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Title: Maldivians  
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Subject: Hassan Ugail, Ethnic groups in the Maldives, Aslam Abdul Raheem, Mohamed Faisal, British Indian Ocean Territory
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Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Maldives 396,334 (2010)[1]
 India 15,000 (2007)[2]
 Sri Lanka 6,000 (2008)[3]
 Malaysia 3,000 (2008)[3]
 United Kingdom 2,000 (2006)
 United States 1,200 (2010)
 Singapore 1,000 (2008)[3]
 Pakistan 450 (2010)[4]
 Australia 450 (2011)[5]
 Egypt 150 (2011)[6]
Related ethnic groups
Indo-Aryans (principally Gujarati, Punjabi,
Marathi, Konkani and Sinhalese peoples)
Arabs · Malays

Maldivians ( ދިވެހިން, divehin), also called Maldive Islanders[11] are a nation and ethnic group native to the historic region of the Maldive Islands comprising what is now the Republic of Maldives and the island of Minicoy in Union territory of Lakshadweep, India. All Maldivians share the same culture and speak the Maldivian language which is a member of the southern group of Indo-Aryan languages.[12] For ethnographic and linguistic purposes as well as geo-political reasons anthropologists divide the Maldivian people into 3 subgroups:[11]

  • The main group of Maldivians, numbering more than 250,000. This is the group inhabiting the numerous atolls stretching from Ihavandhippolhu (Haa Alif) to Haddhunmathi (Laamu) in Maldives. They constitute over 70% of the total population of all Maldivians. In a larger scale, the third group also comes under this group. From this group, it is the standard dialect of Maldivian language which is spoken in the Maldives capital Male' along with the central atolls. Slighter variants which are very closely related to the former are spoken in rest of the islands from the far north of Maldives down to Laamu Atoll.[11]
  • The southern group of Maldivians, living in the three southernmost atolls of the equatorial zone (Huvadhu, Fuvahmulah and Addu atolls) in Maldives. This group numbers approximately 60,000 and constitute about 20% of the total population of all Maldivians. According to researchers, this group of Maldivians have the closest proximity to the original Maldivian people in terms of linguistics as well as ethnicity.:[11] Each of the 3 atolls of this region speak their own distinctive forms of the Maldivian language (Huvadhu bas, Mulaku bas, Addu bas), which are much different from the rest and as researchers suggest having a closer affinity to what may have been the original.[13]
  • The people of Minicoy (Malikun) – Mahls, numbering about 10,000. The island of Minicoy lies in the northern end of the atoll chain inhabited by Maldivians and is the northernmost group of the Maldivian people. They are only about 3% of the total amount of Maldivians. Although the people of Minicoy are identical to the main group of Maldivians from the first group in terms of ethnicity and linguistics and in a larger scale comes under that group, the day to day politics of Minicoy and after on the secession of the island from Maldivian rule and affiliating with the Indian government, thus acquiring a non-Maldivian citizenship has made this group to be labelled as one among the subgroups of Maldivians. Due to reasons such as politics, having to live in great isolation from the remaining Maldivian people, the Minicoians are steadily undergoing a process of acculturation. This group has its own dialect (called Maliku bas or Mahl) which retains some features of an older Maldivian, and shows Malayalam influences as well. Still, the dialect is mutually intelligible with the standard Maldivian dialect and is more related to the slighter variants of northern Maldives from the first group.[11]

Myths and legends

There is no historical evidence about the origin of Maldivians; there is also no indication that there was any negrito or other primitive aboriginal population, such as the Andamanese. No archaeology has been conducted to investigate the prehistory of the islands. There is, however, a Dravidian substratum, in addition to other later cultural influences in the islands.[14] Bengali, Oriya and Sinhalese people have had trading connections to Dhivehi people in the past.

Conjectures have been made by scholars who argue that the ancestors of Maldivian people arrived to the Maldives from North West and West India, from Kalibangan between 2500 and 1700 BC[15] and that they formed a distinct ethnic group around the 6th century BC.

Myths of origin

According to Maldivian folklore the main myths of origin are reflecting the dependence of the Maldivians on the coconut tree and the tuna fish.[16] A legend says that the first inhabitants of the Maldives died in great numbers, but a great sorcerer or fandita man made coconut trees grow out of the skulls of the buried corpses of the first settlers. Therefore the coconut tree is said to have an anthropomorphic origin according to Maldive lore. for this reason The word naashi(coconut shell) is also the word used for skull in dhivehi language.[17] The coconut tree occupies a central place in the present-day Maldive national emblem.

