Yesterday, the 2nd of November, was the 175th anniversary of the Arrival of Indentured Laborers in Mauritius. The day is a national public holiday here and shops and businesses are generally closed for the day.
It’s been raining like absolute mad this past week which is odd for this time of year, but Monday seemed to bring about a chance of clear skies and so we decided to head East to Belle Mare to play golf.
We took our normal route, but were forced to take a detour when we started getting closer to Belle Mare. It seems that the beach at Belle Mare is quite the hopping place to be during a holiday and so the police decided to create some sort of drive diversion. I’m not certain what was accomplished by the set of road closures they set up for the day except for the fact that we were forced to drive directly into the massive crowds rather than go around them.
Passing the beach, I saw lots of families gathered together to enjoy the day. Many of them were setting up tents to protect from the hot sun and hanging up crimson, sienna and marigold-colored, large horizontal strips of fabric between the trees to create some sort of fence to blockade off their section of beach land. There are lots of fences in Mauritius so it doesn’t surprise me that the same concept would go to the beach, as well.
I had plenty of time to observe the beach scenes due to the traffic jam that was slowly inching it’s way past the beach and I had the thought that the beach is one of the few places on the planet where people from lots of different cultures go to do basically the same thing. People eat and take naps in the shade. Kids swim and men get excited over trying to light the BBQ.
When I lived in Chicago, I used to like walking down to Montrose beach on a summer Sunday to watch all the soccer games that were happening and just take in the sights and sounds of the kids riding their bikes into each other and the smell of spicy meat being grilled.
Here, the games being played might be different and the food being served would definitely send a Northern mid-westerner into a convulsive fit, but it’s really the same scene. Swap the bright saris for cropped pants and v-necks and color the turquoise water inky black and it still wouldn’t feel quite like Lake Michigan, but the beach activities going down in both places could fall into the category of similar sameness.
My mind then wandered onto thinking about what this national holiday was all about and what it meant to me and to these others hanging out by the beach.
Aapravasi Ghat in Port Louis is like a very mini-Ellis Island back in the States. In Hindi, Aapravasi Ghat means the landing place of immigrants and November 2nd is a holiday for the memory of the arrival of the first indentured laborers who came to Mauritius.
In 1834, the British government began to use indentured rather than slave labor to work on the sugar cane plantations. It’s said that over 70% of the current Mauritian population can trace their ancestry to those that arrived in Mauritius via Aapravasi Ghat or one of the other immigration depots on the island. From 1849 to 1909 thousands of immigrants came over from India and passed through Aapravasi Ghat.
It’s a good holiday to have and it’s important to remember and recognize; but, I couldn’t connect with it, personally. I’m not Mauritian. I’m not Indian. Would I have felt differently if my ancestors had been some of the French or British citizens who had colonized the island?
I did think about Juneteenth in the States and wondered why it wasn’t a national holiday that everyone had off and where the shops were closed. If it were a national holiday, would it cause even more segregation amongst people or bring people closer together?
These thoughts left my head as quickly as they had entered it and as we drove through gates of the golf club and passed the security check point, my mind wandered once more and I found myself thinking about why my drive is currently slicing to the right.
It rained. I lost many balls.