History of Mauritius

MauritiusThe history of Mauritius started with the probable discovery of the island by Arab sailors and merchants in the Middle Ages. Evidences supporting this theory are copies of Portuguese maps that show three small islands to the southeast of Madagascar bearing Arabic names. The Arabs, however, did not stay long on the island. Mauritius was too far from their usual trading routes and there was not enough population to trade with. The Portuguese came in the early 16th century but likewise never settled on the island. They did leave a legacy when Portuguese captain Pedro Mascarenhas gave the name Mascarenes to what is now the archipelago consisting of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Réunion.



The second part of Mauritius' history is called the Dutch period which started when the Dutch squadron, under the leadership of Admiral Wybrand Van Warwick, landed on the shores of Mauritius in 1598. It was actually the admiral who gave the island its place in history when he named it Mauritius in honor of Prince Maurice Van Nassau, the stadtholder of Holland. It was not until four decades later that the Dutch attempted to permanently settle on the island. Their colonization attempt was not very successful. The first settlement lasted for only twenty years. Efforts to revive the settlements failed miserably because of cyclones, floods and droughts. The Dutch were forced to leave the island and in 1710, the last settlers departed for good.
The French carved their own place in Mauritius' history when, in September 1715, French captain Guillaume Dufresne d'Arsel claimed the island for France. The French brought with them their African slaves to work in sugarcane plantations, which they have introduced and cultivated. The influx of African slaves also had a significant impact on the history of Mauritius. Blacks became more numerous than whites and the descendants of these slaves, the Afro-Mauritians have become a majority group in Mauritian society.


Aside from the sugarcane industry, one of the principal contributions of the French to Mauritian history was the transformation of Port Louis into a bustling sea port. This was chiefly through the effort of La Bourdonnais who established Port Louis as a naval base. He also built several structures during his time, some of which are still existent today.


The fourth phase in Mauritius' pre-20th century history was the change in the country's colonizers, from the French to the British. In 1814, the treaty of Paris ceded Mauritius to Britain, following years of fierce battle for the control of the country and the Indian Ocean. The name Mauritius, which was changed to Île de France during French colonization, was restored during British rule. The British also brought with them their Indian laborers, who also became so numerous that most of Mauritius' inhabitants today have Indian origin.
Another significant time in history is the liberation of Mauritius from British rule in 1968. The constitution was revised and for the first time in history, a Mauritian native (actually of Indian origin) Sir Seewosagur Ramgoolam became Chief Minister, then Primer from 1965 to 1982. The country became a republic almost a quarter of a century later, in March 12, 1992.


Mauritius is continually writing its history as major changes still occur over the years. From a sugarcane industry, it has transformed to an industrialized nation. Revenues are pouring in from tourism, agriculture and textile. Mauritius also aims to strengthen its IT and banking industries.


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