Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascaren

Un moment de grande émotion: Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam se rend à l’Assemblée législative pour présenter sa motion deman dant à la Grande-Bratagne d’accorder l’indépendance à l’île Maurice.”

(Caption and photo are borrowed from the daily Advance of 23rd August 1967.

References

(1) Barnwell, P.J. & Toussaint, A., A Short History of Mauritius, Longmans, Green and Co,, 1949.

(2) Toorawa, Shawkat M., The Medieval Waqwaq Islands and the Mascarenes in The Western Indian Ocean – Essays on Islands and Islanders, The Hassam Toorawa Trust, 2007.

(3) Moree, P.J. , A Concise History of Dutch Mauritius, Kegan Paul International (London & New York) in association with International Institute for Asian Studies, 1998.

(4) Nagapen, Amédée, Histoire de la Colonie – Isle de France – Ile Maurice, 1721-1968, Diocèse de Port-Louis, 1996.

(5) Toussaint, Auguste, Histoire de l’île Maurice, Presse Universitaire de France, 1974.

(6) Sinh, Ranbir, Mauritius: the key to the Indian Ocean, Arnold Heinemann, 1980 (statement borrowed from Sir Charles Bruce’s “ The Evolution of the Crown Colony of Mauritius”).

(7) Bruce, Sir Charles, The Broad Stone of Empire: Problems of Crown Colony Administration, Vol. I, 1910.

(8) Mauritius Index to the Second Legislative Assembly Debates, First Session 1967, 22nd August-1st December 1967, Debates Nos 15-26, Hansard, 22 August 1967, pp. 866 – 1002.

 

Captions

1) Photo a : The world as seen by Arab geographer Abu Abd Allah M. Edrisi in 1154 in his map prepared under the supervision of the court of king Roger II of Sicily.

2) Photo b: Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas who, together with Domingo Fernandez, discovered the three islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Réunion in 1507.

3) Photo c: The arrival of the Dutch fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Van Warwyjk in Grand Port Bay on 20th September 15 98 when the Dutch officially took possession of the is land.

4) Photo d: The ialand was named Mauritius after Prince Maurits van Nassau (painting by  Michel Jansz van Pierevelt, a Dutch Go lden Age painter and draftsman).

5) Photo e: The monument at Ferney, Old Grand Port, erected to mark the Dutch first landing on 20th September 1598.

6) Photo f: Monument in Robert Edward Hart Garden, Les Salines, Port-Louis, commemorating 20th September 1715 when Captain Guillaume Dufresne d’Arsel took possession of Mauritius and named it Isle de France.

 7) Photo g: The landing of the British troops near Cap Malheureux on 29 November 1810, prelude to the British conquest of the i sland. (Source: ‘Eight Views of the Mauritius,’ R. Temple)

8) Photo h: Mauritius from Early History up to the successive passages of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British  to 1968.

9) Photo i: Chart showing the evolution of the population from 1803 to 1944.

10) Photo j: Pictured with family, Sir John Pope Hennessy, the British Governor who launched the war-cry “Mauritius to the Mauritians” in the 1880’s.

11) Photo k: «Un moment de grande émotion: Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam se rend à l’Assemblée législative pour présenter sa motion demandant à la Grande-Bratagne d’accorder l’indé pendance à l’île Maurice. » (Caption and photo are borrowed from the daily Advance of 23rd August 1967) .

12) Photo L:  The leader of the Opposition, Charles Gaëtan Duval, would prefer a walk-out of his party rather than vote outright against independence on 22nd August 1967.

 

References

(1) Barnwell, P.J. & Toussaint, A., A Short History of Mauritius, Longmans, Green and Co,, 1949.

(2) Toorawa, Shawkat M., The Medieval Waqwaq Islands and the Mascarenes in The Western Indian Ocean – Essays on Islands and Islanders, The Hassam Toorawa Trust, 2007. (3) Moree, P.J. , A Concise History of Dutch Mauritius, Kegan Paul International (London & New York) in association with Intern ational Institute for Asian Studies, 1998. (4) Nagapen, Amédée, Histoire de la Colonie – Isle de France – Ile Maurice, 1721-1968, Diocèse de Port-Louis, 1996.

