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The Island of Mauritius
"God first made Mauritius and from it, he created Paradise." Mark Twain 1896
Where is it?
Over ten million years ago, the waters of the Indian Ocean boiled. Massive volcanoes erupted miles underneath the surface. Huge amounts of lava were forced up. This violence and force gave birth to a series of islands, today called the Mascarene Islands, located over 500 miles to the East of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa. These include the islands of Reunion, Rodrigues and the most famous of all - Mauritius.
Has it always been called Mauritius?
Mauritius is just 42 miles long and 29 miles wide, and has only been inhabited since the 17th Century, but already has a rich and varied history and is famous for many things. Early Arabic maps called the island Dina Mashriq (Eastern Island), the Portuguese called it the Island of the Swan when they first discovered it in the early 1500’s. The Dutch, who were the first to try to live there, renamed it Mauritius after Prince Maurice of Nassau, and under French rule from 1715, Ile de France was the name. With British rule in 1810 the name changed back to Mauritius, and has remained so, even after independence in 1968.
The island is also known as The Star and Key of the Indian Ocean because of its geographical position, and a local nickname is The Island of Rainbows and Shooting Stars – as these are commonly seen from Mauritius.
What is it famous for?
Historically, Mauritius was an important location on trade routes, and was one of the first countries in the world to produce postage stamps. The Blue Penny stamp from 1847 is one of the rarest in the world. However, it was (and is) sugar, introduced to the island in the 1600’s, that made the island. Mauritius has a perfect climate for growing sugar cane, it now covers much of the island, and Mauritian sugar is exported throughout the world.
Today Mauritius is also a famous holiday location for tourists wishing to relax on a beautiful paradise island. The coral reef surrounding much of it makes it ideal for water sports, diving and fishing. Its tropical climate means there are many exotic plants and flowers to see, such as the orchid or palm tree. Its volcanic origins have also created a fascinating landscape, with volcanic peaks, craters, coloured earths and waterfalls.
Music and dance are an important part of the culture and the traditional local dance (and style of music) is called Sega. This is a very rhythmic joyful dance to the accompaniment of drums and guitar.
What is it infamous for?
Because the island was isolated, many plants and animals developed there unlike anywhere else in the world, the Dodo being the most famous of these. This large, flightless bird was described by the first Dutch settlers, but by the time they left the island in 1710, all Dodos were gone. There are many theories for this, as the Dodos themselves were not good to eat, but most people now think that the animals the sailors brought with them (goats, pigs, rats) were the cause of this extinction – as they ate the bird’s eggs on the forest floor.
Is there a Mauritian nationality?
Mauritius has been called a rainbow nation because of its huge number of different ethnic groups. Different nationalities coming to the island over the centuries have brought their own culture, language, traditions, and added it to the Mauritian mixture – from India, China, France, England, and other African countries. There are over 80 different religious denominations and more than 20 languages spoken. Unsurprisingly, there are 11 official public holidays; from the Chinese New Year to the Hindu, Maha Shivaratree festival, part of which involves walking to a lake in the crater of an extinct volcano.
One connecting aspect is the welcoming nature of all Mauritians. It is a famously friendly and hospitable place.
Sugar cane, tourists and…?
In the1970s and 80s the Government encouraged the growth of the clothing industry in the country and the economy grew as a result. Now there is a far greater project underway; an effort to turn Mauritius from a sugar-island to a cyber-island. A state-of-the-art ‘cyber-city’ is being built to provide IT, computing and communication technologies for local and international companies. Cyber city is focussed around a 12-storey high-tech tower with excellent computing resources and internet connections. When completed, it will also contain more high-tech offices, a large supermarket and a housing development.
Perhaps in the future, Mauritius will have more ‘online’ tourists than real ones!