The tuna fish is said to have been brought to the Maldivian waters by a mythical seafarer (maalimi) called Bodu Niyami Kalēfanu who went close to the Dagas (the mythical tree at the end of the world) to bring this valuable fish.[17]

Legend of the first settlers

The first people who settled in the Maldives were a race called Dasyu Dheyvis from Kalibanga in India.[18] The Dheyvis were said to be olive-skinned and of medium height. When they came to these islands, they first settled in Isduva (Isdhoo) of the atoll Isduvammathi (Haddhummathi). They are said to have worshipped objects of nature, such as the sun, moon and stars. They had no king, but the leader of the tribe was their religious leader who was called sawamiah by the people who regarded him as an agent of God. The Dheyvis called all islands duva. Islands are still called dhu in Maldivian, and the inhabitant of an island is called a dhoovehi. The legend states that the Dheyvis came to these islands at a time before Maurya ruler Ashoka established his empire. The fact that a legend existing in the Maldives mentions this emperor seems to give some credibility to the authenticity of this oral tradition. If there had been no such legend, there is no reason for the ancient writer to know about Emperor Ashoka, since his kingdom in Northern India in the 3rd century BC, could hardly have affected the lives of islanders in the Maldives.[18]

After the Dheyvis, the next arrivals in the Maldives were people called Redhis (Maldivian plural Redhin), followed by Kunibis (Maldivian plural Kunibin). Both these tribes were said to have come from a region called Mahrast (present day Maharashtra and Gujarat) in India. The legend does not tell us where these two groups settled in the Maldives. There are some folk stories associated with the Redhin that give them almost supernatural powers. They are said to have been fair-skinned and light eyed, and are said to have built large monuments. They were adept at travelling at very high speeds on the sea. There are ancient mounds on some islands with names associated with the Redhin such as the Havitta in Fuvahmulah. Rashoveshi, an ancient local poem of Fuvahmulah says: "Havitta uhey haudhahau, Redhin thaneke hedhi ihau" (Meaning: How tall is the Havitta, which was made in the past by the Redhin). This poem gives a clue about the name Redhin. Also, there are graves in a cemetery of Madifushi in Mulaku Atoll, which are said to be that of Redhin. This cemetery used to contain very large tombstones, but these graves are more than likely to have been the graves of other foreigners. They may have been called Redhin, if their description corresponded with that given in folk-stories to the Redhin. Tradition gives a much earlier date to Redhin.

Aryas (Aryans) are said to have arrived in this country after the arrival of Redhin and the Kunibin. The Aryas came from India, although tradition says that they were not really from India, but from a place outside India. They brought their religion, Hinduism, customs and language. For the first time, a particular period is given in the legend for the arrival of a group, by mentioning the fact that this arrival took place about three centuries before the establishment of the kingdom of Emperor Ashoka. This would place the arrival of the Aryans during the 6th century BC. Maldives was then Dheeva Maari. With the arrival of the Aryas, the religion and the language of Dheyvis of the Maldives underwent changes. The Hindu religion was introduced, and the Indic Prakrit that finally evolved into present Maldivian language was probably adopted at this time, both brought from the Indian sub-continent.[18]

Northern islands were than populated by tribes from Southern India. These people are said to have been dark-skinned and used a different idiom, using words such as varam for the islands in which they lived. Examples given in the old manuscript are: Noḷivaram, Kuruhinnavaram, and Girāvaram. The proximity of the northern atolls to Southern India would have brought settlers from the coastal areas to settle in the Laccadive-Maldive archipelago. Immigration from the littoral areas of Malabar and the Coromandel Coast would have brought families of fishermen to these northern atolls where fishing was the main occupation of the people. Many of the old terms used by Maldivian fishermen come from the Dravidian languages, leading one to the assumption that these terms were brought by people from southern coastal India in ancient times. Historical records show that in the southern and central atolls of the Maldives, occupations such as farming and weaving were important in the early days.

Dheyvis, the first settlers, are said to have discovered Suvadimmathi (Huvadu Atoll) and settled in that atoll too. The tradition says that at a later date, people arrived from Sarandiva (Serendib) and settled there, corrupting the atoll's Dheyvi language and characters in the usage. One of the important characteristics of the Dheyvi language seems to have been a letter and sound unique to the language, called Rhaviyani, a soft sibilant still present in Maldivian language. It is said that after the people from Sarandiva arrived and settled in Suvadimmathi, this character in the Dheyvi language lost its purity and was pronounced as the "Sh" sound.

A short time after the arrival of the Aryas and the introduction of the Hindu religion, a prince of India is said to have arrived in the Maldives. This is the period calculated earlier from oral tradition, and the story also corresponds to that from the Mahavansa chronicle of Sri Lanka, about the king's son who was exiled from his country and arrived in Lanka, one of his ships losing its way and arriving in the Maldives. In the Maldivian legend, the prince who arrived in the Maldives, was the son of Brahmaditiya, king of Kalinga (Brahmadatta, King of Kalinga at the time of Buddha's death c. 500 – 350 BC), a kingdom on the south-east of India (modern Orissa). King Brahmaditiya was displeased with his son and sent him to Dheeva Maari (Maldives). The name of this prince was Sri Soorudasaruna.

Sri Soorudasaruna established a kingdom of the Adeetha Vansha Dynasty (Solar Dynasty) in Dheeva Maari, a short period before the reign of Emperor Ashoka in India. This would place the establishment of the first kingdom in the Maldives circa the 4th century BC. The tradition then states that Emperor Ashoka established his kingdom in Pataliputra in India, and that his people went preaching the religion and teachings of Buddha to a place called Bairat, to the west of Pataliputra. A group of people came to the Maldives from Bairat in order to teach the religion of Buddha. These people are said to have arrived in these islands during Ashoka's reign, probably when he sent Buddhist missionaries to all the neighbouring countries, in the 3rd century BC. At the time the Buddhist missionaries arrived in the Maldives, the country was called Dheeva Mahl.

