The Soul of Dodoland 

By Prof J. Manrakhan 

Que les grand cocotiers demeurent sans un geste

Parmi l’air immobile et que la palmeraie

Ainsi qu’un temple où vit la déesse incréée –

Révèle une présence invisible et sacrée

Robert Edouard Hart (1891 – 1954)

The Dodo is dead, even if science might try to resurrect it, while its soul goes marching on. But what about the soul of Dodoland? Its features and the future? In particular, its alleged Euro-centricity? Let us put politicking and mainstream politics on hold temporarily, and focus on higher things for a while.

Alleluia Alchemy

In alphabetical order, the main features of any soul would include bliss, courage, elevated feelings (akin to ‘religiousness’), enlightenment, love, justice, peace and perseverance, purity, tolerance and truth. Among the powers of the soul would be those of discernment and judgment, accommodation and cooperation, facing one’s responsibilities and duties, of packing-up and withdrawing within oneself. In such broad terms, Dodoland is unlikely to be gauged as ‘exceptional’ compared with the rest of the world – neither low nor high.

A few words would not be amiss on our ‘religiousness’ – noblesse oblige! Put briefly, ‘religion’ means: (i) accepting ‘the idea of God’ along with (ii) a Moral Code e.g. The ‘Ten Commandments’, the ‘Five Pillars of Islam’, the ‘Laws of Manu’ or corresponding Codes of Conduct, linked with Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and other religions. We must recall that Gandhi-the-Mahatma (1869-1948) did say ‘God has no religion’.

Basically we are more religious than, say, Western Europe, which appears to have been unduly affected, or marked, by analytical philosophy, notably in or, through, France, which indeed, with revolutionary zeal, replaced religious studies by ‘Philo’ in its schools – and later, spread that message ‘infectiously’ throughout Western Europe and, thence, through the rest of the world.

Dodoland, however, appears to have unduly shunned ‘Philo’ and kept religion alive and active. Not only does the latter receive Treasury grants, but manages to gather vast enthusiastic crowds – on pilgrimage to ‘Père Laval’ (now beatified) or Grand Bassin; our Churches, Mosques and Temples are generally crowded, with our discreet Pagodas decently attended; our religious festivals remain joyous and are becoming ever more national. There are modernizing trends too, not least in Americanized ‘razzmatazz’ gatherings, now becoming fashionable (yet what ever happened to the ‘Ghoons’ and the ‘dragon-processions’ of yesteryears?)

Euro -eccentricity?

There are claims that our ‘Euro-centricity’ is viscerally, more ‘French-European’ than Asian or African since we speak ‘in Creole patois, with broken English and a French accent – distinctly disadvantageous in penetrating new, more proximate and more promising markets, all because of ‘our entrenched Franco-business elite’.

The Franco elite in question originated somewhere in Northern Europe in rather unfavourable physical and climatic conditions, which provided enough incentives for migration to milder climes.

Some of those Nordics came to Normandy and its environs, and later, were lured to Isle de France with promises of newer, greener pastures and, in short, better prospects. They, in turn, directly or indirectly lured others from Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Yet everyone must have originated from Africa (Great Rift Valley in East Africa or more to the South-West near Namibia, or even elsewhere in the Dark Continent on the “Out – of – Africa Hypothesis”. Thereafter, some presumably stayed, in situ, or more probably, moved around Africa and then went to Asia and, thence, to America and Europe.

Eventually, our ‘Franco business elite’ came in juxtaposition, through slavery, indentured labour, and other migrations, with all the other components of Mauritian society whose descendants, in turn migrated to Britain, France and elsewhere, among European countries and to Australia, Canada, South Africa.

As did the Franco elite, and their descendants too. And so you may have the situation where members of the Mauritian diasporas come across one another as respectable citizens of France, and other countries, holding political views ranging from extreme left to extreme right. Further, Capitalism, while fighting successfully for survival against ‘Communism’, did so by taking over half of the latter’s agenda (and more) leaving the extreme left rather moribund at the present moment. Under these circumstances, any pre-set entrenched arrangement of Mauritian society may not withstand the test of time. Who would have thought that the ‘entrenched’ Marxist régime of Bengal would have collapsed at the last State elections or that Cuba is set to change so much, so fast, even now? Moreover, a look at our history will show that the ‘Franco-business elite’ while adoring things French, were even more attached to their wallets. And in an ever more competitive world, ‘entrenchment’ may soon become ‘faux’, if not ‘passé’ as British and French experience amply demonstrate.

