FROM THE LOG #80

Mauritius - a Melting Pot
Cruisers Exploring Ashore

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Mauritius was on the East-Asian trading route
(Click on any photo or map for a blow up)

Happy girls in Mauritius. Look at their faces - I have some comments in the story below.
Mauritius is an interesting place, looking through the windows of history. Having done some home-work we knew that almost everything in present Mauritius is connected to the sugar industry of the past - one way or another. Therefore, in an effort to get a little bit deeper into the minds of the locals, we decided to visit the sugar factory museum, called L'Aventure du Sucre (the Sugar Adventure).

The old Beau Plan sugar mill has been converted to a museum and is a true history-maker and teller. By following the trail of the Sugar Adventure one can trace the history of the whole country. We found it a very interesting place and I think it is one of the best designed and implemented museums I have visited anywhere.

Some of our readers may wonder why we are reiterating the history of Mauritius on this web site, when there must be a lot of better sources on the web. However, I find it quite mind-boggling to ponder what the island would be like if there had been no sugar business and consequently very limited slave trade. I will mix my venture into history with photos from our recent tour around the island. If you are allergic to history you can jump to the asterisk* in the text five paragraphs below.

Rashid, our taxi-driver-guide Modern architecture A modern rhum destillery at Chamarel

The island was officially discovered in the early 1500s by Portuguese navigators, but they did not leave any records. The first known to land were the Dutch, only some 400 years ago, when Mauritius was still uninhabited. The Dutch already had a settlement on Java and were busy developing their spice trade. Mauritius with good and sheltered harbours provided safe haven during storms. The island was named Mauritius after the ruler of Holland. However, after introducing sugar cane, the Dutch lost interest and abandoned the island in 1710.

Port Louis waterfront today Model of ship in Port Louis harbour Building a model ship

A decade later the French, who already had settled Reunion (then called Ile Bourbon), started taking possession of Mauritius (then called Ile de France). Initially, between 1715 and 1764, the island was under supervision of Compagnie des Indes Orientales, the French East India Company. It was a privileged association of traders who had been granted monopoly for trade between Europe and Asia. From their trading posts in China and India the merchandise was shipped to the Western world. There were several ports of call along the route, such as Ile de France, Mauritius. The company's objective was strictly commercial and limited to secure the trade with Asia. White people were granted homesteads for the growing of crops and in 1723 the slave trade accelerated. However, the agricultural produce of the first colonists went mainly to supply the company's fleet and no-one was interested in the fate of the island in general.

The green market is a delight Cow-bellies Malla is indicating our location in
port on an old photo.

In 1735 the population of Ile de France was only 838 - 190 Whites and 648 Blacks (77%). The same year a certain M. La Bourdonnais was appointed Governor of Mauritius and the real transformation of the island began. His name is present almost everywhere on the island today. After the introduction of sugar estates the proportion of Blacks rose rapidly and peaked at more than 90% in just 30 years.

In 1810 the French capitulated to the British and in 1814 Mauritius became a British plantation colony until its independence in 1968. The population in 1830 was about 97,000, made up of 8,600 Whites (9%), 18,000 coloureds ("including a few Blacks from pirate ships"), 900 Indians and 70,000 slaves (72%).

* There are two things that I find particularly fascinating about Mauritius:

1. Although the island was a French possession (now long ago) for only about 100 years, and thereafter (much recently) a British Colony for 150 years, during which period the population multiplied, the culture is still very much 'French', as is the language (called Creole).

2. For centuries this country has been like an enormous melting pot of human races, but it seems that all these peoples have adapted and learned to live peacefully together. Also, the main religions, Hindu, Catholicism and Muslim, are practised side by side. There doesn't appear to be any tensions between the ethnic groups as we have seen in, say, Trinidad, Fiji, and Sri Lanka. And we haven't experienced any of the racial antagonism from descendants of former slaves, which one is facing so often in the West Indies. Because the islands were uninhabited when colonist first landed, there is no humiliated indigenous minority complicating things either.

     

Nowadays, the bulk of the population of 1.3 million souls is Indian. Hindu is the most popular religion representing almost 50%. Around 25% are Roman-Catholics and less than 20% Muslims. The most common language is Creole and although English is the official language, less than one (1) percent of the population have registered English as their "mother's tongue".

Today there are still more than 40 sugar factories in Mauritius, but the most important industry is tourism. According to our taxi-driver, Rashid, whose ancestors arrived from Pakistan as indentured workers, the Mauritians are happy and their personal economy good. Factory workers for the sugar- and textile industries have to be imported from Sri Lanka and other places.

The late circumnavigator Eric Hiscock stopped at the island in 1954. In his book "Around the World in Wanderer III", Hiscock wrote: .. "in some families of ten there is only one wage-earner. The guaranteed price of sugar has been keeping the island going, but there must come a time when mass unemployment will be rife".

Fortunately Hiscock was wrong. The photo at the top of this page shows happy faces of local girls. Look into their joyful eyes; I think they look relaxed, confident and secure, with few fears of the future. If I'm not mistaken they represent several different cultures and, almost as symbolizing this fact, they are all dressed in different colours. But they are all Mauritians - amazing.

There is, however, at least one problem in Mauritius. Criminality is rife in some areas, which I find strange on such a small and prosperous island. One group, which is apparently more involved than others with social problems, are the unfortunate people of Chagos, who were chased from their lands by force and brought to Mauritius. Generations ago, their ancestors, in turn, were taken to Chagos by force as slaves. Now the relocated Chagossians find it difficult to blend into the Mauritian society.

Pont Natural The island is volcanic A waterfall - again!

When you have been all over the world and seen so many places you may become a bit blasé. There are no particularly great natural wonders in Mauritius. Extinct craters, natural bridges, waterfalls, coloured soil - non more special than elsewhere in the world, but we enjoyed our trip around the south part of the island. Most visitors today are tourists who arrive for a week to enjoy the beaches and the all-year pleasant climate.

However, to me the most interesting side of Mauritius is its history.

Coloured earth
I try to picture how the island and its population would have developed if it had remained just a maritime port of call on the trade routes, without the sugar industry. It is an interesting mind game and somebody has wisely said, that you can't understand the present if you don't know the future.

As I am writing this report we are quite a representative little bunch of international cruisers in the tiny marina. Around us we have sailing vessels from England, Guernsey, Germany (2), Malta, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Brazil and Finland (2). One South African and one American yacht left a couple of days ago - in different directions, one going east to Asia and the other west to Africa - little has changed in this respect on the maritime front during the course of several centuries. Sailing boats are plying the waters and the sea gulls are screaming.

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