Time is running. Already three months and three weeks since I landed here in Rodrigues. Can you recall I wrote about this island of volcanic origin as a Hill in the Sea? My hitherto solitary status reminds me of the symbol of this island: The Solitaire or the Pezophaps solitaria.
For many it might not mean anything. But for the people of Rodrigues it’s a symbol of their identity that’s present in the coat of arms of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly.
The Solitaire was described as a slightly plump flightless bird with a small head and strong wings, and weighing about 40 to 50 pounds. It was a descendant of the pigeon of Nicobar, South East Asia. It became extinct with the passage of man and wild cats in the hunt for food. It was dead for ever, as the Dodo of Mauritius.
The name Solitaire was coined by François Leguat, an orthodox protestant who stayed long in a solitary status on this isolated island between 1691 and 1693. In fact it’s through his memoirs that this bird’s existence was revealed when his book “A New Voyage to the East Indies” was published in 1708.
The real existence of the Solitaire was subject to controversy for quite some time. But the bones of this unique bird discovered in the south west of Rodrigues, namely in the limestone caves at Grande Caverne in 1866, speak for themselves. And it is from this discovery that a famous naturalist from Cambridge, Alfred Newton and his brother Edward presented a paper to the Royal Society, “On the Osteology of the Solitaire or Didine Birds of the Island of Rodrigues, Pezophaps solitarius”, giving a scientific description of the Solitaire.
Bones of the Solitaire can be seen exposed at Grande Montagne Reserve Interpretation Centre and François Leguat Museum at the Giant Tortoise & Cave Reserve at Anse Quitor not far from the Sir Gaetan Duval Airport.
It is said that the name Solitaire could have been inspired by the solitary nesting behaviour of the bird and the long solitary stay of François Leguat on the island.
As for me the solitude won’t be too long. My son will be joining me around mid-June and my wife around the end of July. It’ll then be time to pack up as I’ll have to be back to my homeland during the first week of August. But that’s some other two and half months away.