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Mauritius

 

Where is Mauritius?

The first view the air traveler has of Mauritius is of an emerald-green island set in the deep blue of the vast Indian Ocean. Situated just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. 20° 15′ south of the Equator and 57° 55′ east, this small pear-shaped island was once an active volcano that formed part of a chain stretching from Reunion in the south to the Seychelles in the north. Over time the original volcano has been severely eroded so that Mauritius today bears little resemblance to the cone shape typically associated with most volcanos.

About Mauritius

When time stood still many millions of years ago the earth’s crust burst open and some of its molten innards gushed out and piled up on the floor of what is now the Indian Ocean. As the boiling lava steadily cooled, a chain of roughly hewn, conical-shaped land masses formed, creating a string of volcanic peaks which protruded from the surface of the sea. Slowly Nature sculpt­ed those stark peaks in many different ways and in the process bequeathed a sprinkling of beautiful islands.

 

One of those islands is Mauritius. While it is true that the pristine beauty of that jewel has become tarnished since the arrival of man upon its shores nearly five hundred years ago, its deep luster and innate sparkle nevertheless remains intact.

 

The island is roughly pear-shaped and occupies an area of approximately 1865 square kilometers. At it’s longest point Mauritius is only some 62 kilometers and at its widest a mere 48 kilometers. Skirting the island is a perimeter of coastal lowlands which never rise beyond 350 meters above sea level and vary in width from a little under 2,5 kilometers in the south to 15 kilometers in the north.

 

Mauritius: Central Plateau

The center of the island is characterized by a central plateau that ranges in height from 350 meters to 700 meters above sea level. The plateau, which is almost imperceptible as you cross the island, slopes relatively steeply in the south and in places terminate in black basalt cliffs. These stand guard against the strong winds and rough seas sometimes conjured up by the south easterlies. In the north, the central plateau melts away into broad coastal lowlands.

 

 

History of Mauritius

 

First visited by the Arabs then discovered by the Portuguese

Arab traders first came upon the island in the 1Oth century, but they did not stay and so the island remained forgotten behind a curtain of ignorance until the beginning of the 1500s when it was discovered by the Portuguese during their epic voyages of discovery. They, in turn, used the island as a victualing stop on their way to Goa and Malacca but did not settle.

 

History of Mauritius: The Dutch, French and British settlers in Mauritius

At the end of that century, the Dutch landed and named the island after Prince Maurice of Nassau. They stayed, intermittently, for a little over a century before they too decided to leave. It was the French, arriving in 1715, who stayed and gave the island its essentially French character and charm. However, as a result of the conflict between the British and French in Europe and the rivalry in their respective trade with India, the British attacked the French garrison stationed on the island and defeated the defenders. From that time until independence in 1968 the island was administered by the English.

 

History of Mauritius: Melting pot of various origins

The island’s present inhabitants are descendants of settlers from Europe, slaves from Africa and Madagascar, and indentured laborers and artisans from Asia, with each racial group bringing its own culture and traditions. These different attributes have, over time, become uniquely blended to create a national harmony which recognizes diversity within a common identity and national character. Today, the island has a population of 1.1 million people which makes Mauritius the most densely populated country per unit area in the world.

 

History of Mauritius: Post-independence period

Since independence, Mauritius has emerged as a successful model of socioeconomic development. After an initial period when the island was gripped in a stranglehold of poverty, high unemployment, a mono-crop (sugar) economy and unsustainable population growth, the economy has been diversified. Today manufacturing has become the island’s most important industry, followed by sugar production and tourism.

Family planning and population development rank high on the country’s national agenda. In 1990, it was awarded the Population Award by the United Nations Population Fund. As a result of these achievements the island has full employment and its general standard of living is steadily improving.

 

Nevertheless, it is the natural beauty of the island, its warm ail-year-round climate, white beaches, tranquil sea, exciting deep-sea fishing, excellent hotels and friendly people that make Mauritius such an attractive tourist destination.

 

Dormant Volcanoes in Mauritius: Trou aux Cerfs and Trou Kanaka

Geologists believe that the central plateau is all that remains of the floor of the volcano that gave birth to Mauritius. Conspicuous evidence of the island’s vol­canic origin is to be found in a number of features. Firstly, there are small extinct volcanic craters, such as the one at Trou aux Cerfs near Curepipe in the center of the island, and at Kanaka in the south.

Lakes in Mauritius: Grand Bassin

Secondly, there are a few volcanic lakes, such as Grand Bassin, which is situated near the Savanne Mountains in the south and is considered a sacred lake by the Hindus of Mauritius. And. lastly, count­less round volcanic rocks have been col­lected by farm laborers over centuries and piled into huge mounds or neatly stacked into large mausoleum-shaped squares in order to begin clearing the land for agriculture.

Mountains in Mauritius

In a few places the walls of that ancient volcano have been able to resist the onslaught of Nature’s weathering, and the monuments to this are the island’s mountains with their pointed and stri­ated peaks.

 

Port-louis / Moka Range

In the north there is the Moka range which can be traced for some 20 kilometers, starting at Mount Ory and finishing at Nouvelle Découverte. It is within a basin created by these mountains that Port Louis, the cap­ital of Mauritius, is situated. The Moka range is well known for its three peaks Guiby Peak, Le Pouce (the thumb) and Pieter Both, the tallest at 818 meters.

Pieter Both Mountain

 

It was named after Admiral Pieter Both who drowned in 1615 when his ship and three others belonging to the Dutch East India Company were caught in a tropical cyclone. They ran for the safety of Port Louis, but just a few kilometers short of their destination they were swept towards the rocks at Baie du Tombeau.

 Three of the four ships were wrecked with great loss of life. Pieter Both’s ship, the Banda, was swept south and eventu­ally smashed to pieces on the barrier reef at present-day Albion, north of Flic en Flac.

 

Crowning the summit of Pieter Both Mountain is a peculiar, rocky pro­fusion which resembles a human head that seems to be precariously attached to the cloak-shrouded shoulders of a man. Legend has it that should this head become dislodged from its body, some great disaster will befall Mauritius and the island will be destroyed in its en­tirety.

Fortunately, however, geologists tell us that the likelihood of this happen­ing is remote – indeed it is more likely to wear down than fall down!

 

Black River Range

Along the west coast and stretching down to the south is the Black River range. Here the domineering La Montagne du Rempart (785 metres and its companion peaks, the Trois Mamelles,(Three Breasts) create a serried range which from a distance, look like the dorsal fin of a giant sleeping dragon. Further south on the way to Le Morne lies Piton de la Rivière Noire which, at 840 metres, is the highest mountain in Mauritius.

