As its people will tell you, Mauritius is a real tropical paradise, but there is more to the Island than its beaches and hotels
Bounded by a coastline littered with beaches, protected by a virtually unbroken coral reef, Mauritius fulfils many people‘s fantasy of a tropical island paradise. Furthermore, with its excellent hotels that offer everything most visitors could possibly want wedding, it can be hard to drag yourself away to explore inland.
Mauritius now has its fair share of single traditional tourist attraction, notably the botanical gardens, some wonderful old plantation houses, and the blue penny, a venture du Sucre and postal museums _ not forgetting the eco tours, adventure parks and art galleries. But it is great fun to drive around among the coastal fishing communities or explore the verdant plateau at the heart of the island, once the floor of a gigantic volcano which blew its top and left behind jagged peaks and rock information that are today so characteristic of the island ‘scenery. Rainfall on the plateau feeds many rivers and streams, providing abundant irrigation for sugar cane fields that cover most of the island‘s arable land.
One thing you will discover is that the quality of the service you receive in your hotel is not due just too good training, but to the genuine good nature of mainly Hindu people of Mauritius. Brightly colored Hindu temples and shrines pepper the landscape, often seen glistening in the sun, and those of Indian descent can still be seen wearing the traditional clothes of their forbears.
Mauritius is all about a diversity of races and culture living side by side. At the airport, new arrivals are surrounded by a flurry of officials who address their guests in English, accentuated with a French twang. As you change your foreign currency into rupees Chinese, Indian and European bank clerks complete the transaction with such conversational ease that you may wonder if you have not been accidentally misrouted to some other continent. Because of the multicultural nature of the society, hardly a week goes by without some celebration or religious ritual taking place, from Tamil fire walking and Hindu
body piercing ceremonies, to catholic pilgrim ages and Chinese dragon dances.
But in reality, whatever the attraction of the land and its people, you will always be drawn back to the sea. Whether you end up lazing by a lagoon, snorkeling, or diving over the coral reef playing with little fish or wrestling with big ones from the fighting chair. It is probably the delectable coast that will remain imprinted on your mind long after returning home.
The complexity of ethnic groups in Mauritius is bewildering but Mauritians are always welcoming, and happy to explain the intricacies of their nation
It is said that Mauritians only consider themselves such when abroad at home they are first and foremost members of a community. Descended from immigrants from Europe, Asia and Africa, the ethnic mix of the island population is both fascinating and incredibly complex. Racism does not exist in Mauritius or so its political leaders claim - but color, creed and language continue to divide its people.
Origins, religions and cultures
The French colonial period which lasted just under a century, until 1810, has left an enduring legacy in Mauritius. The Franco – Mauritians are distinctive to community who trace their ancestry to the early white settlers and, while numerically very small, remain important in economic terms. Slaves and free laborers from Africa and Asia who also arrived in the 18th century are now mostly subsumed into the Creole population. Within this group, characterized not by ethnic homogeneity, but by a shared religion – Catholicism - an old hierarchy that favored those of mixed origin and lighter skin still persists.
In the 19th century, during British rule, large scale Indian immigration transformed the island‘s demography, two – third of the population is now Indian origin. These indo Mauritians are not a homonogeneous group, but are divided on regional, caste and religious lines. About 15 percent of the population are Muslims, mostly from Bihar – known, confusingly, as Calcutta’s, to distinguish them from the smaller, endogamous group of mainly Guajarati Muslims. The Hindus, who constitute around 50 percent, also differentiate themselves along regional lines with a larger Bihar Hindu component and smaller Tamil, Telegu and Marathi minorities. The Bihar Hindus play a key role in politics – every prime minister since independence, apart from Paul Berenger, has been a member of this community.
Other small minorities include the 30,000 or so Chinese, who mostly came during the mid 19th century to engage in commerce, and still run many of the shops, whilst now also important in the profession and other sectors of the economy. The Chinese have embraced Catholicism, but many continue to practice Buddhist traditions in the home. Even today, most Mauritians marry within their community, and although mixed wedding are becoming more common, shared religious belief remains a strong element in the choice of a life partner. Newer, charismatic churches, such as the Jehovah’ witnesses, are actively recruiting members from various established communities.
Despite being a British colony between 1810 and 1968, the English did not settle in large numbers, and those who have remained have generally intermarried into the Franco or Creole communities. The most visible legacy of British rule is on the roads where the British system of driving and signage is used.
A multi - lingual society
The mother tongue of most Mauritians is Creole. The language of education and government is English and that of the media overwhelmingly French. To add to this linguistic complexity, some indo – Mauritians can only converse in Bhojpuri, a regional dialect based on Hindi, whilst the older generations of Chinese are more proficient in Cantonese or Hakka than their adaptive tongues. The so – called “ancestral languages” of Mauritians of Asian origin are actively promoted by members of these communities, and state controlled television and radio are obliged to broadcast in all the community languages. The island‘s cinemas show either Hollywood films dubbed in French, or bollywood production in Hindi.
