A Brief History of Mauritius

mauritius mapWhile Arab and Malay sailors knew of Mauritius as early as the 10th century AD and Portuguese sailors first visited in the 16th century, the island was first colonized in 1638 by the Dutch. Mauritius was populated over the next few centuries by waves of traders, planters and their slaves, indentured labourers, merchants and artisans.  The island was named in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau by the Dutch, who abandoned the colony in 1710.

The French claimed Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Ile de France.  It became a prosperous colony under the French East India Company.  The French Government took control in 1767 and the island served as a naval and privateer base during the Napoleonic wars.  In 1810, Mauritius was captured by the British, whose possession of the island was confirmed 4 years later by the Treaty of Paris. French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained. The French language is still used more widely than English.

Mauritian Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves who were brought to work the sugar fields.  Indo-Mauritians are descended from Indian Immigrants who arrived in the 19th century to work as indentured labourers after slavery was abolished in 1835.  Included in the Indo-Mauritian community are Muslims (about 17% of the populations) from the Indian subcontinent.

Franco-Mauritians controlled nearly all of the large sugar estates and were active in business and banking. As the Indian population became numerically dominant and the voting franchise was extended, political power shifted from the Franco-Mauritians and their Creole allies, to the Hindus.

Elections in 1947 for the newly created Legislative Assembly, marked Mauritius’ first steps towards self-rule. An independence campaign gained momentum after 1961, when the British agreed to permit additional self-government and eventual independence. The Legislative Assembly election of 1967 was interpreted locally as a referendum on independence. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, MLP Leader and Chief Minister in the colonial government, became the first Prime Minister at independence on 12th March 1968. This event was preceded by a period of communal strife, brought under control with assistance from British troops.

Mauritius became a republic on 12th March 1992.  The most immediate result was that a Mauritian born President became head of state, replacing Queen Elizabeth II.