Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Doojendranath Napal
On the 6th November 1954 we wrote an article pointing out some heavily objectionable passages in Barnwell and Toussaint’s Short History of Mauritius which since quite a long time has enjoyed the reputation of a textbook for Form I in the Government Secondary Schools and the upper forms of the Primary government and Aided Schools. Our opinions against that book were grounded on solid facts, yet the government turned a deaf ear to our demand that the book should be banned. We believed that the government would take some measure or other in its dealing with the book and cease poisoning the minds of thousands of innocent children. But nothing to the purpose has been so far effected.
Government will be soon giving to students the lists of books for 1957. Let the education authorities consider the matter seriously before taking the decision of leaving on the curriculum this book with a strong pre-conservative bias. History, much more than any other subject, can do much good to the student to face the problems of life. But, if wrongly taught, it can do as much harm. In the case of the Short History of Mauritius we are convinced and we make ourselves bold to say that we speak for thousands, that it will stamp wrong impressions of the past of their colony, on the minds of young, tender, easily impressionable children.
In our first article on this important matter, we quoted lengthily passages from the book highly prejudicial to Indian labourers. Two years have elapsed since and we have been able to go more at leisure through Barnwell and Toussaint’s Short History of Mauritius. The result of our study is that the book should be banned for other reasons apart from those we mentioned in our first article. That book has deliberately ignored certain facts and given a wrong twist to others which might plead in favour of the Blacks, Coloured People, and Indians, in fact, those who form part of the majority of the population of the island. For example, in 1829, an order in Council was passed which put Coloured People on the same footing as whites – politically and socially. This event is epoch-making in the history of Coloured People in the island. But the authors of that book glide upon this fact rather indifferently. They do have not the moral courage to say plainly that this order was considered as a mere scrap of paper by the wealthy, property-owning class who in spite of the contrary desire of the Home Government, kept Coloured People in political and social bondage. It fails to say that Remy Ollier struggled to break through the barriers of colonial prejudice and for his pains was made the object of a cowardly attack on his person.
About Remy Ollier, they write: “Son of a French officer but leader of the coloured people”. Does not this sentence make Remy Ollier pass for a white? How can we reconcile this bold assersion with what Remy Ollier writes at different times in his Sentinelle? Whenever the illustrious patriot writes of coloured men, he uses the third person, which shows plainly that he is one of them. He says somewhere: “Nous ne voulons nous blanchir, nous sommes les égaux des blancs par nos droits » and again « Nul ne fera plier notre front brun ». We can bring forward a thousand such phrases from the famous publicist. It is unfortunate that in a book, set as a textbook for children, the evolution of coloured men, the sacrifice and devotion of their leaders, their contribution to the prosperity of the island, should be skipped over.
About Père Laval, the authors have only to say that he worked for the poorer classes. The authors have kept silent on the difficulties he had to face, all due to a section of irresponsible, impious, stonehearted members of the property-owning class. It is a noteworthy fact in our history that all those who have raised their voices for the oppressed, all those who have made theirs the tribulations and sufferings of the weak and humble have had to make headway against those from the property-owning class who have ever raised barricades to progress. Remy Ollier, Reverend Lebrun, Père Laval, John Jeremie and others of lesser fame have been martyrs in the cause of the lower classes in the island. Yet the book fails to pay deserving tribute to them.
The authors show their partiality to the conservative cause when they relate the Jeremie episode occurring a little more than hundred years ago. Their opinions seem to be wholly based on articles appearing in the Cernéen which was staunchly opposed to Jeremie’s principles. When it concerns commenting on the evil side of the lower classes, they are all aglow but they pass over the atrocious deeds of planters with little or no comment at all. The planters did so, the planters thought so, the planters acted likewise, this is the usual refrain. What the authors themselves think about the planters’ atrocious deeds, they have no moral courage to write about.
The authors put the following questions: “Were slaves well or badly treated?” as if there was any doubt as to whether slaves were often monstrously ill-treated? They write further: “The slaves themselves of course left no writings behind them to tell posterity what their opinions were.” We agree with this assertion. But we know that the attitude of the slaves to field work, after abolition, severely condemns the planters as their oppressors. They preferred to starve rather than work in the fields which reminded them too cruelly of their tortures in the days of slavery.
We could mention other glaring instances of the authors’ lack of understanding and sympathy for the toiling masses who have had a considerable share in the development of the island. But let us be satisfied in saying that whenever there is a controversial point at issue, the authors range themselves on the side of the conservatives.
Thousands of parents will feel relieved if that book is banned from our schools.
Friday 7th December, 1956
* Published in print edition on 28 June 2019