MALDIVE ISLANDS, an archipelago of coral islets in the Indian Ocean, forming a chain between 7 6' N. and o 42' S. It consists of seventeen atolls with an immense number of islands, of which some three hundred are inhabited. In the extreme south are the isolated atolls of Addu and Fua-Mulaku, separated from Suvadiva by the Equatorial Channel, which is itself separated from the main chain of atolls by One-and-a- half-degree Channel. 1 Following the chain northward from this channel we have Haddumati and Kolumadulu, after which the chain becomes double: to the east the chief atolls are Mulaku, Felidu, South Male, North Male, Kardiva (where the channel of the same name, 35 m. broad, partly breaks the chain), and Fadiffolu. To the west are South Nilandu, North Nilandu, Ari, South Mahlos, North Mahlos and Miladumadulu. To the north again are Tiladumati and Ihavandifulu. Finally, to the north of Eight-degree Channel is Minikoi, 71 m. from the nearest point of the Maldives, and 1 10 m. from that of the Laccadives to the north. The main part of the archipelago, north of One- anda-half-degree Channel, consists of a series of banks either surrounded or studded all over with reefs (see J. S. Gardiner, " Formation of the Maldives," in Geographical Journ. xix. 277 seq.). Mr Gardiner regarded these banks as plateaus rising to different elevations beneath the surface of the sea from a main plateau rising steeply from the great depths of the Indian Ocean.
After the Portuguese, from about 1518 onwards, had attempted many times to establish themselves on the islands by force, and after the Maldivians had endured frequent raids by the Mopla pirates of the Malabar coast, they began to send tokens of homage and claims of protection (the first recorded being in 1645) to the rulers of Ceylon, and their association with this island has continued practically ever since. The hereditary sultan of the archipelago is tributary to the British government of Ceylon. The population of the Maldives is estimated at 30,000. All are Mahommedans. By Messrs. Gardiner and Cooper they are classed in four ethnological divisions, (i) Those of the atolls north of the Kardiva Channel. Here the reefs are generally less perfect than elsewhere, seldom forming complete central lagoons, and as they were formerly exposed to the constant attacks of the Mopla pirates from India, the people are hardier and more vigorous than their less warlike southern neighbours. They annually visited the coasts of India or Ceylon, and often married Indian wives, thus acquiring distinct racial characters of an approximately Dravidian type. (2) Those of the central division, comprising the atolls between North Male and Haddumati, who are under the direct rule of the sultan, and have been more exposed to Arab influences. They formerly traded with Arabia and Malaysia, and many Arabs settled amongst them, so that they betray a strong strain of Semitic blood in their features. (3 and 4) The natives of Suvadiva, Addu, Mulaku and the other southern clusters, who have had little communication with the Central Male people, and probably preserve more of the primitive type, approximating in appearance to the Sinhalese villagers of Ceylon. They are an intelligent and industrious people, growing their own crops, manufacturing their own cloth and mats, and building their own boats, while many read Arabic more or less fluently, although still believers in magic and witchcraft. The language is a dialect of Sinhalese, but indicating a separation of ancient date and more or less mahommedanized.
The sultan's residence and the capital of the archipelago is the. island of Male. From the earliest notices the production of coir, the collection of cowries, and the weaving of excellent textures on these islands have been noted. The chief exports of the islands besides coir and cowries (a decreasing trade) are coco-nuts, copra, tortoise-shell and dried bonito-fish.
1 These and other channels in the locality are named from their position under parallels of latitude.
Minikoi atoll, with the numerous wrecks on its reefs, its lighthouse, and its position on the track of all eastward-bound vessels, is a familiar sight to seafarers in these waters. The atoll, which is pear-shaped and disposed in the direction from S.W. to N.E. is 5 m. long, with an extreme breadth of nearly 3 m., with a large but shallow lagoon approached from the north by a passage two fathoms deep. The atoll is growing outwards on every side, and at one place rises 19 ft. above sea-level. The population, which numbers about 3000, is sharply divided into five castes, of which the three highest are pure Maldivians, the lower two the same as in the Laccadives. All are centred in a small village opposite Mou Rambu Point on the west or lagoon side; but most of the men are generally absent, many being employed with the Lascar crews on board the large liners plying in the eastern seas.
In 1899-1900 Messrs. J. Stanley Gardiner and C. Forster Cooper carried out an expedition to the Maldives and Laccadives, for the important results of which see The Fauna and Geography of the Maldive and Laccadive Archipelagoes, ed. J. S. Gardiner (Cambridge, 1901-1905), also Proceedings of tlie Cambridge Philosophical Society, vol. xi. pt. i (1900), and the Geographical Journ., loc. cit., etc. A French adventurer, Frangois Pyrard de la Val, was wrecked in the Maldives in 1602 and detained there five years; he wrote an interesting account of the archipelago, Voyage de F. P. de la Val (Paris, 1679; previous editions 1611, etc.). See also A. Agassiz, "An Expedition to the Maldives ".in Amer. Journ. Science, vol. xiii. (1902).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)