It is very likely that the Seychelles - as we know them today - were first spotted by Arab traders as much as 1000 years ago. Their location would make them an ideal provisioning stop for early seafaring peoples like the Arabs, Phoenicians and Indonesians. Almost 500 years ago Vasco de Gama, the Portuguese explorer/navigator, is credited with the official discovery. Part of the island, group, the Amirantes (islands of the Admiral) is named in his honour. A Portuguese map of 1544 shows the islands as the Seven Sisters; Petite Soeur and Grande Soeur retain these names today.
The British landed there in 1609 on an expedition for the East India Company. For the next 133 years they became a provisioning base for the merchant navy as well as for plundering Indian Ocean pirates and buccaneers. To this day there are still stories of fabulous treasures hidden on Mahe.
The French expedition led by Lazare Picault to Mahe in 1742 gave Baie Lazare its name and in 1756 the islands were formally claimed on behalf of Louis XV of France. The Stone of Possession, now in the national museum, was laid and the islands were officially named in honour of Jean Moreau de Sechelles, French Minister of Finance. French colonization and agricultural settlement of the fertile soil and favourable climate continued uninterrupted until the end of the century.
During the Napoleonic War period Seychelles were regarded as a strategic acquisition as the British fought to contain French expansion. The French were forced to give up the islands, yet without a permanently stationed British force, control changed seven times in 13 years. The 1814 Treaty of Paris confirmed British rule.
Throughout the 19th century the population increased as Seychelles first produced high quality cotton, then harvested whales from local waters and finally began the large coconut plantations which became the economy's mainstay. Plantation labour was drawn from former slaves freed in 1835 when the institution was abolished. By the end of the century export of guano improved the island economy and in 1903 Seychelles became a separate Crown Colony. Seychelles achieved independence from Britain in 1976 and became a republic within the commonwealth.
The cosmopolitan Seychellois are a colourful blend of peoples of different races, cultures and religions. At different times in its history, people of African, European and Asian origin have come to Seychelles, bringing with them their distinct traditions and customs and contributing to the way of life and to the vibrant Seychellois culture.
With many Seychellois being descendants of Africans, who were brought here by slave-traders in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, strong elements of mainland African tradition can be distinguished in the culture. Other Seychellois, who voluntarily settled in these islands, also brought with them a varied cultural background. The abject poverty suffered by the slaves and the constant struggles by the settlers led to a mutual effort to improve their lives. The linkage provided fertile ground for the creation and development of a unique Seychellois heritage and culture.
One can see these influences at work throughout the domains of local art, cuisine, music, dance and architecture. The architectural design of some of the grand old houses with their steep roofs are representative of a style adapted for comfortable living in the tropics that displays influences from Seychelles' French and British colonial heritage.
Modern architecture attempts to assimilate traditional styles with practical features designed to capture the island breezes. Local artists continue to exhibit diverse styles that echo the multi-ethnic backdrop of the islands and bear testament to the various influences which have come to bear. Creole music and dance have their roots in African, Malagasy and European cultures with rhythms traditionally accompanied by simple drums and string instruments which, today, include such recent imports as the violin and guitar. The traditional moutya is an erotic dance derived from the days of slavery and still features today, together with the sega with its colourful lyrics; the kanmtole, reminiscent of a country reel, and the Kontredanse, an import from the French court.
The Republic of Seychelles has a multi-party political system with an executive President as head of state and government. The President heads a Cabinet of 10 ministers which includes the Vice-President. In April 2004 Mr James Alix Michel replaced Mr France Albert René as President after Mr Rene had been in office since 1977. The Vice President is currently Mr Joseph Belmont.
The new Seychelles flag was introduced on June 18, 1996 (National Day). The five oblique bands of colour represent a dynamic young country moving into a new future. The blue depicts the sky and the sea that surrounds the Seychelles. Yellow is for the sun which gives light and life, red symbolizes the people and their determination to work for the future in unity and love, whilst the white band represents social justice and harmony. The green depicts the land and natural environment.
Like the Seychelles, Mauritius was probably discovered by Arab traders in the ninth century. When the Arabs arrived on the island it was inhabited, but there is no documented proof that any other civilisations visited the island.
The Arabs weren’t interested in the island, and Portuguese adventurers discovered the island in 1507. When the Portuguese discovered Mauritius they were not interested in taking possession or settle on the island, their trade routes with India was more important to them as this period, so they preferred to settle along the Mozambique coast.
