Surrounded by splendid white sandy beaches, blue lagoons and coral reefs, Mauritius is a tropical Island situated in the south of the equator, in the Indian ocean about 800 km east of Madagascar. The pinnacle of Mauritius reflects more of its past than its present.
Glimpse into the past
Arabs first discovered Mauritius in the 975 AD, then the Portuguese amid 1507 to 1513. Finally, in 1598, the Dutch landed in the southeast and the Dutch Admiral in command VanWarwych named the bay after himself (Warwyck haven) which at present is known as the Grand Port. The General named the Island “Mauritius” after the Prince Mauritius Van Nassau of Holland. The Dutch occasionally visited the Island for shelter, food and fresh water but they did not attempt to develop it.
Danish adventures arrived in 1622, hoping to exploit the ebony, which abounded the island. The British and French too began seeing the possibilities both for trade and for strategy in the resources and sent expeditions in the late 1638. However, their ships arrived too late as during May 1638; Cornelius SimonszGooyer send by the Netherlands East India Company had already set the first permanent Dutch settlement ever in Mauritius. He became the first governor of a population of over 25 colonists who intended to exploit the resources of the Island of fine ebony & ambergris along with rearing cattle’s and growing tobacco.
Consequently, hundreds of slaves were imported in the next few years from Madagascar and convicts sent over from Batavia (Java). The convicts were engaged in cutting ebony. The attempts to colonize Mauritius failed as there were not enough settlers and by 1652, most of them left for better prospects offered in Cape of Good Hope. Other attempts at colonization proved catastrophic due to cyclones, drought, flood and plague. Food shortages and overall ineffective administration and attacks by pirate ships forced the colonizers to abandon Mauritius leaving a group of runway slaves with pangs of ill treatment in their hearts.
In 1715, Guillaume DufresneD’Arsel, in the name of King Louis XV of France took possession of the Island and renamed it as Ile de France, declaring the island as French and sailed off after three days.
In 1722, the first colonists landed on Warwyck Bay. During the first 14 years, the French colony experienced the same dismal fate as the Dutch and only the most desperate & toughest of the settlers survived. Their ill-treated slaves also escaped and lived in the forest and often sabotaged the plantations.
Later Port Louis transformed from a primitive harbor to a thriving modern port largely due to the effort of BertandMahe de Labourdonnais. He transformed the Island from a colony of ill fates and discomfort into “The Star & Key of the Indian Ocean”. Rose Forts, Barracks, warehouses, hospitals and houses were set up, govt. house were built, roads were built crisscrossing the entire Island and a ship building industry evolved. Labourdonnais made the life of slaves easy by utilizing them for skilled tasks as artisans. Intensive agriculture programs were initiated to feed the Islanders and produce marketable products. Plantation of cotton, indigo, manioc and coffee were encouraged and the first sugar factory was setup in Villebague in 1744.
After the seven year of war between England and France, in 1767, Government was established on Ile de France having a population of around 18773 constituting of 3163 Europeans and 587 free black, mostly Hindus and the rest being slaves. Under Pierre Poivre, the administrator, the island flourished with improved harbor facilities and accommodation for both colonists and slaves. But later under the governorship of Vicomte de Souillac, fraud, corruption and dishonesty ruled the island. On January 1790’s last Sunday a boat arrived with France’s new flag, the Tricolor bringing the news of revolution in France. In 1796, two agents arrived from France informing the colonists that slavery was abolished. The news instigated anger and consequently the agents had to run for their lives.
In 1803, the last governor of Ile de France was assigned by Napoleon Bonaparte, which brought the colony back to order after 13 year of dishevel. Decaen founded primary schools, extended govt. house, established Mahebourg near Grand Port, encouraged intellectual societies, and promoted agricultural practices. Under him, Port Louis came to be known as Port Napoleon and Mahebourg Port became Port Imperial.
With the fall of Napoleon, on December 3rd 1810 under General Abercrombie, the names were reverted to their former names. On 1810, Robert Farquhar became the first English Governor and announced that civil and judicial Administration would be unchanged and those who refused to follow it were asked to leave the island. Trade flourished and Port Louis was transformed into a free port. The British preserved the Islands laws, customs, languages, beliefs and property.
In the later years sugar production boomed and became as major foreign income earner but the planters still depended on slave labor in spite of the 1807 Act. However, in 1835 the British finally abolished slavery after paying $2000000 as compensation to the owners. A little time later after promise of labor contract including salary, accommodation and a passage home, thousands of Indians mainly from Madras, Bombay and Calcutta immigrated to Mauritius. The immigrants were subjected to torture and forced to work for long hours and paid very little. They were called as ‘Coolies’ and in the coming years were to become the majority population of the Island.
Emergence of Modern Republic
Things were rough but stable. In 1907, Mahatma Gandhi visited Mauritius and later because of which an Indian lawyer was sent to Port Louis to consolidate the Indentured laborers who had no civil rights and no say in politics. Labour Party was formed in 1936, which persuaded Indians to take action and organize campaigns for better working conditions.
The later years of Second world war brought infrastructural and technological development on the island with the establishment of Airport and telecommunication station. In the after war election, the Mauritius Labour Party won the majority of seats in the Legislative Council. Hindu doctor and the leader of Mauritius Labour Party, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the chief Minister in 1965 and held the post until 1982.
The island of Mauritius became an Independent nation within the commonwealth nations in 1968 with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. In 1971, social & Industrial upheaval initiated by Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) led to a state of emergency and party leaders were jailed for a year. In elections held in 1982, the MMM with Paul Berenger as General Secretary and Hindu Lawyer, AneroodJugnauth as president got all 62 directly elected seats. AneroodJugnauth became the Prime Minister with Berenger as his Finance Minister.
In 1992, Mauritius became an Independent republic with the commonwealth and since Independence it has changed drastically from a small sugar producing nation to a modern Industrialized Nation.