History – Early Explorations
The history of Mauritius begins around 900 AD, when Arab sailors, engaged in trade with people from the East African coast, the Comoros, and Madagascar, first laid eyes on what they called Dina Arobi (Abandoned Island). Since the Arabs were first and foremost traders and a journey as far into the Indian Ocean as the Mascarene Islands was a rather dangerous venture in their small dhows, there was no incentive to establish a settlement on the island.
At the end of the fifteenth century Europe started to cast its eyes to the East. Attracted by its treasures, of which spices were most important, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and explore the Indian Ocean. Vasco da Gama was the first to do so, and on his famous voyage in 1498 he was the first European to learn about the existence of the Mascarene Islands by way of a map shown to him by his Indian pilot. Mauritius was indicated by its Arab name the very first time it appeared on a European map in 1502, two years after the Portuguese navigator Diogo Dias became the first European to discover the island. The Portuguese did not settle on Mauritius, for the island did not possess any of the riches they were after. They did, however, stop occasionally on the island to obtain food and water before continuing their journeys to the East. They gave the island several names, of which Ilha do Cerne (Swan Island) was preferred in the end. Up to 1598 the Portuguese (as well as pirates from various regions) were the only ones to visit the island, and therefore it was regarded by many as a Portuguese possession.
Abolition of Slavery
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, hundreds of slaves used Le Morne Brabant (a hill/mountain with a summit of 556 meters above sea level located on the south-west corner of Island) as a place to hide in fear because of their holders. After the abolition of slavery in Mauritius, an expedition made its way to the mountain on 1st February 1835 to tell the slaves that they are free now. Unfortunately, the slaves misunderstood the announcement and jumped off the mountain to their deaths, so that they would not be enslaved again. Since then, this day is celebrated as Annual Commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery by Mauritians. Le Morne Brabant has been a site inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2008.
Le Morne World Heritage Site
Inaccessible since its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008, the Le Morne Mountain, symbol of Maroons and resistance to slavery, opened its footpaths to the public in July 2016. Le Morne Cultural Landscape is a rugged mountain that juts into the Indian Ocean in the southwest of Mauritius. It was used as a shelter by runaway slaves, maroons, through the 18th and early 19th centuries. Protected by the mountain’s isolated, wooded and almost inaccessible cliffs, the escaped slaves formed small settlements in caves and on the summit of Le Morne. The oral traditions associated with the maroons, have made Le Morne a symbol of the slaves’ fight for freedom, their suffering, and their sacrifice, all of which have relevance to the countries from which the slaves came – the African mainland, Madagascar, India, and South-east Asia. Indeed, Mauritius, an important stopover in the eastern slave trade, also came to be known as the “Maroon republic” because of the large number of escaped slaves who lived on Le Morne Mountain.