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Maldives - People

The US government estimates the total population at 394,000 (July 2013 estimate). Of Maldives' 1,191 islands, only 200 are inhabited by Maldivians, another 100 islands host resorts. The population is scattered throughout the country, with the greatest concentration on the capital island, Male. Limitations on potable water and arable land constrain expansion.

The nations capital Male, with around 2.5 sq kms of total land area, had over a quarter of the entire population of 270,000, while approximately 71 percent of the rest of the 200 inhabited islands have less than 1000 inhabitants according to the 2000 Census information. Maldives has a relatively young population with almost 41 percent under 15 years of age and around 3 percent over 65 years of age. With regard to human development trends, the country ranks high among the Asia-Pacific countries.

The earliest settlers were probably from southern India. Indo-European speakers followed them from Sri Lanka in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. In the 12th century AD, sailors from East Africa and Arab countries came to the islands. Today, the Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of these cultures, reinforced by religion and language.

The official and common language is Dhivehi, which is related to Sinhala, a language of Sri Lanka. The writing system is from right to left. Language studies and historical records point to a historical relationship of the Maldivian language, Dhivehi, with the Indo-Aryan language of Sri Lanka, Sinhalese, making it the southernmost Indo-European language at the time the Maldives were populated. The Maldivian subdialects are divided into two main groups: a northern and a southern dialect. The latter is again restricted to the three southernmost atolls.

English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools. English is widely spoken by Maldivians and visitors can easily make themselves understood in the capital city. In the resorts, a variety of languages are spoken by the staff including English, Chinese, German, French, Italian and Japanese.

Some social stratification exists on the islands. It is not rigid, since rank is based on varied factors, including occupation, wealth, perceived Islamic virtue, and family ties. Members of the social elite are concentrated in Male.

The government expenditure for education was 13.5% of GDP in 2011. Literacy in Maldives is high at 98%. Maldives has made great strides over the years in primary and lower secondary education, with 100% enrollment in the primary level (grades 1 to 7) since 2002. Secondary school enrollment has also improved significantly, with about 80% progressing to the secondary level. Lower secondary schools (grades 8 through 10) are located on all inhabited islands except for 5 that have less than 70 students. Only a small proportion of children leave school with a qualification, and "Ordinary level" pass rates (at the completion of grade 10) are low for those who opt to take the examination.

Access to higher secondary schools (grades 11 and 12) has improved considerably over the years. In 2011, there were 38 higher secondary schools; at least one in each atoll except for two, and five in Male. Access to tertiary education is more limited. Although there is no gender bias for primary and lower secondary schools, there is a bias in favor of boys for upper secondary and tertiary education.

The islands of the Maldives lay on the trading route of the Indian Ocean. Thus settlers, and visitors from neighbouring regions and around the world have come in contact with the islands for as long as history has been recorded. Such is the to-and-fro flow of people and their cultures, that a marked effect has been left in the Maldivian people, the language, beliefs, arts, and attitudes.

The looks of the Maldivian people may differ from one atoll to the other, attributing to the genes passed on by South and Southeast Asians, Africans, and Arabians. The language, Dhivehi, differs in dialect in some regions in the south of Maldives, possibly due to the secluded nature and subsistent ways of island life. Maldivian beliefs have been very much based around religion and superstition, often used together in matters of significance but given separate positions in society. In matters of faith, Islam dominates, but influence of the supernatural still continues to play a major role in most island communities, possibly giving credit to the folklores and Buddhist traditions of the islands first settlers before conversion to Islam in 1153 AD.

The mixing of cultures is very much seen in Maldivian arts. The music played with the local bodu-beru (big-drum) resemble that of African drumming. The dhoni (a unique Maldivian sailboat) is an art form itself built with skilled craftsmanship, with significant similarities to the Arabian dows. The fine artistry of Maldivians, seen in the intricate details on wooden beams in antique mosques, represents what we have gained from Southeast Asian architecture. Then there is the undefined: the distinct geometric designs used in mats woven from local materials, the embroidered neckline of womens traditional dresses and their ornaments too, expose another story brought in from an unknown culture that has seeped in to Maldivian society.

Maldivians are quite open to adaptation and are generally welcoming to outside inspiration. The culture has always continued to evolve with the times. Locals still eat fish and fishermen still spend days out at sea, but tourism now takes prominence. Most Maldivians still want to believe in upholding unity and oneness in faith, but recent waves of reform in the country have created a whole new culture of new ideas and attitudes. The effects of the modern world are now embraced, while still striving to uphold the peoples identity, traditions and beliefs. Because of this geographic situation, the present-day Maldivian population has potential for uncovering genetic signatures of historic migration events in the region. Parental admixture analysis for mtDNA- and Y-haplogroup data indicates a strong genetic link between the Maldive Islands and mainland South Asia, and excludes significant gene flow from Southeast Asia. Paternal admixture from West Asia is detected, but cannot be distinguished from admixture from South Asia. Maternal admixture from West Asia is excluded. Within the Maldives, a subtle genetic substructure in all marker systems is not directly related to geographic distance or linguistic dialect. Reduced Y-STR diversity and reduced male-mediated gene flow between atolls suggest independent male founder effects for each atoll. Detected reduced female-mediated gene flow between atolls confirms a Maldives-specific history of matrilocality. In conclusion, genetic data agree with the commonly reported Maldivian ancestry in South Asia, but furthermore suggest multiple, independent immigration events and asymmetrical migration of females and males across the archipelago.

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