Globalization and the South West Indian Ocean: Mauritius & Neighbouring Islands

Mohan K. Gautam
Publication date: 
September 1998

21-23 September 1998. Réduit, Mauritius.

Four hundred years ago the Dutch under the command of Admiral Wybrandt van Warwijck landed on the island of Mauritius. He named the island Mauritius after Prince Maurits of Orange‑Nassau. To commemorate this event, the International Institute for Asian Studies and the University of Mauritius organized a seminar on globalization in the South-West Indian Ocean. The event was funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and given a historical continuity by the visit of the present-day Prince Maurits and Princess Marilène of Orange‑Nassau-Van Vollenhoven.

A series of socio‑cultural events to mark the celebrations were the fruits of a joint effort by the governments of the Netherlands and Mauritius. The international seminar was multidisciplinary in approach, participants coming from The Netherlands, Britain, France, Italy, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion and other countries.

In his opening speech Prof. Mohamedbha, Vice‑Chancellor of the University of Mauritius, welcomed the guests of honour, Prince Maurice and Princess Marilène. Prof. Stokhof, Director of the IIAS, elaborated on the scope of the theme of the Seminar by emphasizing the ‘globalization process’ of academic exchange. The inaugural address was delivered by Drs P Moree (Royal Dutch Library, The Hague). His specially written book A Concise History of Dutch in Mauritius (1598‑1710) was launched, as well as two books on Dodology published by the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences of Mauritius.

Dr Ross (Leiden) started the session on Dutch maritime history with his paper on the role of the Dutch as globalizers in interlinking the trade from South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius with that of India and the Indonesian islands. D'Unienville (Mauritius) explained that, even after the Dutch occupation the Dutch names in the geographical landscape were preserved by the French. Dr Sleigh (Cape Town) looked at the second Dutch occupation (1664‑1710) of Mauritius. A degree of self‑sufficiency was achieved, but the marriage alliances which the Dutch contracted with the slaves and concubines created problems of social hierarchy. Prof. Worden (Cape Town) went further by suggesting that, with the growth of the Cape Town under the VOC, Mauritius counted for little as a colony. With sixty percent of the city's inhabitants non‑European, Cape Town developed a multi‑lingual and multi‑religious character.

In another session, Rouillard established the first source on Mauritius fauna as Van Neck's second book (1601) which depicts the Dutch confrontation with the fauna and flora. Dr Staub looked at the controversy of dodology. According to ornithologists this bird came from Madagascar or Africa, but whether it was thin or fat remained an issue which lingered on after its extinction. It survived during the first 75 years of Dutch occupation, but it was only after 1865 that George Clark discovered its fossilized bones, and that the dodo came into the limelight.


Slave trade

Dr Campbell (Avignon) talked about the slave trade in Madagascar. Despite the fact that the Merina kingdom of Central Madagascar agreed to ban slave trade in 1828, under its auspices slaves were exported to Mauritius and Réunion in the 1830s. The slave trade came to an end when the Sakalava kingdom invaded Merina.

Prof. Mosca (Naples) stated that with the European expansion of sea routes the slave trade took on new dimensions. The Portuguese enslaved those people who could not pay the marine tax imposed in Portuguese controlled ports and sold them to the European merchants. Zanzibar always sold slaves to the Eastern countries and to Portuguese, the French and others. When there was a crying need for labour in the sugar islands, the figures even rose to 30,000 slaves per year. But when the winds of political change blew over the sugar colonies, the Indian Ocean Territories repudiated this institution.

Drs Van der Velde's (Leiden) paper was based on a travel diary kept by Jacob Haafner, who visited Mauritius in 1786/87, during the French occupation. He was shocked to observe that Mauritian elite society lived in opulence, but with such a disregard for morals it amounted to depravity. The paper of Dr Bois dealt with about the second half of the ninteenth century, when Madagascar served as the western ‘frontier’ for immigrants from the Mascarnes Islands. Most of the young people immigrated to the east coast of Madagascar, where the ensuing creolization of daily life continued from 1854 to 1883, until the arrival of the first French military expedition.

The session on ‘the Settlement History of the Islands’ discussed the formative conditions of the Indian diaspora. Dr Ram (New Delhi) enumerated the factors which instigated the flight of people of eastern India to the South-West Indian Ocean. It was the Dutch, however, who were responsible for the Indian slave trade. The paper by Dr Gautam (Leiden) was on the settlement of those Indians who landed by chance in two different colonies, Réunion and Mauritius. Since these colonies were influenced by different government policies, the Indians in Réunion were assimilated and made completely French in their outlook, while in Mauritius British ‘law’ stimulated them to maintain their Indian socio‑religious and cultural heritage.



