Mauritius (French: Maurice), officially the Republic of Mauritius (French: République de Maurice), is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) off the southeast coast of the African continent. The country includes the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues [560 kilometres (350 mi) east of Mauritius], and the outer islands (Agaléga, St. Brandon and two disputed territories). The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues form part of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion, a French overseas department. The area of the country is 2,040 km². The capital and largest city is Port Louis. Mauritius was a British colonial possession from 1810 to 1968, the year of its independence. The government uses English as the main language.
The sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago is disputed between Mauritius and the United Kingdom (UK). The UK excised the archipelago from Mauritian territory in 1965, three years prior to Mauritian independence. The UK gradually depopulated the archipelago’s indigenous population and leased its biggest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States. Access to the archipelago is prohibited to casual tourists, the media, and its former inhabitants. Mauritius also claims sovereignty over Tromelin Island from France.
The people of Mauritius are multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural and multilingual. The island’s government is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system, and Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy and for economic and political freedom. Along with the other Mascarene Islands, Mauritius is known for its varied flora and fauna, with many species endemic to the island. The island is widely known as the only known home of the dodo, which, along with several other avian species, was made extinct by human activities relatively shortly after the island’s settlement. Mauritius is the only country in Africa where Hinduism is the largest religion.
Flag of Mauritius
The island of Mauritius was uninhabited before its first recorded visit during the Middle Ages by Arab sailors, who named it Dina Arobi. However, the island might have been visited well before by sailors of ancient times; wax tablets were found on the shores of Mauritius by the Dutch, but since the tablets were not preserved, it cannot be said whether they were of Greek, Phoenician or Arab origin.
Coat of Arms
In 1507 Portuguese sailors came to the uninhabited island and established a visiting base. Diogo Fernandes Pereira, a Portuguese navigator, was the first European known to land in Mauritius. He named the island “Ilha do Cirne”. The Portuguese did not stay long as they were not interested in these islands.
Dutch Mauritius (1638–1710)
In 1598 a Dutch squadron under Admiral Wybrand Van Warwyck landed at Grand Port and named the island “Mauritius” after Prince Maurice van Nassau of the Dutch Republic, the ruler of his country. The Dutch established a small colony on the island in 1638, from which they exploited ebony trees and introduced sugar cane, domestic animals and deer. It was from here that Dutch navigator Abel Tasman set out to discover the western part of Australia. The first Dutch settlement lasted twenty years. Several attempts were subsequently made, but the settlements never developed enough to produce dividends, causing the Dutch to abandon Mauritius in 1710.
French Mauritius (1715–1810)
Map of Isle de France
France, which already controlled neighbouring Île Bourbon (now Réunion), took control of Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Isle de France. In 1723, the Code Noir was established to categorise one group of human beings as “goods”, in order for the owner of these goods to be able to obtain insurance money and compensation in case of loss of his “goods”. The 1735 arrival of French governor Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais coincided with development of a prosperous economy based on sugar production. Mahé de La Bourdonnais established Port Louis as a naval base and a shipbuilding centre.
Under his governorship, numerous buildings were erected, a number of which are still standing. These include part of Government House, the Château de Mon Plaisir, and the Line Barracks, the headquarters of the police force. The island was under the administration of the French East India Company which maintained its presence until 1767.
From 1767 to 1810, except for a brief period during the French Revolution when the inhabitants set up a government virtually independent of France, the island was controlled by officials appointed by the French Government. Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre lived on the island from 1768 to 1771, then went back to France, where he wrote Paul et Virginie, a love story, which made the Isle de France famous wherever the French language was spoken. Two famous French governors were the Vicomte de Souillac (who constructed the Chaussée in Port Louis and encouraged farmers to settle in the district of Savanne), and Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux (who saw to it that the French in the Indian Ocean should have their headquarters in Mauritius instead of Pondicherry in India).
The Battle of Grand Port between French and British naval forces, 1810
Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen was a successful general in the French Revolutionary Wars and, in some ways, a rival of Napoléon I. He ruled as Governor of Isle de France and Réunion from 1803 to 1810. British naval cartographer and explorer Matthew Flinders was arrested and detained by General Decaen on the island, in contravention of an order from Napoléon. During the Napoleonic Wars, Mauritius became a base from which French corsairs organised successful raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until 1810, when a Royal Navy expedition led by Commodore Josias Rowley, R.N., an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, was sent to capture the island. Despite winning the Battle of Grand Port, the only French naval victory over the British during these wars, the French could not prevent the British from landing at Cap Malheureux three months later. They formally surrendered the island on the fifth day of the invasion, 3 December 1810, on terms allowing settlers to keep their land and property and to use the French language and law of France in criminal and civil matters. Under British rule, the island’s name reverted to Mauritius.
