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The Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is an island nation consisting of a group of atolls belonging to the Maldive and Suvadive archiplagoes in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives is located south of India's Lakshadweep islands, and about seven hundred kilometres (435 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka. The twenty-six atolls of Maldives' encompass a territory featuring 1,192 islets, two hundred and fifty islands of which are inhabited. The name "Maldives" may derive from Maale Dhivehi Raajje ("The Island Kingdom of Malé")." Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands", or from mahila dvipa, meaning "island of women", but these names are not found in ancient Sanskrit literature. Instead, classical Sanskrit texts mention the "Hundred Thousand Islands" (Lakshadweepa); a generic name which would include not only the Maldives, but also the Laccadives and the Chagos island groups. Another theory suggests that the name "Maldives" derives from the Tamil "mala tivu" meaning "a garland of islands." Some medieval Arab travellers such as Ibn Batuta called the islands "Mahal Dibiyat" from the Arabic word Mahal ("palace")."  This is the name currently inscribed in the scroll of the Maldive state emblem. The inhabitants were Buddhist, probably since Ashoka's period, in the 3rd century BC. Islam was introduced in 1153. The Maldives came then under the influence of the Portuguese (1558) and the Dutch (1654) seaborne empires. In 1887 it became a British protectorate. In 1965, the Maldives obtained independence from Britain (originally under the name "Maldive Islands"), and in 1968 the Sultanate was replaced by a Republic. The Maldives is the smallest Asian country in terms of population. It is also the smallest predominantly Muslim nation in the world. Adherence to Islam is required for citizenship by a revision of the constitution in 2008: Article 9, Section D states that "a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives."


The development of tourism has fostered the overall growth of the country's economy. It has created direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities in other related industries. Today, tourism is the country's biggest foreign exchange earner, contributing to twenty percent of the GDP. There are eighty-seven tourist resorts in operation. The year 2006 recorded 467,154 tourist arrivals.The first tourist resorts were opened in 1972 with Bandos island resort and Kurumba Village. In ancient times the Maldives were renowned for the cowries, coir rope, dried tuna fish (Maldive Fish), ambergris (Maavaharu) and coco de mer (Tavakkaashi). Local and foreign trading ships used to load these products in Sri Lanka and transport them to other harbours in the Indian Ocean. Today Tourism, Maldives' largest industry, accounts for 28% 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 lesser role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labor. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about 7% of GDP. The Maldivian Government began an economic reform program in 1989 initially by lifting import quotas and opening some exports to the private sector. Subsequently, it has liberalized regulations to allow more foreign investment. Real GDP growth averaged over 7.5% per year for more than a decade. In late December 2004, a major tsunami left more than 100 dead, 12,000 displaced, and property damage exceeding $300 million. As a result of the tsunami, the GDP contracted by about 3.6% in 2005. A rebound in tourism, post-tsunami reconstruction, and development of new resorts helped the economy recover quickly and showed a 18% increase on 2006. Maldives also enjoys the highest GDP per capita $4,600 (2007 est) among south Asian countries.


The Maldives holds the record for being the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.3 m (7½ ft), though in areas where construction exists this has been increased to several metres. Over the last century, sea levels have risen about 20 centimetres (8 in); further rises of the ocean could threaten the existence of Maldives. The first accurate maritime charts of this complex Indian Ocean atoll group were the British Admiralty Charts. In 1834-36 Capt. Robert Moresby, assisted by Lieutenants Christopher and Young, undertook the difficult cartography of the Maldive Islands. The resulting charts were printed as three separate large maps by the Hydrographic Service of the Royal Navy. A tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake caused parts of the Maldives to be covered by sea water and left many people homeless. After the disaster, cartographers are planning to redraw the maps of the islands due to alterations caused by the tsunami. On April 22, 2008, Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom pleaded for a cut in global greenhouse gas emissions, warning that rising sea levels could submerge the island nation of Maldives. The reef is composed of coral debris and living coral. This acts as a natural barrier against the sea, forming lagoons. Other islands, set at a distance and parallel to the reef, have their own protective fringe of reef. An opening in the surrounding coral barrier allows access to the calmer lagoon waters. The barrier reefs of the islands protect them from the storms and high waves of the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean has a great affect on the climate of the country by acting as a heat buffer, absorbing, storing, and slowly releasing the tropical heat. The heat is further mitigated by cool sea breezes. A layer of humus six inches (152 mm) thick forms the top layer of soil on the islands. Below the humus layer are two feet of sandstone, followed by sand and then fresh water. Due to excessive salt in the soil near the beach, vegetation is limited there to a few plants such as shrubs, flowering plants, and small hedges. In the interior of the island, more vegetation such as mangrove and banyan grow. Coconut palms, the national tree, are able to grow almost everywhere on the islands and are integral to the lifestyle of the natives. The limited vegetation is supplemented by the abundance of coral reefs and marine life.


Maldivian culture is derived from a number of sources, the most important of which are its proximity to the shores of Sri Lanka and southern India. Thus the population is mainly Dravidian from the anthropological point of view. The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language having some similarities with Elu, the ancient Sinhalese language. The first known script use to write Dhivehi is Eveyla akuru script which is found in historical recording of kings (raadhavalhi). Later a script called Dhives akuru was introduced and used for a long period. The present-day written script is called Thaana and is written from right to left. Thaana is said to be introduced by the reign of Mohamed Thakurufaanu. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools. The language is of Indo-Iranian Sanskritic origin, which points at a later influence from the north of the subcontinent. According to the legends, the kingly dynasty that ruled the country in the past has its origin there. Possibly these ancient kings brought Buddhism from the subcontinent, but the Maldivian legends don't make it clear. In Sri Lanka there are similar legends, however it is improbable that the ancient Maldive royals and Buddhism came both from that island because none of the Sri Lankan chronicles mentions the Maldives. It is unlikely that the ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka would have failed to mention the Maldives if a branch of its kingdom would have extended itself to the Maldive Islands. After the long Buddhist period of Maldivian history, Muslim traders introduced Sunni Islam. Maldivians converted to it by the mid-12th century. However certain potions of Sufism can be seen in the history of the country such as the building of mausoleums. These mausolems were used until as recent as 1980s, for seeking the help from the dead Saints. They can been seen today, next to some old mosques of the Maldives and are considered today as, Cultural heritages. Other aspects of Sufism such as ritualized dhikr ceremonies called Maulūdu, the liturgy of which included recitations and certain supplications in a melodical tone existed until very recent times. These Maulūdu festivals were held in ornate tents specially built for the occasion. However at present Sunni Islam is the official religion of the entire population, as adherence to it is required for citizenship. Since the 12th century AD there are also influences from Arabia in the language and culture of the Maldives because of the general conversion to Islam in the 12th century, and its location as a crossroads in the central Indian Ocean. In the island culture there are a few elements of African origin as well from slaves brought to the court by the royal family and nobles from their hajj journeys to Arabia in the past. There are islands like Feridhu and Maalhos in Northern Ari Atoll, and Goidhu in Southern Maalhosmadulhu Atoll where many of the inhabitants trace their ancestry to released African slaves.
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