"God first created Mauritius then Paradise" quote from Mark Twain 1896
Brief History of Mauritius
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.
Mascarenes Islands were a long way off the usual trading routes of Arab or Indian sailors.
Perhaps the islands were discovered when a cyclone (hurricane) 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.
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.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. Portuguese never attempted to settle on any of the Mascarene islands. They
were more interested in protecting their trade routes with India and therefore established
settlements along the coast of Mozambique instead. The first Europeans to have visited
Mauritius were the Portuguese at the beginning of the sixteenth century (most probably in
1510). However, the Dutch who settled in the island in 1598 named it Mauritius after Prince
Maurice of Nassau. Among other things, the Dutch introduced sugar cane and the Java deer
before leaving in 1710.
During French colonial rule, from 1767 to 1810, the capital and main port, Port Louis, became
an important centre for trade, privateering, and naval operations against the British. In addition,
French planters established sugarcane estates and built up their fortunes at the expense of the
labour of slaves brought from Africa. The French patois, or colloquial language, which evolved
among these slaves and their freed descendants, referred to as Creole, has become the
everyday language shared by most of the island's inhabitants. French is used in the media and literature, and the Franco-Mauritian descendants of the French settlers continue to dominate
the sugar industry and economic life of modern Mauritius.British captured the island in 1810 and
gave up sovereignty when Mauritius became independent in 1968. During this period, the French plantation aristocracy maintained its economic, and, to a certain degree, its political prominence.
The British abolished slavery but provided for cheap labour on the sugar estates by bringing
nearly 500,000 indentured workers from the Indian subcontinent. The political history of Mauritius
in the twentieth century revolves around the gradual economic and political empowerment of the island's Indian majority.