When I mention that I visited Mauritius recently, everyone obviously imagines, small beautiful island 2000 km off the southeast coast of African Continent, with expansive sugarcane fields, pristine white sand beaches, sparkling sapphire blue waters, coral reefs, dramatic landscape with broken mountain ranges, rich and endemic flora and fauna, streams, waterfalls and last but not the least friendly, charming people.
The country that attained Independence in 1968 and became Republic in 1992, is major attraction for travelers all over the world and known for it’s vibrant and evolving but peace loving multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual culture and traditions. The country offers so much to everyone, be it Grand Baie and Flic En Flac beach areas, considered as most happening places, enchanting day trips on boat to lagoons and circular cliffs like lle Aux Cerfs, geographical wonder like Cascades Chamarel ( Seven Coloured Earth ), sacred, religious place like Ganga Talav also known as Grand Bassin, a crate lake surrounded by Temple of Lord Siva, and many shrines and statues (including 108 ft high statue of Mangal Mahadev, tallest in the country), Le Caudan Waterfront at Port Louis with famous Blue Penny Museum, shops selling handicrafts, souvenirs, textiles, theatres and what not , and not to forget the authentic and varied cuisine to satiate the taste buds of foodie junks.
But I chose to explore an unusual place, historical but forgotten, generally not mentioned in routine tourist guides and not frequented by casual tourists. I took a taxi to travel to southwest tip of the country passing through small settlements, green fields that have gigantic but discontinuous mountain ranges as backdrop, cooled by the occasional drizzle to reach lesser known International Slave Route Monument, a World Heritage Site of UNESCO, sitting at the foothills of Le Morne Brabant Mountain, shrouded in tales of human misery, brutal exploitation and horrors of human misdemeanors.
Those who are aware of history of Mauritius remember that this country was once a part of wide spread and complex international slave trade and served as one of the major routes of inhuman and barbaric movement of millions of hapless people mostly from Africa to different parts of the world. It was only when UNESCO launched it’s larger official project titled “The Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage” in Ouidah, Benin in 1994, the importance of the historicity of Le Morne, was recognized fully. Thus, silence on surrounding the inhuman slave trade, it’s disastrous consequences on societies was broken. The project aims at promoting “a culture of peace based on reflections on cultural pluralism, intercultural dialogue and the construction of new identities and citizenships”.
This Monument at Le Morne was inaugurated on 1st February 2009 marking the occasion of 174 anniversary of abolition of slavery in Mauritius, reflecting the symbolism of resistance to slavery. This is located in an area with natural vegetation and integrated with the linear connection of sea, beach and a historical place called “Valley of Bones“.
I was told that this is the fourth such Monument in the countries of Indian Ocean, the other three are in Mozambique, Madagascar and Reunion Island respectively. According to slave historian Dr.Pier Larson, in the century between 1720s and 1820s, more than 200,000 slaves arrived in Mauritius and Reunion Island from East African and Malagasy ports and many of them died aboard the slave ships en route their destinations due to starvation, dehydration, inhuman conditions, disease and squalor. The history of slave trade in Mauritius is inextricably linked to deaths of hundreds and thousands of slaves.
The present Monument resounds the deep silence of human misery and the dark and tragic tales of how the helpless slaves jumped from the mountain cliff and the summit, unimaginable horror and agony moves the heart of anyone visiting the place and bring tears to the eyes. In the Centre of the Monument is a main sculpture in a circular elevation, surrounded by various other sculptures and engravings symbolizing and indicating the origin and destination of countries of slaves brought into or sent from Mauritius, to Mozambique, Madagascar, India, China, Malaysia, Haiti, Reunion Island, Senegal and France.
This forgotten history is commemorated on August 23rd every year, on the day of UNESCO’s International Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade to generate more awareness, promote better understanding and genuine empathy amongst all populace across the world and to sustain the discourse reminding us the need and relevance of freedom in our lives. Those who want to spend leisurely hours at the Le Morne beach should visit this Monument invariably to spare an hour or so to understand and share the feelings of those forgotten people and pay our heartfelt homage to their courage and their flight to freedom and their suffering and sacrifice
— Madan Gopal