Category Archives: History

Indentured labour – 173 years ago

 This day marks the arrival of indentured labourers in Mauritius. After the abolition of slavery the British turned to India to recruit labour for the sugar cane field plantations in Mauritius. The first batch arrived on 2 November 1834 from Calcutta. The place where they landed and stayed near the harbour is known as the Aapravasi Ghat which has been subscribed to the World heritage. Ceremonies with cultural shows are held at that place in remembrance of those who marked the history of this country at the sweat of their hard labour.

But labour was recruited also from other parts of the region, namely China, Madagascar, Mozambique, the Comoro Islands, South-East Asia, Reunion Island and Aden (now known as Yemen). The chinese came between 1837 and 1843, while those from Malagasy Republic came between 1839 and 1857. Others who came were non-indentured.

Father Laval’s Day

On 9 September 1864 the world lost a great man. Not a statesman. Not a politician. But man of God. An “apostle of every rank and class”. This is how he is remembered.

French-born he lived a pious life in our small island, as a devoted missionary curing the sick, lifting the spirit and morals of the poor and the despised, until his death. But it is said servants of God never die.

When he was ordained priest in 1838 he said having a strong desire “to be the servant of Jesus Christ amongst despised people”. He did it, with fervor, devotion and love. He is renowned for having cured people of leprosy. This miracle made of him a figure of reverence. That man was Father Jacques Désiré Laval (Père Laval as he is more commonly known).

The shrine of Père Laval is a centre of spiritual attraction every year during this time in Mauritius. Thousands of people of all faiths, Christians in particular, flock in pilgrimage to Ste Croix in the northern suburb of Port Louis. The march starts on the night of 7 through the 8th when old and young absorbed in prayer with candles in their hands proceed to the beatified Father’s tomb for a tribute to the one who devoted his life to the cause of the deprived.

Born on 18 September 1803 in France, Father Laval came to Mauritius in 1841 to further the moral and spiritual uplift of the emancipated slaves. Before he set himself to priesthood he studied at the Faculty of medicine in Paris and became doctor in 1830. He served the poor in Normandy for five years when geminated in his mind the seed of priesthood.

Father Laval was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 29 April 1979 in Rome.

9 September is a moment of intense prayer and remembrance for those who celebrate Father Laval’s day every year.

Independent Mauritius: A brief historical perspective

Many people, including my own countrymen, may not be aware. 22 August is an important date in the history of Mauritius. Most of us have in mind only12 March, our Republic Day.

It was on this day in 1967, following the victory of his party that late Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (then Prime Minister) came up with a motion in the then Legislative Assembly. It was to seek independence from British rule. The motion was carried.

But our little island became officially independent only on 12 March 1968. If I’m not mistaken this event could not be programmed earlier due to social unrest during the last quarter of 1967.

The initial isolated conflicts between small ethnic groups of creole and muslim in the suburbs of Port Louis were quickly getting scattered. So much that British troops had to intervene to bring them to a halt. With the arrival of the Knight Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI), a state of emergency was rigorously enforced and it wasn’t long before the situation became under control again.

Well, I’m sure there should be other reasons known to the Premier himself and his government at that time. Because choice of dates is certainly not a matter of tossing coins, especially when it comes to national events.

It might be worth recalling too that Sir Seewoosagur at the head of the MLP (Mauritius Labour Party) led an alliance with the CAM (Comité d’Action Musulman) under the leadership of late Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed. His main opponent was late Sir Gaetan Duval, leader of the PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate), who was against the idea of independence and was seeking rather to maintain association with Great Britain.

Not so long after the proclamation of independence, in a gesture of reconciliation and unity, both groups joined hands together to form a coalition government; and Sir Gaetan Duval became the number two in the new government. With a “one-party” government there was a vacuum which led to the birth of the “Club des Etudiants Militants”, at first a pressure group with a leftist tendency, which later became the MMM (Mouvement Militant Mauricien). A new political party was thus born in 1970 under the leadership of Mr. Paul Bérenger who advocated a socialist approach that revolutionized politics in Mauritius with the emergence of a new breed of politicians.

Well, there are so many events in the history of this small island in the vast Indian Ocean that 22 August inevitably goes unsung.

Who remembers this day in 1945?

I wasn’t born yet. The story, a real one, was related to me at school. Else I only read about it. It’s exactly 62 years today. It was the first time a nuclear weapon was used in warfare; the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. It contained uranium. This followed a successful test of one bomb, using plutonium, carried out on July 16, 1945, at a site 193 km (120 miles) south of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The explosion was such that it devastated instantly and completely 10 square kilometers of the city centre of Japan where more than 340 000 people lived. It killed more than 60 000 people and injured another 60 000 plus.

