Mauritius is a country of migrants coming from Asia, Africa and Europe. Today, the country is a multi faith and multi cultural community. When the first generation of migrants came to Mauritius, there was hope that they would go back to their homeland after having made enough money to bring back home.
Over the years, all the settlers evolved into a new community – the Mauritian community. Most of them had settled down and made Mauritius, their home. Life was not easy for most of them. They each spoke their mother tongue and did not have a common language to communicate with each other. The first generation of migrants were settling in a new place with barely anything familiar to hold onto. As a means of support in a “foreign land”, they held on to what could remind them of their homeland. They continued to honour their religious beliefs and cultural norms. Festivities that are usually celebrated in their hometown such as Divali, Ramadan, Chinese New Year are now part of the Mauritian cultural landscape. They also continued to perpetuate their cultural norms such as fasting, cult of the ancestors, pilgrimage, etc.
Over the years, the first generation of migrants have adapted their lifestyle to settle down on the island. Dholl puri, a popular local food, is similar to Indian flatbreads such as rotis, chapati and paratha. Similarly, the Ganges River, for mainland Indians, is considered as sacred and Indians from all over India, carry out pilgrimages to the Ganges River. In Mauritius, a religious festivity known as Mahashivratree, has similar symbolic religious meaning to the Mauritians of Hindu faith. Grand Bassin (also known as Ganga Talao)has been chosen as a sacred place where similar rituals are carried out.
The Sega dance, a well known local dance, originated from the slave population of Mauritius. It has evolved, thanks to a well known Mauritian Rastafari singer – Kaya, to become the seggae – fusion of reggae, modern music and traditional sega.
For those Mauritians of Chinese descent, the cult of ancestors is part of the family traditions whether they are Buddhist or Christian. Most Chinese migrants come from the Chinese ethnic group, the Hakka. The origins of the Hakka people come from the north of China and have migrated to the centre before settling down in the southern part of China. There is a strong migratory tendency amongst the Hakka culture. Today, people, whose ancestral line are from the Hakka community, lives in Mauritius, Malaysia, Canada, UK, US and in many other countries. I personally consider them to be “The Travellers” amongst the different Chinese ethnic groups. Because of their tendency to move around, the Hakka bring with them, the wooden tablets bearing the names of their deceased wherever they settle down. Similarly, in most Taoist or Buddhist temples in Mauritius, there is an altar, where the “spirit tablets” representing deceased members of the family, are honoured. For those of Christian faith, they would honour their dead by having their pictures at home and would regularly visit the family tombstones to ensure that they are well maintained.
Pragmatism, adaptability and resilience have helped the first generation of settlers to let go of their original cultural identity to form the nation that is now known as Mauritius. The descendants of the slaves have been the most resilient. Most of them have learnt to heal from their past and are now actively contributing to the making of the “Mauritian culture”. Mauritius, being a country with no natural resources and made up of only people, cannot afford to be “stuck in the past”. There is no future from resurrecting the past as shown by the racial unrest in 1968, remembered as a painful souvenir by most Mauritians, having lost loved ones – an almost unbearable price to pay.
Today, all Mauritians speak the native language – creole. Most Mauritians participate in the celebrations of all religious festivities in their own way. The Christian pilgrimage of Pere Laval is done by a large number of Mauritians, irrespective of their faith. Holi is an opportunity for Mauritians of Hindu faith to reach out to their neighbours, friends and colleagues. Chinese New Year is a time of celebration where many Mauritians participate in the festivities. There is, today, a growing sense of a Mauritian identity taking shape. For those Mauritians, being the first generation born in the country, it has been almost natural to assume that they were Indians, Chinese, Europeans living overseas. For the current generations, there is a gradual recognition that we are now a nation on its own, irrespective of our personal faith and whether we look alike or not.