Legend of the first ruling dynasty

The myth of the origin of the ruling dynasty is the story of a prince named Koimala. In the Muslim traditions recorded in the Lōmāfānu and Rādavaḷi chronicles all the pre-Muslim royalty are represented by a king, whose successor was converted to Islam. The name Koimala Kalo is also suggestive: koi or koyi in Maldivian language means son, lad or prince (derived from Malayalam koya, son, prince, master, cf. the Dravidian root , king). The component malā may or may not be derived from māla as in Māla-dīv, but, if so, the name would mean 'prince of the Maldives'. The term kalō is a common word of man, used as a term of endearment. The title of former Maldivian kings was kattiri bovana mahaa radun, 'Kattiri' (ކައްތިރި) meaning Kshatriya in Maldivian language.

One oral tradition says that the Giraavaru people (Tivaru people) are the indigenous people of the Maldives who were in the islands before Koimala arrived. They are of Dravidian origin, and the earliest island community of the Maldives; their presence predates Buddhism and the arrival of Indo-Aryans in the archipelago. This may be the reason that the Dhivehi kinship system is partly of Dravidian origin, and bears evidence of some matriliny, like the Nayar and other matrilineal groups of Kerala. Some of the kinship terms are clearly derived from Malayalam.

Five versions of the myth are given here and their significance in terms of culture history explained.[14]

  • 1. The following version was recorded by Bell in 1922:

Once upon a time, when the Maldives were still sparsely inhabited, a prince of royal birth named Koimala, who had married the daughter of the king of Ceylon, made a voyage with her in two vessels from Srendib [Sri Lanka] Island. Reaching the Maldives they were becalmed and rested a while at Rasgetheemu island in North Maalhosmadulu Atoll.

The Maldive Islanders, learning that the two chief visitors were of Ceylon Royal descent invited them to remain; and ultimately proclaimed Koimala their king at Rasgetheemu, the original 'King's Island'.

Subsequently Koimala and his spouse migrated thence to Male' and settled there with the consent of the aborigines of Giraavaru Island, then the most important community of Male' Atoll.

The two ships were dispatched to Lanka, and brought over other people of 'the Lion Race' (Sinhalas).

To Koimala and his queen was born a male child who was called Kalaminja. He reigned as a Buddhist for twelve years, and was then converted to Islam, ruling for thirteen years more before finally departing for Mecca.

This ruler's daughter married the chief minister and reigned as a nominal Sultana. She gave birth to a son also called Kalaminja, who, in turn, married a lady of the country.

From them the subsequent rulers of the Maldives were descended.

  • 2. According to this version, which Maloney heard in Male', Koimala's parents came from India, not Sri Lanka: The Indian king was angry with his son, and sent him off with his wife in two boats; they had 700 soldiers. They came to Rasgetheemu in Raa Atoll, and when he became king there, people called that island Rasgetheemu "King's Landing". Then the king and queen came to Male', and Koimala was born from that Indian couple.
  • 3. The following variant Maloney heard in Noon Atoll: "... When Koimala and his wife came, there were already people here. Because she was a princess of royal lineage, people asked her husband to rule. Koimala sent ships to Sri Lanka and brought back more people. It is said that a beautiful woman named Malakamana from the Maldives was one of the early people who settled Sri Lanka."
  • 4. A myth Maloney heard in Manadhoo, Noon Atoll, is, in condensed form, as follows:

One day, while a hunter king of Sri Lanka was hunting, he caught a man-beast in his net. The man-beast couldn't walk, so the king taught him to do it. The man-beast then married the king's daughter, but he made political trouble in Sri Lanka, so was forced to leave. He and the princess arrived in Rasgetheemu and they lived there for some time, where the locals there asked them to rule them.

  • 5. Another version Maloney heard in Hulhumeedhoo, Addu Atoll, in the far south of the country, is as follows:

There was a king of India who was a hunter. Once, while out hunting with a net, he saw a creature which is like a human, but which walked on all fours, and which disturbed the people. This creature would also take hunters' nets and steal their prey, so the king couldn't get any catch. The king considered how he might capture this creature. He made big weights for his net, which no ordinary human could lift, and which would prevent the creature from taking the hunting net. One day, the king, with the help of many men, put the net over the creature, which could not get out because of the large stone weights. The king took the creature to the palace and looked after him well, and because he knew no language, the king taught him language, which took a long time. The creature started helping the king by showing him treasures in the forest, and the king came to respect him.

The king had a daughter who fell in love with this creature (in an alternate version, the king forced his daughter to marry the creature). The king, being angry, put the couple on a ship and sent them off into exile. Their ship came to Laam (Hadummati) Atoll (towards the south), where the exiled pair saw a crow which cried. They thought the crow was not a good omen, and it was therefore undesirable to land there, so they went on to Male'. They settled in what is now Sultan Park (site of the former palace) and started a kingdom.

After fifteen years, a jinni began to come from the ocean every once a month and disturbed the people... (from here follows the story of the saint who came and dispelled the jinni and caused all the people to become converted to Islam from Buddhism and Hinduism).


