Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By D. Napal
Lorsque le Cernéen nous mettra sous les yeux une longue liste de fautes qui ont amené nos malheurs, nous n’oublierons jamais d’ajouter à son catalogue le nom de l’ennemi qui nous a fait le plus de mal… le Cernéen lui-même — Remy Ollier.
What is there in Remy Ollier that, though dead for more than a hundred years ago, he is more alive today than when he was in flesh and blood. It is a name which conjures up vivid pictures — eternal youth and vigour denouncing century-old prejudices and cankerous sores in the society of his day, the journalist bringing to the bar of public opinion the misdeeds of the local government, the patriot demanding autonomy for his country but above all the prophet pointing the way to the coloured men, the hero falling in the thick of the battle.
Remy Ollier the prophet, the patriot, the martyr — he is in all these and more to us. His model life, his heroic actions, his philosophic thoughts are the glory of Mauritian History.
Let us, however, in this article confine ourselves to his relations with the Cernéen When the publicist stepped into the arena of journalism, the Cernéen could count among the laurels which it had won, two big events for which the coterie of the day glorified it — it had by its attacks forced the Balance, the first newspaper of the coloured people, to cease to appear; it had excited white hooligans to destroy the printing materials of that paper; it had forced the government of the weak and hesitating Sir Charles Colville to bring about the recall of the Procureur General, John Jeremie, who had come with noble ideas to clean the Augean stables of the local courts.
Under cover of such high sounding words as liberty, impartiality and justice, the Cernéen with its usual narrow-mindedness and bigotry had foremost in mind the interests of the coterie, of the handful of whites to whom their interests alone mattered. Even after Remy Ollier had launched the Sentinelle, the Cernéen went on croaking in the same usual way. But there it had to deal with one whose head could grow bloody but would not bend.
Remy Ollier often engaged himself in polemics with the Cernéen which stood for the big planters, for the “Haut Commerce”, whilst he stood for the weak, the humble, the oppressed. The Cernéen lamented the departure of a member of Council Evenor Dupont and exhorted the government to name in his place one who could have the same civic virtues. Remy Ollier chose the opportunity to denounce the government policy which ignored the rights of 70,000 coloured men who had not a single representative in the Council. He wrote:
“Quand à nous, nous n’avons pas à nous louer de vertus civiques de Me Dupont, et si nous nous taisons sur son compte, c’est que le silence des mers a succédé au bruit qu’il faisait. Nous recommanderons au gouvernement comme membre inofficiel un homme de couleur, l’homme de couleur n’a pas été représenté jusqu’ici par un des siens, et c’est une chose inouïe dans une population qui compte à elle seule plus de deux tiers de la population de Maurice, et qui, nous ne craindrons pas de le dire, n’a eu jusqu’ici aucune relation intime avec ceux qui prétendent représenter la Colonie.”
What is interesting to note is that what we feel towards the Cernéen today Remy Ollier felt it before us. Does not the Cernéen court the Canaille when it needs it, for example on the eve of elections; but once that need passed, does it not start again its mud throwing. Let us see what Remy Ollier has to say in this matter:
“Et ce ‘Cernéen’ qui nous appela frères en 1832, l’écume est la loi de la société en 1835, qui aujourd’hui semble ignorer notre existence même, ou ne s’en souvienne que pour insulter à nos malheurs ou se réjouir de nos déceptions, nierait-il que nous avons des hommes qui figureraient partout avec distinction?”
Does not the Cernéen, today, deny to people of the lower classes their rights as human beings? There is nothing in this. It is in its nature to do so, since its birth it has been proclaiming the same silly theories. How much does the following seem to be N.M.U’s own invention “La patrie, la famille, les amis, ce sont pour eux des mats dont ils (the masses) ne comprennent ni la portée ni le sens.” This was published not by N.M.U. but in the Cernéen more than a hundred years ago.
It was the Cernéen which had led the campaign against John Jeremie, a campaign of hatred which roused the White, and those among the Coloured who were their henchmen. Remy Ollier spoke of Jeremie as “cette grande victime de la coterie de Maurice”. He hoped that in similar circumstances the local government would offer more guarantees to a man sent here and that he would not be treated as Jeremie.
It is wonderful how little the Cernéen has changed since its foundation more than a century ago. It stands today for the same bigotry, the same prejudices which were at the base of its policy during the era which immediately followed its foundation in 1832. Today it is Hindu hegemony, then it was the Coloured hegemony; today it is Hurd then it was Jeremie. But the fight has been on the same front for all these days — on one side colour prejudices, the safeguard of privileges and monopoly and on the other surging masses claiming the right to live decently and to break the fetters of moral, economic and political slavery.
On this anniversary of the great patriot let us again go to his writings and deeds to draw inspiration to keep burning the torch of liberty which he has handed down to us.
Friday 12th October 1956
* Published in print edition on 8 February 2019