Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago -1st YEAR NO. 16 – SATURDAY 27th November 1954
GLIMPSES OF MAURITIAN HISTORY
It is generally believed that Indians owe their existence in our island to the abolition of slavery in British colonies in 1834. Though this is true of the majority of Indians it is no less a historical truth that a good number of Indians lived in Mauritius in the French period.
Before taking possession of Ile de France the French held in India important settlements in Pondicherry, Karikal, Mahé, Yanam and Chandranagore. This state of things facilitated the relations of the French with India when they established themselves here.
Labourdonnais facing the difficulty of finding workers for the development of the colony had recourse to blacks who could supply labour-power, but cut a poor figure as skilled workmen.
In the famous exhibition held in Port Louis in 1932 were displayed a bed and a cupboard which belonged to Labourdonnais and were made by Pondicherians who were then in our island. Even today we can find such a bed and cupboard at the Shradhanand Ashram. The workmanship of these relics of a memorable past is so fine as to be considered as works of art rather than articles of daily use.
Among the Pondicherians living in the island in Labourdonnais’ time there was an artisan whose son came to hold so important a position as notary in Port Louis. We speak of the ancestors of Mr Symphorien Lami who visited us a short time ago.
Bernardin de St Pierre who immortalized Mauritius by making of it the stage of his famous novel ‘Paul et Virginie’ had noticed the presence of Indians in the island during his three years’ stay here. A novel is often a reliable source of information for the social history of a country.
Bernardin de St Pierre is of great value as a source book of the mode of life and sceneries of Mauritius in Ile de France of the period of Labourdonnais. ‘Paul et Virginie’ bears a testimony to the presence of the Indians in our Island.
After the wreck of the St Géran the body of Virginie was brought “dans les cabanes des pêcheurs où nous le donnâmes garder à de pauvres femmes malabares qui prirent soin de laver”. The word ‘malabar’ had not yet acquired its note of contempt for Indians and everything Indian.
Further we read: “Les Indiennes de Bengale et de la Côte de Malabare apportèrent des cages pleines d’oiseaux auxquelles ils donnèrent la liberté sur son corps.”
Baron Grant gives a description of the Indians who lived in Ile de France. He writes: “Of the population of this island we must consider the Indians and the negroes as forming a considerable proportion. The first are from the coast of Malabar and are a very mild and gentle people. They come from Pondicherry and let themselves out for a number of years. They are of a deeper colour than the natives of the island of Madagascar who are negroes, have features of Europeans, and their hair is not woolly. They are sober and economical. Their head is dressed with a turban, and they wear long dresses of muslin with large gold-earnings and silver bracelets at their wrists. There are some who enter in the service of the rich, and titled inhabitants as Pions, a kind of domestic who answers to the character of a running foot-man and their peculiar distinction is a cane in hand, and a dagger at their girdle. It were to be wished that there were a greater number of these inhabitants established in this island, particularly of the caste of husband-men. ”
He also writes: “The latter (Indians from Bengal) are generally prepared for home services. They are gentle, of docile character, therefore better qualified for domestic purposes.”
In the publication of the centenary of the Jummah Mosque (1852-1952) we find the picture of the Eastern Suburb Mosque underneath which is written:
“The Eastern Suburb Mosque built on the plot of land conceded by Captain General Decaen in 1803”.
Unfortunately we do not know much of this Muslim immigration during the French period. This much is apparent. There must have been enough Muslims in 1803 and they must have been fairly organised to have felt the need of a Mosque. The artisans who had earlier settled down in Mauritius, had their offsprings whom we see in the time of General Decaen, working in works of fortifications in Port Louis and Mahebourg. Henri Plentort, the most reliable authority on the period of Decaen, writes about these Indian workers: “Chaque atelier était dirigé par un ou plusieurs maîtres libres ou creoles ou malabares. Quelques ateliers tels que ceux des maçons, des rotineurs ou des plombiers étaient uniquement composés d’ouvriers libres avec paie régulière à l’année et acquittés par tous les mois. C’étaient pour la plupart des Malabares attirés de l’inde par l’ancienne Compagnie, et qui, de père en fils se succédèrent dans l’établissement.”
