An Insider's Guide to Mauritius' Culture - 9 Things You Need To Know
A vacation to any destination across the world is incomplete if you return without gathering insight into the lives of the natives. Hands-On experience of living the way the locals live helps us to appreciate better the diversity and unique characteristics which each place offers. Experiencing the arts, lingui stics, religions, demographics, professions, celebrations and attire of the indigenous people places us in their shoes and allows us to explore an entirely new dimension of tourism that most travellers often ignore.
With a diverse and harmonious constitution of people and a unique location on the globe, Mauritius is one of the most culturally rich islands on Earth. If you are planning to spend your next vacations on this tropical island in the vast sapphire-blue Indian Ocean, ensure that you take some time to explore the culture and traditions of the locals. There is a lot more to Mauritius than adventurous water sports and breathtaking beaches.
Read on to get introduced to Mauritius' rich cultural heritage.
1. History Of Mauritius
When Arab sailors around 975 CE first discovered the island, it was named as Dina Arobi. It was in 1598 when a Dutch squadron landed in Grand Port that they named the island Mauritius in honour of Prince Maurice Van Nassau, stadtholder of the Dutch Republic.
The islands of Mauritius served as colonies of the Dutch from 1638 to 1710. They were then controlled by the French who colonised them for a nearly a century between 1715 and 1810. The possession was then taken over by the British and Mauritius served as a British colony from 1810 to 1968, the year when Mauritius finally achieved independence.
2. Population of Mauritius
With a population just shy of 1.3 million spread over 2040 km2 of land, Mauritius has a dense population spread with more females than males. The people trace back their descent to India, Africa, China and France. Mauritius' healthcare system is developed with an average life expectancy of over 75 years. Almost 90% of the population is literate.
3. Languages of Mauritius
Although Mauritius has no official or national language per se, French and English are the two major languages in use. Consequently, Mauritius finds itself as a member nation of the Commonwealth of Nations and La Francophonie. The mother tongue of most Mauritians is a unique blend of European and African languages and is known as Mauritian Creole. This is the prominent language for music, religious and cultural activities. All media and literature in the nation involve French as the medium of communication. Apart from these, major Asian languages such as Bhojpuri, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and Chinese are also spoken albeit by small groups of people. Tourists visiting the island should have no problem in communicating as long as they understand and speak English or French.
4. Religions and Festivals of Mauritius
The religious landscape of Mauritius is diverse and tolerant. While Hinduism is the most widespread faith with 51.9% of the Mauritian population being Hindus, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism are also practised by a significant portion of the population. As a secular nation, Mauritius adopts freedom of religion as a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution. Interfaith disputes are unheard of, and the people coexist in harmony.
The country engages in several age-old traditions and celebrates its festivals with great enthusiasm. The vast range of festivals reflects the population's famed ethnic diversity. Some of the annual national festivals celebrated include Slavery Abolition Day (February 1), National Day or Independence Day (March 12) and Labour Day (May 1).
The different religious communities of Mauritius celebrate their respective festivals lending a vibrant atmosphere to the island. Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Ugadi and Maha Shivratri, during which the devotees make a mass pilgrimage to the most sacred Hindu site in Grand Bassin, where a towering statue of Lord Shiva resides beside the Ganga Talao. Muslims celebrate fasting during the month of Ramadan and Eid. Other Asian festivals such as the Chinese New Year and lantern festival brighten up the night sky and are a spiritual as well as visual delight. The entire population celebrates major Christian festivals such as Easter, Christmas and New Year and visiting the country during these festivals makes for a fantastic experience.
With an isolated location and organic volcanic origin, the Islands of Mauritius are a hotspot for many endemic plant and animal species. Flora and fauna of Mauritius are unique and exotic. Mammals such as macaques, bats and mice are prominent on the island. Over 100 species of birds such as the Grey White Eye, Mauritius Kestrel, Mauritius Parakeet and many more are found on the island. Mauritius was also once the only known home to the now extinct, flightless dodo birds. Tortoises also abound on the island, with several of them kept safe in conserved national parks owing to their endangered numbers. The waters surrounding Mauritius are teeming with countless rare fish and aquatic plant species. One can also find an extensive network of coral reefs in these waters, best explored while scuba diving.
Mauritian cuisine derives its inspiration from Creole, Chinese, French and Indian cuisines. Be it street food or fine dining, Mauritius has lip-smacking options across the spectrum. Dholl Pori, a Mauritian iteration of Paratha with Dal is the most famous street food on the island. The tropical climate allows several varieties of fruits to be grown on the fertile volcanic soil such as golden pineapples, refreshing coconuts and luscious mangoes. Any mention of the cuisine of Mauritius is incomplete without mentioning its hallowed seafood. A pescatarian's paradise, be it fish, lobsters, crabs, prawns, squid, shrimps or octopus, the options available are limitless and sumptuous. Mauritius' local favourites - phoenix beer and rum are great options for those who appreciate fine spirits.
7. Music and Dance of Mauritius
Mauritius has a vibrant entertainment culture with Sega music and dance being the most famous native music style. The songs are sung in Creole, with the help of traditional instruments such as the Ravanne, Triangle and Maravanne. However, with the increasing influence of the European and American nations, Western instruments are now being adopted by the modern musicians. Sega songs are sung as a means of self-expression and represent the life and experiences of the Mauritian people.
The influence of Indians on the Mauritian musical landscape is evident from the rise of Bhojpuri music. Once limited to the Indian migrants, Bhojpuri music is now gaining mainstream popularity thanks to the efforts of talented artists such as The Bhojpuri Boys.
Many international artists and DJs can be found performing in Mauritius' upmarket pubs and nightclubs.
8. Clothing of Mauritius
The attire of Mauritians varies greatly from person to person. While there exist no strict pan-island social guidelines with respect to the clothes a person chooses to wear, the dress code often varies depending upon the community one belongs to and the place he is visiting. Swimwear while allowed on the beaches is frowned upon elsewhere. Hindu women wear traditional sarees as part of their cultural legacy and Muslim women can be seen wearing hijabs and burkas. It is essential to wear appropriate clothing while visiting sites of religious significance to avoid hurting the sentiments of the locals. Leather accessories and articles are barred in Hindu temples.
Social restrictions on clothing are beginning to be relaxed recently due to the influence of the Western tourists visiting the island. Many upmarket restaurants and nightclubs often exercise certain restraints concerning the clothes customers may choose to wear. To maintain their high-end atmosphere and feel, they may not allow admission to customers dressed in casual clothing such as jeans, shorts and flip-flops.
9. Art and Craft in Mauritius
Local Mauritian handicrafts are the perfect souvenirs to take back home and gift your loved ones so that you can cherish the memories made here forever. A handicraft which deserves special mention is one built in the famed woodcraft workshops of Mauritius - the handmade wooden ship models. Built out of teak, rosewood and mahogany, these incredibly detailed and intricate wooden ships take several manhours to make and are the centrepieces of the living rooms of Mauritius' elite. Other local handicraft highlights include pretty boxes made out of volcanic stones, fine embroidered clothes and baskets made of vacoas fibre, raffia, aloe and bamboo.
To ensure that you make the most of your vacations, make sure you experience these amazing features of Mauritius which make it a tourist destination like none other!