Yesterday, Mauritius celebrated its 50th year of Independence. Our beautiful little island has an interesting history and so much more to it than what travel agency magazines sell.
Uninhabited til the end of the 16th Century
Mauritius was first discovered by the Arabs and later by the Europeans: the first to be interested in colonising the island were the Dutch in 1598. They started sending settlers to the island in 1638 and named it Mauritius after the Dutch Prince Maurice of Nassau. Until then dodos and other small animals were wandering peacefully and unbothered. At that time the island was covered with endemic forests and plants. However Mauritius proved a little harder to settle onto that the Dutch has hoped for and after the introduction of sugar cane and the Java dears they left the island in 1710.
The French were already in Reunion Island (then known as Île Bourbon) and thought Mauritius would be a great strategic addition in the area and officially occupied the island in 1715. France started to send settlers as of 1721 and the name was later changed to Île de France. During this time slaves were being brought to the island – they came from Madagascar, but also from Mozambique and other African countries.
In the early 19th century – the French and the British fought a naval war and eventually the French lost Isle the France to the British. Isle de France became Mauritius once more. At that time there were over 68000 slaves in Mauritius – working mostly in the sugar cane industry that the French had massively invested in. Slavery was abolished in 1834 and the British started to recruite thousands of “indentured labourers” instead – these mostly came from India. At the same time Chinese traders arrived to the island. In the 60 years up to 1900 the population of the island tripled. And thus Mauritius became the country we know today: Africans, Indians, Chinese and Europeans – the 4 main ethnic groups of the Mauritius.
Mauritius is a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multilingual wonder: Pagodas, Mosques, Temples and Churches stand side by side – my children’s friends are Creoles, Chinese, Hindus or Caucasian and all of them speak 3 to 4 languages. We also have one of the best fusion cuisine in the world!
But of course things are not as simple as one would like them to be… but that’s a story for another day!
The road to Independence
It was many years after the initial colonisation of Mauritius that the first thoughts of Independence came to mind. This was initialed by the Labour movement and rallies for the political power to be transferred to the Mauritian people saw birth in the late 1940’s. Right to vote was given to literate Mauritians in 1947 and then to all adults in 1959 (left over of slavery, much?). Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, politician and father of the country and later the first Prime Minister of Mauritius, led the negotiations with the British Crown in the 60’s. A new constitution was introduced in 1967 that allowed for self-governance: Mauritius gained its Independence on 12 March 1968 and joined at the same time the Commonwealth.
Mauritius saw many political ups and downs well into the 90’s but in 1992 the constitution was changed once again and Mauritius became a Republic. That was 26 years ago.
It is a beautiful day to be in Mauritius on: flags are raised all over the country, cars are decorated, local populations are out in parks and celebrating on the beach! For the tourists and their staff all hotels mark the event with special festivities.
The Mauritian Flag
The Mauritian Flag also has a story to tell. The Flag known as the Four Bands (Les Quatres Bandes) was adopted on the same day as the country gained its Independence. It consists of 4 equal size horizontal bands: Red, Blue, Yellow and Green.
The red colour stands for the fight for freedom and Independence, the blue is the colour of the Indian Ocean where Mauritius is located. The yellow is the colour of the sun: representing the new light of Independence shining over the country and the green refers to the evergreen colour that our beautiful nature gives to Mauritius.
Happy Independence Mauritius!