We cannot therefore dismiss the assertion that there were many Indians in Ile de France, as a popular fallacy. That there existed Indians in Mauritius in the French period cannot be doubted. There were special places where they lived, known as Camp Malabar, and Camp Lascar.
It is unfortunate that there are very scantly sources of information about the activities of Indians in Ile de France.
Most of our history books either keep silent on this point or speak superficially.
However from the scanty material available we gather that the Indians have made a fair contribution to the development of this island during the French period.
A Test Case
THE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT
Mr R. Gajadharsingh’s daughter, Miss Gaitree Gajadharsingh, applied to join the Training College in 1952 and followed a short course in 1953. She was released from the Training College in January 1954 and was posted at the Aryan Vedic Aided School, Vacoas, to work with the status of an aided school teacher. She worked under protest for about four months. As she was not sponsored by any of the four educational authorities she refused to work until she was given the status of a government school teacher.
Miss Gajadharsingh’s father had signed a bond to the effect that he would be liable to Government in case her daughter would not teach for a period of three years. Government is now suing the father. The case came before Mr Hughes at the Rose Hill Court last Tuesday the 23rd November. Mr Garrioch, Crown Counsel, who is appearing in the case for the Crown moved for a postponement because Mr A. Glover who is a witness was unable to attend. Mr Ardill too is a witness. Mr Bhuckory who is appearing for the defendant had no objection to the postponement. So, the case has been fixed to Tuesday the 14th of December. Mr Bhuckory has raised two objections in law.
His Grace the Bishop of P. Louis ordered the Catholics to militate against Communist propaganda
In a pastoral letter which was read on Sunday the 21st instant in all Catholic Churches, His Grace the Bishop of Port Louis warned the Catholics of the Island of the communist tyranny, its method of propaganda, infiltration, etc. Monseigneur Liston pointed out to the Catholics that the Church has never condemned the effort of communism to raise the standard of life, its economic planning, etc. but it condemns “la doctrine materialiste qui voudrait tarir la vie spirituelle.” His Grace the Bishop of Port Louis outlined the attitude to be adopted by Catholics towards Communism: “L’attitude à adopter par les Catholiques est donc claire. Ils doivent s’abstenir de tout acte qui puisse, si peu que ce soit, aider le communisme – C’est la partie négative de leur attitude. Mais vu l’opposition inhérente qui existe entre leur Religion et le Communisme, et vu les efforts fait par celui-ci pour extirper totalement cette Religion, la logique et la loyauté leur imposent le devoir de lutter positivement et avec énergie contre la diffusion de cet ennemi. Vous avez donc le devoir, chers frères, de militer contre la propagande communiste et pour cela d’apprendre à la discerner et démasquer…”
Are we to understand that by ordering the Catholics to militate against communist propaganda, His Grace the Bishop of Port Louis wants his people to wage war against communism which might be found inside the Catholic fold or wherever it might be found?
The declaration of His Grace the Bishop of Port Louis that “On a nettement l’impression que le communisme s’organise efficacement dans certains milieux parmi nous, dans d’autres le terrain est lentement préparé” is rather vague and ambiguous. But it leaves one under the impression that the growth of communism among the Catholics is alarming.
Anti-Communism has become the handmaiden of some people of this colony, especially of the anti-labour groups. It is so easy to brand one’s opponent a Communist in order to debase him in public eyes.
There is the danger that the pastoral letter might be exploited by unscrupulous people to political ends.
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A Motion against the Education Dept
Hon. S. Chadien has tabled the following motion in the Legislative Council: “This Council is of opinion that the system of admitting, educating, examining, and promoting children in Government and Aided Schools is unsatisfactory and that it be recast so as to provide efficient and sufficient full time education suitable to the age, ability, and aptitude of every child.”
* Published in print edition on 28 November 2014