The colonisation of Mauritius was first made by the Dutch who settled in the island as from 1598. They arrived in the island by a bay in the south-east which nowadays is known as Grand Port
It was only then that Mauritius got its name which was given after Prince Maurice Nassau, stadtholder of Holland. The Dutch left the island Mauritius starting 1652 and till 1710 they were all gone but before they had introduced sugar cane, the java deer, crops and monkeys.
When the Dutch settled in Mauritius one of their main sources of food was the famous dodo, now extinct, which could be found in the island in a large quantity. The dodo was bird very easy to capture, they were also not afraid of human beings; it was a passive and flightless bird which was easy prey.
In 1622, Danish adventurers arrived, hoping to exploit the ebony with which the island abounded. The French and British, too, began to see possibilities both for trade and strategy in the area and sent out expeditions in 1638. Their ships arrived too late. In May 1638, Cornelius Simonsz Gooyer had set up the first permanent Dutch settlement in Mauritius. He was sent by the Netherlands East India Company and became the first governor, over a population of 25 colonists who planned to exploit the island's resources of fine ebony and ambergris, rearing cattle and growing tobacco.
Over the next few years, a hundred slaves were imported from Madagascar and convicts sent over from Batavia (Java). The free colonists came from Baltic and North Sea Ports. They were hardened men who were settlers out of desperation and coercion rather than through brave ideals. By 1652, many Dutch left for the Cape of Good Hope which offered better prospects. Other attempts at colonisation failed miserably because of cyclones, flood, drought and plague. Food shortages, an overall inefficient administration and attacks by pirate ships compounded the desire to leave and in 1710 the last settlers abandoned Mauritius leaving a batch of runaway slaves bent on vengeance for their ill treatment.
In September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne d'Arsel took possession of Mauritius in the name of King Louis XV of France. He named it the Ile de France, placed the French flag near what is now Port Louis, drew a document witnessed by his officers declaring the island French and sailed away after three days.
The first colonists landed at Warwyck Bay (Mahebourg) in 1722. The area was exposed to winds and dangerous reefs, so they moved to the safety of the North West harbour. Warwyck bay was renamed Port Bourbon and the North West Harbour became known as Port Louis. For the first 14 years, the French colony followed the dismal experience of the Dutch.
The transformation of Port Louis from a primitive harbour to a thriving sea port was largely due to the efforts of Bertrand Mahe de Labourdonnais, an aristocratic sea captain. The wretched conditions of the settlers dismayed Labourdonnais. Labourdonnais transformed the island from a colony of malcontents into "the star and key of the Indian Ocean". The thatched hovels were demolished and in their place he raised forts, barracks, warehouses, hospitals and houses. Government house was built of coral blocks, roads were opened throughout the island and a ship building industry started.
Although he had to import slaves, Labourdonnais made their lot easier and turned many of them into artisans. He also started an agriculture programme that concentrated on feeding the islanders and on marketable products. On his own estates, he grew sugar cane and encouraged new settlers to start plantations of cotton, indigo, coffee and manioc. The first sugar factory was opened at villebague in 1744.
His statue stands in Port Louis facing out across the harbour. The town of Mahebourg (started in 1805) is also named after him.
During the seven year war (1756-1763) France and England continued to battle over control of the Indian Ocean and the French East India Company enlisted privateers. When the French lost the wars in India, they blamed the company and accused its officials of corruption. This resulted in the official handling over of Mauritius to the French King and in 1767, the Royal Government was established on the island.
Pierre Poivre (Peter Pepper) was picked as administrator. He introduced varieties of plants from South America, including pepper. Under his influence, the colony developed as an agricultural and trading centre. He improved the harbour facilities and the accommodation for both colonists and slaves.
When the French East India Company was wound up, private enterprise became the fashion. Everyone was trying to make profits. In 1785 the Ile de France was declared the seat of government of all French possessions east of the Cape. A French nobleman, Vicomte de Souillac was made governor (1779-1787) bringing an era of extravagance to the colony. Port Louis became renowned for its bright social life with dancing parties for the young and the old, duelling, gambling, drinking and hunting. At the same time, public affairs were neglected; fraud, corruption and dishonesty were common-place and land speculation and scandals were rife.
