Le Morne Cultural Landscape
Le Morne Cultural Landscape
Cultural Mauritius Africa

An understanding of the role Mauritius played in the India Ocean slave trade has developed in response to research in recent years. Slaves first reached Mauritius in 1639 only a year after the Dutch East India Company established its first settlement on the island. During the 1640s more than 300 slaves were imported form Madagascar to exploit the natural resources of the island and slaves remained part of the population until 1710 when the Dutch abandoned the island.

Eleven years later slaves accompanied the first French colonists. By 1740 slaves outnumbered the white population by almost seven to one. A royal decree opening the island to free trade by all French nationals in 1769 led to an increase in trade and population with slaves being bought not just in Madagascar but also the slave markets of Kilwa and Zanzibar (now in Tanzania). The increase in the slave population was dramatic rising from around 15,000 in 1767 to around 49,000 in 1797. During the later 18th century they accounted for around 80-85% of the population. By the early 19th century there were around 60,000 slaves;thereafter the numbers declined but still accounted for two-thirds of the population at the time of emancipation in 1835.

Slaves in Mauritius came from throughout the Indian Ocean and beyond. Colonial censuses record people from Madagascar, Mozambique, Guinea Coast of West Africa, Canary Islands, Abyssinia, and from the Indian subcontinent - there is mention of Bengalis, Malabars and Timorians for instance. The slaves were usually recorded as belonging to one of four groups: Creole or locally born, Malagasy, Mozambiquan and Indian. Overall about 40% seemed to have come from east Africa, 50% from Madagascar, 6.8% from India and the remainder from elsewhere such as West Africa.

A village called Trou Chenilles was established for freed slaves on the southern foot of Le Morne Mountain. The village was hit by a cyclone in 1945 and moved to a location further east along the coast. It was moved again in 1964 to the present location of Le Morne Village, to the southeast of Le Morne Mountain along the coast. It is largely inhabited by Creoles, descendants of maroon Slaves who lived on and around Le Morne Mountain. The village residents have maintained a spiritual connection with Le Morne Mountain which they regard as sacred. The community is custodian to traditions including music, dance, story-telling and cuisines handed down from their slave ancestors.

In the past decade, parts of the core and buffer zones have been developed including five resort hotels along the coast, an upmarket residential settlement, the Morcellement Cambier on the north-western foot of Le Morne Mountain, and six houses on the southern foot of the mountain.