Does anyone really think that Mauritius sells Sugar and Tourism, Offshore Banking and IRS or earns plaudits from the World Bank and the like, in ‘Creole patois, broken English with a French accent? Not unless he (or she) is being unduly provocative!

Kreol, On Godly Service

Our Kreol, originally French-based is fast evolving, with ever more Bhojpuri, Hinglish, other creole-brands (Seychelles, Reunion and some Caribbean) with techno-terms additions. It is an essential cement in our socio-fabric. Our business-elites swear in, and by it – time and again, (as do our politicians most of the time, de rigueur!) but work in English, French or whatever may be required. For the rest, we do have interpreters.  

Further French-bashing in former Isle de France is, in any case, a bad idea. Simply because of inter-island rivalry, which means that Reunion once-occupied by Perfidious Albion and, even worse, returned to France – what an ignominy! And Madagascar is in no position to oblige at present. And Seychelles is happy with both British and France, just like Mauritius. (Psst … we do have a problem with French-speaking sport commentators, especially with le Jeux des Iles de l’Ocean Indien but that is another story. There is more, much more. But we can only cover only a few aspects here and now.

Something Special

Take for example, the Mauritian predilection with science-and-technology. For reader-friendly accounts thereon, refer to the Chamber of Agriculture’s Centenary Book 1853-1953, General Printing and Stationary Co Ltd, PL, 1953). Here and now, we argue that such a feature made our country rank among the earliest users of electricity, cinema and cold storage – all inspired by Major Atchia a self-taught genius, who also designed a concrete circular stairway. Thereby, we had silent films, and, subsequently, black-and-white talking films; coloured ones later; and, thence, French-cinema, attendance at which became an intellectual obligation. Indian films followed. Then came Hollywood in French – still going strong and now awaiting the final release in Mauritius of the last episode of Harry Potter. Meanwhile, we remain, fascinated with Bollywood in print, film, DVD, TV; Bollyhood – Hollyhood – Anyhood interactions in French or English. French in India: not just Pondicherry; try JNU La post-grad : pukka French – ‘Frandi’, shall we call it?

Thereby, we do know the world, well beyond Madagascar (the world’s largest island that is not a continent, rich in natural vegetation and fauna, replete with mineral wealth, and also known to us because of Ratsitatane, a Madagascan Prince and a Mauritian folklore hero) as well as France, the UK, Germany, India, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa, Australia and many other lands. Our relative failures in Association Football, we remedy with deep knowledge of Manchester, Marseilles, Milan and Munich. Cricket we leave to our next door neighbours – Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, South Africa and our partners in sweetness, the Windies. Rugby can be safely delegated to the Sprinboks, the Kangaroos, our South Pacific partners –in-sweetness and their neighbours, the All-Blacks, besides the Argies, and the ‘Six Nations’ in Europe. Enough said? To justify our contention that our Eurocentricity is global in reach, not parochial – anything else would, indeed, be eccentric.

Back to Square One

And indeed beyond this world.

Some more poetry from Robert Edward Hart de Keating, whose melded mysticism from east and west, also revealed his great love for his country.

The opening caption came from his poem Palmeraie, now we quote more lines from his Terre des morts et des vivants.

 Ici je puis encore évoquer mon enfance

 Parmi le paysage ou sommeillent mes morts,

 Et, penché sur le sol, écouter, clairs et forts,

 Les conseils maternels de mon Isle de France.

 Ici je suis moi-même et tel que je me veux:

 Farouche et tendre, libre et doux, triste et joyeux.

Back to the Dodo, then. It achieved immortality, interalia, through an Oxford Mathematician, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Caroll, 1832 – 98). We want to resuscitate it – for our own good. Is that wise? A US humorist thinks otherwise: the Dodo, he has contended, never had any chance, invented solely to become extinct. So if the Dodo is reborn, who will become whose keeper (Old Testament, Genesis, 4:9): the resurected Dodo or the newly elevated Dodoland?  

* Published in print edition on 26 August 2011

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