A Profile of the Malagasy Indentured Workers and the non-Indian Contract Workers

Another Perspective on Mauritian History

A Profile of the Malagasy Indentured Workers and the non-Indian Contract Workers
in colonial Mauritius during the age of indenture

As the Mauritian nation commemorates the 181st anniversary of the abolition of slavery and as the Nelson Mandela Centre for African Culture celebrates 30 years of its existence on 1st February 2016, it offers us a rare opportunity to reflect on this landmark date which has left an indelible mark on our country’s history. There is a general tendency among Mauritians to think that all slaves came from East and West Africa, Madagascar and Comoro Islands, when in fact thousands of slaves also came from India and a handful from South-East Asia.

Between the late 1720s and 1790s, more than 15,000 Indian slaves were imported mainly from the Bengal and Madras Presidencies, including Pondicherry, Karikal and other French comptoirs. By the end of French rule in 1810, almost ten percent of the slaves in Mauritius came from India or were of Indian descent.

The Experiences of Immigrants Tassy and Mandrandra

In modern world history, Mauritius was one of those important territories in the European colonial plantation world to have imported Africans, Comorians and Malagasies as slaves and indentured workers and Indians as slaves and indentured labourers. Recent research showed that between 1829 and 1870, more than 10,300 non-Indian indentured workers embarked at 37 ports in different regions of the greater Indian Ocean world to come to Mauritian shores (Refer to the Table below).

These facts clearly show that each 1st February and 2nd November, we must remember, as part of our ‘devoir de memoire,’ the toils and sacrifices of the slaves, maroons, indentured immigrants and vagrants. After all, we have a shared history and common heritage and we need to honour the rich, complex, and important legacy that our slave and indentured labourer ancestors have bestowed upon us.

One of the largely neglected research themes in modern Mauritian historiography is the non-Indian indentured workers during the nineteenth century who came to Mauritius to work on the island’s sugar estates and in Port Louis. Between 1839 and 1857, around 3,607 Malagasy indentured workers arrived in Mauritius. They came mainly from eastern, central and north-western Madagascar and included important local tribal nations or groups such as the Antanosy, Antamboly, Merina, Tamboly, Sakalava, and the Betsimisarakas.

During the mid-19th century, the Mauritian and British planters and merchants also imported 206 Comorian workers who came mostly from Anjouan and some from Grande Comore, Mayotte and Moheli. Some of the Malagasy indentured immigrants who came were skilled and semi-skilled workers and this can be seen in the case studies of Immigrant Tsimalay, Ravaton, and Kadehy.

The Experiences of Tsimalay, Ravaton and Kadehy

In October 1850, Tsimalay came to Mauritius as a contractual worker from Taomasina or Tamatave in north-east Madagascar. On 28th October of the same month, Thomy Hugon, the Protector of Immigrants, provided him with an immigrant ticket just like tens of thousands of other Indian indentured workers. Tsimalay came to work on a 3-year contract as a blacksmith for Mr. Loustau, part-owner of Chamouny Sugar Estate in Savanne District. He was born in a village near Tamatave in 1830; he was a Christian and his father was Tsimaika, a dock worker.

On 31st October 1853, he completed his three-year contract and obtained a certificate of discharge from the Stipendiary Magistrate of Savanne with the support of his employer. Lousteau described his former worker as being “intelligent and hard working” and regretted his departure. By December 1853, Tsimalay got on board a ship bound for Tamatave at the age of 23.

There were also some Malagasy indentured workers who adopted Mauritius as their new home, for example Immigrants Ravaton and Kadehy. They were both from the island of Nossi-Be, located a few kilometers off the north-west coast of Madagascar, and they arrived at the Immigration Depot in July 1850. Immigrant Ravaton, son of Takon, was 35 years old when he was registered and worked as a labourer on Grande Rosalie Sugar Estate in Pamplemousses district. After finishing his two-year contract, he went to work as a messenger in Port Louis. He passed away there in March 1859 at the age of 43.

His fellow traveler and friend, Kadehy, son of Marsakay, arrived in Mauritius when he was 22 years old. He was sent to work on a 2-year contract as a labourer at Bagatelle Sugar Estate in Moka district. By 1865, he became a labour overseer on that particular sugar estate and was able to purchase a small plot of land near the village of Moka. In September 1877, Kadehy died at the age of 49 and his property was inherited by his wife, Jeanne Marie Kadehy, and his two sons, Jean and Tiberius Kadehy.

As we commemorate the abolition of slavery, we should have a special thought for Immigrants Tsimalay, Ravaton, Kadehy, Tassy, and the thousands of Malagasy and other non-Indian indentured workers who worked for the development of our country, just like the tens of thousands of Malagasy, East African, and Comorians slaves who preceded them during the 18th and early 19th centuries. After all, most of the non-Indian indentured workers voluntarily crossed the Mare Indicum, as they set foot on Mauritian shores in search of a better life. At the same time, during the early post-emancipation era, they were brought to our small Indian Ocean island in order to supplement and then to replace the slaves and apprentices as the island’s main work force during early period of the Age of Indenture.

Table No.1: The Number of Liberated Africans and Non-Indian Indentured Workers who were registered as Indentured Labourers in Mauritius Between 1829 and 1879

1

Details about the Non-Indian Indentured Labourers and the Liberated Africans

Sinhalese indentured who arrived in the colony on individual contracts between 1837 and 1839

Number of Non-Indian Labourers and Liberated Africans

15

2

Liberated Africans who were landed between 1840 and 1869

*(It is important to note that during the same period, in 1840 around 265 Liberated Africans arrived on the Lily and a total of 2,611 Liberated Africans arrived between 1856 and 1869, however 246 among them died within a week after their arrival and before they were registered as Indentured Workers at the Immigration Depot in Port Louis)

2876*

(2365 Liberated Africans were registered and completed their first indenture contract)

3

Chinese labourers who arrived between 1829 and 1853

3139

4

Johannese and other Comorian Labourers who were landed in 1841

206

5

Yemeni Muslim Labourers from Aden who were landed in 1853 and 1856 which includes 30 Arabs

468

6

Malagasy labourers who were landed between 1839 and 1856

3607

8

Siddhis originally from India of African descent, were Muslims, settled in Aden and arrived in 1856

16

9

Christian Abyssinian/Ethiopian workers who were introduced in 1853 and 1856

13

10

Burmese Buddhist labourers who arrived in 1841

7

11

Muslim workers from the Laccadives Island (located close to the Maldives) in 1857

4

12

Non-Indian workers from East Africa and some from East Africa migrated through India and arrived in Mauritius between 1841 and 1870 & Krumen from the West Coast of Africa in 1841

25

TOTAL

10,376 Workers

Source: Satyendra Peerthum, ‘ “Voices from the Edge”: The Life Histories and Experiences of the Liberated Africans in British Mauritius during the Age of Indenture with Comparative Perspectives – 1808-1943’

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