 

Le Morne Brabant and Savanne Mountain Range

Guarding Le Morne peninsula is Le Morne Brabant which provides an impressive backdrop to one of the island’s finest beaches. Continuing from there to the southeast, past Piton du Fouge, is the Savanne mountain range, with Piton Savanne (705 metres) provid­ing the highest point.

 

Coloured earth of Chamarel

 Lying in the south­west on the undulating slopes which gradually reach up to the Savanne mountains is an area of approximately 1,5 hectares on which nothing grows. Here the intriguing coloured earths of Chamarel are to be found; these earths are made up of seven separate but con­tiguous bands, with each one having a different colour. It is believed that their different hues are the result of their vol­canic origin and the uneven cooling of the molten rock.

 

Savanne/Grand-Port Range

In the northeast are the Bambous mountains which extend from the centre of the island to the east coast, providing a fine backdrop to Grand Port bay, on the shores of which the town, and once important naval port, of Mahebourg is situated. There are two important peaks in this range – Mount Bambous and Mount Lion; the latter is the most strik­ing, as it looks just like a lion resting, waiting, watching…

To the north of the Bambous range are the mountains of Blanche and Fayence, which are hardly mountains, but rather collections of occasional hills that often only just manage to raise their diminutive but delightful heads above the surrounding sugar cane.

 

Mountain hiking in Mauritius

While the mountains of Mauritius do have some places where the wit and skill of serious mountain climbers may be challenged, they are better known for the hiking trails they offer those who want a change from the beach. There are a number of hikes, lasting from a few hours to a full day.

The mountain hikes traverse some of the uncluttered parts of the island and offer hikers a brisk challenge and a con­tact with nature that’s laced with lovely views. Through breaks in forest patches, or as the hiker crests a summit, beautiful vistas open up across broken valleys, over rolling sugar fields and on to the distant turquoise sea beyond.

Many of the best walks are from the mountains in the south, but for those who may have an urge to gam a bird’s-eye view of Port Louis, a walk, up Le Pouce, the thumb- shaped peak which stands prominently behind the city, should suffice. Here magnificent views of the city, of adjacent Pieter Both Mountain and the interior of Mauritius island can be had.

Mauritius Coral reef: The Island’s barrier against the sea

An almost continuous barrier of coral reef virtually encircles most of Mauritius. The only extensive gap being in the south of the island between Souillac and just to the north of Le Souffleur where some of the island’s major rivers flow into the sea.

 

Coral reefs can only survive in salt water which has a reasonably high level of salinity (20ppt), therefore, where there is a preponderance of rivers bring­ing fresh water into the sea – as hap­pens in this area – coral reefs tend not to occur Furthermore, there is only a narrow continental shelf and the drop-off is steep, thus there is little to dampen the sea’s ardor, arid wave action in this region is known to be intense.

 

Types of Corals in Mauritius

Coral reefs are made up of hard corals of the Order Scleractninia. These com­prise massive structures built by tiny anemone-like organisms (polyps) which produce external calcareous skeletons. Some large corals, such as the mush­room coral, are solitary but most form colonies whose skeletons lock together to form a wide variety of shapes. Some weird, some graceful, some busy and some intricate, but all fascinating.

Coral Reef Creation in Mauritius

The creation of corals paradoxically comes about in death. When corals die many of the polyps’ skeletons remain intact and are fused together, thereby adding to the reef. Small cracks and holes within the basic structure steadily fill with sand and the calcareous remains of other reef plants and animals.

Gradually a solid limestone structure is formed, while all the time new polyps keep growing on its surface. Thus only the outermost layer of the growing reef is alive These reef­building corals, or what scientists call hermatypic corals, require a great deal of sunlight, warm water temperatures (over 20‘C. for most of the year), full marine salinity, water that has little sedi­ment in it. Plus a stable, hard sea floor onto which they can attach themselves.

 

Microscopic plants called zoaxancthellae are of great importance to the growth and health of corals Millions of these minute organisms are packed into the living tissues of most reef building corals. Although reef corals capture plankton, from the water a significant amount of their food corats directty from the zooxanthellae. It is for this reason that the most prolific corals growth are in the shallow water well nutrients rich waters that the zooxanthellae prefer.

 

 

Coral reefs development in Mauritius

Coral reefs have been traditionally classified into four types, depending on their stage of development. They are fringing reefs, barrier reefs, patch reefs including banks and shoals, and atolls.

Fringing reefs

Fringing reefs normally start as narrow platforms which extend outwards from the shore Over time, as the platform expands further into the sea, it grows in size and depth, usually to between 15 and 45 metres, depending on factors such as the profile and depth of the seabed and the clarity of the water.

 

Barrier reefs

Barrier reefs occur along the edges of islands or continental shelves and are substantial structures. The major differ­ence, apart from size, between barrier and fringing reefs is that barrier reefs are separated from the shore by a wide lagoon

Barrier reefs normally evolve from fringing reefs. As the seaward mar­gin of the fringing reef grows and keeps pace with the surface of the sea, it ex­tends out from the land until it reaches an optimum depth, whereupon it turns to run more or less with the shore, thereby creating an off-shore lagoon.

With the passage of time the narrow coral platform that connects the reef to the land becomes exposed. And as the level of the sea rises and falls according to the movements of the earth, it ceases to grow and eventually dies. The reefs’ umbilical cord is thus severed and nature soon removes the debris, leaving behind a living and inde­pendent barrier reef that is able to pro­tect the island from all but the worst of the sea’s bad tempers.

Patch reefs

Coral reefs can develop at any place where the underlying rock has at some time been close enough to the surface of the sea for coral growth to occur. Then, as sea levels rise or geological changes cause the seabed to drop, coral patches, banks or shoals are left behind.

Atolls Reef

 

Atolls, Charles Darwin once postu­lated and modern geological research vindicates, represent the final or mature stage of coral-reef building around vol­canic islands. In Mauritius, the island may sink below the surface of the sea due to geo­logical forces. Or, according to Nature’s immutable plan, the erosive forces of sun, wind and rain relentlessly bombard Mauritius Island, gradually wearing it away until it eventually disappears below the surface of the sea in total submission.

 

 

What is left behind is a circular outer coral reef and a shallow inner lagoon: in other words, an atoll. Within the coral lagoons that surround Mauritius there is a kaleidoscope of colour and a world of infinite fascination. The visitor to this silent world will be amazed by the incredible shapes and forms the different corals take.