In generation, visitors to Mauritius will find that most islanders are reasonably proficient in English; through they are more at ease with French .official forms that you may have to fill in at customs / immigration or at a police station are in English. Indo – Mauritians generally have at least a basic knowledge of Hindi.
And if you attempt a few words in the island’s lingua franca, Creole, you will be sure to raise a smile.
Public worship, private festivities
Religion is a way of life in Mauritius, and mosques, churches and temples have full and thriving congregations. The islanders put as much effort into preparations for Hindu, Muslim or catholic festivals as other societies do for their annual carnivals. The biggest crowd –puller in Mauritius is still a pilgrimage and all the major religions organize such events. The island public holidays take account of the different communities, so that at least one festival of every ethnic group is celebrated.non –participating Mauritians may organize a family picnic at the beach on such occasions.
Weddings are another common weekend activity on the island. Hindu nuptials take place over several days, and innumerable sittings are organized in marquees for quests, who are served vegetarians curries on a banana leaf. The bride will wear a traditional red or cream sari, and her groom – probably for the only time in his life – will don an ornate turban, and slippers. Muslim wedding are characterized in Mauritius by the serving of a biryani meal. Accompanied by a soft drink, generally Pepsi. The ceremony, or nikah, is shorter than that of Hindus, and at some gathering male and female guests are accommodated in separate areas. Weddings of Catholics are Chinese, Creole or Franco – Mauritius, generally involved a ceremony at the local church, followed by a reception. Sooner or later, at most functions, the Sega will displayed when guests of all ages will indulge their love dancing.
Folklore and superstition
Diverse beliefs and practices, some originating in the popular customs which African and Asian immigrants brought to the island, have persisted into modern-day Mauritius .there are all kinds of quirky customs and taboos, ranging from cutting your toenails only at certain times of day to leaving out food to pacify malevolent spirits.chinese Mauritians are partial to the number 9, as their car number – plates testify.
Local sorcerers, known as longanistes or traitors, have followers from diverse back – ground and are called into settle quarrels, exact revenge, reverse bad luck and administer love potion. When one’s spouse or lover loses interest, a rival may well be suspected having used the services of a sorcerer. Cemeteries are powerful sites for such practitioners of magic, and they can often be seen at mid day, sacrificing a small chicken, breaking coconuts, and lighting candles or camphor sticks on the graves, surrounded by a small knot of followers.
The phenomenon of the loup garou, or were wolf, is a good example of how a popular belief can become a serious issue in Mauritius given propitious circumstances. In 1994 a serious cyclone, Holland, brought down most of the island‘s electricity pylons, leaving many areas without power for several weeks. During this time, the notion that a loup garou was on the loose took hold of the popular imagination. Women claimed to have been raped by creature, and there were daily sightings. The loup garou become front page news for several weeks, and hysteria mounted daily, with women and children barricading themselves indoors.
The police issued a communiqué, assuring people that it was tackling the problem, and only when issue took on a communal dimension, with Muslim asserting that the werewolf was hiding in a Catholic shrine, and inter- religious tensions increasing, did the president intervene, disputing the existence of such a creature.
Community, class and generation
It is one of the peculiarities of Mauritian society that any seemingly insignificant object can become an ethnic signifier. Here, the company you work for, the kind of car you drive, even the type of soft drink you buy, is often a decision governed by communal factors. The reason may simply be that the importer of a certain make of vehicle or product is a member of your community, influencing your decision. There is a popular saying in Mauritius Creole, “sak zako bizin protez so montan” (each monkey must protect his mountain) which refer to the tendency to put members of one’s own ethnic groups before others.
That tensions sparked by prevalence of favoritism and nepotism does not erupt into more serious violence. Can be attributed to the pragmatism of most Mauritians and to the elaborate balancing act performed by all governments. In fact, ministerial posts are assigned in cabinet so that members of competing caste and ethnic groups each have at least one representative. Alongside relatively recent one strategies of ethnic lobbying, the old demon of racial discrimination still exists, however. Widespread rioting in 1999, following the suspicious deaths of a number of Afro- Creoles in police custody, highlighted the frustrations of this group, who are most affected by the persistence of racial stereotyping.
The generational differences in Mauritius are also marked, but many ultimately are an antidote to the long – standing divisions based on community and color. School is a bastion of cultural mixing in a society with large youth population, and increasing exposure of teen agers to western media is impacting on old preconceptions. While most Mauritian girls still do not have the freedom of their western counterparts, or even of their male peers, discotheques provide a mean of socializing that was not available to their mothers.
Mauritius today is a fascinating blend of the spiritual and the material. A place where the accountant working in the booming offshore sector will take a day off to participate in a religious pilgrimage, maybe buying an herbal infusion from a stallholder at the port Louis bazaar – who claims to know the remedies for all the world’s ailments- which he will sip as he logs on to the internet effortlessly combining “olde world“beliefs with enthusiasm for all that modern technology has to offer.