AUTOR: Jimmy Harmon, PhD pela Universidae de Westren Cape (África do Sul), pesquisador e director do ensino secundário católico mauriciano
This paper examines the situation of the Creoles in the Republic of Mauritius in the light of the theme of the United Nations Decade of People of African Descent (2015-2024) namely ‘Recognition, justice and development’. Mauritius, is situated in the Indian Ocean about 2000 kilometres off the south east coast of the African continent and has an area of 2,040 km2. It is home to 1.2 million inhabitants (Statistics Mauritius, 2011) comprising Indo-Mauritians (51%), Creoles (27%), Muslims (17%), Sino-Mauritians (3%) and Whites (2%). Despite its 1st (out of 54) rank placement since 2000 on the Ibrahim Index of Good Governance in Africa, Mauritius has a significant percentage of its population either living in poverty or experiencing racial or other marginalisation on a daily basis. Established in 2008 by an Act of Parliament to investigate the consequences of slavery and indentured labour from colonial period to date, the Truth & Justice Commission revealed in its report in 2011 that Creoles of African phenotype are the most marginalised and discriminated. However, the Creoles display agency and put up resilience to their adverse situation.
KEYWORDS: Creoles, marginalisation, discrimination
The General Assembly, by its resolution 68/237 of 23 December 2013, proclaimed the International Decade for People of African Descent commencing 1 January 2015 and ending on 31 December 2024, with the theme “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development”. Two major objectives of this Decade are to strengthen national, regional and international action and cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society; and to promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies.
It is expected that this decade will provide an opportunity to recognize the significant contribution made by people of African descent to our societies and to propose concrete measures to promote their full inclusion and to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. For the UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, ‘in proclaiming this Decade, the international community is recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. Around 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent’
(http://www.un.org/en/events/africandescentdecade/messages.html). He also added at the launching ceremony on 10 December 2014 that ‘we must remember that people of African descent are among those most affected by racism. Too often, they face denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education.’ (http://www.un.org/en/events/africandescentdecade/messages.shtml). In this paper, we will examine the situation of Creoles in the Republic of Mauritius in the light of the theme of the UN theme namely ‘Recognition, justice and development’. This paper is organized around four sections. The first section presents information on Mauritius. The two next sections give an overview on the Creoles about their place in identity politics and how some reports and studies make mention of discrimination against them. The final section discusses how Creoles develop agency and resilience.
The Republic of Mauritius
Mauritius. Officially known as the Republic of Mauritius, is a Small Island Developing State situated in the Indian Ocean about 2000 kilometres off the south east coast of the African continent and has an area of 2,040 km2. The Republic of Mauritius comprises mainland Mauritius, Rodrigues and Agalega islands. The resident population of the Republic of Mauritius enumerated at the 2011 Population Census was 1,233,000 of whom 1,192,300 lived in the island of Mauritius, 40,400 in Rodrigues and 300 in Agalega (Statistics Mauritius, 2011). The First Schedule to the Constitution (1968) establishes a four-fold categorization of the Mauritian population. Paragraph 3 (4) of the First Schedule to the Constitution reads as follows:
For the purposes of this Schedule, the population of Mauritius shall be regarded as including a Hindu community, a Muslim community and Sino-Mauritian community; and every person who does not appear, from his way of life, to belong to one or other of those 3 communities shall be regarded as belonging to the General Population, which shall itself be regarded as a fourth community. (Constitution of the Republic of Mauritius, 1968)
Therefore, the General Population is a residual category under which is lumped the Creoles who may be of African origin or mixed blood and the Whites or Franco-Mauritians. The appellation General Population is vehemently opposed by Creole organisations and Creole opinion leaders as it is considered as a denial of the identity of the Creoles. Although the mainstream parties tend to show that they lend a compassionate ear to these claims, yet, no government has ventured until now to amend this Schedule it as it might have far reaching consequences on ethnic politics. Historically, Mauritian islands had no indigenous population and were uninhabited before the 16th century. Mainland Mauritius was the first to be populated as a result of three major periods of settlement: Dutch settlement (1638-1658; 1664-1710), French Colonisation (1710-1810) and British Colonisation (1810-1968). The country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1968 and became a Republic in 1992. It is a member of both the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. General elections are held every five years based on universal suffrage. The Parliament (known as National Assembly) consists of 70 members: 60 elected members, 8 Best Losers (representing the minorities) and 2 elected members for Rodrigues Island. The Prime Minister is head of government who is currently Sir Aneerod Jugnauth.
