Maldives History and Cultural Information and Travel Guide. Vacation package Book. Also covers about, Maldives Population, Maldives Ethnic Groups and Language, Maldives Religion, Maldives Education, Maldives economy, Maldives Government and Politics, Maldives Foreign Relations. Maldives is an isolated nation and is among the smallest and poorest countries in the world. In olden times, the islands provided the main source of cowrie shells, then used as currency throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast. Moreover, historically Maldives has had a strategic importance because of its location on the major marine routes of the Indian Ocean. Maldives' nearest neighbors are Sri Lanka and India, both of which have had cultural and economic ties with Maldives for centuries. Although under nominal Portuguese, Dutch, and British influences after the sixteenth century, Maldivians were left to govern themselves under a long line of sultans and occasionally sultanas. Maldives gained independence in 1965. The British, who had been Maldives' last colonial power, continued to maintain an air base on the island of Gan in the southernmost atoll until 1976. The British departure in 1976 almost immediately triggered foreign speculation about the future of the air base; the Soviet Union requested use of the base, but Maldives refused.