British Mauritius (1810–1968)
Champ de Mars Racecourse, Port Louis, 1880
The British administration, which began with Sir Robert Farquhar as Governor, led to rapid social and economic changes. However, it was tainted by the Ratsitatane episode. Ratsitatane, nephew of King Radama of Madagascar, was brought to Mauritius as a political prisoner. He managed to escape from prison and plotted a rebellion that would free the island’s slaves. He was betrayed by an associate and was caught by the British forces, summarily judged, and condemned to death. He was beheaded at Plaine Verte on 15 April 1822, and his head was displayed as a deterrent against future uprisings among the slaves.
In 1832, Adrien d’Épinay launched the first Mauritian newspaper (Le Cernéen) which was not controlled by the government. In the same year, there was a move by the procureur-general to abolish slavery without compensation to the slave owners. This gave rise to discontent, and to check an eventual rebellion, the government ordered all the inhabitants to surrender their arms. Furthermore, a stone fortress, Fort Adelaide, was built on a hill (now known as the Citadel hill) in the centre of Port Louis to quell any uprising.
Demographics of slaves in Mauritius (top line represents death rate)
Slavery was abolished in 1835, and the planters ultimately received two million pounds sterling in compensation for the loss of their slaves who had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation. The abolition of slavery had important impacts on Mauritius’ society, economy and population. The planters brought a large number of indentured labourers from India to work in the sugar cane fields. Between 1834 and 1921, around half a million indentured labourers were present on the island. They worked on sugar estates, factories, in transport and on construction sites. Additionally, the British brought 8,740 Indian soldiers to the island. Aapravasi Ghat, in the bay at Port Louis and now a UNESCO site, was the first British colony to serve as a major reception centre for slaves and indentured servants for British plantation labour.
An important figure of the 19th century was Rémy Ollier, a journalist of mixed origin. In 1828, the colour bar was officially abolished in Mauritius but British governors gave little power to coloured persons, and appointed only whites as leading officials. Rémy Ollier petitioned to Queen Victoria to allow coloureds in the council of government, and this became possible a few years later. He also made Port Louis become a municipality so that the citizens could administer the town through their own elected representatives. A street has been named after him in Port Louis, and his bust was erected in the Jardin de la Compagnie in 1906. In 1885 a new constitution was introduced to Mauritius. It created elected positions on the governing council, but the franchise was restricted mainly to the French and Creole classes.
The labourers brought from India were not always fairly treated and a German, Adolph von Plevitz, made himself the unofficial protector of these immigrants. He mixed with many of the labourers, and in 1871 helped them to write a petition which was sent to Governor Gordon. A commission was appointed to look into the complaints made by the Indian immigrants, and in 1872 two lawyers, appointed by the British Crown, were sent from England to make an inquiry. This Royal Commission recommended several measures that would affect the lives of Indian labourers during the next fifty years.
In November 1901, Mahatma Gandhi visited Mauritius, on his way from South Africa to India. He stayed on the island for two weeks, and urged the Indo-Mauritian community to take an interest in education and to play a more active role in politics. Back in India, he sent over a young lawyer, Manilal Doctor, to improve the plight of the Indo-Mauritians. During the same year, faster links were established with the island of Rodrigues thanks to the wireless.
In 1903, motorcars were introduced in Mauritius, and in 1910 the first taxis, operated by Joseph Merven, came into service. The electrification of Port Louis took place in 1909, and in the same decade the Mauritius Hydro Electric Company (managed by the Atchia Brothers) was authorised to provide power to the towns of upper Plaines Wilhems.