(5) Toussaint, Auguste, Histoire de l’île Maurice, Presse Universitaire de France, 1974.

(6) Sinh, Ranbir, Mauritius: the key to the Indian Ocean, Arnold Heinemann, 1980 (statement borrowed from Sir Charles Bruce’s “

The Evolution of the Crown Colony of Mauritius”).

(7) Bruce, Sir Charles, The Broad Stone of Empire: Problems of Crown Colony Administration, Vol. I, 1910.

(8) Mauritius Index to the Second Legislative Assembly Debates, First Session 1967, 22nd August-1st December 1967, Debates Nos 15-26, Hansard, 22 August 1967, pp. 866 – 1002.

 

About the author of this article:

Breejan Burrun , who writes both in French and English, is holder of a BEd Hons from the Institute of Pedagogy, Univer sity of Mauritius). In the education world, he has been Senior Educator, Rector and College Administrator. He is a free lancer for Le Mauricien and Week-End since 1970. His contributions, Reminiscences under the penname of ‘DODO’, to London publication Mauritius News since 1990 added to the knowledge and appreciation of our heritage. Burrun’s own publications comprise: An introduction to the charms of Mauritian Localities; Histoire des religions des îles Maurice et Rodrigues; Port-Louis, Ile Maurice; and Clinging to our Indian Roots in Bihar (Genealogy). ompilation of the history of the Railways in Mauritius.It is a well-researched document on the 150 years of the train’s contribution to the trans port system of the is land. The book welcomes the reintroduction of the railway network in Mauritius heralding the forthcoming inauguration of the ME TRO EXPRESS to serve in the first instance the route from Port Louis to Curepipe..

 

 

 

Historical background of Mauritius from

pre-colonial to independent state: 1598 to 1968

 

It is on March 12, 1968, that is in the 370th year of its existence, that Mauritius acceded to the status of

a sovereign and an independent state. Indeed, the island-nation can boast of a history more than three

and half century old, a mere river in the ocean of world history, a modest history but one of which the

Mauritians are proud

 

 

The Dutch had already taken possession of the island in 1598 and named it Mauritius, but their effective occupation of the island started only in 1638. An occupation in two stages – from 1638 to 1658 and 1664 to 1710. Prior to this Dutch occupation, the island was regularly visited by Portuguese, French and English ships as well as Dutch vessels. They used the island as stopovers on their way to the East Indies and back to Europe. These visits were of mutual benefits to the visitors and the island – the latter enriching the fauna (introduction of cocks, hens, pigs, goats, cattle, monkeys, even rats) and the flora (introduction of orange-trees, lemon-trees, peas, beans, cotton, pineapples) of the island and the latter providing the visitors with food, water, fresh meat and fruits as well as the strong and valuable ebony wood to repair their ships. Loads of ebony were taken for sale in Europe. Not only could they eat to their fill while sojourning on the island but could provision their ships with plentiful of tortoises, par tridges, dodos, pigs, fruit, fish, goats, lemons, coconuts, etc.

 

Zoom on the Dutch and the French legacy

The motivations behind the Dutch colonization of the island were two-fold: strategic (keep away the other European colonial powers from this ideally situated station on the Spice Route) and economic and commercial (sole exploitation of the resources of the is land among which the precious ebony). Although “the general view on the Dutch seems to be that instead of turning this arcadia into a thriving settlement, they destroyed the ebony forests, slaughtered the rich avifauna, and slunk away furtively first in 1658 and finally in 1710…” (3) yet they initiated some road-building in the eastern part of the is land, enriched the fauna and the flora with the introduction of stags, cattle, sugar-cane, etc. developed some space near Flacq, Port Louis and Grand Port that would be of an advantage to the following occupants.

