About Mauritius

Posted By Matt On Saturday, May 9th, 2015 With 0 Comments

mauritiusMauritius is an island of volcanic origin found in the south-west of the Indian Ocean, 900 km east of Madagascar. It covers an area of 2040 square kilometres. Along with Rodrigues, found around 570 km to its north-east, Agaléga and the Cargados Carajos, it forms part of the republic of Mauritius. It also claims sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago.

Before the colonisation of Mauritius, the Arabs and Portuguese were frequent visitors on the island but there is no concrete evidence to prove who first discovered it. Pedro Mascarenhas named Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues the Mascarenes islands in the 16th century.

The island experienced four periods of colonisation. Two attempts were made by the Dutch, one by the French and the last one was by the British before it attained its independence in 1968. Mauritius became a republic in 1992.

Dutch Period

Illustration from van Neck's "Het Tweede Boeck" showing Dutch activities on the shore of Mauritius, as well as the first published depiction of a dodo bird, on the left. [Wikipedia]

Illustration from van Neck’s “Het Tweede Boeck” showing Dutch activities on the shore of Mauritius, as well as the first published depiction of a dodo bird, on the left. [Wikipedia]

A Dutch squadron landed on the South Eastern Coast of the island in 1598 under the orders of Admiral Wybrand Van Warwyck. They baptised the island Mauritius after Prince Mauritz Van Nassau, the stadholder of Holland. They used it as a port of call. However, no attempts were made to set up a permanent colony on the island. It is only in 1638 that the Dutch colonised the island. Their aim was to establish a stopover and a resting place for ship crews to and from the East Indies and India. They introduced animals like deer and crops like sugarcane which came to acquire much economic importance in the centuries after. The Dutch hunted the dodos, an exotic bird found only in Mauritius, to extinction. They also destroyed the giant tortoise’s population. Harsh conditions made them leave in 1658 but they returned in 1666 mainly to exploit and export the Ebony tree. They established themselves at Grand Port. Slaves were first introduced on the island by the Dutch. However, more than half of these ran away into the forests. Rough conditions, cyclones and bad harvests pushed them to leave the island.

French Period

French East India Company cannon. [wikipedia]

The French took over the island in 1715. However, it is only in the year 1721 that official colonisation started under the aegis of the French East India Company. The first structural developments were undertaken in Port Louis by Bertrand François Mahé de Labourdonnais, one among the various governors sent by the French East India Company to administer the island. Artisans were imported from the south of India to contribute to the construction of Port Louis. Slaves were also imported from Madagascar and the east African coast. Port Louis was transformed into a seaport and witnessed the emergence of warehouses, the Government House as well as the Line Barracks.

The French started sugar production for export. The first sugar mill was built in 1744. More slaves were brought in the island from Madagascar and the Eastern coast. The number of sugar estates flared up and some of the major areas like Port Louis, Flacq, Moka, Montagne Longue and Pamplemousses emerged. The royal administration took over in 1767. During the Napoleonic wars, Ile de France became a haven for privateers’ raid.

British Period

Battle of Grand Port by Pierre-Julien Gilbert

Battle of Grand Port by Pierre-Julien Gilbert

The British decided to take over Mauritius for strategic reasons. They failed to do so during the Grand Port Battle in 1810. However, they made another successful attempt and the French were defeated in the north of the island in the same year. The French naval victory during the Battle of Grand Port was even inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe at Paris.

In 1810, Mauritius was ceded to the British, who promised to uphold the French traditions, customs, laws and language by the Treaty of Paris in 1814. In present day Mauritius, French is the parlance despite English being the official language. After the British take over, many French colonists chose to leave the island. The economy which had relied mainly on commerce for its survival started to be geared more towards sugar cultivation and production. This shift was mainly due to the 1825 Trade Bill which allowed Mauritian sugar to compete on an equal footing with the West Indian sugar. The bill acted as a stimulus for the expansion of the sugar industry in Mauritius.

Arrival of indentured labourers in Mauritius

Arrival of indentured labourers in Mauritius

More labour was required to satisfy the growing sugar industry. Slavery was abolished in 1835 in Mauritius. Plantation owners turned towards the importation of Indian Indentured labourers to replace the slaves in the sugarcane fields. Around 500 000 Indian indentured labourers were introduced on the island. Free Indian and Chinese immigrants also came to work and set up businesses in Mauritius. These arrivals helped to knit up the current Mauritian demographical fabric which is made up of the descendants of French colonists, ex slaves, Indian indentured labourers as well as Chinese immigrants.

The 20th century witnessed the gradual economic and political empowerment of the island’s Indian population. Mauritius went through much violence and conflict before it finally achieved its independence in 1968. The Mauritian constitution is based on the Westminster model and its main source of law is the British common law along with some elements of France’s Code Napoléon. Tensions arose between the Creole and Indian communities mainly during election periods. With time, the successive governments have succeeded in maintaining peace, order and stability among the various communities.

Mauritius became one among the best governed countries of the African continent after the decolonization period. It moved from an agricultural mono-crop industry to be dominated by manufacturing, tourism and an expanding financial service after the 1980s.