Despite its 1st (out of 54) rank placement since 2000 on the Ibrahim Index of Good Governance in Africa, Mauritius has a significant percentage of its population either living in poverty or experiencing racial or other marginalisation on a daily basis. Established in 2008 by an Act of Parliament to investigate the consequences of slavery and indentured labour from colonial period to date, the Truth & Justice Commission (TJC) revealed in its report in 2011 that Creoles of African phenotype are the most marginalised and discriminated ( TJC Report, 2011: 227).
A history of uprootedness
Who are the Creoles in Mauritius? How do we identify them? Like other groups known as “Creoles” throughout the world, Mauritian Creoles have a history of uprootedness linked to their slave ancestors brought by the colonizers on the island from the African continent and Malagasy. The connections of the slaves with their places of origin were severed almost immediately upon arrival in the colony. For Eriksen (1999: 5), this entailed the urgent necessity of crafting new cultural and social forms under conditions of extreme hardship. This situation gave birth to a new language (Creole language), culture and ways of life in contact with the colonizers or with other groups. This contact was underpinned by physical and psychic violence. In the 18th century, the Creole group was marked internally by colour prejudice with the rise of the gens de couleur (coloured creoles) within the Creole group while the Afro-Creoles occupied the lowest social ladder (Selvon, 2005; Palmyre, 2008; Harmon, 2016). In this society, whiteness, French language and culture were privileged and treated as the identity to aspire to (Arno & Orian, 1986). By the turn of the 20th century, following the visit of Gandhi in 1901 and the rise of an intellectual Indian elite, political consciousness reached more rapidly the Indo-Mauritian labouring class who was living on sugar plantations while the Creoles were scattered throughout the island, deprived of any form of organisation and leadership. The General elections in August 1967 led to a victory of the Independent Party, supported by a majority of Indians while the Creoles voted for the PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Democrate) which campaigned against independence. The fear of a ‘Hindu threat’ led to the massive migration of the middle class Creoles to Australia during after independence in 1968. The Creole proletariat (mainly Afro-Creoles) who could not afford to migrate to Australia had no choice than to stay and to strive to make a living. In spite of its higher numerical importance as compared to other minorities such as the Muslims or Chinese, the Creole minority group lives since independence in a context of political marginalisation as a result of lack of lobbying, lack of insightful political tactics and is confronted with internecine divisions.
