A couple years ago when I started this blog, I joked with my kids about country names that sounded like their names. My son Jabari’s name sounded kind of like the country of Djibouti, and my daughter Marisa’s name sounded a little bit like the island country of Mauritius. And now, we’ve finally come to her “name country.” They were kind of disappointed that I didn’t really have a name country, except if you extended it to cities, I suppose my name city could be Bethlehem, perhaps.
The Dutch originally named the island Mauritius, after Maurice of Nassau, the Stadtholder of Holland (sort of like a hereditary head of state in the Netherlands during the 16-18th centuries) and Prince of Orange. In fact, the French word for the country today is Maurice, although when the French took it over, they called it Isle de France. When the British took over, they renamed the country Mauritius; it’s known as Moris in Mauritian Creole.
The islands of Mauritius are located in the Indian Ocean off of the eastern coast of Madagascar. It’s part of a group of islands called the Mascarene Islands, which includes Mauritius and Réunion (a region of France). The main island of Mauritius is where the capital Port Louis is located. But there are many other islands that are part of this nation, including a few disputed islands. The Chagos Archipelago used to be part of the Mauritius Islands under France, but when the British took over, they split it off from the country to form the British Indian Ocean Territory, along with a few islands from Seychelles. The Seychellois Islands have since returned, but the Chagos Archipelago remains. The British removed the people from the islands and leased out part of it to the US to form Diego Garcia Military Base (which, by the way, their 50-year contract ends this year). Where did all these Chagoans go? Mauritius, of course. There’s also a dispute with France over the island of Tromelin, north of Réunion.
Mauritius has a tropical climate and is known for its clean air. They have warm, humid summers with cooler, drier winters. The islands also suffer cyclones that destroy their crops and land and bring a lot of rain. Although it’s a little cooler in the mountains, their tropical climate gives the islands a fairly large biodiversity, despite its small size.
The islands were most likely first visited by the Arabs, but also possibly by the Greeks or Phoenicians. The Portuguese were the next to arrive, but they didn’t stay long. Then the Dutch arrived, giving the islands its name. They introduced some animals and sugar cane, while using up much of its ebony trees. It was from these islands that the famous explorer Abel Tasman set sail from before “finding” Australia (and the namesake of the island of Tasmania). They ended up abandoning the islands in 1710, and five years later, France, who was already controlling neighboring Réunion, took control of the islands, renaming them Isle de France. The French established a naval port at Port Louis and built a number of buildings that are still standing today. They were also responsible for bringing in slaves from Madagascar and other areas of Africa to work the plantations. The port served as a strategic location for the French navy during the Napoleonic Wars in regards to raiding British commercial ships, even though they couldn’t stop the British in the end. And the British then took over, renaming it Mauritius again. Not long after the British moved in, there were some uprisings, leading to the abolition of slavery in 1835. This had a direct impact on their agricultural economy, which caused the planters, who had already been compensated for their slaves, to bring in indentured servants from India to work their fields. The British also brought over 8700 Indian soldiers to the island as well. There was also little opportunity for Mauritians, Indo-Mauritians, and mixed race people to advance and/or take active roles in politics. Men like Rémy Ollier, Adolph von Plevitz, and even Mahatma Ghandi demanded the government for better treatment of the people. After WWII, they held their first elections, and in 1968, they were finally granted their independence from the UK. Much of the 1970s and 1980s brought periods of civil unrest as the government began figuring out where it was going to stand on issues and how it was going to be set up. In 1992, it was finally declared as a republic. Of course, there would be more civil unrest, but they would also be represented well by Bruno Julie for winning the country’s first Olympic medal and by Jean-Marie Gustave le Clézio for receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Port Louis is the largest city in this island nation with about 148,000 people. The capital city is located on the northwest coast of the main island of Mauritius. Historically, it served as a major port (and the largest port in the Indian Ocean region) and has seen considerable growth since the 1990s as a tourist destination. The city also serves as a financial hub and one of the largest financial districts in Africa. Port Louis has many secondary schools and a few universities. The city is also known for its European-style buildings still in use today, its highly developed Caudan Waterfront area as well as its own Chinatown. Of course, it’s not without its theatres, cinemas, museums, and sports arenas.
|The Mauritius Commercial Bank building. Very cool.|
In regards to economic competitiveness, Mauritius ranks fairly high. It also ranks high in the Ease of Doing Business, ranking first among African countries (for the fifth year in a row according to a 2013 report by World Bank). Lacking in natural resources, they depend on imported petroleum but also the use of wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. Much of their economic drivers include textiles, sugar, fishing, tourism, and financial services.
Mauritius is the only African country to list Hindu as a majority religion (with a little less than half the population). Christianity comes in next with about a third of the population; Islam makes up about 18%. There is a very small Buddhist following and a small number of non-religious people as well. Technically, Maritius is a secular country but offers the freedom of religious practice as a constitutional right.
Like the United States, there is no official language in Mauritius. However, for practical purposes, it is both an English-speaking and French-speaking nation and both are generally used as the language of government, education, and commerce. Most Mauritians speak a certain amount of both languages, along with the vernacular Mauritian Creole, which is based on French but with significant borrowings from other languages including English and various African and Asian languages. Other islands have their own Creoles but are similar to Mauritian Creole. A number of other languages are spoken in the islands including Arabic, Chinese, Bhojpuri, Hindi, and several other Indian languages.
Mauritius also stands famous for one thing I didn’t know: it was the only home of the extinct dodo bird. After centuries of not having any true natural predators, it eventually lost its ability to fly. So when Portuguese and Arab sailors stopped by the islands, they thought it was a great bird to serve for dinner. And then the Dutch came. When they introduced animals to the island, these animals thought dodo eggs were tasty, and the Dutch killed off the rest of the birds for themselves. The last dodo was killed in 1681. Way to go, Dutch. Thanks a lot. But I found some much better dishes to make.
BY THE WAY -- this is my 500th blog post for Worldly Rise, so thanks for reading!
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