Three days later another atomic bomb, this one of plutonium type, was dropped on Nagasaki where nearly 40 000 people were killed and some 25 000 injured.

It was Harry S Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb shortly after he was sworn in as President of the United States and after he received a report from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson.

The explosion of an atom bomb results in the splitting of nuclei of uranium or plutonium. Great amount of thermal energy, as well as gamma rays, causing serious damage to living cells, are released.

A very sad anniversary indeed in the history of mankind. Unfortunately.

Small Steps… Giant Leaps…

20 July is a day of remembrance. For various reasons. But I’ll single out two. Both are linked with what may be referred to as “small steps” that led to “giant leaps” in the history of mankind.

The first reason has to do with a child that was born on this day in 1919 in Auckland, New Zealand. That child later became a world famous figure. Named Edmund Percival Hillary he later became Sir Edmund Hillary. Nobody knew at that time that one day he would become an icon in the history of mountaineering. Several attempts were made in the 1950’s to attain the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world (29,035 feet; 8,850 metres high). But Edmund Hillary became the first man, accompanied by the Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay, also called Norkey or Norkay, original name Namgyal Wangdi, to reach the culminating point at 11.30 am on May 29 in 1953. He was knighted shortly after that successful attempt.

50 years later this day marked the first moon landing day. And that’s the second reason for remembering this day. At 10.56 pm (EDT, Eastern Daylight Time) on 20 July in 1969 two US astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, became the first humans to set foot on the moon. As soon as Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle lunar landing module he said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” They were accompanied in the moon mission by Michael Collins on board Apollo 11, launched four days earlier, on July 16.

This time in history

Great English writer and novelist, Charles Dickens (full name Charles John Huffam Dickens) passed away on 9 June 1870 at Gad’s Hill near Chatham, Kent. Born on 7 February 1812 at Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, Charles Dickens was considered as the greatest of the Victorian era. He is particularly famous for his Great Expectations, Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and many others that constitute his volumes.

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The city of St Petersburg in Russia is named after Peter I. Born on 9 June 1672 Peter I was known as Peter the Great. He reigned as the Tsar of Russia from 1682 to 1725 and was one of Russia’s greatest statesmen and reformers.

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Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, known as the Iron lady, was reelected to a second term in office on 9 June 1983.

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Entering the World War II on 10 June 1940, Italy declared war against France and Great Britain. This war which lasted between 1939 and 1945 was in some sort a continuation of the first war where the disputes seemed to have remained unsettled. Although it involved virtually the whole world there were two main belligerents. On one side, the Allies with France, Great Britain, United States and the Soviet Union and on the other what was called the Axis powers comprised Italy, Germany and Japan.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Did you know?

[1] Famous French author, Honoré de Balzac (original name Honoré Balssa) was born on 20 May 1799 at Tours, France. He is considered as one of the greatest fiction writers of all time. He produced a vast collection of novels and short stories collectively called La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy). He died on 18 August 1850 in Paris. One of his famous quotes: “Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell you solitude is fine.”

[2] Malcom X was a black militant leader who expressed concepts of race pride and Black Nationalism in the early 1960s. His original name was Malcolm Little, Muslim name El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. He was born on 19 May 1925 at Omaha, Nebraska, US. Black Nationalism was a political and social movement in the pursuit of economic power and seeking to instill a sense of community and group belonging among blacks. He was assassinated on 21 February 1965 in New York.

[3] Ho Chi Minh was President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) from 1945 to 1969. He was born on 19 May 1890 at Hoang Tru in Vietnam, known as French Indochina. He died on 2 September 1969 in Hanoi. His original name was Nguyen Sinh Cung, also called Nguyen Tat Thanh or Nguyen Ai Quoc. He was the founder of the Indochina Communist Party in 1930.

[4] Napoleon I was born on 15 August 1769 at Ajaccio, Corsica. His full French name was Napoléon Bonaparte. His original Italian name was Napoleone Buonaparte. His Italian byname was the Corsican or the Little Corporal. His Fench byname was Le Corse or Le Petit Caporal. He was French General from 1799 to1804 and Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1814/15. He revolutionized military organization and training, sponsored the Napoleonic Code and reorganized education. He created the Legion of Honour, the premier order of the French Republic, on 19 May 1803. He died on 5 May 1821 at St Helena Island.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica