While Mauritius is mostly known for its sunny beaches which are the very definition of a tropical paradise, there are plenty of other sides to the country that not many people are aware of. While the long history of Mauritius’ run-in with colonisation is now a well-known fact, that is not all there is to the history of the island. It is true that colonial reign does make up the majority of the country’s history, but there were certainly other issues too that deserve to be talked about when discussing the history of the island in detail, and one such factor is slavery and indentured labour in Mauritius. The island located in the middle of the Indian Ocean has had a long-standing history of slavery – as well as the citizens’ valiant efforts to do away with it – and this history finds pride of place in quite a few monuments all over the island, one of the most important ones being the Aapravasi Ghat.
Slice of India in Mauritius
The Aapravasi Ghat, located in Port Louis, was the very centre of the establishment of indentured – or contracted – labour in Mauritius. Before the 1800s, slavery was rampant in the country, and after the British Government decided to do away with slavery in what is known as the ‘Great Mauritian Experiment’, the Aapravasi Ghat was built as the central depot for receiving indentured labourers from countries like India, Africa, and Southeast Asia. These labourers were brought in to work on the numerous sugar estates throughout the island, and this model was soon followed by various other colonial powers all over the world.
Today, the Aapravasi Ghat stands as a testament to the history of indentured labour during the British colonial rule and has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Managed and maintained by the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, the ghat is one of the most important historic tourist destinations in Mauritius. Located extremely close to the harbour, the entrance to the ghat is free, as is the guided tour that will give you a closer look into the history of the place, and its tie-up to the colonial reign. The Aapravasi Ghat of today looks very different from the original ghat, as only a portion of the original building is left now, with the rest having been demolished for construction of the Port Louis main road. The place has been renovated and altered plenty of times, but specific structures of the original immigration depot still stand precisely the way they were centuries back, these areas mainly being the kitchens, lavatories, and a hugely symbolic flight of stairs using which all immigrants had to enter the depot.
The Aapravasi Ghat is as much an old testament as it is a nod to cultural traditions that were brought to the island along with the immigrants. Even though the original structure no longer stands, various drawings are showcasing the initial architecture of the depot, and it is straightforward to piece together how the immigration depot in all its entirety worked back during the colonial rule. If you’re a history aficionado, or you’re just one of those travellers who want to know more about the places they visit, then a trip to the Aapravasi Ghat is a must for you.