After the departure of the Dutch, the island was transformed into a pirate’s lair and represented a direct threat to neighbouring Bourbon, the French colony in the Mascarenes. To spare Bourbon of this dangerous voisinage, the French promptly took possession of Mauritius in 1715 and called it Isle de France. Effective occupation began in 1721 and lasted until 1810. Thus, «en décembre 1721, le gouverneur de Bourbon, Joseph de Beauvoilier de Courchant,

dépêche un petit contingent pour occuper l’Isle de France.» (4) The occupation was also motivated by the fear of a possible return of the Dutch or an installation of hostile powers such as the English or the Belgians on the island.  Moreover, Isle de France provided a maritime edge to the French in the Indian ocean:

 

«L’île possédait deux havres naturels qui offraient un abri sûr aux vaisseaux français pendant la saison des ouragans, ainsi qu’une escale de ravitaillement que la France n’avait puse procurer ni en Afrique austral ni à Madagascar. Sur la longue route des Indes, cette puis sance européenne avait besoin d’un port de refuge, d’une escale pourvue d’eau, de vivres et de bois pour la réparation des navires. Ce furent donc aussi des mobiles d’ordre maritime qui amenèrent l’occupation de l’Isle de France.»(Ibid)

 

The ninety years or so of French occupation of the island was marked by an important infrastructural, administrative, economic, cultural and political development fuelled by a constant growth of the population of settlers and slaves. Up to now Mauritius holds on firmly to its French legacy – the French language still dominating in education, in the media and in day-to-day communication; the Catholic religion as well as estate property, guaranteed by clauses of 1810 Capitulation Act, still held by an élite whose roots go back to the French rule of the island. Not to say that our own quest for independence has been inspired by the Isle of France

The arrival of the Dutch fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Van Warwyjk in Grand Port Bay on 20th September 1598 when the Dutch officially took possession of the island.of 1796 which separated from the revolutionary France which decreed the abolition of slavery on the island and proclaimed itself autonomous. Even though in 1803, under Napoléon Bonaparte, the Isle de France regained its status as a colony and renewed its relations with France, the historical example was set that, given circumstances and interests at stake, popular emancipation is not a faraway dream but an achievable goal.

 

British occupation and our quest for freedom

What prompted the British to capture Isle de France and administer it (let apart to de prive the French corsairs of the use of Isle de France as a base of operations to havoc the British maritime trade in the Indian Ocean) was the manifest ambition of Napoleon to send his imperialist tentacles to place under his boots all the parts of the world situated to the East of Egypt and in this endeavour Isle de France was to play a pivotal role. In this perspective, French troops were sent from Isle de France to frustrate the consolida tion of the British Raj in India. Is it not British Prime Minister William Pitt who de clared in 1761: «Tant que les Français tiendront l’île de France les Anglais ne seront pas les maîtres de l’Inde.» (5) Sir Charles Bruce, Governor of Mauritius, is deemed to have stated:

 

“ But the Isle de France had now become a unit in a vast military system organized to establish under the dictatorship of Napoleon, a universal empire of which Europe was to be the head, America and Asia the arms, Africa the shoulders and trunk, the Atlantic and the In dian Ocean the legs and the feet. And it was the importance of the unit in this imperial enter prise that determined its destiny.”(6)

 

“Free at last!” as said Martin Luther King

It will take a few decades more but the British will follow the trend and fulfill the desire of the people of Mauritius for a larger franchise. With renewed constitutional reforms as from 1947 and afterward until 1967 when the Mauritians massively opted for independence, a new electoral machinery was set in motion. Thus, in 1948 general elections were organized following the extension of the right to vote to all citizens (with provision for the vote of women) over 21 years old and able to sign their name; in 1959 the general elections were carried out by universal suffrage with voting rights for all Mauritians aged 21 and over. The victory of the Indian-led political parties in those elections trig gered the claim for self-government and independence.

 

In 1965, the Constitutional Conference of London recommended the granting of in dependence to Mauritius if a majority so wishes. The recommendation was eventually fol lowed, in 1967, by the organization ofThe monument at Ferney, Old Grand Port, erected to mark the Dutch first landing on 20th September 1598 the general elections on August 7th, when the Independence Party led by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) prevailed over the Mauritian Party led by Charles

Gaëtan Duval by 39 seats against 23. On 22nd of August, SSR presented in Parliament his historic motion asking for the effective granting of independence in view of acquiring for Mauritius the status of a sovereign state. So read his motion: “That this Assem bly requests Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom to take the necessary steps to give effect, as soon as practicable this year, to the desire of the people of Mauritius to accede to independence within the Commonwealth of Nations and to transmit to other Common wealth Governments the wish of Mauritius to be admitted to membership of the Common wealth on the attainment of independence”(8), a motion which was, after heated debates, carried out by a majority of 42 to 26 of the parliamentarians.

