A view from the air makes one wonder if the Maldives is really a country. But, yes, these packets of magnificent islands and atolls make up the Republic of Maldives, which many consider to be the best tropical vacation destination in the world. It boasts not only of its amazing white-sand beaches, colorful reefs, and spectacular dive sites, but also of the culture and festivals in the Maldives.
The Maldives is made up of 1,192 islands with 26 amazing atolls. Only 200 of these islands are inhabited, while 100 have been developed as tourist destinations. Foreign visitors are not allowed to visit the non-resort islands, except of course the capital city of Male in the island of Hulhule. The country’s only cultural center is located in the Dhangethi Island. Tourists are treated to see and experience how the locals live, how their women cook, what the children do in school, how the men build dhoni boats and local crafts.
The Maldivian people are called Devehis, which means “islanders”, and their national language is Divehi, which is closely associated with Sinhala and Tamil. The chain of islands and atolls form a ring that resemble a giant garland, which is why the archipelago was named “mala div”, which means “garland island”, until the country was eventually later called Maldive.
The Islamic Devehis are very matriarchal. The divorce rate is very high by either Islamic or South Asian standards. Devehis consider themselves closely related to Northern Indians. They enjoy listening and playing Hindi music, and, in fact, the influences of Bollywood are strongly felt in the islands. The people are steadily opening up and learning the ways of the world after recently earning their democracy in 2008.
In October 2010, the Maldives hosted the Hay Festival of Literary and Arts in the capital city of Male. Bill Clinton once described this festival as “the Woodstock of the mind” since this annual meeting pools together writers and thinkers from around the world to talk about pressing cultural, political and social issues that concern humanity as a whole. The Festival began 1988 in Wales, England, and made its way to Male primarily for the purpose of raising awareness on global warming.
The Maldives has long been pushing to fight global warming because the continuous rising of the world’s sea level could soon engulf the archipelago. About 80% of this coral-reef country is only 3 feet above sea level while the highest peak is only 8 feet.
Through the Festival, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed was able to draw the world’s attention. He said, “An up and coming young democracy with the most beautiful beaches on Earth – the Maldives will be the perfect backdrop for Hay.”
The event gave its visitors, all great writers, thinkers and dignitaries from all over the world, a rare chance to visit Aarah, the Presidential Retreat Island of the former president-dictator Gayoom.
The culture and festivals in the Maldives are saying that this beautiful nation deserves more attention from the global community. It is not only beautiful for its natural wonders, but also for the ideals, aspirations, and traditions of its people.