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The Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, have been viewed by many of the colonial powers as of strategic importance because of their position astride some of the major maritime trade routes. There are some historical debates about the origins of the Buddhist kings of the Maldives, who ruled for a total of some 1,400 years.

Trade drew many Middle Eastern seafarers to the island, often in search of cowrie shells. Gradually, many Arabs came to live on the island, and the king embraced Islam in 1153, after which the majority of the population has been Muslims. Trade with India and with East Africa increased substantially over the next 400 years.

In 1558, the Portuguese established a trading post and also a colonial empire in the Maldives; they ...

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