Mauritius and its culture

A bit of history...

The archipelago of the Mascarene Islands

It is in honour of the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas who gave the name to this region. It includes Rodrigues, Agaléga, Saint Brandon, Chagos, Tromelin, Mauritius and Reunion Island.

If the island of Rodrigues takes its name from the Portuguese navigator Diogo Rodrigues who placed it on a map for the first time in 1528, Mauritius was never mentioned until the Dutch landed there on 20 September 1598 in the Bay of Grand Port and named this deserted island Mauritius after the Prince of Orange Mauritius of Nassau, Stathouder of Holland.

However, it has been established that the Arabs had already been aware of the existence of the Mascarene Islands since the 5th century, which appear on the world map of Cantino published in 1502 on which Mauritius is named Dina Arabi.

When Mauritius was called l'isle de France

Bertrand François Mahe de La Bourdonnais
Bertrand François Mahe de La Bourdonnais

At the time of the French at the beginning of the 18th century, Reunion Island was called Isle Bourbon and Mauritius was the Isle de France: only Rodrigues was always named that way.

The isle de France with its welcoming ports and its lagoon protecting from storms was much coveted in the Indian Ocean, where it was the key to the route to India, offering food and shelter. The isle of France had previously known a period of uncertainty where nearly 22 governors succeeded one another until the arrival of Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, who took the destiny of the island by building roads, aqueducts, hospitals, shops, barracks, artillery batteries for defence, powder magazines, mills … He undertook a superb shipyard in Port Louis, transforming it into a comfortable port.

In 1766 the isle de France had 20,098 inhabitants, including 1998 whites and 18,000 slaves. Twenty years later there were 42,828 and at the last census of the 18th century, in 1797, there were 59,020 inhabitants including 6,237 whites, 3,703 freed (freed slaves) and 49,080 slaves.

The Battle of Grand Port opposed two British and French squadrons in the bay of Grand Port between 20 and 27 August 1810. The battle ended in a French victory.

Mauritius becomes British

In 1810, after a courteous surrender, the island became British and was named Mauritius for the second time. However, the transfer of power was a true “Gentlemen’s agreement” allowing the inhabitants to keep their laws, customs and religions.

Thus, the British and the French cohabited in a common interest. In 1830, the total population was 96,779 inhabitants composed of 8,592 whites, 18,019 coloured people to whom should be included some blacks from the smuggling ships and 858 Indians and Chinese, as well as 69,476 slaves .

In 1835 the British abolished slavery, which had consequences on the demography of the island. To replace the slaves who were finally freed and no longer wanted to work the land, the settlers had to hire Indian labour to work in the cane fields. Free men and women, the Indian immigrants worked in working conditions almost similar to those of the former slaves. As a result, nearly 450,000 Indians arrived on the island between 1835 and 1909. Only 150,000 will return to India at the end of their contract.

The island gained its independence in 1968 but only became the Republic of Mauritius in 1992.

Sir Robert Townsend-Farquhar
Sir Robert Townsend-Farquhar

The Republic of Mauritius

The President of the Republic is the Head of State and the supreme head of the armies. Executive power is held by the Prime Minister, who heads the Government.

Members of Parliament are elected every 5 years by universal suffrage. The composition of Parliament is divided into 70 seats, including 62 representatives elected by universal suffrage and 8 additional seats known as “best loosers” (best losers), designated for equitable representation of minority communities.

The Mauritian flag

The flag of the Republic of Mauritius is composed of 4 stripes of different colours, it is therefore commonly called in French Les Quatre Bandes or The Four Stripes in English. It was created by Gurudutt Moher and definitively adopted on 12 March 1968 on the occasion of the proclamation of the independence of the country.

The four colours of the flag symbolise Mauritius, although the interpretation depends on the individual.

  • Red is the colour of the flamboyant ones. The four lighthouses on the horizon symbolise the blood shed by the ancestors.
  • Blue is the colour of the sky and the ocean (Indian).
  • Yellow represents the sand and the Sun.
  • Green symbolizes the lush nature and the sugar cane fields which cover 90% of Mauritius and represent one of the three pillars of the Mauritian economy.
mauritius-flag

Population and religion in Mauritius

In its 400 years of history, the Mauritian population is a melting pot populated by descendants of French and English settlers, African slaves, Malagasy, Indian and Chinese.

This ethnic melting pot extends to the whole of Mauritian culture, whether it is the culinary culture, which mixes a flavour of Africa and a flavour of Asia, or even in religion.

We can get there in the 13 public holidays in Mauritius which are most of the religious celebrations. All Saints’ Day and Christmas which are Catholic holidays.

But Eid Ul Fitr celebrating the end of Ramadan is also a holiday. The spring festival, marking the Chinese New Year is also a holiday as well as many Hindu and Tamil celebrations such as Thaipoosam Cavadee or Divali to name but a few.

Notre Dame Auxiliatrice in Cap Malheureux
Notre Dame Auxiliatrice in Cap Malheureux

Ethnic and religious distribution in Mauritius

Even if the distribution is disparate, it is important to remember that Mauritians have always lived in this plurality of cultures as the island of Reunion. The strongest symbol is the motto that is taken to heart during Independence Day on 12 March: One people, one nation.

Indo-Mauritians

0 %
Hindu, Muslim or Christian faith

Creoles

0 %
Mainly Christian

Chinese-Mauritians

0 %
Christian or Buddhist faith

Franco-Mauritians

0 %
Christian faith