The origins of the Maldivian people are shrouded in mystery. The First settlers may well have been from Sri Lanka and Southern India. Some say Aryans, who sailed in their reed boats from Lothal in the Indus Valley about 4,000 years ago, probably followed them. Archeological evidence suggests the existence Hinduism and Buddhism before the country embraced Islam in 1153 A.D.Not surprisingly, the faces of today’s Maldivian display the features of various faces that inhabit the lands around the Indian Ocean shipping and maritime routes, the Maldives has long been a melting pot for African, Arab and South East Asian mariners.
The language of the Maldivians is Dhivehi, a language which is placed in the Indro-Indian group of languages. Dhivehi with its roots in Sanskrit and according to some researchers Elu, an ancient form of Sinhala, (spoken in Sri Lanka), is strongly influenced by the major lanuguages of the region. The language has been influenced heavily from Arabic since the advent of the Islam in 1153 and English in more recent times, especially since the introduction of English as a medium of education in the early 1960s.
Given the wide dispersion of islands it is not surprising that the vocabulary and pronunciation vary from atoll to atoll, with the difference being more significant in the dialects spoken in the southernmost atolls. The Maldivian script known as thaana was invented during the 16th century soon after the country was liberated from Portuguese rule. Unlike former scripts thaana is written from right to left. This was devised to accommodate Arabic words that are frequently used in Dhivehi. There are 24 letters in the thaana alphabet.
The close-knit island communities practice mutual aid to survive difficult circumstances. A system of extended families provide a safety net for members of a family going through a difficult period. In addition to the parents other members of the family also contribute in the care of children. Traditionally men go out fishing during the day and women are responsible to look after the affairs of the family and vary often the community. This remains so even today in smaller island communities.
Since Maldives embraced Islam in 1153, Island has been central to the life of Maldivians. The main events and festivalss of Maldivian life follow the Muslim Calendar. From infancy children are taught the Arabic alphabet. Religious education is provided both at home and at school. Islam is part of the school curriculum and is taught concurrently with other subjects.
Art and Craft
The beautifully carved tombstones in some of the old cemeteries and the fine stone carving of the Hukuru Miskiiy in Male’ bear witness to the intricate skills of Maldivian stone carvers of the past. Maldivians are deft craftsman producing beautifully crafted pieces mostly out of what is available locally. Although many of the skills have been passed on from generation to generation and lives on even today.The art calligraphy has strong connections with the Islam. Old and new mosques display beautifully penned versus from the Holy Quran. The Islamic Center exhibits some of the finest samples of the work of modern calligraphers in the country. While many crafts have become obsolete, others have found new life with the advent of tourism. The production of ornaments from tortoise shells and black coral once valued by visitors has now ceased completely because of the growing careness among the public on the need to preserve the environment.
Wooden Lacquer Ware
Perhaps the most distinctive of the Maldivian handicrafts, these are almost exlclusively produced in Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll. Liye Laajehun as it is called in Dhivehi involves the process of shaping and hollowing out pieces of wood to form beautifully crafted boxes, containers and ornamental objects. Made from the local funa, (Alexandrian laurel) which grows abundantly throughout the country, they come in various shapes and sizes; small pillboxes, vases of various sizes to round and oval plates with lids. These elegant pieces are lacquered in strands of red, black and yellow resin and delicately carved with flowing flowery patterns.
Beautiful red mats are woven throughout the country, the most famous of which are those that are woven by the women of Gadhdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. Thundu Kunaa as they are known in Dhivehi ranges in size from that of a place mat to a full size single mattress. The women of Gadhdhoo collect the reeds called haa from the nearby island of Fioari. They are dried in the sun and stained with natural dyes, the colour varying from fawn to black. These mats with their intricate abstract designs are woven on a handloom according to the imagination and skill of the weaver.
Although the tools used in the building of dhonis have changed, little has changed of its basic design. As in the past, the boats are still being built without a documented plan. The design and symmetry of the boat emerges as the boat is being built. Imported hardwoods are used in the place of coconut wood, which was used in place of coconut wood, which was used in the past to make the hull. Copper rivets are used to hold the planks together instead of coir, which was used for the purpose even half a century ago. The square sail made of coconut fronds gave way to a triangular lateen sail. Even though this is still considered essential and is carried on board, it is used only during emergencies or to ease the strain of the engines. Almost all Dhonis are driven by diesel power.
Dhonis are mainly used for fishing and provide the livehood for a large proportion of the population. Others are modified to be used for transportation of passengers. A dhoni may be as small as 10ft. (3 m) used mostly to travel across short distances or to traverse the shallow waters of the lagoon. Islanders often use these ferry across to nearby islands for firewood. The average fishing dhoni used to be around 10 metres (33 feett), however the new generation fishing vessels can be twice the size or even larger. The basic design of dhonis has proven to be seaworthy as it has been tested and tuned for centuries. Even the luxury cruise vessels that are built in the country uses the same basic hull design and can be as long as 30 meters (100 feet) or more