The 1910s were a period of political agitation. The rising middle class (made up of doctors, lawyers, and teachers) began to challenge the political power of the sugar cane landowners. Dr. Eugène Laurent, mayor of Port Louis, was the leader of this new group; his party, Action Libérale, demanded that more people should be allowed to vote in the elections. Action Libérale was opposed by the Parti de l’Ordre, led by Henri Leclézio, the most influential of the sugar magnates. In 1911 there were riots in Port Louis due to a false rumour that Dr. Eugène Laurent had been murdered by the oligarchs in Curepipe. Shops and offices were damaged in the capital and one person was killed. In the same year, 1911, the first public cinema shows took place in Curepipe and, in the same town, a stone building was erected to house the Royal College. In 1912, a wider telephone network came into service and it was used by the government, business firms, and a few private households.
World War I broke out in August 1914. Many Mauritians volunteered to fight in Europe against the Germans, and in Mesopotamia against the Turks. But the war affected Mauritius much less than the wars of the eighteenth century. On the contrary, the 1914–18 war was a period of great prosperity because of a boom in sugar prices. In 1919 the Mauritius Sugar Syndicate came into being, and it included 70% of all sugar producers.
British colonial flag, 1923
The 1920s saw the rise of a “retrocessionism” movement which favoured the retrocession of Mauritius to France. The movement rapidly collapsed because none of the candidates who wanted Mauritius to be given back to France was elected in the 1921 elections. Due to the post-war recession, there was a sharp drop in sugar prices. Many sugar estates closed down, and it marked the end of an era for the sugar magnates who had not only controlled the economy, but also the political life of the country. Raoul Rivet, the editor of Le Mauricien newspaper, campaigned for a revision of the constitution that would give the emerging middle class a greater role in the running of the country. The principles of Arya Samaj began to infiltrate the Hindu community, who clamoured for more social justice.
The 1930s saw the birth of the Labour Party, launched by Dr. Maurice Curé. Emmanuel Anquetil rallied the urban workers while Pandit Sahadeo concentrated on the rural working class. Labour Day was celebrated for the first time in 1938. More than 30,000 workers sacrificed a day’s wage and came from all over the island to attend a giant meeting at the Champ de Mars.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, many Mauritians volunteered to serve under the British flag in Africa and the Near East, fighting against the German and Italian armies. Some went to England to become pilots and ground staff in the Royal Air Force. Mauritius was never really threatened, but several British ships were sunk outside Port Louis by German submarines in 1943.
During World War II conditions were hard in the country; the prices of commodities doubled but the salaries of workers increased only by 10 to 20 percent. There was civil unrest, and the colonial government crushed all trade union activities. However, the labourers of Belle Vue Harel Sugar Estate went on strike on 27 September 1943. Police officers eventually fired on the crowd, and killed three labourers including a boy of ten and a pregnant woman, Anjaly Coopen.
Postage stamp with portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, 1954
The first general elections were held on 9 August 1948 and were won by the Labour Party. This party, led by Guy Rozemont, bettered its position in 1953, and, on the strength of the election results, demanded universal suffrage. Constitutional conferences were held in London in 1955 and 1957, and the ministerial system was introduced. Voting took place for the first time on the basis of universal adult suffrage on 9 March 1959. The general election was again won by the Labour Party, led this time by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.
A Constitutional Review Conference was held in London in 1961 and a programme of further constitutional advance was established. The 1963 election was won by the Labour Party and its allies. The Colonial Office noted that politics of a communal nature was gaining ground in Mauritius and that the choice of candidates (by parties) and the voting behaviour (of electors) were governed by ethnic and caste considerations. Around that time, two eminent British academics, Richard Titmuss and James Meade, published a report of the island’s social problems caused by overpopulation and the monoculture of sugar cane. This led to an intense campaign to halt the population explosion, and the decade registered a sharp decline in population growth.
Independence (since 1968)
At the Lancaster Conference of 1965, it became clear that Britain wanted to relieve itself of the colony of Mauritius. In 1959, Harold Macmillan had made his famous Winds of Change Speech where he acknowledged that the best option for Britain was to give complete independence to its colonies. Thus, since the late Fifties, the way was paved for independence.
Later in 1965, after the Lancaster Conference, the Chagos Archipelago was excised from the territory of Mauritius to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). A general election took place on 7 August 1967, and the Labour Party and its two allies obtained the majority of seats. Mauritius adopted a new constitution and independence was proclaimed on 12 March 1968. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the first prime minister of an independent Mauritius with Queen Elizabeth II remaining head of state as Queen of Mauritius. In 1969, the opposition party Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) led by Paul Bérenger was founded. Later in 1971, the MMM, backed by unions, called a series of strikes in the port which caused a state of emergency in the country. The coalition government of the Labour Party and the PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Democrate) reacted by curtailing civil liberties and curbing freedom of the press. Two unsuccessful assassination attempts were made against Paul Bérenger. The second one led to the death of Azor Adélaïde, a dock worker and activist, on 25 November 1971. General elections were postponed and public meetings were prohibited. Members of the MMM including Paul Bérenger were imprisoned on 23 December 1971. The MMM leader was released a year later.
