There are no exact records of when the first settlers arrived in Addu Atoll, but several historians and researchers have concluded that people were living on these islands for more than 2000 years. It is believed the first settlers originated from Sri Lanka and India. The Maldives was previously a Buddhist nation until it embraced Islam 800 years ago. The people of Meedhoo island in Addu were amongst the first to convert to Islam in the Maldives.
Despite its isolation, Adduans have always been energetic, creative and self-reliant. The community has always thrived on fishing, farming, weaving, toddy tapping, but the most significant of all the community’s achievements was its trade vessels. Addu is well known for its able sea navigators and vessels. The Addu-built wooden sailing vessels would regularly travel to Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, and even as far as China for trade, carrying local produce such as coconuts and sweet savories made from toddy. The traders would then return with goods like grains, fabrics, medicinal herbs, spices, perfumes, etc. There were also annual trips to Arabia for the pilgrimage in Mecca.
The biggest influence on Addu’s modern history has been the British bases, first established on Gan during WWII as part of the Indian Ocean defenses. In 1956, when the British could no longer use Sri Lanka, they developed a Royal Air Force base on Addu as a strategic Cold War outpost. The base had around 600 personnel permanently stationed there, with up to 3000 during periods of peak activity. The British built a series of causeways connecting Feydhoo, Maradhoo and Hithadhoo islands and employed most of the population on or around the base.
Tensions between the southern atolls and the central government in Male’ peaked in the 1960s under the leadership of Abdulla Afif Didi, who was elected president of the ‘United Suvadive Republic, comprising Addu, Fuvahmulah and Huvadhoo. Afif declared independence from the Maldives, but an armed fleet sent south by Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir quashed the short-lived southern rebellion. In 1976 the British pulled out, leaving an airport, some large industrial buildings, barracks and a lot of unemployed people, trained and skilled, who spoke good English and had experience working for Westerners.
When the tourism industry took off in the late 1970s, many of the men of Addu went to Male seeking work in resorts and tourist shops. They have never lost their head start in the tourism business to this date. Even today in any resort, visitors find a large number of key staff hailed from Addu. Gan is now a commercial island with Equator Village tourist resort, business offices, shops and the airstrip now being used as Gan International Airport.