Creole consciousness amidst Identity Politics and Exclusion
Boswell (2006) developed a taxonomy of the Creole ethnic group to illustrate its diversity in terms of class, phenotypes and common derogatory and divisive terms used to classify the different Creole subgroups. Examples of such terms are ‘Creole ti-burzwa’ (Creole of small bourgeoisie), ‘Creole milat’ (mulatto Creole), ‘Creole madras’ (Tamil Creole), ‘Creole sinwa’ (Chinese creole) and ‘Creole mazanbik’ (Black-Afro creoles whose ancestors came as slaves from Mozambique). I would say that the distinctions made by Boswell (2006) rapidly phased out with the emergence of the Creole identity affirmation movement as from the 1990s onward. Nowadays, we are witnessing the rise of a national Creole identity movement transcending these internecine cleavages. It is for this reason I find the observation that Sheila Bunwaree, Mauritian sociologist and researcher, made more than a decade ago still encapsulates the situation of the vast majority of the Creoles:
A lot of what goes under the rubric of ‘identity politics’ (my emphasis) is actually about popular struggles for a more equitable distribution of goods and services for a more just society. The emergence of a Creole consciousness (my emphasis) in recent years and their efforts to rekindle links with Africa (my emphasis) as their homeland highlights both the awakening and forging of an identity. Many of the deprived and excluded (my emphasis) form part of the Creole community wish to see a better distribution of the national cake. (Bunwaree, 2004: 12)
There are four key terms in Bunwaree’s observation which call for close examination. The first term is ‘identity politics’. Identity politics is generally defined as the cultural politics of different social movements or lobbying groups which advocate recognition and respect for cultural differences of identity groups (Bernstein, 2005; Bernstein & Taylor, 2013). By ‘identity politics’, Bunwaree (2004) is referring to the role of ethnic politics as ethnicity structures public life in Mauritius (Mukoneshwuro , 1999; Carroll & Carroll, 1991; Srebnik, 2002). The plurality characteristic of the Mauritian society has contributed towards creating an interface between state, society, economy and politics. This interface is marked ethnic politics which calls for the constant necessity to negotiate and broker arrangements with the different ethnic lobbyists. One example of this Mauritian ‘identity politics’ is the case of the reactions of the Tamils in Mauritius against the alteration of the bank note in 1998.
The Tamil speaking community is a subgroup of the Indo-mauritian group and it only represents about 10 percent of the Mauritius population. Three languages appear on Mauritian banknotes. Traditionally, the languages are English, Tamil, and Hindi – in that order. On October 18, 1998, the Central Bank of Mauritius released a new series of banknotes upon which the order of the latter two languages were reversed, with Hindi appearing before Tamil. Reportedly, the reason for the change in the order was because the Tamil text would have encroached on the portrait of a former Chinese political leader Sir Jean Ah-Chuen on the 25-rupee note if it remained in its original position on the note. However, the Tamil community did not accept this explanation and within a few days of the new banknotes’ release this community took up nonviolent actions in protest of the change. Although, the Tamil community claimed precedence on the banknotes based on traditional practices and claims to having arrived on the island prior to the members of the Hindu community. Tamil community burned effigies of the Governor of the Bank of Mauritius and representations were made to the President of Mauritius. Tamil members of Parliament threatened to resign from their position if the new banknote design was not pulled out of circulation. On November 18, one month after the initial release of the new banknotes, the government asked the central bank to withdraw the notes from circulation. The Bank of Mauritius complied, representing a victory for the Tamils. The reprinting of the banknotes cost more than 50 million rupees, or more than 2 billion USD. However, for Bunwareee (2004) ‘identity politics’ such as the Tamil protest should rather be taken as a form of ‘popular struggle for a more equitable distribution of goods and services’. In the case of the Tamils, it can be said that it was the struggle for ‘a more equitable distribution’ of ‘goods and services’ at the symbolic level.
Second, the ‘emergence of the Creole consciousness’ can be dated back to a public statement made by the catholic Creole priest Father Roger Cerveaux in 1993. He said that there was a ‘malaise creole’ in the catholic church and the country. By ‘malaise creole’, the priest was referring to the situation of social exclusion and subjugation of the vast majority of Creoles. For Boswell (2004), this malaise is symptomatic of the experience of social and cultural oppression while Miles (1999) defines it as a social disease which results partly from the inability of the Creoles to assert themselves as a group. The first common denominator of the Creoles is consequential of their Christianisation over different periods until independence. In the 2011 Population Census, seventy-eight percent claim to be Roman Catholics out of 414, 553 Christians. For Romaine (2003), Creoles of milieu populaire (Creoles of the economically disadvantaged class) represent the bulk of Catholics in the Church. The ‘malaise creole’ statement sparked a big debate within and outside the Church. It led to a profound reflections of the Church on the Creoles while at the same time the clergy was gradually having Creole priests in its rank. This statement came just two years after Mgr.Piat was appointed as the new Bishop. Given that Bishop Mgr Piat is a White franco-mauritian, it was already question at that time about when the Catholic Church would have a Creole bishop.
