Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago — 1st YEAR No. 4 — SATURDAY 4th September 1954
A GLIMPSE OF LOCAL HISTORY
(We have the pleasure to note the interest taken by our readers in the first article of this series: SLAVERY IN L’ILE DE FRANCE. It is surprising how few people know the history of Mauritius. We have been requested by our readers to devote some more articles on the early French period. In the present article mention is made of black slaves who fled to the woods and were known as “Marrons”. Curious enough Maroons are not peculiar to Mauritius.
Almost in every country where black slaves were brought to bear the ill-treatment of their white masters many fled to the woods and formed a settlement of their own. In Jamaica descendants of the Maroon tribes are still called Maroons. They have representatives in the Council of Government. A few years ago a British Labour M.P. paid them a visit. Mr Namba Roy, an artist of fame in African art and who owns a studio in London is one of the accredited leaders of the Jamaican Maroon tribe. – ED)
We all know the meaning of the Creole word “marron”, only a few who care to, know its origin. This word is as old as the history of Mauritian Colonization. It was applied to a class of human beings who, as outlaws or banditti, infested our forests. Wild with despair and hunger, they made onslaughts on the settlements of planters and were ever on the watch for travellers.
They were not born such. They were not the natives of our island. They existed only from Dutch times, their number being constantly reinforced later.
Vander Meister, the first Dutch Governor resorted to Madagascar natives to supply labour power. These kidnapped by Pronis, the French Governor of Madagascar, were sent to Mauritius. Accustomed to breathe the air of freedom in their native land, they could not endure being laden with chains. On their landing many of them fled to the woods, forming the nucleus of the maroon tribes who were to harass the White settlers well up to a century.
The harsh treatment meted out to slaves by some Dutch and French masters, drove them to deeds of desperation. Some of them, emboldened by the stings of sufferings, got into small fishing boats, daring to face the angry waves rather than drag on a miserable existence. Baron Grant in his History of Mauritius (published in 1801) writes: “They seemed to have had an instinctive knowledge that the distance of their country was not in proportion to the length of the voyage (to Mauritius) and would direct their hands to the point, where it lay, and exclaimed in their corrupted French: “Ça blanc la li beaucoup malin, li couri beaucoup dans la mer la-haut, mais Magascar li là”. Others sought shelter from the tyranny of their task masters, in the forests, caverns and mountains where they drew a miserable sustenance from the roots of trees, wild plants and the proceeds of the hunt.
The maroons led a corporate life. It is reported that two or three hundred of them might be seen at a time in the neighbourhood of Bel Ombre. They lived under the rule of a chief, disobedience to whom was an offence punishable by death. Some rules to ensure their safety were imposed upon them. They were not to plunder the houses of the neighbourhood or go to the frequented rivers for fish. They had to keep to the deep recesses of the forests, unless they were driven by the pangs of hunger to make dilapidations on the settlements. They killed the children immediately after their birth for fear the cries might lead to discover their retreat.
In the very first decade of their stay in the island, the French found that the fugitive blacks were causing serious damage which threatened the growth of the colony. In a decree of the Provincial Council of the 2nd June 1726 we read the following: “Pour les noirs marrons qui seront tués dans la poursuite et dont les détachements apporteront la main gauche, il leur sera payé la somme de 100 livres”. This reminds us of the time when bringing a mongoose tail to the Police Station meant having a prize. Here it was not the mongoose tail but the human hand which entitled one to the reward. However, maroon hunters met with little success, as they had not to deal with ordinary game.
Labourdonnais found out means to clear the forests of a good number of marauders. He brought from Madagascar blacks whom he armed against the fugitives. The marroon hunt was a favourite sport which achieved a double purpose. It helped to get rid of the scourge which threatened the life and property of the White planters, while it afforded the pleasures of the chase, in which many Mauritian ladies of the time took an active interest.
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UNDER LABOUR GOVT. ALL BRITISH COLONIES WILL BECOME INDEPENDENT ON A FIXED DATE
The Statement of Policy on Colonial Affairs issued by the Labour Party was published last week in London. Labour’s main aim is to enable the Colonies to achieve democratic self government under conditions which ensure for their peoples both a fair standard of living and freedom from oppression from any quarter. Self government of the Colonies should be within the Commonwealth as a free association of people of different races on a footing of complete equality. As regards the British West Indies the Labour Party will promote self government and encourage the creation of a federation of the Caribbean Islands.
Liberal minded public opinion in England is one to praise this statement. The TIMES comments: “It is the shrewdest blow at those colonial politicians who are continually accusing the British of making colonial affairs a parliamentary football at Westminster.”
Mrs Jennie Lee, of the left wing Labour and wife of Rt. Hon. A. Bevan M.P. writes in the Tribune of the 29th of August 1954: “The best item in the policy statement is the proposal that for each colony a date should be fixed on which it would gain its independence. If we really mean that, and don’t hedge the pledge around with too many “escape” clauses, it can be the starting point for a socialist colonial policy that would transform the atmosphere in many parts of the colonial world. Sullen suspicion or open hostility would soon give way to friendship and co-operation.”
For us in Mauritius this news is of great importance especially as the revision of our Constitution is being considered. But unless the Labour Party wins at the forthcoming General Elections which will probably be held early next year, is there any hope for Mauritius to obtain self government?
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CHRONIQUE DU CINÉMA
“Le retour de Don Camilla”
Le retentissant succès que fut Le petit monde de Don Camillo ne devait pas laisser dans son sillage qu’un simple souvenir. Duvivier a eu l’heureuse idée de tourner une suite à ce scénario original, et c’est ainsi que nous aurons l’occasion de voir Le retour de Don Camillo qui déjà connaît la faveur des publics étrangers. Avec Gino Cervi, le maire irascible, et l’inimitable Fernandel, le curé qui ne s’avère jamais battu, il y a tout lieu d’espérer que ce film sera un spectacle de qualité.
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MEET THE CROWD
Saturday 4.9.54 night show at 8.30 p.m.
HAAR JEET — AFREEKA
Sunday 5.9.54 matinée at 1 p.m.
RIMJHIM – AAG KA DARIYA
night show at 7.30 p.m.
RIMJHIM – ARMAN