The Discovery Of Mauritius

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It is believed that the first people to set foot on the island of Mauritius were Arab sailors and merchants. Arabs merchant ships have been sailing the Indian Ocean for centuries. Important trading routes linked the east coast of Africa and Madagascar with the Arabian peninsula, India and Indonesia.

The Mascarenes Islands were a long way off the usual trading routes of Arab or Indian sailors. Perhaps the islands were discovered when a cyclone (a very severe storm of the tropics) caught an Arab dhow unaware and pushed it towards Mauritius. Evidence that points to the discovery of the Mascarenes Archipelago by Arab seamen comes from copies of Portuguese maps of the early 16th century that depict a group of three small islands south east of Madagascar that bear Arabic names.

Due to lack of documentary evidence, it is difficult to say with certainty when Arab seamen first landed on the island. Historians point to the end of the 14th century or the beginning of the 15th century as the most likely period for the discovery of the island by Arabs. They never attempted to settle for several reasons. Firstly, Mauritius was too far removed from their usual trade routes and devoid of populations with whom to trade with and secondly the journey to and from the islands was far too dangerous for Arab dhows.

In 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama succeeded in rounding the cape of Good Hope and called at various Arab-Swahili cities along the East African coast on his way northwards. It was at one of those city ports that an Arab or Indian pilot showed him the way to Goa, India. Within the next ten years, numerous Portuguese expeditions explored the Indian Ocean, visiting Madagascar, the Seychelles and the Comoros Islands.

Around 1507, the Portuguese seaman Fernandez Pereira sighted Mauritius and named it Cerne. The group of islands consisting of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues were given the names of Mascarenes after the Portuguese captain, Pero Mascarenhas.

The Portuguese never attempted to settle on any of the Mascarenes islands. They were more interested in protecting their trade routes with India and therefore established settlements along the coast of Mozambique instead.

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Last Update: Thursday, January 22, 1998