Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Somduth Bhuckory
We thought that the campaign against Mount Ory was over after what had been said in the press. That is why when Hon. Koenig spoke about it on Tuesday the 16th of April in Council there was such an outburst of surprise everywhere.
So much has been said about the Mount that one has the feeling sometimes that a mountain is being made out of it. But the fundamental fact remains that the French language has it fearless defenders.
Anthony Greenwood, Jules Koenig, Gaëtan Duval and Raymond Devienne at Lancaster House on September 7, 1965
How the defenders take to their task may be quite a different matter. Take Hon. Koenig for example. He bandied quite a few angry words across the floor of the Council. He spoke with such vehemence, in fact, that one would have thought that he was bent on asserting the superiority of his community.
While all this took place, there were undertones of Entente Cordiale. In the fair name of the Entente, Hon. Koenig went so far that he sometimes sounded unreasonable and sometimes at daggers drawn with the communities that have a weakness for English.
One can understand and appreciate the love that Hon. Koenig has for the French language. What is strange in his attitude towards the English language and the intellectuals who favour it.
Hon. Koenig spoke of the Entente Cordiale – the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale of course. He seems to be caring for that Entente and no other. Hence his disdain for the communities which would not qualify for the narrow Entente.
We are all born here and we have to bury our bones here. This blatant fact does not strike Hon. Koenig at all. He is living for cordial Anglo-French relations. Whether he hurts others in trying to please a handful of people, it does not matter to him.
People of Eastern culture have been described recently as having thick skulls which would not allow Western culture to pass through. That was not enough to show their inferiority. Now Hon. Koenig has chosen to treat them as “so-called intellectuals of certain local communities.”
What an untutored lot of savages European colonization has produced in Mauritius!
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While Hon. Koenig tried to foster a narrow Entente Cordiale and to prove how the Mauritian community cannot understand English as a whole, the Labour Party passed the following resolution, among others, at its May day meeting: “This meeting most heartily endorses the principle of the mutual respect and understanding of the language, religion and culture of the various elements which make up our Community.”
Leaving aside the question as to how far the Labour Party will be able to implement that resolution, one cannot deny that it embodies the broad principle on which a true entente will rest.
Our aim today is to lay emphasis on “the mutual respect and understanding” concerning the languages of our various communities.
Two points emerge distinctly from the speech of Hon. Koenig: the English language is not generally understood in Mauritius, and the intellectuals who favour English are half-baked.
After nearly a century and a half of British occupation of this island, that is the position of the English language. One must not be an ardent supporter of any Entente Cordiale to say that the teaching of English in Mauritius deserves careful attention. English is the official language of the colony and yet it is forcefully said that the people cannot understand a communiqué broadcast by the M.B.S. to the effect that water must be boiled before drinking.
Hon. Koenig may have been perfectly entitled to criticize the authorities for giving information in a language which he considered to be Greek to the bulk of the population. BUT – to use the forceful one which Hon. Koenig so often uses – was he entitled to drag in supporters of the English language so mercilessly?
In trying to make his point Hon. Koenig said: “Whatever we may read in certain local papers about certain intellectuals belonging to certain communities who only speak English, not the British born, Sir, I am not alluding to them but certain members of local communities who pretend to speak only English, we all know that the bulk of the population does not understand English.” Hon. Koenig, went on: “It is a great pity – I will not say the Central Administration – certain departments should seem to support the view of these so-called intellectuals of certain local communities in giving these communiqués only in English.”
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In spite of the shortcomings of Hon. Koenig – including his valiant thrust at the so-called intellectuals with whom we may be identified – Hon. Koenig stands as a doughty champion of his language. He would fight for it at any cost. He would even walk into the footsteps of Hon. Bissoondoyal, which lead to the jail of Beau Bassin.
Anybody who feels so strongly for his language must, we believe, understand the feelings of Hindus, Muslims and Chinese concerning their languages. When these people fight for their languages, they only claim to be treated fairly. Let nobody call them communalists!
And this brings us to the teaching of Oriental Languages in our primary schools.
In 1950 a batch of students was trained to teach Oriental languages but it was only in 1954 that most of them were employed.
In the Budget from 1954-55 we find the following:
– For the years 1954-55 & 1955-56 … 70 teachers of Oriental Languages.
– For the years 1956-57 & 1957-58 … 95 teachers of Oriental Languages.
How does this compare with the increase in the general staff?
For the year 1956-57 For the year 1957-58
95 107 Head Teachers
190 226 1st Class Teachers
874 1090 2nd Class Teachers
425 566 3rd Class Teachers
Out of a total of about 100,000 school population, it is estimated that 60,000 children are children whose mother tongues are Oriental languages. At the beginning of this year about 24,000 children were admitted and next year there will be fresh admissions. And yet the number of Oriental Language teachers remains the same.
We are of opinion that Oriental languages are not receiving the consideration they deserve in schools. Now that the Budget is being discussed, we appeal to our M.L.Cs. – including Hon. Koenig – to see to it that the number of Oriental language teachers is increased at least by twenty-five this year.
It is by speaking in one voice on this clear issue that our M.L.Cs. can foster real entente cordiale in this colony – an entente cordiale that will be a prelude to peaceful co-existence.
* Published in print edition on 18 August 2020