On the last Sunday in January 1790, a packet-boat arrived in the Port Louis harbour from France, flying a new flag, the Tricolour. It brought news of the revolution in France.
The last French governor of Ile de France was appointed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 to bring the colony back to order after 13 years of autonomy. With such a task, it was inevitable that the governor, General Charles Decaen, would be unpopular.
Charles Decaen curried favour with the elite by allowing slavery and privateering, which were both hugely profitable, to continue.
Decaen founded primary schools and the Lycee Colonial which became Royal College. He extended Government House, created Mahebourg near Grand Port and encouraged intellectual societies and agriculture development. He also codified the Napoleonic laws which are still in force.
Under his governorship, Port Louis became Port Napoleon and Mahebourg became Port Imperial.
Decaen found himself increasingly isolated from France. The British were expanding their influence in the Indian Ocean. On the 3 December 1810, the British, under General Abercrombie, marched into Port Napoleon where the French surrendered. Ile de France, Port Napoleon and Port Imperial reverted to their former names, Mauritius, Port Louis and Mahebourg. Soldiers were to be treated as civilians, not as prisoners of war and were allowed to leave the island. Settlers who did not want to stay under a British administrator were permitted to return to France with all their possessions.
In 1810, Robert Farquhar became the first English governor. He announced that civil and judicial administration would be unchanged. Those who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown were asked to leave Mauritius within a reasonable time. Under his governorship sugar production increased, Port Louis was transformed into a free port, roads were built and trade flourished. The British also preserved the island's laws, customs, language, religion and property. The treaty of Paris did restore Bourbon/Reunion island in 1814 but the Ile de France, by now with its former name of Mauritius, was confirmed as a British possession.
Judge Jeremie was appointed Attorney-General in Mauritius and arrived from England in 1832 to announce abolition without indemnity to a hostile reception of sugar planters and slave owners.
Slavery was finally abolished in 1835 but not before the owners received compensation from the British.
Shortly afterwards thousands of Indians from Madras, Calcutta and Bombay were encouraged to immigrate to Mauritius with promises of a labour contract that included a salary and accommodation and a passage home. They arrived in dreadful conditions at Port Louis where they were housed in temporary depots and distributed to the sugar estates. They were paid very little, subjected to harsh treatment and forced to work long hours. These indentured labourers or 'coolies', were slaves by another name and were to form the majority of the population.
Things improved only slightly when an Immigration Department was established in the mid-nineteenth century. Their living standards became more tolerable and when immigration ceased in 1907 and another Royal Commission made recommendations for social political reform, many Indians had settled permanently in Mauritius and indeed formed the majority of the population.
Also in 1907, Mohandas Gandhi (later Mahatma Gandhi) visited Mauritius and as a result sent an Indian lawyer to Port Louis in 1907 to organise the indentured labourers who had no say in politics and no civil rights.
In 1936, the Labour Party was formed and persuaded the Indians to take political action and campaign for better working conditions.
The Second World War brought infrastructural development. The British based their fleet at Port Louis and Grand Port, as well as building an airport at Plaisance and a sea plane base at Baie du Tombeau. A large telecommunication station was built at Vacoas.
In the election held after the war, the Mauritius Labour Party won the majority of seats in the Legislative Council set up under the 1948 constitution. This success was repeated in 1953. After the 1959 election (the first held following the introduction of universal adult franchise), Hindu doctor (later Sir) Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, leader of the Mauritius labour Party became Chief Minister, then Premier in 1965, holding the post until 1982.
Mauritius became an independent country within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1968, Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State represented by a Governor General.
In 1971, social and industrial unrest led by the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) resulted in a state of emergency. The party's leaders, including Paul Berenger, a Franco-Mauritian born in 1945, were jailed for a year.
In the election of 1982, the MMM with Paul Berenger as General Secretary and a 53 year old Hindu British-trained lawyer, Anerood Jugnauth as President, captured all 62 directly elected seats . Anerood Jugnauth became Prime Minister with Berenger as his Finance Minister.
In 1992, Mauritius became an independent republic with the Commonwealth.
Since independence, Mauritius has changed drastically from a sugar producing island to a newly industrialised nation. Much of its success is attributable to a policy of diversification from its traditional one crop industry, sugar to tourism, textile and agriculture. Mauritius has now the distinction of being one of the most stable countries in the developing world.
Destination:Indian Ocean Islands
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