West Indies Lesson for Mauritius

Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago – 2nd YEAR NO. 26 – Friday 4th February 1955

London Letter

Another British colony has “gone left”. The Jamaican general election has returned the People’s National Party to power; it is the Jamaican equivalent of the British Labour Party and is affiliated to the Socialist International. Barbados has a Labour government too; and still in the Caribbean area, we had the PPP’s sweeping victory in British Guiana in 1953 and that of the PUP, in British Honduras in 1954.

Why this swing to the left whether moderate or extremist?

The people of the West Indies have been granted universal adult suffrage; so that now, all the population can share in electing their government. They see the Labour parties as the symbol of freedom from the age-old colonial rule, more or less paternal, of the planters. “Plantocracy” is the nickname for the old-style rule, and “plantocracy” is on the way out.

All West Indian popular parties and organisations threaten the old order of the hierarchic plantocracy buttressed by the white Civil Service. Negro and Indian cooperate in threatening the established positions of the Negro middle-class.

And there is a healthy economic background to the upsurgence of the popular forces. The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement has brought prosperity to the West Indies; other agricultural crops are also fetching high prices. Trinidad prospers on account of its oil; Barbados and Jamaica attract tourists. The emphasis is on prosperity; and the effect of the continued prosperity is to make the islanders want a share of that prosperity for themselves. Hence the success of Labour parties whose programme of social welfare and amelioration appeals to a people whose lot has for far too long been cast in the low places.

And the popularly elected government can affect policies and reforms which the Colonial Governments could not. (Compare Gold Coast, where cocoa growers opposed “cutting out” at the behest of the Colonial Government, but submitted willingly to “cutting out” when Nkrumah came to power and ordained it.) In Barbados, for example, which has only recently attained Ministerial government, Mr Adams’ government is actively pursuing a policy of birth control – which HMG never dared do.

The moral is clear. The workers trust the leaders they have helped to elect. And they see too that only inter-racial political co-operation will enable them to achieve power against the plantocracy. The lesson for Mauritius is obvious – workers of whatever race can achieve self-government for the island if they refrain from succumbing to the race-based blandishment of NMU and his like.

* * *

Glimpses of Mauritian History

Early Years of English Government

— D. Napal BA (Hons)

« … de Français qui n’avaient qu’un désir : celui de voir tous les hommes de couleur mis à la pioche. »

— Evenor Hitié

Even to-day Mauritian authors speak with some nostalgic feelings about Ile de France which reminds them of the years of the unbridled domination of the French who were lords of all they surveyed and their rights none could dispute. In fact since 1810 Ile de France is but a historical name. The island was re-christened to its Dutch name of Mauritius after its conquest which the English effected much more easily than they had expected. The task that faced the conquerors was that of introducing the changes that usually follow such an event. Policy dictated to them to make as little change as possible.

The government at first did not want to make changes in the courts of justice and the police for « ces juridictions n’avaient pour chefs que des Français imbus de tous les préjugés qui les rendaient aveugles sur le droit, la justice, la liberté et l’honnêteté ».

On the 28th December 1810, Farquhar (the first English Governor) issued a proclamation which ordained that every planter should take the oath of allegiance within 20 days on pain of being compelled to leave the island. Some planters felt that according to the act of capitulation they were not compelled to do so; others thought that in complying with the proclamation they would cease to be Frenchmen. This would be to them a sad blow as they had not yet entirely given up Ile de France for lost.

Napoleon was still in power and many people believed that he would not let the island go without lifting a finger. In those days when foreign news took months to reach the island, they continued being lulled by these false hopes long after Napoleon had become the pathetic exile of St Helena. The coming into power of the English roused different feelings in the different classes of people who inhabited the island. The privileged classes, although guaranteed by the act of capitulation, the preservation of the laws then in vigour and their religion, and customs could not easily hide their dismay at the presence of the English. The middle classes including the coloured population were indifferent to the conquest or rather welcomed it because they would no more have to live through tense moments. They cared more for peace and prosperity than for the French or the English flag.

The class which bore the chains of grinding tyranny had no cause to lament the end of French rule. The slaves who were very often bled white exulted at the arrival of the English who they believed would break their fetters. Many of them ran away from their masters in the hope of being employed by the new comers. We have at the Archives a letter dated 5th December 1810 in which the inhabitants of Pamplemousses complain that “leurs terres et les autres travaux souffrent de la disparition d’une majeure partie de leurs noirs, qui se sont retirés dans le camp pour servir la troupe persuadés, disent-ils, que la prise du Port-Louis et du changement du gouvernement il doit en résulter leur liberté ».

Upon the question of the slave trade Farquhar held no doubts. Since 1806, the slave trade was abolished in all English colonies. A proclamation on the 14th January 1803 made the “traité” illegal in Mauritius. Those who would be caught taking part in this vile commerce were to be deported for a period not exceeding 14 years or to be imprisoned to three or four years hard labour. Many of the planters were not prepared to submit to this law. They continued introducing blacks into the island.

Albert Pitot’s readers know how they effected their purposes. “Les négriers abordaient la nuit dans les endroits écartés; leur présence était déjà connu des intéressés qui les attendaient sur le rivage, ou avait pour correspondre tout un code de signaux exécuté au moyen d’un simple fanal. Le débarquement s’opérait ; on avait eu la précaution d’adopter des ballots de vieux vêtements d’esclaves dont on revêtait les noirs nouveaux à peine ils étaient descendus… Quand les noirs n’avaient pas été acheté avant leur débarquement, ou n’étaient pas destiné à une habitation particulière, on s’arrêtait au milieu des forêts, on y campait tant bien que mal et les clients venaient y faire leur choix. »

One proclamation which honours the early years of English Government and especially the memory of governor Farquhar dealt with the maroon hunt. We have already said in a previous article that a person who brought the hand of a maroon was amply rewarded. Farquhar abolished this barbarous custom, while in the interest of public security he increased the reward for the capture of a live maroon.


* Published in print edition on 20 February  2015

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