In May 1975, a student revolt that started at the University of Mauritius swept across the country. The students were unsatisfied with an education system that did not meet their aspirations and gave limited prospects for future employment. On 20 May, thousands of students tried to enter Port-Louis over the Grand River North West bridge and clashed with police. An act of Parliament was passed on 16 December 1975 to extend the right to vote to 18-year-olds. This was seen as an attempt to appease the frustration of the younger generation.
The next general election took place on 20 December 1976. The Labour Party won 28 seats out of 62 but Prime Minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam managed to remain in office, with a two-seat majority, after striking an alliance with the PMSD of Gaetan Duval.
In 1982 an MMM government led by Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth and Paul Bérenger as Minister of Finance was elected. However, ideological and personality differences emerged within the MMM leadership. The power struggle between Bérenger and Jugnauth peaked in March 1983. Jugnauth travelled to New Delhi to attend a Non-Aligned Movement summit; on his return, Bérenger proposed constitutional changes that would strip power from the Prime Minister. At Jugnauth’s request, PM Indira Gandhi of India planned an armed intervention involving the Indian Navy and Indian Army to prevent a coup under the code name Operation Lal Dora.
The MMM government split up nine months after the June 1982 election. According to an Information Ministry official the nine months was a “socialist experiment”. The new MSM party, led by Aneerood Jugnauth, was elected in 1983. Gaëtan Duval became the vice-prime minister. Throughout the decade, Aneerood Jugnauth ruled the country with the help of the PMSD and the Labour Party.
That period saw a growth in the EPZ (Export Processing Zone) sector. Industrialisation began to spread to villages as well, and attracted young workers from all ethnic communities. As a result, the sugar industry began to lose its hold on the economy. Large retail chains began opening stores opened in 1985 and offered credit facilities to low income earners, thus allowing them to afford basic household appliances. There was also a boom in the tourism industry, and new hotels sprang up throughout the island. In 1989 the stock exchange opened its doors and in 1992 the freeport began operation. In 1990, the Prime Minister lost the vote on changing the Constitution to make the country a republic with Bérenger as President.
Republic (since 1992)
On 12 March 1992, twenty-four years after independence, Mauritius was proclaimed a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. The last Governor General, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo became the first President. This was under a transitional arrangement, in which he was replaced by Cassam Uteem later that year. Political power remained with the Prime Minister.
Despite an improvement in the economy, which coincided with a fall in the price of petrol and a favourable dollar exchange rate, the government did not enjoy full popularity. As early as 1984, there was discontent. Through the Newspapers and Periodicals Amendment Act, the government tried to make every newspaper provide a bank guarantee of half a million rupees. Forty-three journalists protested by participating in a public demonstration in Port Louis, in front of Parliament. They were arrested and freed on bail. This caused a public outcry and the government had to review its policy.
There was also dissatisfaction in the education sector. There were not enough high-quality secondary colleges to answer the growing demand of primary school leavers who had got through their CPE (Certificate of Primary Education). In 1991, a master plan for education failed to get national support and contributed to the government’s downfall.
Port Louis,Parliament Building.
Dr Navin Chandra Ramgoolam was elected as Prime Minister in the 1995 election. The landslide victory of 60–0 was a repeat of the 1982 score, but this time it was on the side of the Labour–MMM alliance.
In February 1999, the country experienced a brief period of civil unrest. Riots flared after the popular singer Kaya, arrested for smoking marijuana at a public concert, was found dead in his prison cell. President Cassam Uteem and Cardinal Jean Margéot toured the country and, after four days of turmoil, calm was restored. A commission of enquiry was set up to investigate the root causes of the social disturbance. The resulting report delved into the cause of poverty and qualified many tenacious beliefs as perceptions.