 

Types of Corals found in Mauritius

 

Staghorn Coral Among these, staghorn coral [Acropora spp ) is spiky with many branches that resemble the antlers of a stag bull; it grows quickly and is an early colonizer of disturbed areas.

Sometimes the staghorn coral is confused by the uninitiated with the knob-horned coral (Pocillopora verru­cosa) which also has many branches but these are flattened and have knob-like projections.

 

 

 

Plate Coral

A very common coral in Mauritius is the plate coral (Leptoseris sp.) comprising flat, plate-like sheets, some up to a metre in diameter, which spread out in layers across the reef.

Mushroom Coral

The mushroom coral (Fungia scutaria) looks like the underside of an upturned mush­room and consists of a single, huge polyp which is either oval or elongate.

 

Junevile coral

The juvenile coral is attached to the reef by a short stalk, but adults break loose and lie on the bottom of the sea and often divers think they are dead and remove them.

 

Honeycomb coral

There are many varieties of honeycomb coral in Mauritian waters. These are round and boulder-like and are completely covered with moderately large corallites (the skeleton of the polyp) which, instead of projecting out as in most corals, are sunken into the surface.

The walls of touching corallites fuse together in such a way that they form a honeycomb pattern. Some of the species to be looked for in this genus in Mauritius are; Favites spp. (honeycomb coral), Favia spp. (false honeycomb coral), Anomastrea irregularis (irregular honeycomb coral), and Acanthastrea echinata (spiny honeycomb coral).

The labyrinthine brain coral (Platygyra dae- dalea) and the various related brain corals are other common residents in the coral reefs of Mauritius. These corals occur subtidaliy (the sea area below that affected by tide movement) and form large, flat, slab-like or hemispherical colonies, the surface of which is convo­luted like a brain.

 

Turbinate Coral

Other common corals are the turbinate coral (Turbinaria mesenterina) which consists of a trunk that expands into a large table-like crown that spirals at its centre (hence the name turbinate which is derived from turbo, the Latin for a whirlpool or spinning top).

 

Turret Coral

The turret coral {Dendrophyllia aurea) is interesting in that it is more akin to an anemone in appearance and behaviour than to a coral. It consists of a number of cylindrical branches which end in large corallites within which there is a single, large, golden polyp. This has tentacles that radiate out mak­ing it particularly easy to confuse the coral with an anemone. These are only some of the corals that make up the fas­cinating barrier reefs of Mauritius; there are many others.

 

Reef fishes

Divers who have had a chance to assimilate some of the beauty and fasci­nation of this silent world should pause for a moment and watch the vividly coloured and patterned reef fishes at their daily task of feeding.

Reef fishes can be divided into three categories, depending on the type of food they eat. There are the herbivores – those which feed on marine plants; the omnivores which feed on plants and animals; and those that feed on animals only – the carnivores.

Most species of coral reef fishes are carnivores and each has its special way of hunting its prey. Eels, for example, slither stealthily through nar­row crevices and cracks in the reef or through sand and rubble lying on the floor of the sea, using their sense of smell to seek out their prey. Once found, eels seize their quarry with their long needle-like teeth and quickly consume it. They are not voracious eaters and are happy to spend time hidden in their holes with only their heads showing, seemingly watching the passing scene.

 

Scorpionfishes, stonefishes and lizardfishes

The well-camouflaged scorpionfishes, the deadly stonefishes. lizardfishes and flatheads find a strategic position where they bland into their background and patiently wait for their prey to come unwittingly by. With amazing swiftness the helpless victim is seized and con­sumed and the deadly vigil resumes as if nothing had ever happened.

Groupers and snappers swim about the reef, apparently disinterestedly, hoping to lull their prey into a false sense of security, but then lunge with deadly speed when the opportunity arises.

Goatfishes

The goatfishes, with their drooping barbels (so reminiscent of a traditional Chinese mandarin with his long drooping moustache), busi­ly vacuum the reef’s floor using their bar­bels to constantly probe and dislodge burled crustaceans and small fishes. These are then sucked up, inevitably with other debris, which is rapidly sorted and then puffed out in a small cloud of residue from the fish’s mouth.

 

Emperor fish

Emperor fish slowly glide across the surface of the reef looking for any sign of movement that may betray the presence of buried prey. Once detected they pounce on the unsuspecting victim, quickly consume it and then move on to continue scanning the reef.

Rays

Rays rest on the floor of the lagoon or in a cove in the reef where the Goldies decorate the reefs while the deep blue sea provides a radiant backdrop floor is flat and sandy. Here, with the help of the sea, they excavate into the sand seeking buried mollusks which they crush with their teeth.

 

 Some types of fish are parasitic, such as the cleaner wrasses, which are specialized feeders that live off the parasites and damaged tissue of other larger fishes. Then there are fish who cheat. They copy the clean­er wrasses and, using the opportunity this gives them to get in close, quickly bite off a tasty morsel from their unsus­pecting victim and flee before it has time to retaliate.

Although Mauritius’s underwater world has much to amuse, to intrigue, to fascinate and to impress its visitors, it is tragic that its value was not understood by the people and the authorities ear­lier. In the quest for food, shells, corals and marine specimens to sell to tourists and to export, much damage has been done.

 

 

Nature rapists destroying the marine wildlife in Mauritius

In some instances nature rapists have even resorted to the use of dyna­mite and large sections of the coral reefs have been destroyed. It is pitiful and frustrating to dive in God’s coral king­dom and see it laid waste by thoughtless and greedy men. Now in Mauritius, it is only in the remote corners, where man’s corrosive tentacles have not yet spread, that the true nature of the island’s reef can be fully experienced.

 

However, concerned underwater sport enthusiasts and conservationists have formed the Mauritius Underwater Group and the associated Mauritius Marine Conservation Society which have cam­paigned strenuously for these practices to be stopped.

 

Blue Bay Marine Park

The first marine park to be established in Mauritius, is the Blue Bay Marine Park, near Plaisance in the south, an initiative to conserve marine wildlife on the island. Much has been done, but there is a lot remaining to be done before the wounds of the past are fully healed. Controls have been introduced by the authorities to restrict the removal of shells and other items from the sea.

Conservationists also urge tourists not to buy shells from vendors who may approach them clandestinely on the beach. With these measures, combined with Nature’s extraordinary ability to forgive and to restore, a slow healing process has begun.

