Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Doojendranath Napal
One year more has rolled on since we wrote on Remy Ollier. We are in October, the month associated in our annals with the birthday of the relentless fighter for the oppressed, the champion of coloured men.
There is no Mauritian problem on which Remy Ollier has not written with the fiery touch common to his nature. It is in reading and re-reading the Sentinelle that we come to realise that Remy Ollier was not only a publicist, a patriot, one whose heart bled at the sight of his suffering brethren but above all a prophet.
Did he not believe in the glory which the future reserved for coloured men? He reminded his scoffers and detractors that they might laugh their fill at his efforts but that the day would come when from the ranks of those whom they despised would rise people before whom their children would have to bend their heads in shame.
Let us, within the compass of this article, confine ourselves to Remy Ollier’s opinions on two problems – the language problem and the Franco-Mauritian’s loyalty to Britain.
Remy Ollier wrote on the 18th July 1844:
“La langue anglaise est encore pour nos enfants une langue étrangère, car nous ne la parlons pas dans nos familles : c’est cependant celle qui doit dominer un jour à Maurice, qui est colonie anglaise et dont toutes les espérances se reportent vers l’Angleterre. Aucun moyen ne doit donc être négligé pour accorder, chez nous, à la langue anglaise l’importance qu’elle doit y avoir. Tout subordonner à l’anglais est, suivant nous, le seul moyen de résoudre ce problème.”
What a prophecy in these words!
Exactly the same thoughts were expressed by the Royal Commission of 1872 and 1909 and in the Ward Report.
Remy Ollier found that the press was hostile towards the English. He wrote on the 16th December 1844:
“Les différents organes de la coterie mauricienne déploient de jour en jour le caractère anti-anglais, anti-colonial que nous leur avons connu dans le principe : c’est l’empire français dans le gouvernement anglais qu’ils veulent perpétuer à jamais. De l’inconfiance que nous témoigne notre métropole et qui est, suivant les esprits les plus judicieux et les plus impartiaux, le prix de la désaffection que nous supposent pour notre nouvelle mère-patrie ceux qui méditent les publications de notre Ile.”
Again, and again these thoughts recur in the Sentinelle. Remy Ollier believed that if only the Franco-Mauritian and their hirelings would ceased to attack England and consider themselves as British subject and not as “peuple conquis”, Mauritius would have much to gain from British institutions implanted in the Island. He deplored the fact that the colonists criticised every English institution without considering the good effects for which they were destined. He often referred to the unjust and mean attacks levelled against Jeremie.
A military parade had been held at the Champ de Mars on the 3rd December 1844. On the 6th December of the same year Le Mauricien wrote a virulent article against the government, asking ironically if the 12th regiment would not have done better to exchange “quelques coups de fusil avec les chasseurs ou de marcher en bon ordre sous un soleil de décembre depuis le Mapou jusqu’aux retranchements.”
The Cernéen writing on the same subject said that the government had the right to celebrate the anniversary of the conquest but it was impolitie to do so as it evoked old “souvenirs” and wounded the feelings of the colonists.
Remy Ollier wrote vehemently against both papers reminding them that it was such actions of theirs that alienated the English and made the British government suspicious of the loyalty of the colonists. We ask to ourselves, if Remy Ollier had lived, how indignant he would have been of Dr Cure and that clique which so fanatically demanded that retrocession of Mauritius to France.
But the lessons taught by Remy Ollier were lost on needless ears. What is strange is that with dogged perseverance many people in our island are still impelled by the same reactionary motives which the great patriot so often condemned.
Friday 4th October 1957
4th Year – No 165
* Published in print edition on 15 June 2021
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