Mauritius — History and Culture
Mauritius is a relatively young nation, having remained uninhabited by humans until the 16th century. Once settlement began, the island was ruled by various European forces until it became independent in 1968. The food, culture, architecture, and customs are a blend of European, Indian, Chinese, and African heritage, which makes for a vibrant and interesting national identity.
While Arab sailors discovered the uninhabited forest island of Mauritius during the 9th century, and then by the Portuguese in 1505, it was the Dutch who first began to colonize the island, taking possession in 1598 and naming it Mauritius after Mauritz de Nassau, the Prince of Holland.
The Dutch setup sugar cane plantations, imported Madagascan slave workers, hunted the dodo to extinction, logged the black ebony trees to near extinction, and introduced a number of foreign animals including pigs and Java deer, which escaped and went on to establish large feral populations. They began relocating to South Africa in 1710 due to a lack of food sources and depletion of exploitable natural resources. Sometime during the late 16th or early to mid-17th century, Portuguese sailors introduced rats and macaques to Mauritius which, finding no natural predators, thrived and increased in population.
The French gained possession of Mauritius and began settling in 1713, re-naming landmarks and changed the island’s name to Ile de France. The main camp was Port Louis at the site of the current capital. The French brought slaves and created coffee, cotton, indigo, and sugarcane plantations during what was a time of construction and prosperity for the free people of Mauritius.
French rule was challenged by the British who, after an unsuccessful attempt, managed to conquer the island in 1810, renaming it Mauritius. Under the British crown, slavery was abolished in 1835 at which point most of the slaves moved to coastal villages and away from the plantations. Indian indentured laborers were imported to continue work in the plantations of a thriving sugar-cane industry.
Mauritius gained independence in 1968, as a part of the Commonwealth, moving to a republic in 1992 and is now one of Africa’s most democratic, prosperous and stable nations.
Mauritius has a diverse population made up of people who came or were brought to the island during its history. Many have blended African, European, Indian, or Chinese heritage and follow faiths as diverse as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. This has produced a culture with diverse beliefs, rich cuisine and colorful festivals.