 

Mauritius Fauna

 

Mauritius Natural forests – depletion of a rich heritage

Before man first set foot on the soils of Mauritius, the island was covered in thick luxuriant forests which clad the central plateau and the slopes of the mountains with tall hardwood trees. In the valleys and along the rivers there were dense thickets of bamboo, the beautiful fan-shaped traveller’s palm, or ravenale [Ravenala madagascariensis), which was introduced from Madagascar during the 19th century, various tree ferns and a variety of forest shrubs and shading canopy trees.

Variety of indigenous trees originally present

There were also natte trees (Labourdonnaisia glauca) and the famous tambalacoque or dodo tree (Sideroxylon grandiflorum). The large half-smooth, half-rough seeds of this tall tree with a silver trunk are so hard that it is almost impossible to crack them. There was a long-standing belief, which science has in recent years accepted as being substantially correct, that before the seed could create life it had to first pass through the digestive system of the dodo bird (Raphus cuculla- tus), as its gizzard abraded and softened the shell of the seed, so enabling it to break out and germinate.

 

Cutting down ebony trees to make timber

However, with the advent of man, all this changed. The dodo became extinct and the tall hard­wood trees, of which the tambalacoque and the Mauritian ebony (Diospyros tes- sellaria) were major species, were cut down in great numbers because they made excellent timbers for the repair and manufacture of boats on the island and for export as raw logs.

The tambalacoque tree

Furthermore, with the demise of the dodo, the germi­nation of the seeds of the tambalacoque tree was no longer possible and thus in the last 300 years, no new trees of this species have taken root on the island.

 

Thirteen 300 years old dying specimens discovered

In a survey of the island done in 1973 only 13 old and dying specimens were found, each estimated to be over 300 years old. (It is interesting to note that there are many instances of plant-animal mutualism known to science in which the elimination of a plant species has af­fected an associated animal population, but this appears to be the only known example of the reverse.)

 

Depletation of Mauritius natural forests to less than 1%

The depletion of the forests was further hastened by the drive for more and more land on which to plant sugar cane. Today less than one per cent of the original forests remains; most of these are found to the south of Plaine Champagne in the Bel Ombre, Macchabee forest.

 

 

Actions undertaken to preserve what’s left of indigenous forests in Mauritius

As in other parts of the world, the ecological value of natural forests was realized too late to save the best areas, but nevertheless strenuous efforts are being made to educate the public on the ecological value of forests and to preserve those few areas that remain. Patches of indigenous forests, some hardly more than a few square kilometres in extent have been declared nature reserves and have thus been fenced off by the Department of Forestry in order to encourage regen­eration and further growth.

Forests reserves in Mauritius

 

Forest reserves in Mauritius are di­vided into three categories of control and ownership. Firstly, there are Crown Forest Lands, comprising the declared nature reserves as well as certain areas given over to tea planting

.

Then there is the state-owned ‘Pas Geometrique’, which is made up of a narrow coastal strip including the island’s public beaches. Many lovely sites situated with­in this area have been leased to the hotel industry.

 

Lastly, there are privately owned remnant forests which are mainly to be found on the upper slopes of the mountains. A 4 000-hectare national park is planned for the beautiful Gorges de la Riviere Noire (Black River Gorges), where the last vestiges of prime habitat for Mauritian fauna and flora are located.

At present, the area is a declared natural area and various conservation measures have been implemented. Since less than one per cent of the island’s original forests are still intact today, the need for protection of this area is self-evident.

 

900 species with one third being endemic to Mauritius

 

Although the Mauritian plant kingdom has some 900 species of which nearly one-third is endemic to the island, exotics found their way to the island from the very earliest days of Mauritius’s human history, They have brought a riot of colour which lasts throughout the year and helps to soften much of the harshness of human habita­tion.

Types of notable species found in Mauritius

Notable species include the busy bougainvillea, the alamanda with its bright yellow flowers, the heavily scent­ed, waxy textured frangipani trees which line the streets, as well as hibiscus, strelitzia, anthuriums.

Orchids, oleanders and powsettias grow with gay abandon in the gardens of many homes and in the parks of the towns. Then there are flowering trees and shrubs such as the Trochetki condolleana with their huge carmine flowers, the Ttactotfia triflora, a shrub with snow-white bios soms, and the dombega which is a compact shrub with masses of pink flowers.

 

The famous casuarinas lining the beaches of Mauritius Island

Lining the beaches are groves of casuarinas (Casuarina eguiseti folia), or filaos as they are known in Mauritius, a name given to them by the Portuguese. Their filigree-like delicacy has been a feature of the Mauritian landscape since the French explorer and cartographer Abbe Alexis Rochon introduced the tree from Australia in 1778.

 A hundred years later the British governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, recognizing the casuarina’s ability to prosper in a salt laden environment, ordered the planting of the trees around the island as conservation measure and also to serve as windbreaks.

 

Other exotic trees

Other exotic trees include a variety of acacias, coconut palms, the albizia, the Indian almond (or bodmonier) and the fascinating Indian banyan {Ficus beng- halensis), which has a proliferation of aerial roots that reach down to the ground and then reroot themselves.

 

Mauritius Birds

In earlier times, when Mauritius island was covered in verdant mountain forests and the streams ran free of man’s pollution, an estimated 26 species of birds once lived here.

The famous dodo, unique to Mauritius – Now Extinct

Of these the dodo is the best known – for the perverse reason that it was a large conspicuous bird and one of the first to become extinct soon after man came into contact with it (giving rise to the archetype expression for extinc­tion, ‘as dead as a dodo’).

 

Dodo – considered as the silly bird by the Portuguese

The bird and this tragic reflection on man’s careless nature have been immortalized in Lewis Carroll’s famous book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The name ‘dodo’ is derived from doudo, the Portuguese word for ‘silly’, which no doubt reflected the early mariners’ contempt for the unfortunate bird.

 

These feelings still per­sist amongst many people even to this day, as they believe that the bird was too stupid to recognize danger and, as the humorist Will Cuppy once wrote, it ’seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of becoming extinct, and that was all he was good for’.

How the dodo became extinct

 

The large round bird, about the size of a goose, was a member of the pigeon family. It lived on the fruits of the ebony tree, and because it had no natural enemies it no longer had use for its wings, which steadily became smaller in relation to the size of its body.

 

The dodo lost use of its wings

Eventually the dis­proportion became so great that the dodo could no longer fly. Thus, when the first sailors arrived on the island, the bird had no means of escaping from them. And having had no enemies, the birds did not fear these new arrivals, so their capture and destruction was easy.

