Brief history of Mauritius
This brief history of Mauritius makes explains the reasons behind the mix of languages, cultures and ethnicity on the island.
The first mentions of the island refered to as Dina Robin come from Arab sailors a few hundred years before the 16th century. In the 16th century, Portuguese explorers found 3 islands which they called the Mascarenes Islands, after the Portuguese exploratory and navigator Pedro Mascarenhas. The 3 islands making up the Mascarenes are today known as Reunion Island, Mauritius and Rodrigues, a dependency of Mauritius.
Come the Dutch
The first accurate record of men setting foot on the island was in 1598 by Dutch sailors. They called the island Mauritius after their prince Maurits von Nassau. In the next few decades, the Dutch made a weak attempt at settlement, used the island as a safe harbour during cyclones and to replenish their ships on fresh food and water. They introduced the sugar cane, the deer and monkeys but at the same time cut down ebony trees for trading and gorged themselves on the dodo, leading to its extinction.
For some reasons, the Dutch permanently left the island by the year 1710. We can only guess at their reasons: perhaps a lack of dodos to feed on, a short supply of ebony trees or droughts, floods, cyclones and mosquitoes hampering their efforts at settlement.
Then the French
The island was left to its own until the French landed in 1715. They called the island l’Ile de France and made a serious and successful attempt at settling down in the country. By then, the geo-location of the island had taken political importance as Mauritius was on the Indian Trade Route. The French and British were busy fighting the spoils in this area of the world and whoever controlled Mauritius would have a clear advantage of the sea route. Thus the French persevered in their attempt to further develop the island. In July 1735, Mahe de Labourdonnais was named governor of the island and is widely credited for having developed the island. Under his rule, forests were cleared, roads were built, land turned over to agriculture and in particular to sugar cane cultivation.
As the geo-political importance of Mauritius grew, The British made more and more frequent attempts at taking over the island for themselves. The French settlers built defence around the island and remains are still visible today. Signal Mountain near Port-Louis was used as a lookout over the harbour to signal attacks from the sea, thus its name. In August 1810, the British launched an ambitious sea raid at Grand Port to take over the whole island. It ended in disaster.
Followed by the British…
The Brits did not give up trying to take possession of the island and in December 1810 launched a successful attack from the north of the island. They renamed the island Mauritius. Among the terms of the surrender of the French, the British allowed them to stay on the island, to keep their culture, language and religion as laid out in the Treaty of Paris. This is the historical reason why today English is the official language of Mauritius, rarely spoken, yet widely understood and written while French is more widely spoken yet not an official language.
During the British occupation, Mauritius was part of the British Empire. The French developed the island with the help of slaves from Africa but in 1835, slavery was abolished. Under the British, labour was brought from India and China to further develop the island and especially work in the fields.
…and finally the Mauritians
The way for independence was paved in 1948 when general elections were held and a newly-created Legislative Council convened. A ministerial system was introduced in the 1950s and constitutional reviews took place throughout the 1960s. After the 1967 General Elections, a new constitution was adopted which led to Mauritius being granted independence from Britain in 1968.
In 1992, Mauritius ceased all official ties with The United Kingdom by becoming a Republic. Today, the Republic of Mauritius covers the island of Mauritius, the island of Rodrigues, a few other small and remote islands and a vast sea territory.
You can find important dates in the history of Mauritius on the BBC website.