Maloney says Gujarat, with its indented coastline and its proximity to the old navigation routes of the Mesopotamian and Indus civilisations, has apparently maintained a tradition of navigation over the past 4000 years. Certainly the earliest Buddhist literature indicates active seafaring from its ports. It was from Gujarat that North Indian civilisation impinged upon the Maldives and Sri Lanka. From Gujarat, North Indian civilisation also expanded to Java and other parts of South-east Asia. The export of this civilisation to all coasts of South Asia and South-east Asia began about 500 B.C., but during the Mauryan period and the diffusion of Buddhism, sea traffic in the Bay of Bengal supplemented and, to some extent, surpassed that originating along the coasts of Western India. The long story of the cultural and economic expansion of North Indian civilisation by sea cannot be told here.

Three Jataka tales cited above seem to refer to the Maldives, particularly the comment that exiles from Bharukaccha went to a thousand islands [Laccadive and Maldive islands] where they found standing room, and that these were near an island named for coconuts [Kerala]. This suggests that not only did seafarers emanating from Bharukaccha and Suppara visit the Maldives, but Gujaratis actually settled there in pre-Buddhist times. The other Jataka tales suggest that ships from Gujarat going to South-east Asia stopped in the Maldives, and that merchants in search of treasures sailed in several seas called – maala (or maara).

The Maldives might well have been settled parallel with the arrival of Indo-Aryan speakers in Sri Lanka, as suggested in the above interpretations of the Sri Lanka myths and the Koimala story.

Mariners from the north-western coasts of the peninsula, from the time they commenced sailing to southern India, must have on occasion been blown over to the Maldives—unmanned canoes and rafts from Kerala even now get wafted there from time to time – and the dangers of shipwreck vividly described in several of the Jātakas might have arisen from contact with some of the thousands of reefs in the Maldives, which sailors have long dreaded. It may be, therefore, that shipwrecked Gujaratis, as well as exiles, were early settlers on the islands of the Laccadive-Maldives archipelago.

Geographic distribution


All Maldivians are native to the historic region of the Maldive Islands comprising what is now the Republic of Maldives and the island of Minicoy in Union territory of Lakshadweep, India. The secession of Minicoy from Maldivian rule and affiliating with the Indian government gradually led to the emergence of a Maldivian population of Indian citizenship who came to be known as Mahls.

According to figures 100% of the Maldivian population are ethnic Maldivians excluding the foreigners in the country. Being the heartland of Maldivian people, more than 97% of all Maldivians are from the Maldives. For all the Maldivian communities across the world (including the people of Minicoy) their origin lies in the Maldives. The Maldivian community of the Maldives consist of the two major groups from the three subgroups of Maldivians: The main group of Maldivians and the southern group of Maldivians (also known as Suvadivians) respectively.[11]

Southern group of Maldivians

As a result of some political activities which occurred in the South during the early 1960s, the term Suvadivian has been adopted by some authors to refer to the southern group of Maldivians. From 1959 to 1963 there was a short-lived breakaway government named United Suvadive Republic which was formed by the Southerners, from which the name originated though there are no such native names. The names Suvadive and Suvadivian suggest that the origin of the names lye in the ancient name for the three southernmost atolls of Huvadhu, Fuvahmulah and Addu which was Suvadiva.[19]

The Suvadivians, living in the three southernmost atolls of the equatorial zone (Huvadhu, Fuvahmulah and Addu atolls) number approximately 60,000 and constitute about 20% of the total population of Maldivians.[11] According to researchers, this group of Maldivians have the closest proximity to the original Maldivian people in terms of linguistics as well as on ethnic grounds. The reason behind this suggested by researchers and proven from historical records is that there were less interference from the outside world to this group. Unlike the other group of Maldivians, this group was not affected by the Portuguese rule in the Maldives as it does not exceed the Suvadiva channel. Also there were no interference from traders and travellers as much as in the case of the other.[13]

Each of the 3 atolls of the Suvadiva region speak their own distinctive forms of the Maldivian language (Huvadhu bas, Mulaku bas and Addu bas), which are much different from the rest and as suggested by researchers, having a closer affinity to what may have been the original.[11] Thus, the native features of the original Maldivian people are preserved in this group greater than any other group of Maldivians.[13]

Main group of Maldivians

Unlike the southern minority, this group of Maldivians were subject to foreign intercourse. There were numerous occasions of reported interference from outsiders such as traders, travellers, etc... Also, the Portuguese rule and many other factors pushed this group into a state that imported materials got mixed into their linguistics as well as ethnic background to a large extent.[13]


The secession of Minicoy from Maldivian rule and affiliating with the Indian government gradually led to the emergence of a Maldivian population holding Indian citizenship. This group of Maldivians consist of the people of Minicoy and migrant communities from Minicoy across India and elsewhere. Except for the people from Minicoy, there is no community of ethnic Maldivians with Indian citizenship. This group of Maldivians are officially referred as Mahls.[20] The people locally identify themselves as Malikun.[21] The Mahls make up the third subgroup of Maldivians.