On the last day archaeology in the South-West Indian Ocean was discussed. Drs Floore’s (Amsterdam) paper rediscovered the archaeology of Dutch-built Fort Fredrik Hendrik. The settlement of Grand Port (Mahebourg) was established in 1638, under its first commander, Cornelis de Gooyer. Conscious of the growth of the colony of Cape Town and of increasing trade prospects with India and other Eastern countries, the VOC deserted Mauritius (1710). Still today in the vicinity of the Dutch settlement many Dutch artefacts are found.

Prof. Hookoomsing (Mauritius) presented his key‑note address on constructing and reconstructing the cultural identities in the case of the Creoles. European colonial enterprise conditioned them into residing in a special Creole category. However, their oral narratives and songs have developed new forms of myths about their identity. Dr Police (Mauritius) discussed the Mauritian individual as the centre of a meeting place of cultural, ancestral, colonial, national and global issues. The behaviour of the Mauritian individual in his multi-ethnic society is in a state of flux because of the presence of two types of models: the colonial cultural model of the past legacy and the contemporary democratic cultural model of an independent Mauritius.

Dr Raharinjanahary (Antananaviro) maintained that the impact of languages, religions, and education of the neighbouring islands has brought the islanders closer to a regional understanding. Dr Razafiarivony's (Antananaviro) paper focused on the role of the Anglican Church as the bridge for constructing the unity of the islands. Mauritius served as the jumping-off point for the introduction of Christianity to Madagascar, but the scene changed when the French took over in 1896. However, from 1973 to 1995, Madagascar, Mauritius, and the Seychelles formed the Ecclesiastical Province of the Indian Ocean. In 1995, for economic reasons, the four Madagascan dioceses reclaimed their independence. The result was not that the Ecclesiastical Province was broken up but it had to be profoundly reorganized in order to maintain its unity.



Having pondered the historical legacies and blessings of the European expansion and various related issues, what can now be done to protect the rich heritage of the five islands the Comoros, Madagascar, Reunion, the Seychelles, and Mauritius? Campbell suggested the need for economic mutual relations to provide a barrier against the so-called ‘protectionism’ of the developed countries. Genuine regional economic co-operation started only after 1990, when the Cold War was over and multi-racial democracy appeared in South Africa. Perhaps the answer to better development in the region lies with the South‑South dialogue. Dr Agarwal (Jaipur) stressed that since the geo‑economical barriers between the islands are shrinking, the key to an overall development lies in greater regional co-operation and of resource management in the region. She mentioned two types of resources: the living ones consisting of fishery, mangroves, seaweeds, and coral reefs; and the non‑living ones consisting of fresh water, sea drugs, marine chemicals, offshore mining, and ocean engineering. Mr Chellapermal (Mauritius) concentrated on the multiple membership of a number of regional organizations, such as, SADC, COMESA, IOR‑ARC, RIM, and IOC as an asset to the regional development of the islands. The dream of the French governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais (1735‑46), of establishing a federation of the Great Mascareignes became true when the IOC (Indian Ocean Commission) was established in 1982. The five member states have consolidated their subregional bilateral co-operation. The regional co-operation in the South-West Indian Ocean can also create a regional integration.

Globalization was always a factor in the past and now it is needed more than ever to understand the region’s own multi‑cultural, multi‑lingual, and multi‑religious heritage and to integrate the five member states into a single economic co-operation. The task of scientists is to identify the areas for future research. In his closing address Prof. Stokhof praised the success of the seminar which had discussed a spectrum of themes covering, ecology, environment, economics, dodology, culture, etc., not as mono-insular points of view but from the regional comparative perspective. It is hoped that this seminar will not end abruptly but that it will lead to the development of a network of research relations and globalize the process of the regional development. Prof Mohamedbhai thanked the Government ministeries, organizers, and scholars and closed the seminar.

The seminar organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies and the University of Mauritius. The papers will be published by the International Institute for Asian Studies and the University of Mauritius.


Dr Mohan K. Gautam is attached to the Leiden University as an associate professor of anthropology and indology. He can be reached at e-mail:

To view seminar programme, see PDF attached.