History of Mahe - Seychelles Unearthed!


This blog post will take you on a journey through the history of the largest island of the archipelago - Mahe. When we think of Mahe in Seychelles, usually what comes to our mind are the picture-perfect beaches, the tropical forests, the hustle and bustle of the capital city - Victoria and the varieties of endemic underwater and terrestrial creatures. However, there's a lot more to the island. Read on to find out! 

Etymology of Mahe

 
Mahe de la Bourdonnais, History of Mahe

Bertrand-Francois Mahe de La Bourdonnais
Source

Discovery of Mahe

French Rule on Mahe

In 1772, Pierre Poivre, a French intendant of the erstwhile Isle de France and Ile Bourbon (Reunion island), was the first to introduce the cultivation of spices such as cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and clove at Anse Royale in Mahe. This, later on, evolved into the famous Le Jardin Du Roi Spice Garden. The French authorities of Mahe and the adjoining islands realised that the coast on the north-eastern side of the island was perfect for foreign ships to anchor and also for domestic residents to come and buy and sell the respective products produced by them. Thus, trade flourished in Mahe and an administrative settlement named 'Etablissement du Roi' meaning Royal Establishment, was set up at the site of present-day Victoria.

Le Jardin Du Roi, History of Mahe
Source 

British Rule on Mahe


1835 is a memorable year when the inhuman practice of slavery was finally abolished by the British and a large number of wealthy masters emigrated from the island along with their slaves. However, after a short while, Mahe became the home of a vast number (around 2500) of newly liberated slaves. These former slaves were actually being transported to various distant places by Arab and other slave traders, and the British authorities attacked the ships passing by Mahe and freed the slaves. These people started working for plantation owners who had by now realised the importance of coconut cultivation. Apart from farming, some other occupations also developed like jewellery-making, liquor-making, law, drug-production, etc. Victoria was so called from 1841.

19th century coconut oil mill, History of Mahe

A 19th-century Coconut Mill
Source


12 October 1862 is a tragic day in the history of Victoria due to the occurrence of a landslide that killed around seventy people. Over the years, despite being ruled by the British, Mahe and the other islands of the archipelago was not directly a British Crown colony. It became so only in 1903. The Clock Tower that you can now find in the heart of Victoria, was installed in the same year in memory of Queen Victoria who passed away in 1901. The Botanical Gardens which now attracts many tourists due to the presence of various indigenous species of flora and fauna including the world-famous Coco de Mer was also established in 1901. If you go to Mahe, however, you can hardly miss the inherent French culture. This is because the British made no efforts to wipe away the French influence and so it became dominant over the English culture.

Victoria Clock Tower, History of Mahe
Source 

Formation of Political Parties and Independence

Everything was going on good until the onset of the First World War which created a stagflationary situation on the island. Imports and exports along with domestic production and employment fell, but at the same time, there was steep inflation. The British rulers hardly did anything to improve the situation. By this time the population on the island consisted mainly of wealthy plantation owners and poor landless workers. Agitated by the step-motherly treatment of the British, they started to make demands for representation in the government and also for better working conditions and wage floors. 1939 was the year when the first political party - the Taxpayers Association, constituting the richer section of the population was formed and they were also given the right to vote. These people also became members of the Legislative Council post the elections in 1948.
 
Employment demands, History of Mahe
Source

As everywhere, the voice of the poorer masses of the population remained unheard of and so they formed the Seychelles People's United Party or SPUP under the leadership of France-Albert Rene. Another political party - Seychelles Democratic Party or SDP led by James Mancham was also formed that year. While the formerly wanted independence from British rule, the latter wanted to strengthen their relationship with the British primarily for protecting the interests of the wealthy planters. Conflicts continued between them until finally in 1974, they joined hands and demanded complete independence. On 29th June 1976, independent Seychelles flags waved at various parts of Mahe and other islands with James Mancham becoming the President and Albert Rene Prime Minister. He was soon overthrown and Rene became the President and one-party system prevailed on the islands with multi-party democratic system introduced in 1991.

 
Monument marking Seychelles Independence Day, History of Mahe
Source

Historical Landmarks

Apart from the spice garden, botanical gardens and the clock tower, Mahe is dotted with numerous other landmarks of historical significance. These include the Mission Lodge (initially known as Venn's Town), at the site of which stood a school where children of liberated slaves studied. Near the clock tower itself lies the Old Courthouse, also known as Victoria House and built in 1890, it displays traditional Creole architecture. Later on, it acted as the Supreme Court of Seychelles. One can see Pierre Poivre's statue in the building premises. Another important colonial building is the State House, which served as the residence of British governors and after independence, became the President's home and workspace. Quincy's grave lies outside the building.

State House, History of Mahe

State House
Source


Two churches in Victoria - St. Paul's Cathedral and Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, one Anglican and the other Catholic, dates back to the nineteenth century. Kenwyn House, built in 1850, is a perfect example of French colonial architecture. Initially it was the home of chief medical officer of the islands - Dr Henry Brooks, but now it houses an art gallery and a jewellery shop. The Bicentennial Monument, also in Victoria, is a relatively newer structure built only in 1978. It symbolizes the coexistence of Europeans, Asians and Africans on the Seychelles islands and also birds, who had lived on the islands for centuries, even before the arrival of humans. Towards the southern side of Mahe, the area of Anse Forbans and Anse Marie-Louise is known as Pirate's Bay as it is believed that pirates came here even earlier than the French.

Kenwyn House, History of Mahe

Kenwyn House
Source


You will most likely go to Sir Selwyn Clarke Market on you trip to buy souvenirs, and that is yet another historical landmark built in 1840. If you go to the Bel Air Cemetery which is the oldest cemetery of Mahe, you will find tombs of many important persons who had lived on the island hundreds of years ago. If all these details of Seychellois history excites you, you can go to the the Gran Kaz museum (not the casino) inside Domaine de Val des Pres in Au Cap district of Mahe, the Seychelles National Archives inside the National Library building and the National Museum of History in Victoria to know more about the life on the islands during colonial rule. The last one even contains the original 'Stone of Possession' erected by Morphey in 1756 and the oldest map drawn probably by Vasco da Gama in 1517. People interested to know more about the SPUP party can pay a visit to the People's United Party Museum.
 
Seychelles National Library, History of Mahe

Seychelles National Library
Source

Advent of Tourism


The government took certain initiatives like setting up of the Seychelles Tourist Board, along with initiatives taken by private investors such as developing casinos, advertising campaigns, competitive pricing to attract more tourists. Air Seychelles introduced international flights in 1983 and since then there was no looking back. In 2011, the number of visitors to the islands doubled its total population! And now, it has become the favourite holiday destination for many of us.

 
Newspaper article advertising the first hotels, History of Mahe
Source

Now you know why so many historical buildings adorn the island of Mahe. The French and the British colonial rulers had for 200 years made it their administrative place. So, what remains for you is to go and explore these places yourself!

This post was published by Sinorita Naskar

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