The malaise creole statement created a big havoc in the Church. In view of his forthcoming Lent Letter, the new Bishop asked his close collaborators to conduct a survey questionnaire to get the views of the Catholics on the malaise creole. The Lent Letter is usually much awaited by the Catholics and it addressed the malaise creole in 1993. It was the first time that the Catholic Church referred explicitly to the Creoles as a distinct group. The fact that the Lent Letter addressed the creole issue became a visible sign of an undergoing change in the church even if the new Bishop was a White. In his Lent letter, Bishop Piat identified the main factors of this ‘malaise creole’ in the Mauritian society as follows: the precarious socio-economic living conditions of the Creoles, poor educational outcome and limited ambition, a fragile family fabric and negative self-image of the Creole culture. Bishop Piat also described the appeal of the Creoles to the Church. First, he acknowledged that the Creoles were a majority in the Church so that they wanted to participate in the decision-making process at the level of church structures and agencies. Second, Creole families wanted their children to have access to a good school but they complained that their children did not get access to catholic schools. Third, they wanted the Church to give them training in entrepreneurship or leadership as they acknowledged that the Creole community is highly divisive. Finally, the Creoles wanted their culture to occupy a greater place in the liturgy which was mainly French dominant. The ‘malaise creole’ was further compounded by the February 1999 riots which broke out when a famous Rastafarian singer called Kaya died in police cell after his arrest for having smoke marihuana in a public concert in defiance of the law. There was a strong perception that police brutality was linked to racial profiling. By 2000, the Creole consciousness feeling became strong and Creole organisations mushroomed.
Third, the ‘links with Africa’ came with the claim of some Creole academics and some ring leaders of the short lived afro-centric social movement Muvman Morisyen Kreol Afriken ( Mauritian Movment of African Kreols) to define themselves as ‘Afro-mauritians’ (Benoit, 1985) in opposition to the appellation of General Population as discussed earlier. Although they are the most geographically close to the continent of their origin, the African diasporas in the Indian Ocean are the most remote from it (Miles, 1999). The ‘awakening and forging of an identity’ implies different strategies of self-definition by the Creoles in the light of the definition ascribed to the Creoles by others (Palmyre, 2000). Since 2006, with the pressure of different Creole lobbyists, the State of Mauritius holds an International Kreol Festival in November and December of each year. This annual event highlights the values of the Creole language culture and brings to the fore the whole debate about who is a Creole.
Finally, Bunwaree (2004) describes the Creoles as the ‘deprived and excluded’. For her that the ‘emergence of the Creole consciousness’ reflected the ‘wish of a better distribution of the national cake’. This is later confirmed by a research study (Gill, 2012) on the link between ethnicity and poverty and whose findings were disseminated in the local press. This research represents a first attempt to study the relations within as well as between all the ethnic groups in the country. It sheds important light on the complex linkages between ethnicity and poverty in Mauritius. The research found that Creoles faced negative discrimination in employment and education, are inadequately represented in state bureaucracy and politics, and face additional obstacles in their access to state resources and institutions. Also, many Hindus (especially widowed Hindu female heads) and ethnically-mixed persons are unable to draw upon social networks due to stigmatisation. In fact, several reports (APRM, 2010; TJC, 2011; EOC Report, 2014; UNHRC, 2015) show that the situation of the Creoles has not changed since the days of the ‘emergence of a Creole consciousness’. In the next section, we will discuss the salient features of these reports in the light of the UN Theme for the Decade of People of African Descents.
