The indigenous people of the Maldives are thought to be descended from different groups of ethnicity who migrated to the islands in ancient times. These include settlers from the shores of southern India and western Sri Lanka as well as some migrants from more northern regions of India. The language of the Maldivians is Dhivehi and the religion is Islam.
The Portuguese had a keen interest in the Maldives due to the availability of cowry shells, and ambergris, an important ingredient in perfumes, and had been approached by the formerly expelled Sultan, Hassan IX to help him regain his throne. Three attempts were repelled mainly due to Ali Rasgefaanu, who proved to be a brave and tough fighter. He became Sultan Ali VI but only for a few months as he was killed during another Portuguese attack, dying a martyr’s death.
The next 15 years saw the darkest period in Maldivian history when the Portuguese tried to enforce Christianity upon the islanders. Mohamed Thakurufaanu and his two brothers from the island of Utheemu, used a form of guerilla warfare for eight long years, during which one of the brothers was caught and beheaded. Their strategy was to land on an island at night, kill the Portuguese in a surprise attack and sail off before dawn. Thakurufaanu sought the help of the Malabari, killed the Portuguese leader Andreas Andre, locally known as Andiri Andirin, and recaptured Malé. He was made Sultan and reigned for 12 years forming a trained standing army, introducing coins, improving trade and religious observance and founding a dynasty that lasted for 132 years.
The British Protectorate
In 1887 the Sultan of the Maldives signed a contract with the British Governor of Ceylon turning the Maldives into a British protectorate. The British government promised the Maldives military protection and non-interference in local administration in exchange for an annual tribute paid by the Maldives. In 1957 the British established a RAF base in the strategic southernmost atoll of Addu for £2000 a year, where hundreds of locals were employed. 19 years later the British government decided to give up the base, as it was too expensive to maintain.
The Maldives gained independence on July 26, 1965.Three years later a republic was declared with Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir as the first president. Small as it is the Maldives has always maintained independence and a strong unity despite influences and threats from outside. They are now an internationally renowned country, a member of the UN, WHO, SAARC, Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement and others and play an important role in advocating the security of small nations and the protection of the environment.