 

Pigs, dogs and rats preyed on their eggs

The seafarers, suffering from scurvy and a lack of fresh meat, caught them and ate them. However, it is said that they did this without relish because the birds were reputed to be tough and tasteless. This was not enough, however, to fight off more insidious enemies – pigs and dogs (introduced to the island by the early Dutch settlers) which preyed on their eggs, and rats which the Portu­guese had inadvertently brought in nearly a century before.

 

Cutting down of ebony trees led to the ultimate extinction of the dodo

The death knell for the dodo came when its essential food, the seed of the ebony tree, virtually disappeared as the last of the host trees were cut down and turned into the spars and cargo of passing ships.

 

Replica of the dodo can be seen at the Mauritius Natural History Museum

 

By 1695, less than one hundred years after the Dutch had colonized Mauritius, the dodo was no more. All that remains are the sketches of the bird made by pass­ing manners, and one foot and a bird’s head. The foot is in the London Natural History Museum and the head is in the Oxford University Zoology Museum. A replica of the bird, refurbished recently by the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, can be seen in the Mauritius Natural History Museum in Port Louis.

 

Endemic birds in Mauritius

Mauritius still possesses some incredi­bly rare and important bird species, but they could be as doomed as the dodo if the present conservation efforts to pro­tect them are not successful.

Mauritius Kestrel – another endemic bird near extinction on the island

The Mauritius Kestrel population, for exam­ple, has suffered from the deterioration of habitat resulting from pesticide poi­soning and from hunting. Before the Mauritius Kestrel Conservation Program was introduced in 1973, the population had declined to a mere four birds.

Today the number exceeds 200 birds in the wild, with an estimated 35 breeding pairs.

Echo Parakeet – the world’s rarest parakeet

The world’s rarest parakeet, the Echo Parakeet, is endemic to Mauritius and it too is under considerable threat. In 1992 there were estimated to be around 15 birds in the wild.

Other endemic birds which are threatened

Since 1985, the Mauritius Wildlife Appeal Fund has been funding and managing a project to breed these birds in captivity in order to boost their numbers. Other endemic birds, all of which sadly are threatened in some way or another, are the Pink Pigeon, the Mauritius Cuckoo-Shrike, the Mauritius Black Bulbul, the Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher, the Mauritius Fody and the Mauritius Olive White-eye.

 

Mauritius fauna

 

The only mammals indigenous to Mauritius were two species of fruit bat. One of which is now extinct, and three species of insectivorous bats.

 

Mauritius Golden Bat

The surviv­ing fruit bat known as the Mauritius Golden Bat or flying fox because of its looks and size, is relatively common. It is to be found at nightfall swooping over highland forests in search of fruit. It is considered to be a delicacy by the locals as its flesh, sweetened by its sugar-cane diet, is used to make a curry speciality.

 

Deer hunting in Mauritius

The Dutch colonists introduced the Tundjuc deer from Java as a means of supplying meat to the settlers and to passing ships. Today deer farming is well established in the Case Noyale and Le Morne areas.

 

Deer hunting takes place annually, mainly on the estates of the Franco-Mauritians. However, at beautiful Domaine du Chasseur, an estate on the southeast coast, the owners have intro­duced controlled fee-paying hunting as an income and management measure.

Pigs, Macaques and Mongooses in Mauritius

The Dutch also introduced pigs which, over time, lost their domesticity and have reverted back to nature. Wild-boar hunting has become a favourite pastime among some Mauritians. The Portuguese introduced the Macaque monkey in 1528 from Malaysia and these are to be found in relatively large troops in the Black River area.

From Madagascar came the tenrec, an insectivorous crea­ture that looks like a hedgehog, but has no tail. Mongooses were brought in from India in 1900 in order to help control the rat population of Mauritius, but they multiplied at such a rate that they too have become a nuisance.

 

Giant tortoise Mauritius

Before the arrival of settlers on the island, Mauritius had a large giant tor­toise population. But these ponderous reptiles, like the dodo, had no defense against the intruders who came in ships and who killed them off for their meat and the oil in their livers.

Eventually the giant tortoise faced total extinction on all the Indian Ocean islands, but fortunately by the end of the 19th century they had become a protected species – thanks, inter alia, to the research and lobbying of Charles Darwin.

 

The giant tortoise was reintroduced to Mauritius when specimens were imported from Aldabra. a group of islands belonging to the Seychelles, where the tortoises had been left largely undisturbed on some of the islands mak­ing up the group Zebu cattle, noted for their humpback, were imported from Madagascar and today they can still be seen pulling large-wheeled carts along the streets of the island to delight of an ever-increasing number of tourists.

Mauritius Climate

 

Mauritius lies just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, some 20 degrees south of the equator. While the island is technically within the tropics and is often subject to high temperatures and humidity levels during summer, it has a maritime sub-tropical climate.

A number of ameliorating factors helps to reduce the impact of these high temperature and humidity levels: cooling winds that blow off the sea and the altitude of the inland plateau help to reduce temperatures on aver­age by some 5C.

It is for this reason, combined with the prevalence of malaria along the coast, that those who could afford it preferred to live inland on the plateau at places like Curepipe rather than at the coast. With the advent of modern air conditioning and the eradica­tion of malaria, this situation has changed, however.

 

Mauritius Weather

There is little consis­tency in Mauritian weather – it can be raining in Curepipe but bone dry on the coast. Likewise weather on the east coast is different to that of the west coast. The former is usually much windi­er and wetter, particularly in January and February when the prevailing winds drive in from the southeast, the latter drier and hotter.

 

Cyclone Mauritius

As is to be expected in the southern hemisphere, the hottest months are those of January to April, when temperatures range between 25″C to 35”C. During these months tropical cyclones periodically unleash their fero­cious might on the island.

 

 

While cyclones of varying magnitude occur annually it is usually only once every 15 years or so that a really big one passes over the island. Looking back over the last 50 years this has been more or less the pat­tern.

Intense tropical cyclones in Mauritius

A severe storm occured in 1945. In 1960 Cyclone Carol ravaged the island, and in 1975 this happened again when Cyclone Gervaise passed over Mauritius in its savage meanderings across the Indian Ocean.

 Cyclone Hollanda was one of the worst tropical cyclones in Mauritius. Formed on February 6, 1994, the cyclone stroke the island on February 10 at peak intensity with winds of 155km/h (100 mph), destroying 450 houses. Atleast 1500 people were left homeless after its passage.