Not being recognized officially as ‘Creole’
The UN theme of ‘recognition’ lays emphasis on promoting ‘greater knowledge and recognition of and respect for the culture, history and heritage of people of African descent, including through research and education, and promote full and accurate inclusion of the history and contribution of people of African descent in educational curricula’. Basically such a recognition requires that the African diaspora being recognised as a distinct group. As stated earlier in the introduction, Creoles which has in its midst the African diaspora are not recognised explicitly in the Constitution. The UN Human Rights Commission Report (2015) recognizes Mauritius as a multilingual, multicultural and multi-ethnic society. The Report notes that the classification of the Creoles under ‘General Population’ in the Constitution as those persons who do not appear to belong to any of the other communities and includes the Franco-Mauritians, other European immigrants and the ethnically diverse Creoles. In April 2003 the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern that the General Population category combined groups that did not share the same identity and that the constitutional classification established in 1968 might no longer reflect the identities of the various groups in Mauritius. As stated in the earlier section, the rise of the Creole consciousness has led to a strong identification of the Creoles to their mixed or African origins. This makes the appellation ‘General Population’ obsolete.
The UN Decade recommends States to ensure ‘that people of African descent have full access to effective protection and remedies through the competent tribunals and other State institutions against any acts of racial discrimination and the right to seek from such tribunals just and adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage suffered as a result of such discrimination’. In the case of the UN member state Mauritius, an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) was set up in 2012 under the Equal Opportunities Act 2008. It is geared towards promoting an inclusive society by bringing forward the richness of its diversity. Its vision is to create a fairer Mauritius with no barriers to equal opportunities and to foster an unprejudiced and inclusive society free from discrimination. The EOC Report (2014) state around 18% of cases deal with political opinion and 10% on discrimination on the ground of sex. Statistics also reveal that during 2012 and 2013, 61% of cases were from the public sector and 24% of cases come from the private sector. The Report also reveals that around 100 complaints are from whistle blowers and that a very large number of complaints have been made by men, that is 666 as compared to 238 by women. As regards Rodrigues, more than 90% of cases are due to differences in political opinion. The US country report (2015) on human rights state the following:
Despite laws in place, discrimination occurred, particularly against women; persons with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, but victims filed few cases for cultural or societal reasons. Non-Hindus claimed they faced discrimination in hiring and promotion for government jobs. (US Country Report, 2015: 10)
Ethnic and racial enclaves
The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is a mutually agreed instrument voluntarily acceded to by the member states of the African Union (AU) as a self-monitoring mechanism. It was founded in 2003. The mandate of the APRM is to encourage conformity in regard to political, economic and corporate governance values, codes and standards, among African countries and the objectives in socio-economic development within the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. The APRM process is based on a “self-assessment” questionnaire developed by the APR Secretariat. It is divided into four sections: democracy and political governance, economic governance and management, corporate governance, and socio-economic development. Its questions are designed to assess states’ compliance with a wide range of African and international human rights treaties and standards. In 2003, Mauritius acceded to APRM through a Memorandum of Understanding. In 2010, the APRM report for Mauritius lauded the country for making tremendous progress in corporate and social governance as well as in health and the education systems. But it made the following observation for Creoles.
The different groups in Mauritian society live in religious, ethnic and racial enclaves. Intermingling is limited. Intermarrying is even more unlikely. Some ethnic groups are hardly to be seen in the political sphere, except in a restricted capacity, and they are unequally represented at all levels of the civil service. Most importantly, one ethnic group (the Afro-Mauritian Creoles) lags behind all others in terms of human development indicators, which explains this group’s enduring sense of grievance as well as its feelings of injustice and exclusion (APRM Report, 2010: 32).
The report depicts the relationship between the different ethnic groups. It qualifies this relationship as ‘religious, ethnic and racial enclaves’. Paradoxically, Mauritians rally as a single nation in international affairs, at trade policy conferences or in other sport world events. But they become members of discrete ethnic groups upon their return to Mauritius. In 2014, Mauritius has been ranked second in Africa after Libya on human development, with the two countries notching global ranks of 63rd and 55th respectively in the high human development category, out of 187 countries in all which were ranked on the Human Development Index (HDI). But the APRM report (2010) points out Creoles as ‘one ethnic group’ and brackets the ‘Afro-Mauritian Creoles’ as those who lag behind in terms of ‘human development indicators’. These indicators are life expectancy, education and per capita income. It is clear that there is a disparity between the progress made by the country at national level and the situation of the Creoles who constitute almost one-third of the island’s population of 1.2 million and who can lay claim of their presence on the island before all other groups.
