Mauritius prides itself in being able to house a multicultural society, where people of different religions, languages and culture co-exist in a single community. The French are one of the primary contributors in this rich blend of culture, when they took control of the island in the 17th century, bringing with them their African and Asian slaves. The country changed hands when the British won over the French in the 18th century. The British ushered in a wave of indentured laborers from India, which was a British colony then. This influx of Indian laborers changed the island’s social structure. British Indians became so numerous that after a few decades, majority of the people in the island have Indian origin. The 19th and 20th century saw the arrival of another race – Chinese settlers.
This coming together of different people from different origins created a distinct Mauritian society. People in Mauritius nowadays have varied ancestries. There are Franco-Mauritians, those descended from the French settlers; Afro-Mauritians, the descendants of African slaves; Sino-Mauritians, the descendants of Chinese settlers; and by far the most numerous, comprising about 70% of the entire population, the Indo-Mauritians, descendants of British Indian laborers. And because there have been intermarriages between races over the years (mostly between the French and their African slaves), there are also a number of people who have mixed origins.
The settlers, being of different origins, brought with them their own languages. As a result, there is no single or official language in Mauritius. Government documents are written in English but the media, both broadcast and printed, predominantly uses the French language. Majority of the population understand and can speak French fluently more than English. People with Indian ancestry have retained their own languages; thus, Hindi, Tamil, Bhojpuri and Punjabi are still spoken by the Indian community. Cantonese and Mandarin are also spoken by Chinese descendants. The native language used by majority of the population, however, is the Muaritian Creole. This language, and the culture it entails, has evolved over the years as an answer to the need of French settlers to communicate with their African slaves. The Creole language is distinctly French in origin, with most words having French pronunciation, although a number of words come from diverse sources. Creole is considered to be Mauritius’ native tongue although it has not been embraced as its national language.
Aside from language, the settlers brought with them their respective religious beliefs. Although numerous and quite varied, these beliefs have been successfully integrated into the Mauritian culture. This is evident in the festivals celebrated in the island. Indians celebrate Cavadee, a religious festival which involves piercing of cheeks, tongue and chests; and Divali, a celebration of Lord Rama’s defeat of the devil. The Id-El-Fitr is the culmination of a month-long fasting (Ramadan) for Muslim people. This is celebrated with day-long prayers at the mosques and sharing of food between neighbors and friends. The Christians on the other hand (predominantly Catholics), celebrate Easter and Christmas. The Father Laval day, celebrated every September 9th involves a Catholic priest, and yet is celebrated by Mauritians of all faiths. Of French origin, Father Laval protected the slaves (before the abolition of slavery) and a “pilgrimage” towards his tomb is said to grant healing. The Sino-Mauritian Community also celebrates the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival.
There is no definite, characteristic culture for Mauritius. But this is what makes the country unique. Even if they have varied beliefs, languages and cultures, Mauritians have developed their own sense of pride and nationalism, which is instilled early in school and at home.