An Evening with the Students Union

By Peter Ibbotson

Mauritius Times 60 Years

Port Louis – Central Market in the 1960s. Pic – Vintage Mauritius

On February 28 the Mauritius Students Union heard a talk from Mr J. Anderson, founder of the Anderson Scholarship, on a subject which the chairman, Mr Biltoo, described — very truly as “controversial” — “Are the ties between Mauritius and Great Britain real or artificial?”

Mr Anderson did not like the words real or artificial”, preferring “natural or created”. A natural tie, he explained, was a tie of blood or culture; a created tie was an economic tie. Once the tie between Mauritius and Great Britain arose out of the conquest of 1810, the Anglo-Mauritian tie is basically created, not natural as are the ties of blood with France, India and China. The government and legal system of Mauritius are examples of the tie with Great Britain, though the legal system shows also ties with France. The government of Mauritius started with autocratic control from Great Britain and is developing into a democratic party system of government. The departments of administration are modelled on the British Civil Service pattern. However, the number of Mauritians introduced into the upper ranks has increased and will go on increasing; the present holders of the upper posts represent all sections of the community. The same applies to the law and the judiciary. In 1810 the Code Napoleon was adopted by the British conquerors, but since then all amendments have been from the English pattern: company law, the law of bankruptcy, many labour laws, criminal procedure and the law of evidence. The members of the judiciary are drawn from all main sections of the community — Franco-Mauritian, Indo-Mauritian and Moslem. Notaries are modelled on the French system, barristers on the British. In the lower courts, French or Creole is the common language, in the superior courts, English.

In the field of education, English dominates the scene. Secondary schools prepare for School Certificates. These are British examinations; there is no preparation for the baccalaureate. For success to higher education, English is essential; Mauritians come to England, not to France, for higher education. Parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, said Mr Anderson, have been willingly accepted by most Mauritians. These conceptions extend throughout the whole British Commonwealth and, basically, to the USA. These concepts represent a major tie between Mauritius and Britain.

The small British community in Mauritius forms only a small tie between the two countries. After the governmental link, the most important tie is the economic one. Since 1914, the bulk of sugar exports have been to the UK. The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement guarantees a market and a price for Mauritian sugar for at least another eight years. Mauritius’ quota is 495,000 tons, and 3/4 of this comes to the UK. The fact of being a party to the Agreement links Mauritius closely to the other parties thereto (e.g., the West Indies, Australia and India) as well as the UK.

Another economic factor is that Mauritius is a member of the sterling area, and 40% of world trade is conducted in sterling. And British loans and grants to Mauritius, whether CD & W. grants or outside the scheme, help to forge the link more strongly.

Economically, the most important link is with the UK; this, declared Mr Anderson, is an “incontrovertible fact”. And no one can dispute the fact that the Anglo-Mauritian ties (political as well as economic) are by now well and strongly established. They are created ties, admittedly, not natural ties, but they are none the less firm. And if the natural ties of blood and culture were regarded as conflicting with the created Anglo-Mauritian tie, they might well become disruptive. If the ties with India or France were developed to the detriment of the ties with Great Britain, the economic tie would suffer since both France and India have alternative sugar supplies; so that the economy of Mauritius would suffer. Although however Mauritius depends economically on Great Britain, there is no reason why the blood ties with France and India should not be fostered. It would, for example, be absurd for anyone who has had contact with the culture of France (one of the greatest in the world, said Mr Anderson) to abandon it. Yet fostering blood ties must not be to the detriment of the economic tie.

A number of questions followed. A South African asked if the economic ties with Great Britain were stronger or weaker than the cultural ties with France, India and China; he was told that all kinds of ties should be fostered and the answer to this question was one which each person must decide for himself. Another questioner said that created ties were rational but natural ties were emotional; could therefore the rational tie supersede the emotional? This, said Mr Anderson amid laughter, led us into the realms of metaphysics. Emotions were all very well, but we all have to earn our livings and the economic (hence rational) ties of Mauritius are all with Great Britain.

A slight brush between Mr Biltoo and a would-be questioner (Mr Seeneevassen) marred the evening and caused momentary resentment. Mr Anderson had offered to receive questions in French as well as in English and to answer in French if required. Mr Seeneevassen, trying to take advantage of this offer, was putting a question in French when he was prevented from so doing by Mr Biltoo on the grounds that “some people here don’t understand it,” Mr Seeneevassen protested but Mr Biltoo was adamant, so the question went unasked. This ruling of Mr Biltoo’s was, I must confess, surprising in view of Mr Anderson’s offer; and I feel it was most unfortunate.

Mr Anderson’s talk had been preceded by a short film, in colour, of Mauritius made by Air France as a means to attract tourists to the island. Entitled “Mauritius, a pattern for Paradise”, it had as incidental music Jacques Cantin singing segas; and we saw, in silhouette against a sunset sky, a sega being danced by a small group of Creole lobster fishermen. Most of the tourist attractions were included; stag-hunting, racing, riding, fishing, motoring, and parties. The commentator said that a progressive administration developed the sugar industry after the French took over the island; but we saw few pictures having anything to do with the industry apart from ships being loaded with sacks of sugar in Port Louis harbour. We did see quite a few shots of tea-pickers, though as well as a short but comprehensive survey of operations in aloe growing, harvesting and processing. There were many pictures of trees and flowers (especially the flamboyant trees) and of the Botanical Gardens. “The Park Hotel,” declared the commentator, “is typical of the good living which is enjoyed in Mauritius.” We heard too of “gracious and settled homes” where “people enjoy entertaining” — this was accompanied by pictures of whites.

So too were references to night-life and parties; while pictures of beach scenes and fishing included numbers of scantily-clad white (under their deep tan) girls whose main enjoyment — judging by the names which cropped up once or twice — seemed to be drinking Coca-cola or Pepsi-cola. The Chinese, Moslems and Hindus were presented mainly in scenes of traditional customs — e.g., a procession of Hindus to a fire-walking ceremony; we also saw the fire-walkers doing their stuff. More beach scenes drew from the commentator the remark: “When in Mauritius, do as the Mauritians do — relax in the sun”.

And after this very glamorised presentation of Mauritius, the film ended with the commentator saying that in Mauritius there is a saying “The good Lord made this island first, Paradise afterwards”. There was, thought the commentator, perhaps a deal of truth in this!

As a means of attracting tourists, the film is no doubt most successful; Air France planes figure prominently. (Impartially, Air France allows us a glimpse of a Quantas plane as well). But as a film about the real Mauritius, it is nowhere. We see a handful of Creole lobster fishermen, some Hindu women tea-pickers, coloured people engaged in cutting and preparing aloe, and some Hindu fire-walkers. Otherwise, all the people are white — deep-sea fishing, yachting, sailing, water-skiing, lounging on the beach, dancing, drinking, motoring, “living graciously”, supervising the development of the new Mauritius, and so on.

Thus, a false impression of the inhabitants is given; and nothing is allowed on the screen (e.g., Cassis, Belle Village, Roche Bois, the Central Market) which would destroy the tourists’ illusion of an island paradise, fringed with filao, where life is carefree and the people happy.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 15 April 2022

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