The Maldivians

Who are Maldivians? The true origins of Maldivians is an ongoing debate. Some say the first settlers to arrive in the Maldives originated from Sri Lanka and the southern coasts of India. Some historians believe they came from the North and established a kingdom on these islands. However, in most of these stories, there still is an indigenous population already living on these islands. Where they came from, or exactly when they came here, is still all speculation. Influences from the Indians and the Sri-Lankans are of course greatly evident in our society. From the use of spices in our cuisine, to their influence on our language, there definitely is an extremely close connection with our south Asian neighbors.

As an island nation located at an extremely strategic position, just below Ceylon, it was certainly a popular stop over for many ancient mariners or traders crossing over from the African continent to Asia. Enchanted by its beauty and its sense of serenity, some of these traders even decided to settle down in these islands. Then there were those who came here by accident, and were forced to stay, upon being defeated by the raging seas and the treacherous reefs of the archipelago. Hints of African influences can be seen in our arts and music. Boduberu, a traditional form of music has strong roots to East African influences. In some parts of the country, even the physical appearances and facial features of the people have distinct African looks, reminding us of our connection to Africa.

The next major group of our ethnic origins are the Arabs. As a strong sea faring empire, Arab traders travelled far and wide for exploration and trade, and the Maldives did receive its fair share of Arabian travelers who played their roles in shaping our society to what we see today as Maldivian. The main milestone of course was the conversion of the entire country to Islam in 1153. Since then, the nation has maintained a 100 percent Muslim population. Some of the major aspects to where we can observe Arabic influences include our arts and crafts. Centered on Islam, with a strong Perso-Arabic influence, Islamic art using geometrical patterns is commonly seen in many of the Maldivian crafts and traditional designs.

History has brought waves of numerous cultures upon the indigenous groups living on these islands, with the strength of the influences varying from different parts of the country due to the nation’s geographical dispersion. With a diverse mix of external influences, a complex concoction of Dravidian, Australasian, Arab, Sinhalese and African ethnicities, it has created a truly unique people, who we today recognize as the Maldivian people.

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