Apparently the theme of countries that I don't know about is "Must begin with M". Because here I am with yet another country or region or God knows what it is that starts with M that I don't know the first thing about.
Well, okay, I do know the first thing about it. Them. Because this came to mind while I was watching the BBC covering some recent unrest there. They are very good about zooming in on the part of the world they are talking about, realizing that the vast majority of their viewers probably flunked geography at some point in their education. Unfortunately, I wasn't really paying attention...
However, I think they may have zoomed in to the Indian Ocean. If I remember correctly, the reason they have sprung to recent world attention is that they are holding their first democratic election. The incumbent has been in power for something like thirty-five years. His challenger was a political prisoner. It's the big deal for the Maldives. Only question is, what precisely are the Maldives?
Okay, I already find my preconceptions arrested. I was thinking maybe the Greater Maldive and the Lesser Maldive, as far as islands go, but in fact, there are 26 coral atolls, which in turn comprise 1,192 islets. 250 of these are islands large enough or at least hospitable enough to be inhabited. However, I was right about the Indian Ocean part. If you look at a map, they seem to drop off the bottom of the west coast of India, while Sri Lanka is a more solid form on the right.
Like so many places now, they've pretty much seen it all as far as the conquerors and colonizers go. First, there were fisherman from the west coast of India and as far away as Sri Lanka. Buddhism imposed itself in an early expansion, but since the 12th century, the Maldives have been Muslim. In fact, a revision of the constitution this year requires that a requirement of citizenship is adherence to Islam. So much for the separation of church and state.
If you think a moment about the Maldives being in the Indian Ocean, you will realize that I am more than a little remiss in not knowing more about them. In December, 2004the Maldives were one of the places that experienced the power of the tsunami that killed and devastated so many in that quarter of the world. 108 people are reported to have died as a result. Some islands were evacuated and six were decimated. The toll on the infrastructure was massive,especially the tourist infrastructure,which is a main source of the present day economy.
But there have been other economies. In the early part of our last millennium, the Maldives actually as good as coined currency for the Arab trading world, in as much as cowry shells, which served as coinage in this realm, literally washed up on its shores.
There is yet another noteworthy thing about the Maldives. They apparently hold the record for being the lowest country in the world. Their highest point is cited at only about 7 1/2 meters above sea level. A charming Guinness Book of World Records sort of fact, until you realize that this means that global warming and other reasons for oceans rising threaten this nation's very existence.
And you thought the current economic crisis was bad...