People of Minicoy (Malikun) – Mahls

Mahls are the third subgroup of Maldivians centred in the island of Minicoy making up the only community of ethnic Maldivians in India. This group has its own dialect (called Maliku bas or Mahl) which retains some features of archaic Maldivian language, and shows Malayalam influences as well. Still, the dialect is mutually intelligible with the standard dialect of Maldivian and is more related to the slighter variants of northern Maldives.[13]

In case of linguistics and ethnic grounds, this group of Maldivians are identical to the main group of Maldivians in the Maldives. However, the secession of Minicoy from Maldivian rule and gradually becoming part of India, thus becoming the only group of ethnic Maldivians with a non-Maldivian citizenship made anthropologists to label the Mahls among the subgroups. The isolation of this group from the rest of the Maldivians and the acculturation process which the Mahls are undergoing as a result of this as well as the change in nationality is one of the reasons for separation of this group from the main group of Maldivians. The origin of this group like any other group of Maldivians lye in the Maldives. The story of the Tivarun, the linguistics of the people in Minicoy and many other factors prove this side of the story.

Mahls are the only community of ethnic Maldivians (excluding migrant communities) outside the Republic of Maldives. They make up about 3% of the total population of all Maldivians.[11]

Most Mahls live in their native land of Maliku (Minicoy). Mahls are 15.67% of the total population of Lakshadweep emerging as a separate ethnic group among the rest of the population. All Mahl communities in India emerged from Minicoy.

There are Mahl communities (migrant communities from Minicoy) in other parts of India too. A number of Mahls have settled in the districts of Kozhikode, Malappuram, Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in the southern state of Kerala. The ancestors of present Mahl communities in Kerala migrated from Minicoy and settled there in the 17th century, when the islands of Lakshadweep came under the rule of Ali Rajahs/Arakkal Bheevi of Kannur.

Since 1957, this group of Maldivians in Minicoy are totally off-limits for their Maldivian counterparts in the Maldives. The direct transport between Minicoy and the Maldives was forbidden by the Indian government. Thus, this Indian group of Maldivians are steadily undergoing a process of acculturation owing to lack of contact with the remaining Maldivian people and pressure to use other languages such as Malayalam, English and Hindi. This proves to have a big influence upon the culture, linguistics and other day-to-day affairs of this group of Maldivians.[11][22]

Emigrant communities

A significant number of Maldivian emigrant communities can be found in several countries. The emigrant communities could only be located from the Maldivian side as it is only the Maldivians who are all of the same ethnicity unlike India where the presence of thousands of cultures and ethnicities make the records more stringent on this matter. Since ethnic Maldivians of Minicoy are only no more than 0.0015% of the total population of India compared to 100% for their counterparts in the Maldives, it is only from the Maldivian embassies across the world that this information could be gathered.

Sri Lanka

There are approximately 10,000 people of Maldivian ethnicity living in Sri Lanka, as of 2006.

Genetics and Research Studies

In 1899, Professor John Stanley Gardiner visited Maldives, during which time; he collected anthropometrical data of a number of Maldivians from many islands. Analysis of this data by Dr. Wynfrid Duckworth, suggested that there were three major sources of immigration into the country. These are:

  • The peninsula of Hindustan with Ceylon,
  • The coast of Arabia and possibly of Africa,
  • The western shores of the Malay Peninsula, and the islands of the Malaya Archipelago.

(Duckworth 1912: 8–30).[23]

In 1997, a Maldivian NGO, Society for Health Education, conducted a study on the mutations of thalassaemia found in the Maldives. This study showed one mutation that probably originated in the Middle East, another mutation which could have been derived from Portuguese or Algerians, and another which probably originated from Asian Indians and Malays. The observations are consistent with the historical records of Maldives, showing that early travellers from India, Indonesia, North Africa, the Red Sea and Persian Gulf areas, settled in the Maldives. (Firdous et al. 1998:148,149). Thalassaemia is the commonest genetically transmitted blood disease found in Maldives, and the results of this study suggest that many of the people now living in Maldives had ancestors who came from the above-mentioned countries.[23]

Anthropological studies as well as ethnographic and linguistic researches suggest that in terms of ancestry Maldivians share similar genes principally with the Sinhalas of Sri Lanka as well as northern Indian populations, such as Marathis, Konkanis and Gujaratis with traces of Arab, Malay,southern Indian and North African genes in the population.[14]

A genetic study about the Maldivian population by department of Human Genetics, Liden University, which was published online on the American Journal of Physical Anthropology has revealed very interesting facts about the genetic origin of Maldivian people. The research studied autosomal DNA-, mitochondrial DNA-, and Y-chromosomal DNA markers in a representative sample of 141 unrelated Maldivians, with 119 from six major settlements. The researchers found a total of 63 different mtDNA haplotypes that could be allocated to 29 mtDNA haplogroups, mostly within the M, R, and U clades.[24] They also found 66 different Y-STR haplotypes in 10 Y-chromosome haplogroups, predominantly H1, J2, L, R1a1a, and R2.[25] The study concluded that their new genetic data agree with the commonly reported Maldivian ancestry in South Asia, but furthermore suggest multiple, independent immigration events and asymmetrical migration of females and males across the archipelago.[25]

The genetic study confirmed that the most likely origin of the Maldivian population is in South Asia with possible gene flow from the Middle East. Also it has pointed out that the Dhivehi language of the Maldives being the southernmost Indo-Aryan language, and sharing of specific haplogroups with Indo-Aryan Sinhalese populations mostly from northern India and from Sri Lanka, could point to a common origin of these populations.[25]


Maldivian culture is heavily influenced by the cultures of Malabaris (South Indian), Sinhalese, and Perso-Arabs.

