History of Mauritius

Portuguese & Dutch Period

Mauritius is located in a very strategic place along the sea route between Europe and India. It has since then been a stopover for navigators. The Portuguese occupied the island between 1507 and 1513. The first settlement was though established by the Dutch between 1598 and 1710. They landed and stayed at Mahebourg in the south east of the island on their way to India for trade because fresh water, fruits and animals such as tortoise, fish and the dodo (now extinct) for food were easily available. They introduced sugarcane plants and manioc from Java. They cut down Ebony trees (now endemic) to sell back to Holland for furniture uses. Dutch colonization started in 1638 only and ended by 1710 due to unforeseen cyclones and pests like rats and mongoose which destroyed their stock of grains. One can still visit the Frederick Hendrik Museum and the Dutch routes in Grand Port.

French Colonization & Development of the island

By the end of 1710, French navigators had already started visiting the island. They decided to settle down here in 1715. Guillaume Dufresne d’Arsel set up the French colony under the rule of the French East India Company. He thus named Mauritius as Isle de France and Reunion Island as Ile Bourbon. Fertile soil on Isle de France was exploited while Ile Bourbon was used as a warehouse. With the arrival of Mahe de Labourdonnais in 1735, the island started developing productively into a colony. Slaves were brought from Africa and India, and more Bretons were encouraged to immigrate here in order to improve the island’s economic condition. French colonizers were allocated a plot of land and a number of slaves. The inhabitants were motivated to grow cash crops and trade with the passers-by. Nutmeg and other spices along with tobacco and tea were also introduced. Sugar and Arrack were made out of cane plants. Roads across the island, buildings, houses, churches, schools and dispensaries were built. Port-Louis became the main port as access in and from Mahebourg was often affected by the Southeast trade Winds. Later the port developed into a naval base and a shipbuilding center during the Napoleonic wars. Buildings such as the Government House and the Line Barracks, and the Chateau Mon Plaisir at Pamplemousses are some of the masterpieces of the French architecture in Mauritius.

British Colonization

Spice trade was the main reason for the presence of Europeans in the Indian Ocean. British traders’ business started going down as the French were constantly trading in the Indian Ocean. The fact that Mauritius is at a focal point between the east and the west in the Indian Ocean, the British decided to capture the island. The Battle of Grand-Port in December 1810 brought defeat to the French who surrendered to the British. The possession of the island by the British was legally confirmed by the Treaty of Paris in 1814. The British, however, allowed the French, Creoles and the slaves to stay back. By that time, the island was well-populated and the language mainly used was French and Mauritian Creole (Kreol Morisien which evolved while slaves were trying in vain to learn French).The British changed the name of the island to its former name, Mauritius and continued developing it in the light of what the French had achieved till date.

Abolition of Slavery & the Arrival of Indentured Laborers

Slavery was abolished on the island on the 1st February 1835. Many French settlers returned back to their native country. Indentured Laborers, mainly from India were brought to the island. They were first kept in quarantine at the Aapravasi Ghat at Port Louis and then sent on factory sites. They helped into the sugarcane fields and even started girmityas-schools run by the Indians to impart the Hindu religion and Indian culture to youngsters. The Indo-Mauritians kept their ancestral culture live and their language too. They gathered enough money over years and sent their children to school which were hitherto meant for the British only. Chinese merchants immigrated to Mauritius and set up their shops now known as laboutik sinwa. Franco-Mauritians, Indo-Mauritians, ex-slaves Chinese migrants and the British populated the island. The Mauritians were by that time able to speak/understand Mauritian Kreol which also comprises of Hindi and Bhojpuri words while some educated ones were able to converse in English and French too.

Independence of Mauritius

As Malcolm X said “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”, education brought a new school of thought for freedom among the Mauritians. Around the years 1930s, political parties were founded by the locals. The unity among the various ethnic groups helped them fight for their rights. The struggle for Independence had started. After 1961, the British agreed to permit additional self-government after an independence campaign.

The Legislative Assembly Election in 1967 was won by the coalition of the Mauritian Labor Party, the Muslim Committee of Action and the Independent Forward Block. The Mauritian Social Democratic Party was then in the opposition. The British rule officially ended on the 12th March 1968. The British Crown Colony of Mauritius became an independent sovereign Commonwealth realm. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was the first prime minister of the country while Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo became the first president of the country after the abolition of the monarchy. The country was recognized as the Republic of Mauritius within the Commonwealth realm on the 12th March 1992. The country has progressed a lot after that. Education has been free through the secondary level since 1976 and through the post-secondary level since 1988. Free transport for students has been introduced in 2005. The sugar industry, textile industry, tea industry and tourism industry has pushed the country’s economic towards a flourishing financial stability. Mauritians have adopted a hard-working lifestyle to move up the social ladder. Education is the backbone of the society’s strength and security. English is in fact the official language of the country; French and Mauritian Creole are widely spoken. Asian languages such as Bhojpuri and Mandarin are also part of the linguistic mosaic. The country has in itself a rich baggage of Mauritian culture.

Mauritian Society

The historical background of Mauritius leads us to a multicultural society. Mauritian people descend from migrants after the various colonization periods. The country is thus a converging point of global civilizations where one can feel the cosmopolitan aspects of the world. This plural society consists of different ethnic groups namely: Hindu, Muslims, Christians, Chinese and Creole. The stability and racial harmony in the society is unique. Ancestral traditions, rites and rituals have been passed on from generation to generation. The Mauritian culture therefore encloses bits and pieces of the Indian, African, Chinese and European cultures. To complete this puzzle, the culinary heritage of each distinct culture has merged to form the Mauritian culture. The island’s inherent natural and cultural value, historical significance, and natural and man-made beauty, make it a unique tourist attraction.

Multicultural Mauritius (enn sel lepep, enn sel nation)

Mauritians celebrate and respect each other’s beliefs and traditions. They have adopted each other’s culture to build a stronger Mauritian community. Deepavali is not only a Hindu festival nowadays. It is the celebration of light and sharing. On Eid-Ul-Fitr which is the Muslim New Year, every Mauritian cooks the famous Biryani to partake into the festivity. The real Mauritian culture’s foundation is nevertheless, the history of Mauritius and Mauritians. Le Morne Mountain has been listed as one of UNESCO World Heritage Center. It site ends with the slave route monument as many maroon slaves had preferred jumping from the mountain than having to face the punishments of their masters. There is another monument commemorating the Abolition of Slavery in Mahebourg too. Chronologically, the Aapravasi Ghat in Port Louis has been transformed into a museum to commemorate the arrival of the Indentured laborers in Mauritius. In the same light, the Aventure du Sucre in Pamplemousses exhibits former sugar factory features and the cultivation of sugarcane.

The Mauritian culture is anchored in every building, every route and every inhabitant of the island. Holidays in Mauritius will surely embark you on a breath-taking escapade. At last but not the least, one should definitely try Mauritian food which is a mixture of oriental and occidental culinary traditions. These are perks of being a multi-cultural society descended from various parts of the country. From the traditional Indian menu to the Chinese noodles, Mauritius enfolds also the best weather and journeys for perfect vacations!

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