Mauritius seasons

The cooler months are July to September when day temperatures average 24‘C and night temperatures 16*C. Mauritius does not have a specific rainy season but it generally rains less during the. Cooler ‘winter’ months, June through to September. For the holiday­maker, especially those who come from cooler climes and who long for the warmth of the sun, it is hard to imagine a more amenable climate!

History of mauritius

Early beginnings

During the 10th century, Arab sailors who used to ply the seas between India and the east coast of Africa came upon an island which they called Dina Harobi – meaning literally ‘Abandoned Island’.

The reason for giving the island this name will never be known for sure, but Mauritian historians believe that it was probably because the island had been hit by a cyclone prior to their arrival and was lying prostrate, devastated by the wind’s unseen might.

 Indeed, they pos­tulate that the same cyclone could have been the reason for the Arab sailors being so far off their normal course. These early seafarers did not try to take the island for themselves; instead they passed on and left only their rough maps and their experiences as legends for his­torians to ponder.

 

Dinarobin – The “Silver Island”

It is argued that the words Dina Harobi were corrupted over time to Dinarobin, the word normally associated with the Arab name for Maur­itius. The corrupted word is believed to mean ‘Silver Island’; it is said by some that the Arab sailors sighted the island at midday, silver in the distance as it danced on a shimmering sea.

 

First European Visitors – The Portuguese

For the next 500 or so years the is­land remained lost in obscurity, locked behind the shutters of ignorance. How­ever, with the advent of the great voy­ages of discovery which began in the Middle Ages it was the Portuguese, hav­ing pioneered a route around the Cape, who were the first Europeans to visit the island.

Diego Dias – the captain who first discovered Mauritius

According to the latest study on the subject (by Mauritian historian, Alfred North Coombes) it was Diego Dias, the brother of the famous Bar­tolomeu Dias de Novaes and a compan­ion of Vasco da Gama (when he man­aged to reach India on 20 May 1498), who rediscovered the island.

He was the captain of one of a fleet of ships com­manded by Pedro Alvares Cabral, which was on its way to India around 1500. The fleet had become dispersed after passing through a severe storm while rounding the southern tip of the African continent.

Four ships of the fleet were lost in the storm and Dias’s ship was blown far south and then east by the Westerlies. After getting out of the grip of the wind, and on his way back westward towards the African coast, he was hoping to meet up with the remainder of the fleet.

Dias encountered Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion on his way to India

Dias came upon three islands which historians believe to be Rodrigues, Mauritius and Reunion He was able to confirm their positions on the rough maps that da Gama had been given by an Arab pilot he had met at Malindi on the east African coast and who had guided him to Calicut on his epic voyage to India. Thus on the map of Cantino, which is dated 1502, the three islands of Rodrigues. Mauritius and Reunion are fairly accurately positioned.

The Mascarene Islands named after Don Pedro Mascarenhas

The intrepid explorer and navigator Diego Fernandez Pereira was the next to visit the island, in 1507, while looking for a less dangerous route to India, east of Madagascar. (The islands and unchartered atolls in the Mozambique channel were a danger to the Portuguese ships.) He named the island Isla do Cerne (Swan Island), either after his ship, believed to be of the same name or, some say, because of the dodo which he may have likened to a swan.

 In or about 1528, Don Diego Rodrigues landed on Rodrigues, the island which still bears his name to this day. Together with Reunion and Mauritius he named the island group the Mascarenes, after the Portuguese admiral Don Pedro Mascarenhas.

 

The Portuguese used Mauritius as a place of refuge during stormy weather

The Portuguese made no attempt at permanent settlement on any of the three islands as they already had a base on the island of Mozambique, off the east coast of the African mainland. Their sailors, however, used the island as a place of refuge during stormy weather as they laboriously ploughed their way on the long voyages to and from India.

 They brought their food supplies

They also brought cattle, pigs and monkeys to the island so that when their ships called there, they could obtain fresh meat supplies. It is believed that it was during the Portuguese period of occupation – from 1507 to 1539 – that rats first reached Mauritius. Thought to have escaped from the ships, and having no natural enemies on the island and an ability to reproduce their numbers very rapidly, it did not take many years before they became a serious menace.

 

Arrival of the Dutch – Mauritius Island’s first settlers

 

After the Portuguese abandoned the idea of establishing a sea route to India east of Madagascar, a decision taken in or about 1539, they had no further use for Mauritius and so the island remained unoccupied for the next 60 odd years.

In 1598 a Dutch fleet of five ships on its way to Batavia, under the command of Vice Admiral Wybrandt Van Warwyck of the Dutch East India Company, was blown off course by heavy winds and accidentally came upon Mauritius. The Dutch sought shelter in the large bay they saw in the southeast corner of the island and landed at a place known today as Vieux Grand Port, near present day, Mahebourg.

 

Mauritius was named after Dutch prince Maurice of Orange and Nassau

Warwyck named the bay after himself, and the island Mauritius, after Prince Maurice of Orange and Nassau, the Stadtholder of Holland. The Dutch considered the island to be ideally situated as a refreshment station along their trade routes to India and to Java (or Batavia) in the east. Timber and fresh water were plentiful and the rich volcanic soils were good for agriculture. However, they did not attempt to colonize the island to any great extent.

 

Establishment of military presence at Port-Louis

Instead they only bothered to develop small temporary settlements along the southeast coast. However, in order to pre-empt any attack from the French or English, they did also establish a small military presence at Noordt Wester Haven (North West Harbour), which is where the present Mauritian capital. Port Louis, is situated today.

The Dutch took possession on Mauritius in 1638

In 1638 the Dutch East India Company took over control of Mauritius and the first settlers arrived. Their main job was to harvest the hardwood ebony trees they found on the island because timber prices were high in Europe. The Dutch also introduced sugar cane from Java, which they planted in cleared forest areas and from which they produced a potent arrack. They imported slaves from Madagascar and brought in convicts from Java to work on the fields.

 

The Dutch abandoned their settlement in Mauritius in 1658

However, many settlers left for the Cape of Good Hope in 1 652 when Jan van Riebeeck established a base there for the Dutch East India Company. The island’s isolation, its inadequate harbour and the ravages of the rats left behind by the Portuguese, among other things, led the Dutch to abandon their settlement in 1658.

 

The Dutch retook possession of Mauritius in 1663

However, in 1663 the Dutch East India Company, regretting its decision to depart from Mauritius, decided to retake possession of the island in order to prevent it from falling into enemy hands and on 24 August 1 665 they instructed the Governor of the Company’s settlement in the Cape to send an expedition to Mauritius.

