Discovering Mauritius: A Brief History of Mauritius
Mauritius is a fascinating nation. With its blue turquoise waters and gorgeous waterfalls, Mauritius never fails to impress tourists. In fact, its history is even more fascinating. The discovery of this once uninhibited island, colonisation by some colonial powers and then independence- all of these carry with it the dark side of forced labour too. Here is a brief history of Mauritius.
The Arabs were the first to discover the island. This is evident from a map produced by Italian cartographer Alberto Cantino in 1502, which shows the island of Mauritius.
Later, the Portuguese visited and discovered Mauritius in the early 14th century. The Portuguese called Mauritius and the surrounding islands as Ilhas Mascarenhas, after the Portuguese traveller Pedro Mascarenhas. The island of Mauritius was encountered by chance when an exploratory expedition by the Portuguese (a Portuguese explorer and naval commander) in the Bay of Bengal changed its course due to the onset of a cyclone.
The Dutch Rule
In the early 17th century, the five ships(which were a part of the second expedition of Dutch) under the orders of Admiral van Warwyck came into the view of this island, and later entered a bay, which is known as Grand Port today. Admiral van Warwyck named the island as 'Prins Mauritz van Nassaueiland', after the son of the ruler of Dutch Republic. From then, the Grand Port was used as a stopover for the Dutch whenever they came back from the sea. After a few years, two other expeditions, consisting of eleven ships and 1,357 men under the orders of Admiral Corneille, came from the Dutch land to the north-western part of Mauritius. It is known as Port Louis today, the capital city of Mauritius.
By 1615, the British and the Danes were already affirming their advent in the Indian Ocean. The island had plenty of ebony trees, and therefore, all of those who landed over Mauritius did not go back eempty-handed The Dutch, throughout their period of colonisation, brought slaves to Mauritius from Africa and Asia. The slaves were not treated well and harsh punishments were awarded to them when they tried to raise their voices. Despite all these, the Dutch are credited for their legacy in this island. Many regions in Mauritius and in fact Mauritius itself was given names by the Dutch. Sugar cane plants from Java were introduced and extensively cultivated during the reign of Dutch. They cleared large forests of ebony for wood. The Dutch also killed a large number of dodo birds and tortoises for food. However, the Dutch abandoned the island in 1710. Droughts, cyclones, infestations, lack of food and continuous illnesses were the reasons that took their toll.
The French Rule
On one fine day in 1715, a French administrative official landed on this island. The island went into the hands of the French after it was abandoned by the Dutch when they made their colony on the route to India. Mauritius was named as 'Isle de France', and the French started their occupation. Port Louis was established as a naval base and a ship building centre. During the Napoleonic wars, the island became a base from which raids on British ships were organised by the French. In 1810, a strong expedition was sent by the British and eventually the island was captured. By the Treaty of Paris in 1814, Mauritius was given away to the British along with Seychelles and Rodriguez islands.
The British Rule
After the island was formally declared a British colony, the colonial government in Mauritius brought various economic and social reforms. Slavery was abolished in 1835, which is one of the most laudable initiative. Compensation was given away to the planters for the loss of their slaves who were brought from Africa and Madagascar in particular.
With the abolition of slavery, there was a need for the labourers in sugar plantations. Indentured labourers from China, Malay and Africa started coming into the island to work in the extensive plantations. But India remained to be the largest supplier of indentured labourers to Mauritius. This period saw a large number of brutal incidents, when the labourers started fighting for respect. They were referred to as 'Coolies', and the island became a hub for trading in indentured labourers. Due to the arrival of people from different cultures, all of them got intertwined and Mauritius became a melting pot of diversities. A number of conflicts between the Indian community and the Franco-Mauritian community took place leading to the formation of Mauritius Labour Party in 1936.
The Fight for Independence
The independence campaign gained momentum after the first elections took place in 1947. This election was marked as the first step of the Mauritians towards self-rule. The Labour Party won the election with Guy Rozemont as the leader of the party. In the year 1961, the British agreed to give away more autonomy and eventually independence. In 1967, a coalition consisting of the Mauritian Labour Party (MLP), the Muslim Committee of Action (CAM) of Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed, and the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB) won the majority. This election was known to be the referendum on independence for the local people to decide the country's future. With the Mauritian Independence Act of 1968, the British rule saw its end in Mauritius. Mauritius amended its constitution in 1992 to become a republic within the Commonwealth Nations. The economic problems facing the country remained even in the 21st century. Unemployment rose rapidly due to adverse effects of international trade deficit.
You now know why the country has diverse religions, languages, cultures and ethnicities. The colonial influence continued in the form of English and French being the dominant languages. Mauritian Creole is widely spoken in Mauritius today. It is a mixture of various parent languages, which also includes few Indian and African languages. The diversity is due to immigration of labourers into the country. Subsequent generations carried the culture of their ancestors with tolerance and respect for diversity. Today, Mauritius is the best destination in Africa. The tourism industry in Mauritius is booming and the number of tourist arrivals has crossed 1 million per annum in 2017. Besides, Mauritius is also ranked in the top 50 globally for information technology.
To experience this rich diversity and cultural heritage, one has to visit Mauritius for sure. So next time, when you lie on the white sands of Ile aux Cerfs or walk into Rue de Labourdonnais island, you will not have to wonder about the origin of these names.