Any keen eyed traveller would rightaway notice that the many faces of Mauritius evoke visions of Asian, African or European homelands. As late as till 1598, Mauritius had remained uninhabited till the Dutch came, making Mauritians of today descendants of multiple genetic strains that reached the Archipelago – from European planters who came in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries; of Africans brought under slavery from Madagascar, Mozambique and West Africa; to Indians who arrived under indenture between the 1820s and the early 20th century; not to mention Chinese immigrants who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even as this is congruent with the basic published history of the Mauritian population, it will be but obvious to the social scientist that there are a lot more intricacies to it.
Consider the fact that Mauritius was home to an active Indian population well before the indentured labour system kicked in during the late 1820s, as under French and British rule it was a penal destination for prisoners as well. The white Mauritian population oft homogenized as Franco-Mauritian is not so either – archival naturalization records for instance reveal that Austrians, Belgians, Brits and Germans also settled the island. Neither were all immigrants from Africa slaves; the Comorians and Malagasies who arrived during the nineteenth century were in fact enlisted as indentured labour. In short, Mauritius highlights both the forced and the voluntary mobility of the people in and around the Indian Ocean region during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is literally a veritable receptacle of unique geo-histories of migration, settlement and re-settlement that begs to be explored and narrated. And that brings us to this humble bouquet of vignettes we bring you in this issue from Mauritius. Read on !