What is the Most Important Site in Mauritius?
If there is one thing that you must visit when traveling to the tropical island of Mauritius, it would be Aapravasi Ghat. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2006 due to its outstanding universal value, this site was critical in the development of this fascinating island nation.
Mauritius is a small island country located in the Indian Ocean and was uninhabited until the Dutch slave ships landed there in the sixteenth century. They first named the country Mauritius after Prince Maurice of Nassau. The industrious Dutch started planting sugar cane, which increased the value of the island with its exports of rum and sugar.
About 100 years later, the French took over the island for another hundred years, and they built a harbor in Port Louis which helped increase the trade of Mauritius’ major exports. All of these things, plus the fact that it was a great stopping point for the British on their way to India piqued the British navy’s interest and they fought for the island.
Indentured Servitude in Mauritius
Under the British, in 1835, slavery was finally abolished, but that presented them with a huge problem. Sugar cane is labor-intensive, and they needed to find a way to keep sugar cane and rum profitable, so they came up with a plan called the “Great Experiment” where they contracted indentured servants.
Between 1834-1921 the indentured servants, which primarily came from India, embarked on one of the largest human migrations in history. Much like immigrants to the US went through Ellis Island, all of these migrants started their lives in Mauritius at the Aapravasi Ghat (formerly the “Coolie Ghat”). Here the people signed their indenture contracts, had a medical exam, and were taken care of with food and housing until they were attached to a company and a plantation. Over seventy percent of the population in Mauritius today, is a descendant of someone who came through Aapravasi Ghat.
Visiting the Aapravasi Ghat Today
The Aapravasi Ghat is a museum housed in the old buildings where the migrants were processed and interned when they arrived in country. It is free to enter, and easily accessible just across the street from the main bus station in Port Louis. The site is open every day except Sunday starting at 9:00 A.M. It closes early on Saturday but otherwise it’s open til 4:00P.M.
The exhibit walks you through the history of the ghat, using mock ships as well as interactive computer displays, some dioramas, even into a replicated living space to illustrate the sacrifice, hardship and turmoil of migrants’ lives from their ship disembarkation until they left the center. After soaking up the biographies and detailed history, you can walk inside the old buildings.
Mauritius has had a rather tumultuous history, but they have become one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world with mosques, churches, and Hindu temples within walking distance of each other, delicious food, and multi-lingual citizens. To appreciate all that it has become, one really must visit the Aapravasi Ghat.
Have you been to the Aapravasi Ghat in Port Louis?
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