Divehi - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In the old society there were three ranks, mostly in Male and the large southern islands, and though descendants of the old elite class still hold most Political power and property, they have no hereditary privileges or titles now. Rank today is determined mostly by wealth. Divehis comprise a single tight sociopolitical system with no significant ethnic minorities, though there are minor cultural differences among the atolls, particularly the three southern atolls. The people of Maliku have been under separate administration for two centuries, and there is little outside knowledge of the society because India does not allow foreigners to visit there. India administers it along with the Lakshadvīp Islands and expects the people to go to school in Malayalam, though they still speak Divehi. In the Maldives, just one castelike group has been described. This group is the Girāvaru, Aborigines who formerly ruled Male. They lived on an eroding island, so the government moved them to Hulule, the airport island, from where they have again been displaced; now they have again been partly absorbed by another island community. They have consciously retained differences in dress, have claimed that unlike the other Divehis they had no divorce or widow remarriage, and have said their ancestors were Tamils, though they have no knowledge of such people and have never traveled outside their atoll. They have also claimed to be strictly endogamous. Other Divehis Traditionally have thought of the Girāvaru as dirty, while they have thought of other Divehis as morally corrupt.

Political Organization. The old aristocratic families from the time of the sultanate are still dominant in Male. Since independence in 1965 the country has been called a republic. It is governed by a president, who maintains tight authority through the ministries of religion and law, the system of appointed atoll and island chiefs, and finances from the tourist and shipping industries. In theory, he governs at the will of the national assembly, the Majlis, which is just now Beginning to assume a modern legislative role.

Social Control. Control is through the island offices and atoll offices, in which religious law is part of the tight state apparatus. All larger islands and atoll offices have a qāzi, who performs marriages, adjudicates disputes and inheritance, examines the accused, and enforces Sharia law as interpreted by the attorney-general. The atoll court has separate sections to deal with religious, criminal, and political violations. The court may punish an accused by giving an order for social boycott or by banishment to some island for a year or for life. Atoll and island headmen study Islamic religious law, and there are a few experts trained in Egypt.

Conflict. Divehis are extremely reticent to show aggression or to make threats, and there is hardly any murder. But there are serious contests to seize national political power, and a loser may be banished to an island for many years. There is a historic tendency for the southern atolls to claim autonomy, but this tendency is not overt now, and there is no other organized or open conflict in the society. Divehis on small Islands may have hardly any knowledge of the outside world, and they often fear strangers.

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