MAURITIUS, EAST AFRICA — The population of Mauritius is a blend of different ethnic groups. There are no aboriginal people. When the island was discovered there were no inhabitants.
The Dutch were the first to settle the island in 1598. They introduced sugar cane and animals, but they later abandoned it.
The island eventually changed hands coming under France’s influence. They were the dominant European power until the British invaded Mauritius in 1810. Regardless of the colonial power who controlled Mauritius, the people that live on the island today are primarily the offspring of slaves, indentured labourers and immigrants that were brought in to supply the European continent with sugar, a commodity for which they craved.
Indians made up most indentured workers and their descendants make up the majority of the island’s modern-day population. They were able to maintain their religious beliefs and today Mauritius has the third highest Hindu population per capita in the world.
I will end my brief historical background at this point to remark on how interesting it is to be able to look at the followers of Hinduism. I cannot in truthfulness say that I understand a great deal about the concepts but as I get to visit the temples and holy sites it has whet my appetite to learn a bit more about the world’s third largest religion (or Dharma – way of life).
The Temples in the towns are absolutely spectacular. They are adorned with colourful statues of the different deities of the Hindu religion and pay homage to their different ideas and beliefs.
Mauritius is also home to Ganga Talao, an important pilgrimage site for many Hindus. We got to watch worshippers making offerings of fruits and vegetables into the lake (in a volcanic crater) which has been linked with the Ganges of India.
Inside the temples there were religious services with singing, chanting, the ringing of bells and the calling of horns and the burning of incense. We watched from the periphery so as not to disturb the people in their worship but were also felt very comfortable as voyeurs. It was incredibly peaceful and welcoming.
It is for these small insights into other cultures that makes our travel to different places in the world more fulfilling.
Jim Hildebrand is a former Pilot correspondent who shares his travel adventures with readers. In the coming weeks and months Jim will continue to provide photos from their travels and a glimpse of life abroad as he and his wife Jane continue to explore Mauritius in East Africa and then South Africa.