 

Then came March 12, 1968 when Mauritius officially acceded to independence and the Mauritian quadricolore replaced the English Union Jack. Free      Pictured with family, Sir John Pope Hennessy, the British Governor who launched the war-cry “Mauritius to the Mauritians” in the 1880’s.Breejan Burrun at last!

 


The leader of the Opposition,Charles Gaëtan Duval, and hisPMSD party walked out of the Legislative Assembly on 22nd August 1967rather than to vote for or againstthe independence of Mauritius

It is on March 12, 1968, that is in the 370th year of its existence, that Mauritius acceded

to the status of a sovereign and an independent state. Indeed, the island-nation can boast

of a history more than three and half century old, a mere river in the ocean of world history, a modest history but one which the Mauritians are proud of.

 

We must go back to September 1598 when the Dutch took possession of the island and gave it the name of Mauritius in honour of Prince Maurice Van Nassau. The scene was set for the coming successive colonization of the island by the Dutch, the French and the British. Before the Dutch several nations are said to have reached the Mauritian shores, among whichPhoenicians, Malays, Arabs and Portuguese. But this is mostly conjectural history. Pre-colonial history Dates of  successive occupationof Mauritiusmostly conjectural Dutch is based mostly on conjectures and not on documentary evidence. P.J. Barnwell and oneof the major Mauritian historians, Auguste Toussaint, wrote this on the probable visits of thePhoenicians and the Malays to this island: “The first visitors may have been the Phoenicians,the most adven¬turous seagoing people of ancient times, who sailed out of the Red Sea, downthe east coast of Africa, and into the Atlantic Ocean two thousand five hundred years ago. It isknown that the Phoenicians visited many lands in the Indian Ocean, and wax tablets found on sailors over two thousand years before; but as the wax tablets were not preserved we cannot say whether the writing on them was Greek or Phoenician or Arabic, nor can we say who brought them to Mauritius. No others have been found in modern times.

 

Fifteen hundred or two thousand years ago Malay sailorsAn Arab Map The world as seen by Arab geographer Abu Abd Allah M. Edrisi in 1154 in his map pre pared under the supervision of the court ofking Roger II of Sicily. from the East probably visited Mauritius. During that period many Malays emigrated to Madagascar, sailing across the Indian Ocean in long, swift canoes. As Mauritius lies on the direct route from Malaya to Mada¬gascar it is very probable that Malays came to Mauritius, but they do not seem to have formed any settlement such as they founded in Madagascar.” (1)

 

Did Arabs reach Mauritius?

Barnwell and Toussaint are agreeable to the idea that Arab sailors did reach the island of Mauritius. “Later came the Arabs, clever seamen from the north, who sailed in strong and well-built vessels called dhows. In the seventh century they discovered Madagascar, and some Arabs certainly visited Mauritius, for the island appears on several Arab charts. Like other early visitors the Arabs did not stay long in Mauritius. They captured birds and fish for food; they took also drinking water from the many streams flowing down from the hills of the island; but they built nothing and left nothing behind; they passed and left no traces.”(ibid)

 

However, the above thesis shared by many historians has been questioned elsewhere. One of the proponents of this contradictory school has argued: “Practically every history of Mauritius asserts – or inherits in error the postulation – that the Mascarene islands were discovered by Arab  The ialand was named Mauritius after PrinceMaurits van Nassau (painting by  Michel Jansz van Pierevelt, a Dutch Golden Age painter anddraftsman).traders. This claim is based on the erroneous belief that the islands appear on a map by the twelfth century geographer al-Sharif al-Idrisi: they do not. The first maps to show the Mascarenes are, in fact, European, beginning with 1502 map of Alberto Cantino known as the Cantino Planisphere, based on information very likely obtained by the Portuguese from Indian Ocean navigators or, in Visdelou-Guimbeau’s words, “information obtained on the African coast which they could not themselves verify”.”(2)