Language and literature

Maldivians have strong feelings towards the Maldivian language. It has historically been, and to large extent still is, central to the Maldivian identity. Unlike the other languages of South India, it is an Indo-European language, while other South Indian languages are Dravidian languages. However the language shows some influences of neighbouring Dravidian languages on it, and have a number of loanwords from Dravidian vocabulary.


All Maldivians are Muslims with 100% of the whole population adhering to the Sunni school of thought.[8] In the Maldives which is the heartland of Maldivians and home for more than 97% of the Maldivian people, the national religion is Islam.[7] Islam is the country's state religion as well as the backbone of the society with daily life in the country being regulated according to the tenets of Islam and government regulations too being based on the regulations of Islamic law (Shari'a).[8] The law of the country prohibits the practice of any other religion by the country's citizens.[8] In general all Maldivians from the island of Minicoy too are Sunni Muslims. There may be a few Maldivians who do not follow Islam,[26] though the public expression of such beliefs is virtually non-existent in Maldivian societies.

Even though most of the Maldivians are very religious, ancient beliefs survived until recently: for example, the islanders feared jinnis (evil spirits) which were believed to come from the sea, land and sky. These were blamed for everything that cannot be explained by religion or science. Today, this kind of beliefs are on the verge of vanishing completely from Maldivian communities and can only be observed rarely.

Visual art and architecture

Most traditional Maldivian art is influenced by Perso-Arabic tradition in some form and usually centres on Islam, since almost all the Maldivians are Muslims. The skill of visual art and architecture among the Maldivians is centered in the Maldives since the people of Minicoy are mainly sailors.

Various fine art practices exist in the Maldives at present. Primary among them is drawing and painting. Sculpture and crafts that overlap with art making also exist in the country. However, due to various limitations, they have not flourished as art forms. Painting and drawing also exist in similar circumstances. Lack of avenues in which to exhibit, and lack of arts education and training, combined with a growing understanding that these arts are best served in the tourist souvenir trade, has hampered a healthy development of these arts. However, with the establishment of private galleries and with various exhibitions organized by the government and the artists themselves, in the last 15 years, the awareness that painting can be an expressive art form apart from also being a lucrative commercial activity has provided encouragement for several young Maldivians to pursue painting, and to an extent sculpture and other public and commercial art forms. Renewed interest in these arts have also led to various individuals to pursue on their own whatever education they can obtain, whether through distance learning courses from foreign universities, or via books and magazines. In addition, privately funded students have also been obtaining arts education and training at undergraduate and graduate levels in international universities. More indirectly, artists also get the opportunity to meet foreign artists through the tourism trade when foreign artists visit the country as tourists. This provides the much needed contact with artists that is so necessary to the development of any art form. Until recently, fine arts in the Maldives have been usually defined as the various crafts and skills of craft making. These include the use of locally found materials to produce decorative and functional objects such as mats, hand held or displayed objects, etc. The present situation of the arts has come about because of a lack of critical and theoretical interpretation and a lack of dialogue and discourse in an organized, sustained or documented form.[27]

Performing arts

The traditional Maldivian performing arts have Indian and even African roots.

Martial arts

Martial arts among Maldivians are known as hevikamuge kulhivaruthak, while gulhamathi hifun is traditional wrestling among Maldivians.


Most of the Maldivian festivals are related to Islam, however there are some festivals which belongs to old Maldivian traditions, like kite flying festival. Naming a newborn child, Mauloodhu (a prayer accompanied with festive meal), Eid festival and circumcision of male child are few events that take place where the taste of rich cultural 'cocktail' can be experienced.

A traditional meal called Keyn is prepared for the above Mauloodhus consisting of a number of courses. A single Keyn would serve 10 – 12 people and includes rice, curries, salads, grilled fish, coconut cream, coconut syrup, bananas, puddings and other delights.

Keyn is set out in a very large wooden dish called a Malaafaiy. The outside of this dish is placed within the dish and small individual plates are filled with curries, salads, and other items and set around the rice. This would be covered with the lid and wrapped in a white cloth and tied at the top. At the meal times this would be carried into the Mauloodh Haruge (dining hall specially made for this event) and placed on straw mats for service. Individual plates and other food items in individual dishes are placed as well. Beverages are individually set in glasses. Water is served in a ceramic jug. Food is consumed using the fingers of the right hand. At the end of the meal hand is washed using a copper jug into a copper basin. 10 December is marked as Kandu Rōdi duvas and 14 April as Gamu Rōdi duvas on which date Maldivian language day is marked from 2011 onwards.

Festive day 2008[28] 2009[28] 2010[29]
Islamic New Year 10 January --- ---
Ashura 19 January 7 January ---
Mawlid an-Nabi 20 March 9 March 26 February
Lailat al Miraj 31 July 20 July ?
Lailat al-Baraat 18 August 7 August ?
Ramadan[30] 1 September[31] 22 August 11 August
Lailat al Qadr 28 September 17 September ?
Eid ul-Fitr[30] 1 October 21 September 10 September
Eid ul-Adha 8 December 27 November 17 November
Islamic New Year 29 December 18 December 7 December
Ashura --- 27 December 17 December


Traditionally Maldivian men wear a mundu with a shirt, it is very similar to that of Malayali people.