 

Departure of the Dutch from Mauritius

On 20 May 1664. the Waterhoen left with 12 men under the command of Jacobus van Nieuwland to reestablish a base on the island. Dutch occupation of the island continued uninterrupted until 17 February 1710 when their last governor, Abraham Momber van de Velde, left the island on the Beverwaart bound for Batavia. He left behind depleted forests, neglected sugar-cane fields and angry runaway slaves who were forced to live a beachcomber existence.

 

French settlers in Mauritius: The French follow and stay

In 1715. Captain Dufresne d’Arsel took possession of the island in the name of the King of France and renamed it Ile de France. In 1722, the first colonists landed at Warwyck Bay, which was renamed Port Bourbon.

 

The French abandoned Port Bourbon to settle in Port Louis

However, because of the frequency of strong winds and the difficulties ships experienced in getting through the narrow gaps in the coral reefs, the French abandoned Port Bourbon and moved their maritime operations to Noordt Wester Haven, which they renamed Port Louis.

 

The French governor, Mahe de Labourdonnais

 In 1755 the French East India Company appointed Bertrand Francois Mahe de Labourdonnais, a man of great energy and foresight, for governorship of the island.

He immediately set about digging French roots deeper into the soils of their new possession. The new governor formally laid out Port Louis and transformed it from a primitive harbour to a thriving sea port.

 

Sugar cane cultivation for export

Sugar cane was cultivated on a large scale in order to produce sugar for export to France. Labourdonnais planned to import the first sugar mill which transported by the ill-fated Saint Geron, went down with the ship which was wrecked on ile d’Ambre in 1744.

 

However, he later obtained new equipment which was installed on his own estate. La Villebague Indigo, tree and cotton were planted and a vigorous road-building programme was initiated.

 

Mahe de Labourdonnais developed the Island

Extermination drives against the island’s prolific rat population were introduced and these continued right into the next century (the records for 1826 reveal, for instance, that ‘850 000 of these destructive animals were caught and destroyed’ in that year alone1). More slaves were imported from Madagascar and Africa in order to provide labour on the new sugar estates and other farming lands Warwyck Bay was successively renamed Port Sud-Est, Port Bourbon and Port Imperial.

Establishment of Mahebourg by Governor Decaen

 In 1804 Governor Decaen started a new town at a place known before as Pointe de la Colonne, which he named Mahebourg in honour of Mahe de Labourdonnais, whose bronze statue now stands prominently at Place d’Armes (now renamed Place Sookdeo Bissoondoyal) in Port Louis, overlooking the harbor.

 

Port-Louis established as a maritime base

By 1746, Port Louis had become well established as a maritime base and the Compagnie des Indes Orientales (French East India Company) were able to do good business supplying French ships with stores and supplies for their campaigns against the English in India.

Battle between the French and the English over India

During the Seven Years War (1756-1765) the Indian Ocean became an extended battleground between the English and the French as their ships battled against one another in the run to and from India. During this war the successors of Labourdonnais, none of whom had his gift of leadership and control, battled to revictual and supply the French expeditionary forces despatched to India under the orders of Comte d’Arche and Comte de Lally. They received little co-operation from the same men who, 10 years earlier under the command of Labourdonnais, had taken Madras from the English.

 

The French were defeated

As a result the French lost the war in India and the government then decided to take over control of the island from the Compagnie des Indes Orientales, whose administration had lasted 46 years (1721-1767) and put it under the charge of the Ministre de la Marine et des Colonies.

 

Pierre Poivre as the new governor

In addition they appointed a new governor. Pierre Poivre, a man whose vision and drive was equal to that of Labourdonnais, and thus, a new and interesting chapter in the history of the island began.

 

Pierre Poivre’s botanical skills resulted in one of the finest botanical garden in the world

Pierre Poivre was not only credited for being a good administrator, he was also a keen botanist. He transformed the old Compagnie des Indes nursery at Pamplemousses into a formal botanical garden that was considered to be one of the finest botanical gardens in the world; it still enjoys international recognition today.

 

The French took over the spice trade in Europe

He sent botanical expeditions to the Moluccas and other places in the East to obtain young plants and seeds of important spices such as cloves, nutmeg and others, which were added to the cinnamon and pepper he had already introduced. His objective was to grow spices on the island in order to help the French break the stranglehold the Dutch had on the spice trade in Europe.

 

The Population of Mauritius increased drastically in 1735

During this time the population of ile de France began to swell rapidly. From the 800 souls who inhabited the island in 1735, the number grew to 33 539 some 40 years later. According to the official census figures for the year 1776, there were 6 386 people of European descent, 1 999 people of mixed descent and 25 154 slaves who were brought in mainly from Madagascar and to a lesser extent, from the African continent. The population continued to grow rapidly after this as the sugar industry continued to expand and more and more slaves were brought in.

 

The French declared the island independent of France in 1789

When the French Revolution took place in 1789, ile de France was little affected but the local elite, fearing the ideals of the Revolution and the possible effect this could have on their way of life, declared the island independent and broke off relations with France. This unilateral declaration of independence was done at a price since ile de France on its own had little economic and military might with which it could defend itself.

“Privateering” expeditions took place

It thus had little alternative but to resort to the ‘legalizing’ of privateering and to increase trade with neutral countries, such as America and Denmark. During the years 1793 to 1802, no less than 120 privateering expeditions against predominantly English shipping were conducted by the ‘bourgeois de marine’ of ile de France.

 

Re-establishment of the French rule in 1803

However Napoleon, recognizing the strategic importance of the island in any future war with England, sent General Charles Decaen to the island in 1803 to re-establish French rule there. In honour of his Emperor, Decaen renamed Port Louis, Port Napoleon, while Mahebourg became Port Imperial.

 

Mauritius island was used as a secure base to attack English ships in the Indian Ocean

As the dark clouds of war began to gather over Europe, little ile de France was tossed onto the stage of international politics. As long as the island belonged to the French it could offer a secure base in the Indian Ocean from which warships could freely attack laden English ships plying the trade routes between England and India and the East.

 

Robert Surcouf – a well-known corsair at that time

The island’s port could also offer asylum to privateers and corsairs who, sailing under letters of marque, could freely rove the Indian Ocean in search of lonely ships and easy prey. The best known of all the corsairs who operated out of Mauritius was Robert Surcouf, born in 1773 at St Malo in France where he eventually retired, living handsomely from his ill-gotten gains until his death in 1827. Today many of his descendents are prominent and honourable Mauritian citizens.

