Being an island nation, Maldives’ culture is based on the island lifestyle and revolves around the sea. The culture of Maldives is influenced by the cultures of the Indians, Africans, Arabs and the Sri Lankans. Maldivians have assimilated parts of all these and built a culture that is unique. One can still find Dravidian influences on many aspects of the lifestyle of Maldives even today. As a result of this melange, although one can see similarities and link it back to other cultures, the Maldivian culture has emerged as its own unique identity – something which all Maldivians are proud of.
The official language of the Maldives is called Dhivehi which is of Indo-Iranian Sanskritic origin. One can see that this language borrows from all the influence and culture of Maldives. Dhivehi is related to Sinhalese – the language of Sri Lanka – and other Indian languages, although, now they’re no longer mutually intelligible. The language is in the Thaana script and written from right to left like the Arab languages. Interestingly, the people of Maldives are locally called Dhivehin which can be traced back to the Indian word ‘deevi’ which means island.
Dhivehi Script of Maldives, Language of Maldives
Islam is the official and only allowed religion in the Maldives. To be a citizen or to own land, one has to be a Sunni Muslim. Historically, Maldives was a Buddhist country for a long time. However, in the 12th century, a North African Arab known as Abu Al Barakat brought the first Koran to the island. According to records, Maldives become an Islamic country in 1152 AD. Religion is an integral part of life here, and the culture of Maldives itself is based on the Islamic Sharia law.
Cuisine and Food of Maldives
The cuisine of Maldives, like the lifestyle, is dependant on the sea. Therefore, fish is an integral part of the culture of Maldivies. The style of cooking again draws influence from Arab, Indian and Sri Lankan styles. Another primary ingredient used in Maldivian cuisine is coconut and its products, such as coconut oil and milk. Favourite local food items include:
Garudhiya: A fish broth served with rice, lime, chilli and onions.
Mas huni: A popular food throughout the island, smoked shredded fish, is served with grated coconuts and onions.
Fihunu mas: Barbecued fish that is basted with chilli
Since the Maldives is an Islamic country and most of its citizens are staunch believers of Islam, alcohol is prohibited although a local toddy called ‘raa’ is consumed.
One can find food dishes and drinks from all around the world at the resorts they stay in due to the number of tourists in the country. Hence, food shouldn’t be a concern for a visitor!
Arts and Crafts
The Maldivians are expert craftsmen. They are incredibly skilled at wood carving and lacquer work making beautiful and intricate designs that are astounding. The carvings at the Friday mosque are a testament to these. The women of the country also make beautiful woven mats made from reeds that are dyed and woven into beautiful intricate patterns. One can also find beautiful jewellery made by locals adding to the culture of Maldives.
Music and Dance in Maldives
Both music and dance form an integral part of the culture of Maldives. Both of these are heavily influenced by North Indian styles of music and dance. The Indian film industry plays an essential role, with Bollywood movies and music being popular amongst a lot of people. Old Hindi songs still remain very popular and actually are an inspiration for many Maldivian songs too! The traditional dances of Maldives also draw strong inspiration from the Northern Indian classical dance form of Kathak.
A popular instrument in the Maldives is the bulbul tarang. Another type of very famous music and dance performances using the drums and incorporating their beat known as Bodu Beru (Big Drum) is said to have North-African roots.
Since the primary religion of the Maldives is Islam, most of the festivals celebrated here are Islamic festivals. The major festival of Maldives is Eid. It is revelled with pomp, and ardour throughout the country, like in other Islamic countries. The other big Islamic festival celebrated here is the birthday of the Prophet where mosques are full of people praying.
Another popular nation-wide festival and important to the culture of Maldives is the National Day celebrated on the first day of the third month of the lunar or Islamic calendar. The event sees parades and marches that go on in all parts of the country. Another patriotic event is the celebration of the Republic Day on November 11th celebrating the formation of the Republic of Maldives.
Maldivian Society and Occupation
As mentioned earlier, the society and culture of Maldives is dependant on the sea. Day to day life and society thus revolves around the sea and the jobs that people do. Unlike some other countries of South Asia that the Maldives borrows its culture from, where patriarchy is prevalent, and the women are expected to be subservient, in Maldives women play a crucial role in society. They hold influential positions and are a significant part of the workforce. It has even been postulated that society has matriarchal origins. Property is passed on both to sons and daughters, and often the women keep their maiden last name without adopting their husband’s last name after marriage. The importance of women can be explained by the fact that the men were fishermen at least historically, and went out in the day to fish while the women handled homes and the other affairs outside.
Due to its position in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has had a rich history. As per the records, early settlers haven’t left any traces. There are possibilities that there were people from the coasts of Southern India who sailed and settled here. However, there remains no concrete evidence about the early settlers of Maldives. The first records of people on the Maldives are the Sinhala of Sri Lanka arriving and settling down. After an extended period of Buddhist rule, Maldives also saw Islamic influences. Today, the glorious island is a unitary presidential constitutional republic.
Although it draws many influences from cultures around the world, Maldives has assimilated them to create something of its own, something all Maldivians are proud of. What better way to experience this beautiful culture of Maldives than to come here and experience it first hand!