Rice, the major staple food in most Maldivian households, is usually cooked and served with Garudiya (Tuna Fish soup). Here are some of the speciality cuisines.


Made of rice flour, coconut – semi-firm (grated) and coconut palm syrup by mixing all the ingredients until freed from lump and cooked over a moderate heat until the mixture is thickened.

Godhan Furhu Boa Folhi

Made of flour, coconut – semi-hard (blended to a smooth paste), eggs, coconut cream, jasmine water, coconut palm syrup, cinnamon powder, cardamom powder and oil by mixing all the ingredients apart from the oil together. Cooked over a moderate heat and once the top of the pancake dries up, turned over and cooked.

Han’dulu Aurus

Made of rice (soaked overnight), washed and blended to a smooth paste), coconut palm syrup, Jasmine water and jasmine flowers by placing all the ingredients apart from the flowers in a thick-bottomed pan and cooked over a moderate heat by stirring constantly to avoid the mixture getting stuck to the bottom. Wrapped entirely with banana leaf and placed jasmine flowers over the sweets. This sweet will keep for two to three months without spoiling.

' Han’dulu Furhu Kubus

Made of Patna Rice (soaked overnight, washed and blended to a smooth paste), coconut – semi-firm (grated), coconut palm syrup, caster sugar, banana leaf by cooking over a moderate heat the grated coconut, palm sugar and caster sugar until the mixture has thickened. Removed from heat and allowed cooling and added in the blended rice and kneaded thoroughly and combined all the ingredients well. Divided the mixture into eight portions and placed each portion on a banana leaf and wrapped entirely to seal and wrapped a second banana leaf around it and secured well.

Dug a suitable hole in the ground in which all the wrapped dough pieces could be placed neatly. Placed coconut fibres and coconut shells and burned them in the dug hole and removed the charcoals.

Placed banana leaves within the hole and placed the wrapped dough in the heated hole and placed neatly one against another.

Covered the dough parcels placed in the hole with another large piece of banana leaf and covered the leaf with two-inch white sand. Placed the charcoals and coconut fibres and coconut shells over it and burned the coconut fibres and shells for half an hour.

Left the cooked kubus parcels overnight in the hole. In the morning scraped off the burnt ashes and charcoals aside and the sand covering the banana leaf and slowly lifted the wrapped kubus parcels.


Made of coconut palm syrup by boiling the syrup over a moderate heat and cooked by stirring continuously until it starts to thicken. Removed from heat and whisked until frothy and cooled.

Maliku Bonda (Bondi)

Huni Folhi

Made of Patna Rice flour, coconut – semi-hard (grated), coconut palm syrup by cooking all the ingredients over a moderate heat in a thick-bottomed pan stirring continuously.

When the mixture starts to come loose from the side of the pan removed from heat and taken a tablespoonful of the cooked mixture, spread on a cork wood leaf. Smoked and dried the leaves spread with the sweet over the fireplace.

Karukuri Banbukeyo

Made of fried bread fruit (crushed coarsely), coconut palm syrup, jasmine water by bringing the syrup and the jasmine water to boil and cooked it over a moderate heat until it comes to ribbon stage. Added in the crushed breadfruit into the sugar and coated well. Removed from heat, allowed cooling and kept in an airtight container.

Karukuri Ala

Made of fried taro (crushed coarsely), coconut palm syrup and jasmine water by boiling the syrup and the jasmine water and cooked it over a moderate heat until it comes to ribbon stage. Added in the crushed taro in to the sugar and coated well. Removed from heat, allowed cooling and kept in an airtight container.

Kulhi Bis Fathafolhi

Made of Patna Rice flour, coconut (grated), Rihaakuru, Rihaakuru Bondi (blended), eggs, onion (sliced thinly), curry leaves (chopped), cherry pepper, juice of two limes, ginger, salt to season and oil by crushing the onion, curry leaves, cherry pepper, ginger with salt. Added and mixed the rice flour and coconut to make sandy texture. Formed a bay in the center of the rice mixture and add in the eggs and Rihaakuru and Rihaakuru Bondi. Mixed/kneaded the dough and divided the dough into 15 gram balls. Spread each ball to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut using a round cutter of 3 – inch diameter and pre-heated oil.


Made of coconut sap (collected at noon) by boiling the sap over a moderate heat and cooked by stirring continuously until it comes to ribbon stage. Removed from heat, greased a large tray and taken a spoonful of the cooked thickened syrup and placed it over the greased sheet in strings.

Thela Kubus

Made of Patna Rice flour, coconut palm syrup, eggs and coconut oil by whisking the egg and the syrup and added in the rice flour and beaten further. Poured a table spoonful of the mixture into the oil and deep-fried until golden.

Thelli Keyo

Made of plantain (peeled and cut length-wise) and oil by frying the bananas until crisped. Drained on absorbent kitchen paper and kept airtight container.