Aneerood Jugnauth of the MSM returned to power in 2000 after making an alliance with the MMM, which included prominent figures such as Anil Bachoo, Pravind Jugnauth and Sangeet Fowdar amongst others. In 2002, the island of Rodrigues became an autonomous entity within the republic and was thus able to elect its own representatives to administer the island. In 2003, the prime ministership was transferred to Paul Bérenger of the MMM, and Aneerood Jugnauth went to Le Réduit to serve as president.
In the 2005 election, Navin Ramgoolam, leader of the Labour Party, was brought to power after making an alliance with the Parti Mauricien Xavier-Luc Duval (PMXD) and other minor parties. Navin Ramgoolam was again elected in May 2010. This time the Labour Party joined forces with the PMSD and the MSM. Under the new government, the country continued with its MID (Maurice Ile Durable) project, started in 2008, to make the economy less dependent on fossil fuels. The political landscape stayed rather confused. The Labour Party did away with the MSM, and then with the PMSD, whose leader had acted as Finance minister. The MMM made an alliance (known as Remake) with the MSM but broke off with the latter to become the ally of Labour Party. Parliament remained closed for most of 2014. A second republic was proposed (by the leaders of Labour and MMM) whereby a president, elected by the population, would hold more power and rule the country in joint collaboration with the PM. Nomination day took place on 24 November 2014 and, for the first time, electoral candidates had the option of not proclaiming their ethnic group. Only a few chose to do so. General elections were held on 10 December 2014, and the Lepep alliance made up of the MSM, PMSD, and Mouvement Liberater (led by an MMM dissident) was elected to power by reaping 47 seats out of 60. The Westminster system was thus maintained and Aneerood Jugnauth became the PM for the sixth time.
Shortly after the new government took office, the ex-PM was lengthily interrogated by the police on charges related to money laundering. The license of the Bramer Bank was revoked due to alleged lack of liquidity, and the BAI (British-American Insurance) was suspended from trading and placed in receivership. A United Nations tribunal ruled that Britain had acted illegally when it created a marine protected area around the Chagos without the consent of Mauritius, thereby depriving this country of its fishing rights. Fresh negotiations began with Jin Fei in view of reviving the project started in 2006. Mauritius will henceforth detain 80% of the shares while the rest would go to the Chinese promoters.
Modern skyline of Port Louis
Tourism continued to be the main source for foreign exchange, and the number of visitors to the island reached 1.1 million in 2015. Despite this boom in the tourism industry, Tourism Minister Xavier-Luc Duval placed a two-year moratorium on the construction of new hotels.
On 21 January 2017, Anerood Jugnauth announced that in two days time he would resign in favor of his son, Finance Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who would assume the office of prime minister. The transition took place as planned on 23 January.
Truth and Justice Commission
Operating from 2009 to 2011 the Truth and Justice Commission was established to explore the impact of slavery and indentured servitude in Mauritius. The Commission was tasked to investigate the dispossession of land and “determine appropriate measures to be extended to descendants of slaves and indentured laborers.” It was “unique in that it [dealt] with socio-economic class abuses” and explored the possibility of reparations. The Commission attempted to cover more than 370 years, the longest period of time that a truth commission has ever covered. Published 25 November 2011, the report outlined over 300 recommendations detailing ways to bring those affected by slavery and indentured labour out of poverty.
Mauritius is a member of the World Trade Organization, the Commonwealth of Nations, La Francophonie, the African Union, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the Indian Ocean Commission, COMESA, and formed the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
All military, police, and security functions in Mauritius are carried out by 10,000 active-duty personnel under the Commissioner of Police. The 8,000-member National Police Force is responsible for domestic law enforcement. The 1,400-member Special Mobile Force (SMF) and the 688-member National Coast Guard are the only two paramilitary units in Mauritius. Both units are composed of police officers on lengthy rotations to those services.
The total land area of the country is 2,040 km² (about 80% the size of Luxembourg). It is the 180th largest nation in the world by size. The Republic of Mauritius is constituted of the main island of Mauritius and several outlying islands. The second largest island is Rodrigues with an area of 108 km² and situated 560 km to the east of Mauritius, the twin island of Agalega with a total land area of 2,600 hectares and situated some 1,000 km north of Mauritius. Saint Brandon is an archipelago comprising a number of sand-banks, shoals and islets. It is situated some 430 km north-east of Mauritius and is mostly used as a fishing base. The nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covers about 2.3 million km² of the Indian Ocean, including approximately 400,000 km² jointly managed with the Seychelles.
