History of Mauritius
History of Mauritius
Mauritius has seen the visit of numerous navigators, including Arabs, Portuguese, and finally, Dutch who were the first to establish a settlement on the island when they reached Mauritius in 1598. They named the country after Maurits Van Nassau, Prince of Orange. When the Dutch were in the country however, populating and colonizing the country was not very high on their agenda.
They stayed in Mauritius until 1712, when they decided to leave due to harsh climatic conditions. Moreover, the consolidation of their established base in Cape Town, South Africa was considered more profitable.
The French were already operating in the Indian Ocean and the departure of the Dutch was an opportunity for them to settle, which they did in 1715. They soon renamed the country Isle de France, and started a real development process.
Mahe de Labourdonnais who reached Isle de France in 1735 was a Governor who developed the country in various fields. Infrastructure and agriculture were expanded and the country was developed into a trading post, rather than just a port of call.
Some of the things that Mahe de Labourdonnais developed included warehouses, a dry dock for shipbuilding, an armoury and powder magazine, barracks and a fort, an aqueduct, which brought a good water supply over miles from Grande Rivière Nord Ouest, and a hospital.
To develop agriculture, he brought in slaves from Madagascar and Mozambique, leading to a steady population growth, as four years after the arrival of Labourdonnais the population went from 1,000 to 3,000.
Decaen was appointed in 1803 as Captain General of Isle de France. He introduced new laws, the Napoleonic Code, which has remained the foundation of the country's legal system until today.
During French rule, Port-Louis became an important trading centre. French planters established sugar cane estates in different parts of the country. Slaves brought in were mostly working in sugar cane fields, contributing to building up the fortune of the French planters. The patois was developed as means of communication among the slaves. During British rule later on, this patois also had Asian and English influence and developed into Creole, which is the language understood and spoken by the majority of the population.
The Royal Navy's first attempt to conquer the country was in August 1810 during the famous Naval Battle of Vieux Grand Port. This was the only Naval Battle won by the French during the Napolenic wars in the whole world. However, the British came back a few months later, and managed to conquer the country in December 1810. There is now a Museum in Mahebourg, the National Historical Naval Museum that gives a lot of details on the Naval Battle.
As soon as the British came in power, they renamed the country Mauritius. The French who were living there had the option to stay or go back to France. Most of them stayed, and were able to keep their language and religion. This explains the fact that most Mauritians today speak French, English and Creole. Moreover, no major changes were made to the laws and customs of the French era. Few jobs were however reserved for British to have the political control over the country. Even the slave trade that was already abolished in other British colonies was not abolished in Mauritius at first, and it was only in 1835 that this occurred. The 80,000 slaves living in the country were given the opportunity to leave the plantations where they worked as slaves and most did. This led to a shortage of labour, and a lot of indentured labourers were brought in from India. As a result of all these changes, the economic, cultural and political life of the country was greatly modified.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw an involvement of coloured people and immigrants into the political struggle. The Mauritian Labour Party was created in 1936, and in 1968, the country became an independent state. The second half of the 20th Century has been marked by reforms to the economy which led to the economic boom after 1982.
Even today, the British legacy is still present in the Mauritian Administration and system of Government. Moreover, the Mauritian democracy is based on the Westminster model.