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Appreciating Mauritian History At Aapravasi Ghat

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.

Sign for the Aapravasi Ghat.
This sign welcomes you to this important cultural and historical site in Port Louis.

What is the Most Important Site in Mauritius?

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.

Footprint memorial plaque at Aapravasi Ghat, Port Louis, Mauritius.
Footprint plaque commemorating the importance of the Aapravasi Ghat in Mauritian history.

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.

Inside the museum at Aapravasi Ghat, Port Louis, Mauritius.
A boat scene in the museum.

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.

Kitchen scene in the museum at Aapravasi Ghat, Port Louis, Mauritius.
A mock up of the kitchens the indentured servants had to use.

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.

Aapravasi Ghat walls and dock, Port Louis, Mauritius.
Aapravasi Ghat walls; it shows that it is right on the harbor.

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.

Indentured servant holding rooms.
Rooms for the indentured servants.

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 (like traditional Mauritian Curry), 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?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

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Appreciating Mauritian History At Aapravasi Ghat..........................tourist site | travel tips | history | immigration | diaspora

Mary {The World Is A Book}

Friday 28th of April 2017

I have only seen photos of Mauritius as an island resort. What an interesting and also sad history. If we ever make it there, I would love to visit this museum.

Corinne Vail

Friday 28th of April 2017

Mary, It is fascinating, and even though it has such a tragic beginning, they've come out of it well.

Rhonda Albom

Thursday 20th of April 2017

I have not been to Mauitius yet but I know somebody who is moving there. I did not realise that it was uninhabited.

Corinne Vail

Thursday 20th of April 2017

Wow! You know someone moving there?! I think I could live there for a little while, but an island is still and island.