The Republic of Maldives is a maritime nation encompassing some 1,200 small, flat, largely coral islands in nineteen atolls stretching across five hundred miles in the Indian Ocean southwest of India; its own official name is Divehi Raajje (Island Kingdom). Only some 250 of the islands are inhabited. The islands' geographical position largely determines their economic and cultural development. Unable to produce enough food to feed its people, Maldives is throughout its long history dependent on trade, and its location on major maritime trade routes allows Egyptian, Arab, Chinese, and European traders in turn to leave their marks.
Little is known of the earliest history of the islands, but the ancestors of the present-day population are agreed to be Dravidians (from southern India) and Sinhalese (from Sri Lanka). From the early centuries of the Christian era, Maldives is an independent state. Unusual for South Asia, it is never truly occupied or long directly governed by colonial powers, which are perhaps deterred by the notoriously pestilential conditions caused by a chronically polluted water supply.
Replacing Buddhism in the twelfth century, Sunni Islam remains the state religion to the present day. The sultanate established in the twelfth century survives well into the twentieth. It finally gives way to a centralized presidency that continues Maldives' history of authoritarianism.
The nation's self-imposed political isolation is broken only in the 1960s, when Maldives begins to join international organizations and tourism brings the modern world to the islands. Modernization is undertaken at about the same time, with education, health programs, and communications arriving late in the twentieth century.
2000B.C.: The Maldive Islands are located on Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus civilization trading routes. The first settlers are the legendary Redin, a seafaring, sun-worshipping people.
c. 5th–4th centuriesB.C.: Probable date of settlement by Dravidian-speaking people from Kerala, south India; they introduce Buddhism, which is well established by the fourth century A.D. They are followed by