The biggest island of the Archipelago, Diego Garcia is home to an American military base.
Mauritius is some 2,000 km (1,250 miles) off the southeast coast of Africa, between latitudes 19°58.8′ and 20°31.7′ south and longitudes 57°18.0′ and 57°46.5′ east. It is 65 km long and 45 km wide. Its land area is 1,864.8 km². The island is surrounded by more than 150 km (93 miles) of white sandy beaches, and the lagoons are protected from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef, which surrounds the island. Just off the Mauritian coast lie some 49 uninhabited islands and islets, several used as natural reserves for endangered species.
The island of Mauritius is relatively young geologically, having been created by volcanic activity some 8 million years ago. Together with Saint Brandon, Réunion, and Rodrigues, the island is part of the Mascarene Islands. These islands have emerged as a result of gigantic underwater volcanic eruptions that happened thousands of kilometres to the east of the continental block made up of Africa and Madagascar. They are no longer volcanically active and the hotspot now rests under Réunion Island. Mauritius is encircled by a broken ring of mountain ranges, varying in height from 300–800 m above sea level. The land rises from coastal plains to a central plateau where it reaches a height of 670 m; the highest peak is in the southwest, Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire at 828 metres (2,717 ft). Streams and rivers speckle the island, many formed in the cracks created by lava flows.
Panoramic view showing Port Louis, mountain ranges, and sugar cane plantations
Mauritius also claims sovereignty over Tromelin island from France, a small island that lies 430 km north-east of Mauritius.
Environment and climate
Tropical beach, Trou-aux-Biches
The environment in Mauritius is typically tropical in the coastal regions with forests in the mountainous areas. Seasonal cyclones are destructive to its flora and fauna, although they recover quickly. Mauritius ranked second in an air quality index released by the World Health Organization in 2011.
Situated near the Tropic of Capricorn, Mauritius has a tropical climate. There are 2 seasons: a warm humid summer from November to April, with a mean temperature of 24.7 °C and a relatively cool dry winter from June to September with a mean temperature of 20.4 °C. The temperature difference between the seasons is only 4.3 °C. The warmest months are January and February with average day maximum temperature reaching 29.2 °C and the coolest months are July and August with average overnight minimum temperatures of 16.4 °C. Annual rainfall ranges from 900 mm on the coast to 1,500 mm on the central plateau. Although there is no marked rainy season, most of the rainfall occurs in summer months. Sea temperature in the lagoon varies from 22–27 °C. The central plateau is much cooler than the surrounding coastal areas and can experience as much as double the rainfall. The prevailing trade winds keep the east side of the island cooler and bring more rain. There can also be a marked difference in temperature and rainfall from one side of the island to the other. Occasional tropical cyclones generally occur between January to March and tend to disrupt the weather for only about three days, bringing heavy rain
Mauritius ornate day gecko
The country is home to some of the world’s rarest plants and animals, but human habitation and the introduction of non-native species have threatened its indigenous flora and fauna. Due to its volcanic origin, age, isolation, and its unique terrain, Mauritius is home to a diversity of flora and fauna not usually found in such a small area. Before the Portuguese arrival in 1507, there were no terrestrial mammals on the island. This allowed the evolution of a number of flightless birds and large reptile species. The arrival of man saw the introduction of invasive alien species and the rapid destruction of habitat and the loss of much of the endemic flora and fauna. Less than 2% of the native forest now remains, concentrated in the Black River Gorges National Park in the southwest, the Bambous Mountain Range in the southeast, and the Moka-Port Louis Ranges in the northwest. There are some isolated mountains, Corps de Garde, Le Morne Brabant, and several offshore islands with remnants of coastal and mainland diversity. Over 100 species of plants and animals have become extinct and many more are threatened. Conservation activities began in the 1980s with the implementation of programmes for the reproduction of threatened bird and plant species as well as habitat restoration in the national parks and nature reserves.
Mauritius was the only known habitat of the extinct dodo, a flightless bird.
