hawittas," buildings with a dome that closely resembled Buddhist stupas such as the "dagobas" in Sri Lanka. Because there was little building land and material available on the islands, new structures were always built on the foundations of predecessors. This probably explains why most mosques face the sun (Redin were sun worshippers!) and not the Islamic Mecca.

Maldives Islamic

By the 12th century, the Maldives had already become an important trading center. In particular, the Arabs used the Maldives as a way station to supply their ships. Thus, the Maldivian population was also introduced to Islam. Until then, the Maldives had an idol culture. The conversion to Islam is also surrounded by the most fantastic legends. More credible is the theory that the Maldives sought support from the Arabs in connection with the threat from the Buddhist naval forces of the Indian subcontinent. Arab support allowed the Maldives to retain their sovereignty in exchange for the conversion of the entire population to Islam.

Only from the 12th century does a written history of the Maldives exist, which reveals that seven sultan dynasties ruled the Maldives until 1953.

Portuguese reign of terror

During the reign of the third sultan dynasty, in the early 16th century, the balance of power in the Indian Ocean changed dramatically. Until that time, the entire area had been a zone where free trade reigned supreme without any one nation dominating militarily or politically. From 1498, however, the Portuguese appeared on the international trade scene and the Indian Ocean was quickly opened up to the other European naval powers. From 1503, the Portuguese interfered in the Maldivian archipelago. Raids were organized by the Portuguese from Sri Lanka and Goa, India. In 1519, the Portuguese tried to conquer the Maldives. They reached Male where they built a fort but the Maldivians managed to drive the Portuguese out.

Finally, in 1558, the Portuguese Andreas Andreu succeeded in finally conquering the Maldives. However, the Portuguese, who carried out a true reign of terror, would only control the Maldives for 15 years. Remarkably, this was the only period in the history of the Maldives that it was dominated by foreigners for an extended period of time. After only a few years of Portuguese rule, a guerrilla movement arose under the leadership of the legendary Mohamed Thakurufaanu who managed to drive the Portuguese out of the Maldives in 1573. Thakurufaanu immediately became the first sultan of a new dynasty and his responsibilities included legal reforms, the first Maldivian currency and the creation of a defense army. In the 17th century, princes of the Malabar Islands (India) and the Portuguese tried several more times to conquer the Maldives, but failed each time.

Maldives to become a British protectorate

The Dutch took a smarter approach and were only interested in maintaining good trade relations with the Maldives. In addition, malaria prevailed in the Maldives and still failed to convert the population to Christianity. In 1752, South Indian troops succeeded in occupying the Maldives. However, it took only four months before the Indians were driven out by Dhon Hassan Manikufaanu, who was then immediately proclaimed sultan and whose dynasty would continue to rule until 1968. In order to maintain their independence, the Maldives concluded several protection treaties, first with the French, then with the British. Ceylon (now: Sri Lanka) was the Maldives' main trading partner at that time.

During the 19th century, Maldivian trade collapsed and with the help of Indian Bohra merchants tried to revive the economy. However, these merchants soon dominated the entire Maldivian economy due to their strong ties to the British. The Maldives even threatened to be occupied by the British, were it not for the fact that in 1887 Sultan Mohamed Mueenuddin signed a treaty with Great Britain making the Maldives a British protectorate. The advantage of this was complete autonomy in the domestic sphere.

In the first half of the 20th century, society in the Maldives was dominated by corruption and political intrigue. In 1932, Sultan Muhammed Shamsuddeen was forced by the British to introduce a written constitution. This limited the power of the sultan and also stipulated that future rulers would be elected by the people. In the 1940s, the authoritarian Mohammed Amin Didi came to power. In 1948 he signed a new protection treaty with the British and in 1953 he personally proclaimed the republic, thus abolishing the institution of the sultanate. In 1954 there was a popular uprising to protest against the strict regime of Amin Didi, who died as a result of injuries sustained. He was succeeded by Mohammed Fareed Didi, who again ascended the sultan's throne. He would prove to be the 94th and so far very last sultan.

