CHASING THE INDRI
Journey To Beauty & Chaos In Paradise
Mauritius - Seychelles -
Comoros - Mayotte - Réunion
Tan Wee Cheng, Singapore
Sunday June 22,
! I arrived here end of May on a month-long
project. Images of exotic fine
beaches, colourful coral atolls teeming with fish, and coconuts swaying in
clear blue skies - all running riot in your mind? This is my
first foray into this part of the world, officially classified as part of
, like other islands of the
, are not really
but a strange cultural mix-mesh, the result of
centuries of global movement of mankind, cultural exchange and trading links.
Let me bring you on a historical journey into the
, the fourth largest island in the world, though
moored just off the coast of southern
, was essentially a land inhabited by
Malay-Indonesian mariners who sailed here 1500 years ago and intermarried with
some Africans who crossed the Channel of Mozambique to
speak a tongue that is closer to Bahasa Indonesia than Zulu or Xhosa.
volcanic islands of the Comoro chain (which comprises the three fragmented and
individually autonomous islands of the Union of Comoros, and the French-ruled
) - the legendary Islands of the Moon - are
inhabited by an Islamic people formed by the union of African coastal tribes,
Persian mariners and Arab traders who once patrolled the vast waters of the
like Sinbad the Sailor from now-occupied
volcanic islands of
were uninhabited, with the most unusual fauna and
flora, until the arrival of the Europeans.
the Age of Great Explorations, the Europeans – the Portuguese, Dutch, French
and British all passed through these islands on their way to the fabled spices,
silk and riches of the Orient. They
established fortresses to safeguard their control over safe routes and set up
plantations to exploit the rich volcanic soil of the islands.
it was the Portuguese and Dutch who first came to the region, it was the French
who settled here in huge numbers - in
(then known as Ile de France),
- and altered the demographic and linguistic
landscape of these isles. The
French brought black slaves from Africa and Madagascar to work in the sugar
plantations which at one time covered up to 90% of all arable land, and
instructed them in French, which the latter duly corrupted into a hybrid dialect
called Creole. Today, descendants
of the Creole still live in
, they form a majority of the population and 40%
came the British, who occupied
with ease, and allowed the local French
aristocracy to run the local economy and good life the way they wanted it.
Even today, French language remains the language of business and public
communication, while Creole is the language of the home; with English the
language of public documents and official signposting.
the abolition of slavery, Indian indentured workers were brought in, and they
became the majority ethnic group in
and one of the largest minorities in
Chinese came too, mostly as small traders and businessmen – every Mauritian
town and village has at least one Chinese store.
Ten of the top 50 businesses here are Chinese-owned.
All these newcomers – both Indians and Chinese - quickly adopted Creole
as their tongue of choice.
the rise of nationalism and
became independent states.
refused to join the Comoro Union and has remained
a French overseas territory, while
has been declared an overseas department, meaning
that it is part of “Mainland”
, not just a colony.
With the exception of
Mauritius and Réunion
, civil wars and coup d’etats have plagued these
isles of paradise in the last few decades.
’s civil war “lite” ended only a year ago
continue to suffer from the separatist passions
among its three already small island states and the more than twenty attempted
coups in the last 20 years. As I
wrote these words, a power struggle is continuing in the
, where the Federal President tries to prevent the
President of the largest island state (Grand Comoro) from coming to office.
the next three weeks, with E who will soon arrive in
, I am to begin my journey across this interesting
region, starting from
, then on to
will spend about 10 days in
– too short for this huge country – before
for transit back to
hold tight and the journey begins!
Mauritius I: Fishing Villages, Sugar Ocean And Ganges Of The Isle
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