This is the only country in the world where the stranger is not asked “How do you like this place?” This is indeed a large distinction. Here the citizen does the talking about the country himself; the stranger is not asked to help. You get all sorts of information. From one citizen you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius. Another one tells you that this is an exaggeration; that the two chief villages, Port Louis and Curepipe, fall short of heavenly perfection…(Mark Twain).
Mauritius is a beautiful country. I first visited Mauritius in December 2013 on my honeymoon trip with Oli. On our first morning we woke early and wandered down dirt paths to a quiet beach adjacent to a luxury hotel (there are so many hotels vying for beachfront real estate that they are almost inescapable!). It had rained overnight and the air was thick and heavy with moisture, but the sun had come out and everything was rich in color, glistening and bright. I remember the peacefulness, the quiet, the calm. I also felt this strong sense of familiarity, like I’d been there before, which I chalked up to the fact that Mauritius is in many ways very similar to the island nation of Fiji, which I had visited on numerous occasions.
I’m in an enviable position. Being a foreigner, I get to experience Mauritius as an outsider, a tourist, a guest. But, as wife to a Mauritian, I also get to see a side of the island generally reserved for locals, expats, or the intrepid travel. That is, what is on the island beyond the luxury hotels and vacation packages. On our most recent visit to Mauritius, in August of 2017, we spent much of our time exploring the bustling cities of Port Luis (the capital) and Quatre Bornes, visiting with family and friends, and hanging out at local joints. Quatre Bornes, my husband’s hometown, struck me as old, crumbling, and gritty. It is also, like the rest of Mauritius, incredibly diverse.
Went ashore in the forenoon at Port Louis, a little town, but with the largest variety of nationalities and complexions we have encountered yet. French, English, Chinese, Arabs, Africans with wool, blacks with straight hair, East Indians, half-whites, quadroons—and great varieties in costumes and colors (Mark Twain).
Mauritius is a melting pot of different peoples, cultures, religions, and languages. Even as far back as 1896, when Twain landed in Port Louis, he was struck then by its great variety of peoples, colors and costumes. Interestingly, the landmass now known as Mauritius does not have an indigenous peoples in the same way that New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the Americas do. According to known history, when the Arabs discovered Mauritius sometime during the end of the 14th century or beginning of the 15th century, the island was uninhabited. The Arabs didn’t stay, and neither did the Portuguese who came after. But a wave of colonizers followed: the Dutch, the French, and the British have all left their indelible marks on the island—from its flora and fauna, to its political systems, architecture, languages, and food.
The Dutch were the first to establish a permanent settlement in Mauritius in 1638, and they brought in Malagasy slaves to bolster the export of ebony wood. Later, the French also imported slaves, from Africa and Madagascar, to work in the sugarcane fields. And, following the abolition of slavery in 1835, the British (then in power) brought in indentured laborers primarily from India, but also from China, Malaysia, Africa, and Madagascar. Mauritian Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves (a mix of African, British, Chinese, French, and Indian ancestry), and Indo-Mauritians, who comprise the majority of the population, to the indentured laborers from India. Franco-Mauritians, Mauritians of primarily French origin, today make up only 2% of the population but control many of the largest businesses in the country. Despite the obvious disparities in power and wealth along ethnic lines that remain to this day, the various population groups in Mauritius live relatively harmoniously. Oli likes to boast that only in Mauritius would you find a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a hindu temple all happily inhabiting the same street.