The Maldives are a group of about 1,192 small coral islands that are grouped into 26 atolls (202 inhabited islands). The history of the islands begins with the early setters from Sri Lanka and South India around 500 BC. Located along the ancient trading routes, the Maldives had, among others, Arab traders visiting them, on their way to the Far East, for cowrie shells (an international currency of the early days). This brought the island into contact with Islam, the religion practiced here today.

Archeological findings from many ancient sites in Maldives show ruins of old Buddhist structures, some dating back to 3rd and 4th centuries. The evidence shows that at the time of conversion to Islam in 1153 A.D. the population of Maldives was mainly Buddhist.

By around 1153 the island had converted to Islam and a series of Islamic dynasties - Sultans and Sultanas ruled for several generations. In the early sixteenth century the Portuguese built a fort in Male and what followed were military efforts by the Portuguese to have larger control over the islands. Throughout its history, Maldives has remained independent, although the Portuguese occupied the country for 15 years in the 16th century. In the seventeenth century the Maldives came under the protection of the Dutch, who ruled Sri Lanka at that time. From 1887, Maldives was a British protectorate until 1965, when Britain recognised the islands as completely sovereign and independent - the Maldives became a republic in 1968, three years after its independence.

COUNTRY FACT-FILE
  • Country name:

    • conventional long form: Republic of Maldives

    • conventional short form: Maldives

    • local long form: Dhivehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyyaa

    • local short form: Dhivehi Raajje

  • Location: Southern Asia, group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India

  • Area: Total 298 sq. km

  • Population: 270,101 (2000 census)

  • Ethnic groups: South Indians, Sinhalese, Arabs

  • Religion: Sunni Muslim

  • Language: Dhivehi

THE ECONOMY - AN OVERVIEW
Tourism, Maldives largest industry, accounts for 20% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Fishing is the second leading sector. Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a minor role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labour. Most staple foods are imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about 18% of GDP.

GDP composition by sector: Agriculture: 20%; Industry: 18%

Industries: Fish processing, Tourism, Shipping, Boat building, Coconut processing, Garments, Woven mats, Rope, Handicrafts, Coral and Sand Mining

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