The UN theme of Development states that poverty is both a cause and a consequence of discrimination and recommend that States should, as appropriate, adopt or strengthen national programmes for eradicating poverty and reducing social exclusion that take account of the specific needs and experiences of people of African descent. The Statistics Mauritius (2015) has produced, with technical support from World Bank, two Poverty Maps (a Poverty Map is a spatial representation of poverty indicators at disaggregated geographical regions. It gives an overview of the disparities that exist in poverty level within a country), one for 2001/02 and another one for 2006/07. The maps depict the poverty rate in each of the 145 administrative regions (20 Municipal Wards, 124 Village Council Areas and Island of Rodrigues) of the country. In the Island of Mauritius, the poverty rates ranged from 2% in the town of Vacoas/Phoenix – Ward 3 to 21% in Bambous Virieux VCA. All towns, except the capital city of Port Louis, had low poverty rates below 5%. Among the towns, Port Louis had the highest poverty rate ranging from 7% for Ward 1 to 15% for Ward 5. Wards 5 & 6 were among the 10 poorest administrative regions of the country. The poorest regions were mostly located in the eastern coast, the south west coast and in Port Louis. These regions which are the highest poverty stricken areas are inhabited mainly by Afro-Mauritian Creoles. The US Country Report on Human Rights Practices (2015:15) state ‘that pervasive poverty continued to be more common among citizens of African descent (Creoles) than in any other community’ (p.15). Similarly the UN Human Rights Commission Report (2015) observes that Mauritius is a welfare State and spends about 50 per cent of its budget on social services, including free health and education, which also benefit older persons. Pockets of poverty exist, however, in certain regions, notably the island of Rodrigues, which has a population of roughly 40,000 people, mostly Creole, some 40 per cent of whom live below the poverty level and many of whom do not have access to a water supply and hygienic living conditions. The UN Report on Human Rights (2015) found that ‘Creoles for instance, remained significantly disadvantaged in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, in spite of the implementation of a range of measures benefiting the most disadvantaged segments of the population’ ( para.33).
The State has implemented several programmes of eradicating poverty since the creation of a Ministry of Social Integration and Economic Empowerment in 2011. The vision of this ministry is to eradicate poverty and strive towards the creation of an inclusive and more equitable society. In line with the UN Decade, the State has developed and implemented policies and projects for safe and secure housing. But it seems that the problem lies at the level of the different state agencies where the Creoles are underrepresented. This creates a situation of patronizing attitude which overlaps with ethnicity and leads to an unequal power relationship. The Truth and Justice Commission Report (2011) sheds new light on this relationship.