 

Even the supposed etymological evidence related to the Arabic origin of the names given to the islands of the Mascarenes is far from correct. “On Waldseemtiller's influential 1507 map, 'Mauritius' appears under the name dina aroby, 'Reunion' under the name diba margabin, and what has been conjectured to be Rodrigues under the name dina morare. There are numerous problems with these identifications: the islands are not accurately located on any of numerous problems with these identifications: the islands are not accurately located on any of the maps that so name them (Alberto Cantino, 1502; Nicolas Canerio, 1502-04; Martin Wald seemtiller, 1507 and again 1513; Johannes Ruysch, 1508; and the Frankfurt globe of ca. 1513); they vary in the names they ascribe (e.g. dina/diba, morare/mozare/noraze), either be cause of errors of transcription or imperfect knowledge; and the first part of what appear to be compound names is manifestly not Arabic, but Sanskritic, from dwîp, meaning island. ArabIslamic navigators and cartographers do not, in any surviving writings or maps, mention, or recognizably show the Mascarene islands This is corroborated by the fact that Muslim and European navigators state in their writings and observations that the Indian Ocean was always crossed following a northerly route.” (Ibid) How then would they have navigated to the very southerly Mascarenes?

 

Evidential history and the European legacy

However, when the European explorers and merchants started their voyages of discovery and trade to the East by circumnavigating the southern tip of Africa at the end of the and trade to the East by circumnavigating the southern tip of Africa at the end of the 15th century, they were bound to follow sea-routes that were on the path of the Mascarenes.  Their visits to the Mascarene islands including Mauritius are abundantly backed by archival materials, both cartographical and documentary. Among the then European powers who would call on the islands, either for stopovers for ship repairs or provisioning,

Photo f: Monument in Robert Edward Hart Garden, Les Salines, Port-Louis, commemorating 20th September 1715 when Captain Guillaume Dufresne d’Arsel took possession of Mauritius andnamed it Isle de France. or eventually for settlement purposes or other strategic reasons were, in order of succession, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British.

 

The napoleonian sinister plot defeated, among other things the British conquerors did for the The landing of the British troops near Cap Malheureux on 29 November 1810, prelude to the British conquest of the island. (Source: ‘Eight Views of the Mauritius,’ R. Temple)island were the prohibition of the slave trade and ultimately the abolition of slavery and the in troduction of remunerated Indian labour in the island which immensely contributed to the de velopment of the sugar industry which soon became our main source of foreign currency. However, the most precious legacy of the British was the gradual introduction of democracy in our system of government - starting in 1850 with the organization of the first municipal elections in Port Louis, followed in 1886 with the organization of the first general elections is landwide by a limited suffrage after the famous war-cry of Governor Pope Hennessy: “Mauritius to the Mauritians!”

 

The trend setting Constitution of 1885

With pressures exerted from all communities as well organizations such as the trade unions, socio-cultural bodies and political parties the British gave their assent to gradual constitutional changes which extended the right of vote to all the classes of the population, including the so far deprived masses of all socio-cultural background. It is to the credit of the British that a sizeable proportion of the Mauritian population, the Indo-Mauritians, discriminated against as regards the exercise of democratic vote, caught the eyes of the British. Sir John Pope Hen nessy already observed in his speech opening the first session of the Council of Government on 19th April 1886, under the new Constitution of 1885, that “I should certainly have been glad to have seen a larger proportion of Indians on our electoral Roll.”(7)

 

In the first decade of the 20th century, the 1909 Royal Commission confirmed the British plan to enlarge the Mauritian electorate and bring the Indians on board. The commissioners regretted that the Indians who constituted 70% of the population and “upon whom the prosperity and progress of the future of the colony must largely depend” were not represented in the Council of Government and justly underlined the irony of the situation: “No Council can legit imately claim to speak authoritatively for Mauritius as a whole which does not contain a sub stantial proportion of members who represent that hitherto unrepresented community of Asiatic descent which plays such an important part in the life of the Colony and comprises more than two thirds of its population.”