I’m just going to do a blanket apology for all future delays in posts because it happens every now and then when I’m caught up catching up with friends and family wherever I am. Sorry. The last two weeks I’ve been posting from my birth country Mauritius, a small island-country 2000 km off the southeast coast of Africa. No, I’m not in Malaysia, Mauritiana or Madagascar. Memory trick: Delicious Mauritius.
Most North Americans have never heard of the country because it literally is a dot on the map, but many Europeans are familiar with Mauritius because it is often a resort heaven and getaway for tourists. But there is so much more richness and diversity than its beaches.
The island is fortunate to be sheltered from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef. The island has 330 km of coastline and you can drive across the island within an hour. Not so big. I was born in the capital Port Louis in 1985 and after a short two years, I moved with my parents to Vancouver, Canada in 1987. I’ve come back to see hundreds of relatives a few times since I moved to Canada and it’s always fun house hopping.
Language and mixed people
English is the official language, but Creole and French are spoken more often every day. Creole is a French-based language, but I compare it to being like French slang. There is no grammatical structure and people write the way they talk. Delicious Mauritius is known for its diversity of people and religions. Hindus, Muslims, Creoles, Chinese and Tamils live side by side relatively peacefully. The diversity is definitely reflected in the variety of food that is sold on the streets and cooked in homes. You can eat food with Creole, European, Chinese, Indian and Muslim influences.
Tourist books will talk about the diversity of Mauritius but of course they won’t tell you about tensions or divisions among different ethnicities. Creole people have been historically marginalized and there are generations of poverty among the creole population that still exist today. I went out with a friend who has grown up in Mauritius and he told me there are even hierarchies among Creole people. I will learn more about the day-to-day dynamics as I spend more time here.
Sometimes I feel a bit disconnected from the past of our ancestors the more I travel because after seeing cultures with strong traditions and maintaining their language, the more obvious it is I am a product of past colonialism. I’m mixed Chinese and Creole (and probably another ethnicity I don’t know about), but I’ve grown up speaking English and French. It’s not that I don’t appreciate those languages, but it’s a reminder of some lost languages as the generations have passed. I really appreciated going to places like Indonesia where there are literally hundreds of languages spoken in the country.
Delicious Mauritius is a very young country that gained independence in 1968. I just learned the country was discovered by Portuguese navigator Don Pedro Mascarenhas in 1505, but Portuguese people did not settle on the island. The Dutch colonized Mauritius from 1638 to 1710 and left Mauritius after to a neighbouring island called Reunion.
In 1715 the French renamed Mauritius Ile de France (French Island) in that period. Like in Reunion and the West Indes, French created a plantation economy in Mauritius built on slave labour. By 1777, 85% of the population were slaves from West and East Africa, Madagascar and India.
In 1810 the British took over the island and by the 1830s, slavery was abolished and plantation owners began bringing Indian labourers to replace them and they would soon become the majority on the island. Because they were isolated from the British and French-speaking elite, they took up creole as their day to day language.
Making more friends
The last few times I’ve been to Mauritius, I’ve always just stayed with my relatives, whom I love seeing and are extremely hospitable. For this trip I want to also expand my circles and meet more people from other cultures here and spend more time learning about their lives the way I did with people in Asia. It’s really fascinating to watch Indians, Chinese, mixed and black people all speak Creole around the island, it’s quite a fun language. I mostly speak French but I’m trying my best to learn Creole while I’m here.