When it was discovered, Mauritius was the home of a previously unknown species of bird, the dodo, descendants of a type of pigeon which settled in Mauritius over four million years ago. With no predators to attack them, they had lost their ability to fly. Arabs became the first humans to set foot on Mauritius, followed by Portuguese around 1505. The island quickly became a stopover for ships engaged in the spice trade. Weighing up to 50 pounds, the dodo was a welcome source of fresh meat for the sailors. Large numbers of dodos were killed for food. Later, when the Dutch used the island as a penal colony, new species were introduced to the island. Rats, pigs, and monkeys ate dodo eggs in the ground nests. The combination of human exploitation and introduced species significantly reduced the dodo population. Within 100 years of the arrival of humans on Mauritius, the once abundant dodo became a rare bird. The last one was killed in 1681. The dodo is prominently featured as a (heraldic) supporter of the national coat of arms of Mauritius.
Mauritius is divided into nine districts which consist of different cities, towns and villages.
Population pyramid of Mauritius according to 2011 census
The estimated resident population of the Republic of Mauritius was 1,264,000 as of December 2016. The female population was 637,032 compared to a male population of 624,176. The population on the island of Mauritius is 1,219,265, and that of Rodrigues island is 41,669; Agalega and Saint Brandon had an estimated total population of 274. Mauritius has the highest population density in Africa.
Official statistics on ethnicity are not available, as such questions were removed from the population census in 1972. Mauritius is a multiethnic society, drawn from Indian, African, European (mostly French) and Chinese origin. According to a U.S. Ambassador to Mauritius, Mauritians “remain very conscious of their ethnic/communal identities”.
The Hindu festival of Thaipusam
According to the 2011 census conducted by Statistics Mauritius, Hinduism is the major religion at 51.9%, followed by Christianity (31.4%), Islam (15.3%) and Buddhism (0.4%). Those of other religions accounted for 0.2% of the population, and 0.7% reported themselves as non-religious and 0.1% did not answer. Mauritius is the only country in Africa to have a Hindu majority.
An officially secular state, Mauritius is a religiously diverse nation, with freedom of religion being enshrined as a constitutional right. The culture of the Mauritian people is reflected in the various religious festivities that are celebrated throughout the year, some of which are recognized as public holidays. According to one estimate Mauritians spend an average of more than 700 hours per year engaging in religious activities.
As both an English-speaking and French-speaking nation, Mauritius is a member of both the Commonwealth of Nations and the Francophonie. The Mauritian constitution makes no mention of an official language. In Parliament, the official language is English; however, any member of the National Assembly can also address the chair in French. English and French are generally accepted as the official languages of Mauritius and as the languages of government administration, courts, and business. The constitution of Mauritius is written in English, while some laws, such as the Civil code, are in French.
The Mauritian population is multilingual; while Mauritian Creole is the mother tongue of most Mauritians, most people are also fluent in English and French, they tend to switch languages according to the situation. French and English are favored in educational and professional settings while Asian languages are used mainly in music, religious and cultural activities. The media and literature are primarily in French.
The Creole language, derived mainly from French (a French-based Creole) with influences from the other dialects, is spoken by the majority of the population and is the country’s native language. The Creole languages which are spoken in different islands of the country are more or less similar: Mauritian Creole, Rodriguan Creole, Agalega Creole and Chagossian Creole are spoken by people from the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega and Chagos. Bhojpuri which was widely spoken as mother tongue, has been decreasing over the years. According to the 2011 census, there was a decrease in the use of Bhojpuri at home, it was spoken by 5% of the population compared to 12% in 2000.
Some ancestral languages that are also spoken in Mauritius include Bhojpuri, Chinese, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. School students must learn English and French; they also have the option to study Asian languages and Creole. The medium of instruction varies from school to school but is usually Creole, French and English.
Mauritius had a life expectancy of 75.17 years in 2014. 39% of Mauritian men smoked in 2014. 12.9% of men and 23% of women were obese in 2008.
Heroin use has a high prevalence rate of 0.91% (2011 UN figure);
The government of Mauritius provides free education to its citizens from pre-primary to tertiary level. In 2013 government expenditure on education was estimated at about Rs 13,584 million, representing 13% of total expenditure.
The adult literacy rate was estimated at 89.8% in 2011. Male literacy was 92.3% and female literacy 87.3%.
The education system in Mauritius consists of pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. The education structure consists of three years of pre-primary school, six years of primary schooling leading to the Certificate of Primary Education, five years of secondary education leading to the School Certificate, and two years of higher secondary ending with the Higher School Certificate. Secondary schools have “college” as part of their title.