Veli Hakuru

Made of coconut palm syrup by boiling the syrup over a moderate heat and cooked by stirring continuously until it starts to crystallise. Removed from heat, allowed cooling and put into jars and seal well.

Other Cuisines Regularly Cooked

  • Falhoa Aurus
  • Naaroh Faludha
  • Fuppi Baiy
  • Gerhi Banbukeyo
  • Gerhi Kattala
  • Kaliyaa Kuri Kattala
  • Varukuri Baiy


Maldivian names

A generation ago, most Maldivian people were not commonly known by their birth names. Instead they were called by an alternative name such as Dohuttu, Lahuttu, Tutteedi, Kudamaniku, or Don Goma. The rationale behind this practice was that if the evil spirits did not know one's real name, one would be free from their spells.[32] However ancient Maldivian naming system is similar to that of Gujaratis and Marathas. Even now some people follow that system. For example, the first name of historian Mohamed Ibrahim Lutfy is "Mohamed;" "Ibrahim" is his father's name, and "Lutfy" is the family name.

Frequent Maldivian family names include Bee, Beefan, Boo, Didi, Fan, Fulhu, Kader, Kalaminja, Kalinga, kalo, Kavah, Kavya, Koi, Koya, Manik, Manika, Manike, Manikfan, Naha, Raha, Rana, Tarkan, Thakhan, Thakur, Thakurfan, Veer.

See also


  1. ^ "CIA – The World Factbook". 
  2. ^ Ethnologue. "India". Ethnologue. 
  3. ^ a b c "SINHALAYA'S FULL COVERAGE – Provincial Council Elections on 14th February – Breaking News". 1 January 2009. 
  4. ^ "Strategic Insight – Protests in Maldives over settling 2 Guantanamo Bay terrorists". Policy Research Group. 
  5. ^ "Maldives profile - Australia in the Asian Century".  
  6. ^ "HaveeruOnline: Maldives News, Sports, Travel, Business, Technology, Entertainment, Politics and Breaking News". 
  7. ^ a b "Maldives Mission to the United Nations". 
  8. ^ a b c d "Culture of Maldives – history, people, clothing, women, beliefs, food, customs, family, social". 
  9. ^ "Non-Muslim Maldivians". 17 May 2007. 
  10. ^ Dhivehi Observer. "Peoples Press ::". Dhivehi Observer. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "". 
  12. ^ Cain, B.D. (2000). Dhivehi (Maldivian): A Synchronic and Diachronic Study (PhD dissertation). Cornell University. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Encyclopedia of the stateless nations. 4. S – Z – James Minahan – Google Books. 
  14. ^ a b c Maloney, C. (1980). People of the Maldive Islands. Orient Longman Ltd, Madras.  
  15. ^ "Matāran". A Guide to the Mahal Language. Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  16. ^ Xavier Romero-Frias, (2012) Folk tales of the Maldives, NIAS Press, ISBN 978-87-7694-104-8, ISBN 978-87-7694-105-5
  17. ^ a b Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom, Barcelona 1999, ISBN 84-7254-801-5
  18. ^ a b c Mohamed, N. (2008). Essays on EARLY MALDIVES. National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research, Male'.  
  19. ^ "Chapter 2 – Maldivians and their history". Maldives Culture. 
  20. ^ Language in South Asia – Google Books. 27 March 2008. 
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ "Maldives Royal Family Official Website: MALIKU: THE FADING GLORY OF A LONELY QUEEN?". 
  23. ^ a b Dhivehi Observer. "The First Dhivehin by Naseema Mohamed – Maldives :: Maldives News :: Dhivehi Observer :: Peoples Press ::". 
  24. ^
  25. ^ a b c Jeroen Pijpe, Alex de Voogt, Mannis van Oven, Peter Henneman, Kristiaan J. van der Gaag, Manfred Kayser & Peter de Knijff (2013). "Indian Ocean crossroads: human genetic origin and population structure in the Maldives".  
  26. ^ "'"Maldives atheist who felt persecuted 'hangs himself. BBC News. 15 July 2010. 
  27. ^ "Text from the catalog 'Maldives Contemporary 2005', published by the National Art Gallery, Maldives". 19 October 2005. 
  28. ^ a b Islam-Kalender
  29. ^ "Deutscher islamwissenschaftlicher Ausschuss der Neumonde (DIWAN)". 
  30. ^ a b Aufgrund verschiedener Berechnungsgrundlagen, kann dieses Datum um einen oder zwei Tage variieren
  31. ^ AFP: Muslime in Libyen und Nigeria beginnen Fastenmonat Ramadan: 2008 begann der Ramadan in Libyen und Nigeria am 31. August, in Pakistan und für die Ahmadis in Deutschland am 2. September; Katholischer Islamexperte in Wien, Erzdiözese Wien am 2. September: „Mit der Sichtung des Neumondes beginnt der muslimische Fastenmonat Ramadan. Das war in Wien, am Dienstag, 2. September 2008, um 4.31 Uhr."
  32. ^ "Maldive Names". Maldives Royal Family. Retrieved 2009-12-24. 

Further reading

External links

  • Maldives Ethnography, by Xavier Romero-Frias
  • A Guide to Mahl Language, Minicoy
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