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History of Maldives

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The Maldives was known to ancient seafarers and may have been inhabited as early as 2000 BC. Migrants from southern Asia arrived in the 5th century BC and formed a Buddhist kingdom. Buddhism was the dominant religion until the introduction of Islam in AD 1153. According to legend, a Moroccan traveler, Abul Barakat Yusuf al-Barbari, drove out a demon by reading from the Qur’an (Koran). The Maldivian king immediately converted to Islam and made it compulsory for his subjects. Soon after, a sultanate was established.

In the 16th century, the Portuguese sought to strengthen their trading empire by establishing a presence in the archipelago. They successfully invaded Malé in 1558 and controlled it until1573, when local forces under Muhammed Thakurufaanu defeated the Portuguese and retook the island. Muhammed Thakurufaanu then became the head of a reestablished sultanate, which remained largely autonomous of European powers in the centuries that followed. By the 1860s, Indian merchants from Bombay had settled in the Maldives and assumed control of its foreign trade. To counter the merchants’ growing influence, the reigning sultan signed an agreement in 1887 that placed the islands under British protection, with a guarantee of eventual independence.

The Maldives briefly became a republic within the British Commonwealth in 1953, but President Mohamed Amin Didi was soon overthrown and the sultanate was reinstated. In 1957, the government sought to increase the amount Britain paid to lease Gan Island (the site of a British military base) and end the base’s employment of local people. Economically dependent on the base, three southern atolls tried to form a breakaway nation. The Maldivian government renegotiated the lease in 1960 and ended the rebellion by sending gunboats to the secessionist atolls in 1962. The British military remained on Gan until 1976.

The Maldives became fully independent on 26 July 1965. Arepublic was established in 1968, with Ibrahim Nasir as president. Nasir served two terms before economic instability forced him to step down in 1978. He was succeeded by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who survived three coup attempts in the1980s and remains in power today. The years since independence have been marked by stability and rapid economic growth. Tourism was introduced in 1972 and has become the mainstay of the economy. The tsunami that devastated southern Asia in December 2004 was the worst natural disaster in the history of the Maldives, with more than 80 people killed, thousands displaced, and much of the infrastructure destroyed. However, economic recovery has been aided in large part by a resurgence in the number of foreign visitors.


“Republic of Maldives.” CultureGrams World Edition. 2008.

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