The O-Level and A-Level examinations are carried out by the University of Cambridge through University of Cambridge International Examinations. The Tertiary Education sector includes universities and other technical institutions in Mauritius. The country’s two main public universities are the University of Mauritius and the University of Technology. The Tertiary Education Commission’s Strategic Plan envisages Mauritius as a regional knowledge hub and a centre for higher learning and excellence. It promotes open and distance learning to increase access to post-secondary education and lifelong learning locally and regionally.
Sugar cane plantation in Mauritius
Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has developed from a low-income, agriculture-based economy to a middle-income diversified economy, based on tourism, textiles, sugar, and financial services. In recent years, information and communication technology, seafood, hospitality and property development, healthcare, renewable energy, and education and training have emerged as important sectors, attracting substantial investment from both local and foreign investors.
Mauritius has no exploitable natural resources and therefore depends on imported petroleum products to meet most of its energy requirements. Local and renewable energy sources are biomass, hydro, solar and wind energy. Mauritius has one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the world, and in 2012 the government announced its intention to develop the marine economy.
Mauritius is ranked high in terms of economic competitiveness, a friendly investment climate, good governance and a free economy. The Gross Domestic Product (PPP) was estimated at US$22.025 billion in 2014, and GDP (PPP) per capita was over US$16,820, one of the highest in Africa.
Mauritius has an upper middle income economy, according to the World Bank in 2011. The World Bank’s 2016 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks Mauritius 49th worldwide out of 189 economies in terms of ease of doing business. According to the Mauritian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country’s challenges are heavy reliance on a few industry sectors, high brain drain, scarcity of skilled labour, ageing population and inefficient public companies and para-statal bodies.
Mauritius has built its success on a free market economy. According to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, Mauritius is ranked as having the 8th most free economy in the world, and the highest score in investment freedom. The report’s ranking of 183 countries is based on measures of economic openness, regulatory efficiency, rule of law, and competitiveness.
The Seven Coloured Earths at Chamarel
Mauritius is a major tourist destination, ranking 3rd in the region and 56th globally. It enjoys a tropical climate with clear warm sea waters, beaches, tropical fauna and flora complemented by a multi-ethnic and cultural population.
Mauritius received the World’s Leading Island Destination award for the third time and World’s Best Beach at the World Travel Awards in January 2012.
Issues often encountered by foreign tourists include scams, overcharging and dual pricing.
Since 2005 public bus transport in Mauritius is free of charge for students, people with disabilities and senior citizens. There are currently no railways in Mauritius, former privately owned industrial railways having been abandoned. To cope with increasing road traffic congestion, a Light Rail Transit system has been proposed between Curepipe and Port Louis.
The harbour of Port Louis handles international trade as well as a cruise terminal. The sole international airport for civil aviation is Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, which also serves as the home operating base for the national airline Air Mauritius; the airport authority inaugurated a new passenger terminal in September 2013. Another airport is the Sir Gaëtan Duval Airport in Rodrigues.
A food market at Port Louis, Mauritius
The cuisine of Mauritius is a combination of Creole, French, Chinese and Indian, with many dishes unique to the island. Spices are also a big part of Mauritian cuisine.
Holidays and festivals
The public holidays of Mauritius involve the blending of several cultures from Mauritius’ history. There are Hindu festivals, Chinese festivals, Muslim festivals, as well as Christian festivals.
There are 15 annual public holidays in Mauritius. Seven of these are fixed holidays: 1 and 2 January; 1 February; 12 March; 1 May; 2 November; and 25 December. The remaining public holidays are religious festivals with dates that vary from year to year. However these are public holidays, many other festivals such as Holi, Raksha Bandhan, Père Laval Pilgrimage also exist in Mauritius.
The Maiden Cup in 2006
The most popular sport in Mauritius is football and the national team is the Club M. Other popular sports in Mauritius include cycling, table tennis, badminton, volleyball, basketball, handball, boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo, weightlifting, bodybuilding and athletics. Water sports include swimming, sailing, scuba diving, windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Horseracing, which dates from 1812 when the Champ de Mars Racecourse was inaugurated, remains popular. The country hosted the second (1985) and fifth editions (2003) of the Indian Ocean Island Games. Mauritius won its first Olympic medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing when boxer Bruno Julie won the bronze medal.
In golf, the former Mauritius Open and the current AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open have been part of the European Tour.