Maldives independent

On July 26, 1965, the British granted the Maldives full independence. Three years later the sultanate was abolished again and on November 11, 1968, Ibrahim Nasir became the first president. The British did still maintain a military base on the island of Gan. Between 1959 and 1964, the three southernmost atolls attempted to secede from the rest of the Maldives. In 1962, the central government in Male intervened militarily and subsequently abandoned their quest for independence. The two reigns of the equally authoritarian Nasir were also marked by riots and coup attempts. In 1978 Nasir even fled to Singapore with a bag full of state money. The British, meanwhile, had abandoned their base at Gan in 1976.

Nasir was succeeded by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 1978. He introduced all kinds of reforms, survived coup attempts, and was re-elected in 1983. In November 1988 another coup attempt was made by a number of businessmen who had hired an army of Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka. At the moment that the troops of the Maldivian army were more or less confined to their own headquarters, President Gayoom called for help from his Indian counterpart Rajiv Gandhi. The latter immediately sent 1,600 paratroopers who quickly chased the Tamils away. Eventually fourteen people were killed and forty wounded and the remaining mercenaries were arrested and extradited to Sri Lanka to serve their sentences. However, relations with Sri Lanka suffered a serious setback when the mercenaries were released fairly soon. As a result, Sri Lankan guest workers and middle class people were forced to leave the Maldives.

In contrast, the relationship with India continued to improve and all kinds of aid programs were initiated. Peace returned and the 1990s were marked by economic growth. In 1993 Gayoom was re-elected president for the fourth time. Gayoom was re-elected again in the November 1998 general presidential election. He had been nominated by the parliament as the only candidate. Over 90% of the electorate spoke in favor of his candidacy.

21th century

On Boxing Day in 2004, a massive natural disaster struck many countries in southern Asia, including the Maldives. A seaquake occurred that had a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale. The epicenter of the quake was off the west coast of Sumatra, at the level of Aceh province.

The quake caused a wall of water to wash over the islands of the Maldives and many other countries. The waves of this so-called tsunami reached a height of ten meters in some places. In total, more than 150,000 people were killed, including 76 in the Maldives. The seaquake and the power of the tsunami affected parts of the Maldives so badly that the shape of many islands changed beyond recognition. Some atolls were completely swept away by the waves and are now below the surface of the water.

In early 2006, the government of the Maldives announced a new reform process that would address issues such as legislation, good governance, human rights, political system, and the role of the media. In August 2006, the Maldives government and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP, opposition) agreed to work together more constructively. This accelerated the reform agenda. In August 2007, voters approved reforms to the system by President Gayoom in a referendum. In January 2008, President Gayoom survives an attempt on his life.

Opposition leader and former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed was sworn in as the new president of the Maldives on Tuesday, November 11, 2008. Nasheed won the first ever democratic election in the Indian Ocean archipelago in October. In power since 1978 was the now 71-year-old Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the archipelago authoritatively. For criticizing Gayoom, Nasheed was indicted 27 times and served a total of six years in prison. In March 2009, Nasheed announced that the Maldives would become a carbon neutral country within ten years by switching to green energy sources. In February 2012, Nasheed steps down as president, he is succeeded by the vice president Mahamed Washeed Hussain Manik.

In November 2013, Abdulla Yameen becomes the new president. In February 2015, former President Nasheed is captured and sentenced to 13 years in prison. In January 2016, he is allowed to travel to Britain for 30 days to undergo surgery. In May 2016, he is granted refugee status there. In August 2016, the government issues a warrant for his arrest for failure to return on time. In October 2016, a withdrawal from the Commonwealth is announced. In June 2017, the Maldives joins Qatar's critics, although trade relations remain intact.

In September 2018, Yameen lost his re-election battle to Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, an MP from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who had the support of a four-party coalition that came together to defeat Yameen and restore democratic norms in the Maldives. In April 2019, Solih's MDP won 65 of the 87 seats in parliament.


Derksen, G. / Maldiven

Ellis, R. / Maldives

Lyon, J. / Maldives
Lonely Planet

Vliet, E. van / Reishandboek Malediven

Voigtmann, H. / Malediven

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info