People And Culture


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Introduction

Before the Dutch attempts at colonisation during the early 17th century, the island was uninhabited. Consequently, the whole Mauritian population now consists of descendants of immigrants who have settled on the island at different times and for different reasons.

Though the Dutch with their slaves were the first colonisers, there are no descendants of Dutch origin left on the island. The next wave of immigrants was the French who settled in Mauritius during the late 17th century. They brought in slaves from the African continent, Madagascar, India and South East Asia to work in the sugar cane fields. Some free Malagasy and Indian immigrants also settled in Mauritius at that time. The take over of Mauritius by the British in 1810 did not bring significant immigrants from England. Few families in Mauritius can claim English ancestry.

In 1835 the British abolished slavery against fierce opposition from the French settlers who feared that because of abolition, their sugar estates would no longer be economically viable.

This turn of events encouraged the next wave of immigrants: indentured labour from British India. This wave was the largest ever and radically changed the demographic and social structure of the island. A few Malagasy, Comorian and African labourers were also introduced during the 19th century. Due to extremely difficult working conditions, the practice of importing indentured labour was stopped by the British in 1922.

During the second half of the 19th century, there was a flow of free immigrants from China and India. It was a mere trickle compared to the flow of indentured labour from British India.

Those successive and sometimes overlapping waves of immigrants changed forever the demographic structure of Mauritius and its cultural mix. Each wave of immigrants brought to the island new religions, cultures and languages.

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Date on the web: 31st of January 1998

Last update: 17th of November 2001