The Truth and Justice Commission (TJC) was established by an Act of Parliament in 2008. It came as a result of the struggle of ‘Les Verts Fraternels/ Organisation Fraternelle’ (Green Brotherhood Organisation), a social movement whose main objective was to champion the cause of financial compensation for slave descents as part of an international movement which eventually led to the setting up of the Reparations Commission formed by the Caribbean community in 2013. The main objective of the Mauritian TJC was to make an assessment of the consequences of slavery and indenture labour from colonial period to date. The TJC was chaired by Alex Boraine, former Deputy Commissioner of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and was assisted by four Mauritian commissioners. From 2009 to 2011, there were 212 hearings and field works were conducted by researchers. In 2011, a six volume report was submitted to the Office of the President of the Republic. The report made 290 recommendations. Chapter 6 of Volume 1 focuses on race discourse and it gives amongst its main findings the following:
It was found that Creoles, who are currently defined as slave descendants, routinely experienced racist attacks. […] Examples of ‘racist’ events include biased bureaucratic reports, hidden inquests, empty review procedures, the touting of equality policies never enforced, denial of earned recognition, exclusionary socialising, and covert maintenance of housing segregation. (TJC Report, 2011: 286)
In the light of the above statement, it is clear that Creoles of African phenotype who experience racism. Also anti-Creole racist occurrences range from bureaucratic procedures to denial of the Creole identity and ‘covert maintenance of housing segregation’. My understanding of racism is based on the following definition:
Racism […] pattern of thinking and pattern of perception of the members of dominant groups which characterize members of non-dominant groups as different or inferior on basis of real or imagined physical or other characteristics, intending to legitimate inferior treatment, exclusion or violence against, or exploitation of members of non-dominant groups. (Appelt, 2000: 210)
The above definition helps to understand what type of mindset underpins the ‘racist’ events as mentioned in the TJC report (2011). Racist actions against a non-dominant group are located into ‘pattern of thinking’ and ‘pattern of perception’ of the dominant group. In terms of remedial measures the TJC Report (2011) makes the following recommendations:
To encourage public servants in all public institutions and parastatals to rethink how they approach the public of African descent as some current behaviour is unacceptable in 21st-century Mauritius. Most probably, training and monitoring will be required for both affected person and personnel on the fact that:
- racism emotionally cripples the community and that alleviation of inferiority complexes is required;
- minds must be freed from cognitive blindness and mental paralysis, through regular focused group meetings with help of social specialists/therapists.
As regard the recommendation for ‘alleviation of inferiority complex’, some studies in racial discrimination (Sellers et al., 2006) propose racial identity as an indirect effect on psychological well-being through its role as a buffer against the impact of racial discrimination. However, Creoles are the least racially conscious. This can be explained for two reasons. First, being of a mixed group, Creoles are, in fact, the most permeating group and transgress social taboos. Second, the dominant ideology of universality of the French Enlightenment which pervades the Mauritian press opinion leaders has always stifled any attempt by the Creoles to affirm their identity. Unlike other ethnic groups, Creoles have been particularly shaped by the universality discourse of the catholicchurch and as such they have internalised a guilty feeling so that if they assert themselves publicly as Creoles such a behaviour can be considered as divisive for the country. In the 1990s in the heat of the debate on the malaise creole, Father Filip Fanchette, the 76 year old catholic priest and father figure of the Creole struggle, stated in a newspaper interview in the daily ‘Le mauricien’ (23 February 1993) that the Creoles must have no qualms to feel, behave and assert themselves as a unified group as it is the best immune system for the Creoles against adverse situations. For The interaction among the various ethnic groups exhibits varying degrees of conflict and cohesion. Conflict may arise out of competition for scarce resources and in Mauritius, this is most obvious on the labour market. The unequal distribution of power is another source of conflict. While political power, given the ‘first past the post principle’ and the clientelistic nature of Mauritian politics, resides mainly in the hands of Indo-Mauritians, economic power is mainly held by the private sector, made up mostly of the “Franco-Mauritians” (Hall & Du Gay, 1996: 5). In this case, the Creoles have to develop agency and resilience. The final section gives three achievements by the Creoles.
Kreol Agency and Resilience
The Mountain of resistance
Over the past decade there have been several initiatives taken by the Creoles which show some forms of agency and resilience. The first symbolic achievement is ‘Le Morne Mountain’. In 2008, the mountain of Le Morne Brabant and its landscape was inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Tangible Heritage list. The UNESCO website describes the site as follows:
Le Morne Cultural Landscape, a rugged mountain that juts into the Indian Ocean in the southwest of Mauritius was used as a shelter by runaway slaves, maroons, through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. […] It is a symbol of slaves’ fight for freedom, their suffering, and their sacrifice, all of which have relevance beyond its geographical location, to the countries from which the slaves came – in particular the African mainland, Madagascar, India, and South-east Asia- and represented by the Creole people ( my emphasis) of Mauritius and their shared memories and oral traditions.
