Understanding the Cultural Diversity and History of Mauritius

07th February 2018

One of the things that sets Mauritius apart from many of the other idyllic and gorgeous island destinations, is its fascinating history and melting pot of cultures with influences from Africa, Europe, China and India—it’s a wonderfully interesting destination for intrepid travelers and curious historians. One thing that many travel brochures don’t highlight is that Mauritius is not only a breathtaking holiday destination, it’s one filled with colour, beautiful people, wonderful stories, sensational food and fascinating sights, made even more profound when you have a bit of a background into the history, culture and local language of this breathtaking destination. Eager to understand Mauritius more before heading to the island paradise? Here are some of the things we think you should know: 

The Mauritian culture has been influenced by many others
Before the Dutch settlers arrived in Mauritius, it was said to be totally uninhibited—a tropical haven filled with jungles of endemic plants which were home to a huge array of exceptional animals and birds, many of which are now extinct. During the colonisation of Mauritius, the Dutch, French and British brought slaves and workers from Africa and India with Chinese traders entering Mauritius at a similar time. The people of Mauritius today are descendants of European settlers (predominantly the French), of African slaves and Creoles, Chinese traders and Indian labourers. The dynamics on the island are considered a great example of cultural integration; there is a sense of pride about and unity in being Mauritian, which you often don’t see in other countries where there is a varied people with different languages, cultures and customs. 

There is no “official” language in Mauritius 
Despite the fact that there is no actual “official” language in Mauritius, the government and administrative work is all conducted in English and it is taught in schools. In contrast, many of the television channels and newspapers are in French, which is understood by more of the local population than English and for the most part, people in Mauritius tend to speak Creole (which has a lot of French influence). Unfortunately, while this is the case, there has never been any formal implementation of the language and there is no agreed-upon way to write it, however, in schools, ancestral languages are promoted so people in Mauritius are encouraged to continue to speak Creole both at home and at school. Approximately 86.5% of the population speak Mauritian Creole, 5.3% of the country speaks Bhojpuri and 4.1% of the country speaks French. Try your hand at some Mauritian Creole basics before heading to the Indian Ocean island—the locals will definitely appreciate the effort. 

Mauritius won their independence in 1968

After a long battle for independence, Mauritius finally started on the road to self-government in the 1950s and finally managed to break away from England on the 12th of March 1968, with Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (who went on to become the first prime minister of Mauritius) at the helm of the movement. 

It has a population of 1.2 million people
The current population of Mauritius sits at approximately 1.2 million people, the majority of which reside in the country’s capital, Port Louis. Because the island is fairly small, Mauritius is said to have one of the highest population densities in the world. It is said that Indo-Mauritians (of Indian descent) make up the majority of the population at 68%, Creoles (of African descent) make up about a third of the population, the Chinese are next with approximately 30 000 Sino-Mauritians on the island and the Franco-Mauritians are in the minority, with much lesser numbers than the abovementioned groups. Over the last few, years there has been an increase in South African expats residing in Mauritius as well. 

There is a diverse array of religions
Because Mauritius has such a diverse people, it also naturally boasts a diverse religious landscape. Across the island, you will notice phenomenal Hindu shrines, stunning mosques, colourful pagodas and gorgeous Christian cathedrals: the phenomenal thing about Mauritius is the religious freedom afforded to Mauritians where they can choose the faith they desire (and which hugely helps to keep the peace on the small island). Hindus make up approximately 52% of the population, Christians approximately 28.3%, Muslims around 16.6% and those of other faiths make up around 3.1% of the population. There are many outstanding religious places to visit when in Mauritius, but if you only have time to see one or two, we highly recommend the stunning red-roofed church in Cap Malheureux named Notre-Dame Auxiliatrice and a stop at Grand Bassin. 

The food in Mauritius is absolutely sensational

Thanks to the veritable plethora of cultural influences in Mauritius, the local food is smorgasbord of flavours, aromatic spices and culinary delights. While world-class international fare is very easy to come by (either at your hotel or around the island), the local food is truly delicious and should definitely be sampled while holidaying in Mauritius. Many of the restaurants in the cities are owned by Chinese people, but the food served is usually a combination of the ethnic favourites. Street food is very common and hugely popular and includes the likes of roti, curried rolls, dim sum, soups and noodles. 

The locals generally eat a lot of rice and they mix that with different types of meats, fresh fish and variations of stews made with copious amounts of beautifully flavourful spices. The abundant supply of fresh, local fruits and vegetables means that the dishes are also usually filled with wonderful fresh produce. Be on the lookout for incredible local favourites and delicacies such as dhal puri, palm heart salad (also known as millionaires salad), Mauritian boulettes (which are dumplings) and gateau piment. Be sure to also give the gorgeous curries and wonderful fresh seafood a try (think crayfish bbqs on the beach!). 

There are exceptional celebrations that take place throughout the year
Festivals and celebrations in Mauritius are typically filled with vibrant colours and festive parties. There are 12 public holidays in Mauritius and it would be an extraordinary experience to be there for at least one of them. The annual holidays are as follows:

  • New Year's Day (1 and 2 January)
  • Chinese New Year (January/February)
  • Thaipoosam Cavadee (January/February—a Tamil celebration that takes place on the night of the full moon in the Tamil month) 
  • Maha Shivaratri (February/March—celebrated in honour of the Hindu god Shiva) 
  • Republic Day (12 March—to celebrate the independence of Mauritius)
  • Ugadi New Year (March/April—New Year for Hindus from specific parts of India)
  • Labor Day (1 May)
  • Eid El-Fitr (June—to celebrate the end of Ramadan, an important Muslim practice) 
  • Ganesh Chaturthi (August/September—Hindu festival in honour of the god Ganesha)
  • Diwali (October/November—the Hindu festival of lights)
  • All Saints’ Day (1 November—a Christian festival in celebration of all saints)
  • Christmas (25 December)

It’s a sensational holiday destination
There’s no doubt that Mauritius would make an extraordinary holiday destination; with outstanding weather practically year-round, an sensational culinary scene, superb surrounds and outdoor activities, and a colourful and eclectic culture with wonderful locals.

If you are looking for the ultimate accommodation which will allow you to fully embrace the wonders of Mauritius, then take a look at the exemplary Sunlife. All four of the Mauritian Sunlife resorts offer guests a unique experience with all of them promising sublime cuisine, stunning luxury accommodation, excellent service and an unforgettable holiday in paradise

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