Mauritius, an island covering 1,860 square kilometres (720 square miles), is situated some 2,000 kilometres (1242 miles) off the south East coast of Africa. More than 150 kilometres (93 miles) of white sandy beaches and transparent lagoon are protected from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef, which surrounds the island.
The population is estimated at 1,2 million. It forms a mosaic of different races, cultures and religions since Mauritians are descendants of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, Africa, Europe and China. The cultural diversity and racial harmony of the island make of Mauritius a unique place. Most Mauritians are multilingual, being fluent in Creole, French and English. English is the official language. Bhojpuri, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Marathi, Telugu and Mandarin are also spoken.
Mauritius is a democracy modelled on the British system of parliamentary democracy, which guarantees the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers. The President is the Head of State and Commander-in-chief while the Prime Minister has full executive powers and is the Head of Government. Sixty-two members of the National Assembly are elected every five years by universal adult suffrage. Democracy is well entrenched in Mauritius and all major political parties are represented in Parliament.
Location: Southwest of the Indian Ocean, 2,000 km off East Africa, between Latitudes 19°50 and 20°32South and Longitudes 57°18 and 57°46 East
Surface Area : 1,860 sq km
Climate: Maritime climate tropical summer (27°C - 33°C)
subtropical winter (17°C - 25°C)
Central plateau rises 600 metres above sea-level.
Highest mountain peak: Piton de la Rivière Noire
The island had for a long time remained unknown and uninhabited. Arab sailors reportedly visited it during the Middle Ages, and on maps of about 1500, it is shown by an Arabic name ‘Dina Arabi'. The Portuguese sailor Domingo Fernandez Pereira was the first European to land on the island around 1507. The island appears with a Portuguese name `Cirne' on early Portuguese maps, probably because of the presence of the Dodo, a flightless bird found in great numbers at that time.
It was another Portuguese sailor, Don Pedro Mascarenhas, who gave the name Mascarenes to the group of islands now known as Mauritius, Rodrigues and Réunion. The Portuguese did not settle permanently on these islands.
The Dutch period (1598-1710)
The French period (1715-1810)
The British period (1810-1968)
The Dutch period (1598-1710)
In 1598, a Dutch squadron, under the orders of Admiral Wybrand Van Warwyck, landed at Grand Port and named the island Mauritius, in honour of Prince Maurice Van Nassau, "Stathouder" of Holland.
However, it was not until 1638 that a first attempt was made at Dutch settlement. It was from here that the famous Dutch navigator Tasman set out to discover the Western part of Australia. The Dutch are remembered for the introduction of sugarcane, domestic animals and deer. They left Mauritius in 1710.
The French period (1715-1810)
After the Portuguese and the Dutch, the French took an interest in Mauritius. By 1715, they had started to settle on a permanent basis on the island which they renamed Isle de France. French governor François Mahé de La Bourdonnais established Port Louis as a naval base and a shipbuilding centre. Under his governorship, numerous buildings were put up, a number of which are still standing to-day - part of Government House, the Château de Mon Plaisir at Pamplemousses and the Line Barracks The island was under the administration of the French East India Company which maintained its presence until 1767.
From that year until 1810, it was in charge of officials appointed by the French Government, except for a brief period during the French Revolution, when the inhabitants set up a government virtually independent of France.
During the Napoleonic wars, Isle de France had become a base from which French corsairs organised raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until 1810 when a strong British expedition was sent to capture the island. A preliminary British attack was foiled at Grand Port in August 1810 but the expedition launched in December of the same year from Rodrigues, which had been captured a year earlier, was successful. The British landed in large numbers in the North of the island and rapidly overpowered the French, who capitulated. By the Treaty of Paris in 1814, Isle de France which regained its former name of `Mauritius' was ceded definitely to Great Britain, together with its dependencies which included Rodrigues and the Seychelles. In the Act of Capitulation, the British guaranteed that they would respect the language, the customs, the laws and the traditions of the French settlers.
The British period (1810-1968)
The British administration, which began with Robert Farquhar as Governor, was marked by rapid social and economic changes. One of the most important events was the abolition of slavery in 1835. The planters received a compensation for the loss of their slaves who had been brought in from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation.
The abolition of slavery had important repercussions on the socio-economic and demographic fields. The planters turned to India, from where they brought a large number of indentured labourers to work in the sugar cane fields. The Indian immigrants, who were of both Hindu and Muslim faiths, were to change rapidly the fabric of the society. They were later joined by a small number of Chinese traders.
Cultivation of sugar cane was given a boost and the island flourished, especially with the export of sugar to England. Economic progress necessitated the extension and improvement of communications and infrastructure.
On the Constitutional plane, the Council of Government which was first established in 1825, was enlarged in 1886 to make room for elected representatives. The new Council included 10 members elected on a restricted franchise. It was not until 1933 that the Constitution was significantly amended. The proportion of nominated members of the Council not holding public office was raised to two-thirds. However, franchise was still restricted to persons within a certain income bracket and to property owners. A major breakthrough occurred in 1948, when after years of protracted negotiations for a more liberal Constitution, franchise was extended to all adults who could pass a simple literacy test.
The Council of Government was replaced by a Legislative Council composed of 19 elected members, 12 members nominated by the Governor and three ex-officio members. General elections were held in August 1948 and the first Legislative Council met on 1st September 1948.
Following Constitutional conferences held in London in 1955 and 1957, the ministerial system was introduced and general elections were held on 9th March 1959. Voting took place for the first time on the basis of universal adult suffrage and the number of electors rose to 208,684. In 1961, a Constitutional Review Conference was held in London and a programme of further Constitutional advance was established. It was followed in 1965 by the last Constitutional Conference which paved the way for Mauritius to achieve independence. After general elections in 1967, Mauritius adopted a new Constitution and independence was proclaimed on 12 March 1968 under the leadership of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the first Prime Minister of Mauritius. The island achieved the status of Republic 24 years later on 12 March 1992.
The various population movements of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries have made Mauritius a unique blend of different races, cultures and religions. People of European, African, Indian and Chinese origins have created a multiracial society where the various cultures and traditions flourish in peace and harmony.
The population started to grow under French rule in the 18th century. In 1735, the population was estimated at a thousand and reached nearly 20,000 in 1767, 15 000 of them being slaves. When the British abolished slavery in 1835, the population stood at 100,000. The population increased rapidly with the influx of Indian labourers. Between 1835 and 1865, some 200,000 labourers were brought in. By the turn of the century, the population numbered 371,000 and in 1944 it stood at 419,000. After the Second World War, the increase was more rapid as a result of the eradication of malaria and other diseases.
The rate of birth which was about 3 per cent in the 1960's has considerably dropped with family planning campaigns and greater awareness due to better education. During the last ten years, the population has grown at an average rate of 1.1 per cent annually. At the end of September 2002, the population of the Republic of Mauritius was estimated at 1,210,000.