The inscription of Le Morne was preceded by a long and intense struggle by the Creole organisations together with academics and researchers. Nowadays, the abolition of slavery day is celebrated on 1st February of each year on the site of Le Morne. It has now become the place of gathering to recollect and pay tribute to the maroons. Since then, there has been a reappropriation of history by the Creoles. Several publications (Romaine, 2006, 2007, 2008; Harmon, 2008, Palmyre, 2008) and reflective papers (Harmon, 2007, 2013) have been attempts at revisiting history from the perspectives of the oppressed. This has greatly helped the Creoles to occupy the public space and to voice their requests. Language has been a site of resistance and achievement of the Creole identity.
Heritage language as founding myth
The second achievement is the struggle for recognition of Mauritian Kreol ( Kreol Morisien) as the heritage language of the Creoles and the Mauritians at large has also been a landmark.Kreol Morisien. In 2012, Kreol Morisien was introduced as an optional language in all primary schools. In terms of optional languages, there are two categories, namely Asian or Oriental languages Arabic and Kreol Morisien and Bhojpuri which are the two new languages introduced as from 2012. The presence of Asian or Oriental Languages in the education system is closely associated with the political emergence of the Indo-Mauritian community in the 1950s. As a result of the change in the political climate, ancestral languages were introduced in primary schools in 1955, and they were extended officially to secondary level in 1974, although they had already been taught in several places privately (Dinan, 1986).
The list of Asian or Oriental languages includes seven languages namely Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Marathi, Telegu, Modern Chinese and Arabic. Hindi has great prestige among the so-called Hindi-speaking Hindus. But it is the mother tongue of a very few speakers. It is used at formal socio-religious functions and is perceived as the cultural parapet against loss of Indianity (Eisenlhor, 2004; Miles, 1999; Eriksen, 1988). However, it is to be noted that the term “Hindi speaking” is in itself a misnomer for Hindi is not in fact the mother tongue or ancestral language of any substantial number of speakers as most of the Indian immigrants came from Bihar where Bihari and Bhojpuri (a dialect of Bihari) are spoken.
Kreol Morisien is in fact the authentic heritage language born in Mauritius (Harmon, 2015). Although the struggle for recognition of Kreol Morisien dates back to the independence period, yet it was as from 2005 when it was introduced for literacy and numeracy purposes in catholic secondary schools that it became a central issue in ethnic politics. Today the presence of Kreol Morisien in primary is a form of cultural reparation to the Creoles and especially the slave descendants.
Sega as World Intangible Heritage
Finally, the third achievement has been the ‘sega tipik’. In 2014, the traditional Mauritan sega dance was inscribed on the UNESCO world intangible list. The UNESCO website describes the sega as follows:
Traditional Mauritian Sega Tipik is a vibrant performing art, emblematic of the Creole community and performed at informal private family events or in public spaces. Songs sung in a minor key gradually increase in tempo, as dancers move their hips and hands to a percussive beat, using short steps to manoeuvre around each other in a variety of different formations.[…] Representing the multiculturalism of Mauritian society, Sega breaks down cultural and class barriers, creates opportunities for intercultural encounters, and unifies various groups around a shared Mauritian heritage.
While the sega was considered as debased and associated with the slave descendants, this world recognition has given great significance and value to the Creole culture. In fact, the sega transcends all barriers and is a symbol of ‘intercultural encounters’ as it has always been sung and danced by all Mauritians. Nowadays, it has become the cultural trademark for Mauritius at international level and it is the main aspect of the Mauritian culture which is portrayed for heritage tourism. However, there is a high risk that commodification of tourism dispossesses the Creoles of their rich cultural asset.
Hence, this paper examined the case of the Creoles of Mauritius in the context of the UN Decade of People of African Descents. I have demonstrated how Mauritius is doing very well at the level of international human development indicators, however, the situation for the Creoles and especially those of African descents is not improving. This situation raises issues of access to resources and the position of the Creoles as a group identity.
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