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Mauritius - Government

While Arab and Malay sailors knew of Mauritius as early as the 10th century AD and Portuguese sailors first visited in the 16th century, the island remained uninhabited until colonized in 1638 by the Dutch. Mauritius was "discovered" and named Cerne by the Portuguese pilot Diego Fernandez Pereira on February 7, 1507. There were no inhabitants, nor traces of any, but the Portuguese retained a nominal possession until 1598, when a Dutch squadron took formal possession and called it Mauritius, in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau, still leaving it uninhabited until 1638, when they made three settlements and built a fort at Grand Port to assist in the suppression of piracy.

Mauritius was populated over the next few centuries by waves of traders, planters and their slaves, indentured laborers, merchants, and artisans. The island was named in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau by the Dutch, who abandoned the colony in 1710, finding it unprofitable and troublesome.

The French claimed Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Ile de France; four years later it was ceded to the French East India Co., who, in 1734, sent out the celebrated Mahe de la Bourdonnais, a man of eminent talent. He introduced the cultivation of the sugar cane and cassava, the manufacture of cotton and indigo, made roads, and established a capital at Port Louis.. It became a prosperous colony under the French East India Company. In 1764 the island reverted to the Crown of France, and received its first charter as a Crown colony in 1766. The French Government took control in 1767, and the island served as a naval and privateer base during the Napoleonic wars. It became a Self-governing colony in 1790, but reverted to the Crown once more in 1802, and in 1810, during the general European war, it became a base for privateering operations, inflicting great damage on British trade. This resulted in an expedition for its capture, which proved successful, and the island surrendered on December 10, 1810. The ancient name, Mauritius, was restored and British sovereignty confirmed by the treaty of Paris in 1814, the inhabitants being allowed as far as possible to retain their laws, religion, and institutions. French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained. The French language is still used more widely than English.

Port Louis remained the capital of the Crown colony, but the Government was more representative than is generally understood by that term. The existing laws were based on the Code Napoleon, with such modifications as had been found necessary, and were administered by a governor, who had the power of sending aliens off the island without assigning any reason; an executive council of 7 members, 5 oflicial and 2 elected; and a legislative council of 27 members, of whom 8 were ex ofiicio, 9 were nominated by the governor, and 10 by the 9 districts, of which that of St. Louis returns 2, the others 1 each.

The nine districts into which the island was divided were: Port Louis, Pamplemousses, Riviera du Rempart, Flacq, Grand Port, Savane, Moka, Plaine, Wilhems, and Black River. The only elective municipality in the island was that of Port Louis. Government support was given equally to the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, but of the Christian inhabitants by far the larger portion were Roman Catholics.

he Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site, remains of an Immigration Depot built in 1849, is located in Port-Louis, the capital of Mauritius, where the modern indentured labour diaspora began. The first site chosen by the British Government in 1834 for the great experiment in the use of indentured rather than slave Labour, is strongly associated with memories of almost half a million indentured laborers moving from India to Mauritius to work on sugarcane plantations or to be trans-shipped to other parts of the World.

The population of Mauritius and the adjacent islands, exclusive of the dependencies, of the military in barracks, and of foreign shipping, numbered 368,791, of whom 194,095 were males and 174,696 females, by a census taken on March 31, 1911. About two-thirds of the population were Indians, most of whom were coolies or the descendants of coolies imported to work the sugar estates; these people are very industrious and were slowly but surely acquiring a large amount of property, both in town and country; the value of which registered between 1864 and 1900 amounted to no less a sum than Rs. 2,42,98,000, and in 1908 they had also Rs. 27,54,763 in the savings banks.

The remainder of the population were mainly of French or of mixed descent and are chiefly French in habits and customs. English was the language used in the courts of law, French for trade and general purposes by the educated classes, and a creole patois, based on French, was spoken by the lower orders.

In 1767 the total population was only 19,000. In 1871 the number was 316,042, in 1881 it was 359,850, and in 1901, 371,023; thus showing a gradual progression, the births exceeding in number the deaths, and immigration still being in progress, especially among the Asiatics. In 1834 coolies were first imported from India; after 1900 they formed a large and important majority. Port Louis contained about one-sixth of the entire population. The proportion of males to females in the entire population was about 1,133 to 1,000; but among the Indians it was 1,200 to 1,000. The Royal College and all schools were either entirely or partially supported by the State; of the pupils, about 65 percent were Roman Catholic, 3 percent Anglicans, 23 percent Hindus, and 9 percent Mohammedan. The continuance of the plague greatly interfered with education.

Of the colony generally it may be stated that it imported nearly everything required for its own use, and exported almost its whole produce. The principal articles imported were corn, grain, and meal; manures and fertilizers; bullion and specie; coal; provisions and preserves; miscellaneous articles; hardware and cutlery; oil; cotton manufactures. In the same year the principal articles of export were sugar, rum, molasses, coconut oil, and fiber aloe. The long continuance of bubonic plague in Mauritius, with the consequent quarantine established against it by its neighbors, tended greatly to check the operations of trade. In 1913 the value of imports amounted to Rs. 35,864,703 and the exports Rs. 32,291,706. The total number of vessels that entered and cleared in 1913 was 197.

Mauritius was in direct telegraphic communication with the general system of the world by means of the cable through Seychelles to Zanzibar and direct to Durban, also with Rodriguez, and through it and Cocos or Keeling Island with Fremantle in Western Australia, and with Reunion and Tamatave. The telegraph office at Port Louis is open until midnight.

There was a yearly contract with the British India Navigation Co. for a four-weekly mail service between Colombo and Mauritius. Besides the British India steamers, the mails to and from Europe were conveyed by other British and French steamers. The Messageries Maritimes Co. perform a bimonthly voyage from Marseille to Mauritius and vice versa, calling at Aden, Zanzibar, Seychelles, Madagascar, and Reunion. The mails for and from African ports were conveyed by the Union Castle steamers. There was also frequent communication by steam and sailing vessels with India, Australia, Madagascar, Reunion, etc.

Mauritian Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves who were brought to work the sugar fields. Indo-Mauritians are descended from Indian immigrants who arrived in the 19th century to work as indentured laborers after slavery was abolished in 1835. Included in the Indo-Mauritian community are Muslims (about 17% of the population) from the Indian subcontinent.

Franco-Mauritians still control most of the large sugar estates and are active in business and banking. As the Indian population became numerically dominant and the voting franchise was extended, political power shifted from the Franco-Mauritians and their Creole allies to the Indo-Mauritian Hindus.

Elections in 1947 for the newly created Legislative Assembly marked Mauritius' first steps toward self-rule. An independence campaign gained momentum after 1961, when the British agreed to permit additional self-government and eventual independence. A coalition composed of the Mauritian Labor Party (MLP), the Muslim Committee of Action (CAM), and the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB)--a traditionalist Hindu party--won a majority in the 1967 Legislative Assembly election, despite opposition from Franco-Mauritian and Creole supporters of Gaetan Duval's Mauritian Social Democratic Party (PMSD). The contest was interpreted locally as a referendum on independence. Following a period of communal strife, brought under control with assistance from British troops, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, MLP leader and chief minister in the colonial government, became the first prime minister at independence, on March 12, 1968.

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Page last modified: 09-08-2017 14:03:09 ZULU