 

The English decided to take over Mauritius in 1810 and engaged in a battle with the French at Grand Port Bay

 

In order to put a stop to the corsairs, the British government resolved to add ile de France to their growing empire. In August 1810a British squadron of four ships sailed into Grand Port Bay to engage a French flotilla of similar size, and a great battle took place within the confines of the navigable water in the bay.

 

The French won the naval battle

 

An inability to manoeuvre within the restrictions imposed by nature meant that the battle became a gruesome slugging match between the contending sides. There was little room for naval strategy and this made death and destruction the only arbiters in the conflict.

Nearly all the ships were sunk or badly damaged, while 141 sailors were killed and 281 were wounded. Although by other standards this battle may have been considered to be small and remote, it was the only naval battle the English lost during the Napoleonic era.

To celebrate their victory, the French had it etched indelibly into the annals of history by inscribing it on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

 

The English, resolved to capture Mauritius, came back better prepared

 

The English resolve to capture lie de France did not weaken. The island had become too great a risk to their shipping and Napoleon too big a threat to their survival. In December of the same year they came back, but this time better prepared and in much greater numbers.

 

An English army sailed from India to attack Mauritius

A land force consisting of 12 000 men, composed partly of Indian troops and partly of British soldiers under the com­mand of their general, the Honourable John Abercrombie, set sail from India with a naval task force of 20 vessels of war and a sizable fleet of transport and support ships, under the joint command of Admiral Bertie.

 

Port-Louis and Pointe aux Canonniers were used as strategic places to defend the French

Spies warned the French of English intentions and Port Louis, the only port that could offer anchorage to an armada of this magni­tude, was converted into a formidable fortress. In addition, Pointe aux Canonniers, between Grand Baie and Trou aux Biches in the northwest corner of the island, was fortified and more cannons brought in and pointed seaward to defend the island.

 

The English invaded Mauritius through Cap Malheureux

But the English, anticipating this move by the French, turned their ships to the island’s northeast corner and headed for Cap Malheureux, where they had detected a 400-metre gap in the coral reef. With Port Louis a mere 24 kilometres away it made an idea place of invasion.

While the English armada rode at anchor outside the reef, the army was able to effect a successful landing using small boats to ferry the soldiers ashore. After four days, following brief encounters at Grand Baie, Baie de I’Arsenal and Baie du Tombeau, French resistance ceased and it fell to General Abercrombie to accept the surrender of the French governor, General Charles Decaen. English losses amounted to 150 men dead or wounded. French losses were less.

 

Mauritius – A new colony of the English crown

 

At the Treaty of Paris in 1814, ile de France, Rodrigues and Seychelles were confirmed as British dependencies and once again the island’s name changed -this time back to Mauritius. Franco-Mauritians were allowed to retain their language, religion and sugar estates. The Napoleonic legal system was endorsed and Robert Farquhar, the first British governor, recognized the French civil administration system.

The French character and charm continued to inhabit the island

The British did not see Mauritius as a place they wished to influence or as a place for settlement and as a result, the island has remained substantially French in character and charm. The British presence ensured that the island was no longer a threat to their trading routes The British legacy thus has never extended much beyond the immediate corridors of power.

 

The French culture continued to prevailed in Mauritius during the 158-year reign of the English

 

Throughout the 158-year period that the British administered the island, there was an amicable truce between the French settlers on one hand, and the English administrators on the other. The French got on with running their sugar estates: their buildings, private homes cuisine and the games they played were all typical of colonial France, which a century and a half of British control could not change.

 

Abolition of Slavery in Mauritius in 1855 and indentured labourers were introduced

 

In 1855 slavery was abolished, but as the Mauritian sugar industry continued to expand during the 19th century so the need for labourers grew. As a result, the importation of indentured labour from India began in earnest.

The island’s population started to rise rapidly, with the indentured labourers becoming permanent settlers and their families joining them. By 1865 immigrants from India and their descendents constituted the largest racial group in Mauritius.

However, while population numbers rapidly swelled, so a veil of conspicuous poverty steadily descended over the island as the rate of increase in jobs failed to keep up with the number of people seeking employment.

 

French colonists lived a luxurious life on the Island of Mauritius

 

The French colonists were largely unaffected by this and they continued to live in grand style. If anything, their lives became easier with the greater abundance of cheap labour. It was not uncommon, for example, for a single household to employ 10 or more domestic servants!

 

Sugar production became the pillar of Mauritius economy

 

Sugar production dominated the Mauritian economy, to the virtual exclusion of all other forms of economic activity. The island was the largest sugar producer in the British Empire and was affectionately described by Joseph captain, as the ‘sugared pearl of the Indian Ocean’.

 

Better Infrastructure, postal and social services were implemented

 

While the island’s sugar-based economy expanded, the infrastructure needed to serve the sugar industry improved. A railway network was built and by 1904 more than 200 kilometres of British standard-gauge railway track was laid in order to service the cane producers. (After World War u the rail service was discontinued and the lines were uprooted.) Postal services were improved and post offices built throughout the island, social services were introduced and the harbour at Port Louis was modernized.

 

Establishment of Mauritius political parties – the fight for  freedom began

 

 In 1956 the Travaillistes, the Mauritian Labour Party, was formed to fight for the rights of the labourers on the sugar plantations. A series of strikes in 1957 and again in 1945 brought the sugar industry to a standstill and the situation was only relieved when the British Government agreed to institute a programme of constitutional reform.

In 1948 the first step towards a broadening of the political structure was introduced when the franchise was extended to those who were over 21 years of age and could write their name. During the fifties, the Hindu-dominated labour party led by a medical doctor. Dr (late. Sir) Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who campaigned tirelessly for the rights of workers.

 

Clash between Labour Party Hindus and PMSD Creole supporters

 

 In 1959 the franchise was granted to all adults and a Hindu majority was assured at the polls. The move to political independence from Britain gained a great fillip, but the island moved into a period of political insecurity while sporadic violence broke out on the streets of Port Louis as supporters of the majority Labour Party, who were predominantly Hindu and wanted independence, clashed with supporters of the minority Parti Mauricien Social Democrate (PMSD), who were predominantly Creole (and Franco-Mauritian) and were opposed to independence.

 

Finally, Mauritius became independent on the 12 March 1968

 

While British troops were called in to quell the riots, colonial administrators began to pack their bags and close their files in preparation for their departure.

 

Nothing could turn the clock back, the colonial era had passed. On 12 March 1968 the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and after more than one and a half centuries, policies for the island were no longer decided in distant England. The country had gained its independence with Seewoosagur Ramgoolam the first prime minister and a coalition government in power.