Written By Aaryahi Mehta (Grade 8)
When I was two years old, my parents and I went on a holiday to Mauritius. Even though I was too young to remember anything, growing up I heard a lot of stories from my parents. Stories of how we ate samosas and dal and dosas for our meals. Stories of people communicating with us in Hindi and a particularly interesting one of a waiter informing my parents that his favourite actress was Kareena Kapoor and he watched all Hindi movies. After listening to multiple stories of this magnificent isle, I was intrigued to know why and how there were so many people of Indian ancestry in this tiny nation in the Indian Ocean. So, I decided to read up on the history of the country and why it is a common spot for Indians to vacation and what I found fascinated me.
The island country, Mauritius, was discovered by Arab sailors as an uninhabited island in around 975. They named this island “Dina Arobi”. Much later, in about 1507 the island was rediscovered by Portuguese sailors. The island was then passed on to the Dutch, who named the island “Mauritius”, in 1598, after which, France took control in 1715. The French renamed this island as “Isle de France”. Years later, the United Kingdom seized the island which then after four years was handed over to the British by the French in the Treaty of Paris. The British renamed the island ‘Mauritius’, which was named so by the Dutch after Prince Maurice of Orange.
This is mainly when the Indian connection with Mauritius started. Around this time slavery had finally been abolished by the British Empire. Due to this, the British had reduced supply of sugarcane which was provided to them from Mauritius by the slaves. To solve this issue, the British sent Indian indentured labourers from India to Mauritius, who came from different parts of India, such as Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh. Even before the indentured labourers started arriving in Mauritius, Indian traders, labourers, houseboys, jewellers and shoemakers already lived there.
These Indians slowly adapted to the culture and traditions of the island. As the island then was still developing, much of the Indian culture became a part of this island. Today, Mauritius has the highest population of Hindus in Africa and the third-highest percentage of Hindus in the world. Indian culture has had a major impact on the island, through language, food, clothes, entertainment and festivals. The schools there have a rule stating that all children from the age of six must opt for a third language which are Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telegu, Mandarin, Oriya or Marathi. People living in Mauritius are pretty familiar with and enjoy Bollywood cinema. One of the most common foods in Mauritius is ‘Dahl’ which is a dish from India. Women there also wear a lot of Indian clothes such as saris. Indian temples are also very common there. Indian festivals such as Diwali and Mahashivratri are celebrated with great fervour there. Indians living on the island have also learnt and benefitted from the Mauritian culture. People of Indian origin speak not only Indian languages but also French and Creole fluently.
The High Commissioner of Mauritius to India, Mukeshwar Chuni, stated that Mauritius is a ‘mini India’, with around 75% of its population being Indians. Indians in Mauritius have acquired high-ranking government jobs. The current prime minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugunath, is an Indian. The president of the country, Prithvirajsing Roopun, is also an Indian.
In 1896, a man named Moheeth Ramgoolam belonging to the Indo-Gangetic plains belonging to the Kushwaha caste stepped foot onto a ship called “The Hindoostan” at the age of 18. He of course at the time was confused and scared about leaving his hometown to become an indentured labourer. Little did he know, that his son would be the very first Prime Minister of the country he migrated to, and have the country’s international airport named after him. Yes, his son was none other than Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. Just like him, many other Indians migrated to this island country and lived the rest of their lives there spreading Indian culture while adapting to the Mauritian way of life.
Featured Image Courtesy – Encyclopedia Britannica