Friday, March 6, 2009

The People and the Language

It is not recorded when and by whom the Maldives was first settled. However , archeological evidence and a look at the only language spoken in the country (called Dhivehi) tell an interesting story!

The languages of the Maldives’ immediate neighbors are predominantly Dravidian (with the sole exception of Sinhala, which is spoken by the Singhalese community in Sri Lanka), the Dhivehi language is Sanskrit based. Linguistic evidence clearly indicates this.

Before conversion to Islam in 1153 AD, the predominant religion in the Maldives was Buddhism (again something shared with the Sinhala speakers of Sri Lanka, Sinhala being a Sanskrit-derived language as well). This along with folklore and legend, points strongly to an Aryan migration from the ancient civilizations of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, at a time circa 500 BC.

Things never remained that simple. The Maldives is placed right at the traders crossroads of the Indian Ocean. Daring seafarers from all around the known world often find respite on these islands. Some never left. All made their own contributions to the society and the gene pool of the people.

As Maldivian themselves traveled far and wide, they brought home exotic productsand left behind the records of their visits. The documented visits made to the court of Roman Emperor Julian in 362 AD and visits to the court of the Tang Dynasty Emperor of China in 658 AD are good examples.

Maldivians later traveled to Bengal, Malaysia and the rest of Asia. This brought in strong influxes of these languages. Conversion to Islam brought in Arabic and Persian elements. The Portuguese who overcame the Maldives in the 16th century added theirs. Maldivians who sought education in Indian universities in the 18th century brought Urdu and Hindi. In the 19th century, the British Empire contributed English!

Maldivians have always welcomed and accommodate visitors who came in peace. Isolationism was never practiced. Cultural and other beneficial influences were assimilated. Only threats to independence were repelled.

The Maldives continues to remain a unified country with a unique culture and a unique language with its own script, literature and history.

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