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  • Farzeen Heesambee

My two-pence on celebrating the abolition of slavery

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Slavery had been abolished in the British Empire in August 1834, but it wasn’t until 1835 that Mauritius finally heard of it and thus became the last British colony to abolish slavery.

There is a history of slavery in Mauritius that started from the time of the Dutch in the 1600s, which was then followed with a period of rest until the French took over the island in 1715, hence rendering the once freed slaves into slaves again. The British Empire who also had its eyes on Mauritius then battled the French and were eventually successfully in 1810 in defeating the French and taking over the island.

More slaves were brought in from neighbouring Madagascar and Mozambique and although they did not suffer the hardship of long travels, very few actually made it to Mauritius and were deemed to be in an acceptable state. Some died of sickness on the way, others were thrown overboard if they were too haughty and some decided it was better to take their own lives as they had nothing to live for, having been separated from their loved ones. An estimate of 1 million slaves death is recorded.

Conditions of living were harsh on the island and there was no escape. They were at the mercy of slaveowners who would punish them if unsatisfied with their hard-work. Cassava plants which were introduced on the island to provide food for the slaves were often destroyed as a form of punishment to teach them a lesson about who is in charge. Some slave owners would abide by the Code Noir that stipulated that no more than 30 lashes were allowed for every offence. The Code Noir also included other rules such as no work Sundays, one meat day per week and that every slavery should be gifted a new shirt every year, but obviously blind eyes were turned on those conditions. Chances of being freed were also diminished unless the slaveowner would publicly claim that his slave saved his life, an act of mercy that wasn’t easily available.

In 1832, Mauritius was the only country to see an open revolt as news of emancipation started to circulate but this was also short-lived as any other revolt against the system that we have seen in the country.

When in 1835, slavery was officially abolished in Mauritius, planters received two million pounds sterling as compensation for the loss of their slaves. Two million pounds in those days should have been enough to buy a couple of islands for yourself.

Why do I need to recount all this? It is not to celebrate the abolition of slavery, not to have party about how many of our ancestors survived, and to dance and sing the whole night at some event organised by political parties. But it is a reminder of the sweat and blood that have been poured in building Mauritius, a place we all ought to be proud of. Mauritius did not exist merely because of the colonisers, it wasn’t just a product of slaves’ blood, nor is it a sole result of the participation of indentured labourers. No, it wasn’t one single group or community, it was teamwork eventually that makes the country what it is.

We talk about the malaise creole, I remember the song when I was younger ‘Amizer Kreol’, where in Mauritius we refer to kreol as those of African descent unlike the global definition of it being someone born on a plantation based country irrespective of ancestry. No, it was never about having fun, that wasn’t the imagery they lived with and that we have inherited from them they were the most hardworking people who lived in unimaginable conditions. So for those who think ‘amizer Kreol’ is what defines them then you have to take a good look at yourself and be thankful for their contribution. This is not the history of one community but the history of every Mauritian, without the contribution of each and everyone, Mauritius would not exist.


Fokeer, A.F, ‘The Negroes in Mauritius’The Journal of Negro History , Apr., 1922, Vol. 7, No. 2 (The University of Chicago Press,1922), pp. 197- 205

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