Mauritius has been a key player in the Global Slave Trade and although slaves at one point in time have formed the bulk of the Mauritian Population mainly during the French Occupation of the island, intangible and tangible traces of the slaves presence are very rare on the island. The Le Morne mountain is one of the rare sites left on the island bearing testimony of the days of slavery and the quest for freedom that accompanied Slavery. The Le Morne Village is one of the places left in Mauritius where stories and traditions connected to Slavery and Resistance still exist.
The History of Le Morne Village
According to the villagers, the earliest area to be inhabited by the ex-slaves was the place referred to as "Trou Chenilles". Other areas to be later inhabited were "Four a Chaux", Macaque, L'Embrasure, Coteau Raffin and Dan Zak". In 1945, after a cyclone the population of the village of Trou Chenilles and the inhabitants around the mountain were moved and relocated near the football ground and at l'Embrasure. In 1960, after the passage of cyclone Carol the people were then moved to the actual area of the Le Morne Village.
Until the 1970's many of the inhabitants residing at Le Morne village worked with the local landowners. They worked in the salt pans, in the maize fields as planters, some as labourers, some made wood packets, some worked at the maize mills, some on the boats, some as domestic servants in the landowners' households, some at the limekiln and some as herdsmen. A few villagers worked for the fishmongers as fishermen, while some were independent fishermen and a few were artists who sung the Sega at the local hotels.
Some of the dwelling places were square shaped. They were made with aloe sticks, covered with "vetiver" or "ravinale" which in turn were covered with aloe leaves to stop the rain from entering the huts. Every year the floor was glazed with a mixture of white soil, cow dung and water. The kitchen and toilet facilities were located outside the main house.
Among the villagers residing in Le Morne, there exists knowledge pertaining to traditional healing practices. Many villagers in Le Morne, are known inside and outside of the area for their knowledge of healing with plants, which they administer through concoctions and baths. This knowledge has come from the encounter of the diverse groups originating from Madagascar, the African continent and India, with one another. Women are the most knowledgeable in the preparation of concoctions while the men are the ones who collect the plants. Some of the inhabitants are also famous for their gifts as healers which they use to cure "grosser", sprains, ear, nose and throat problems, amongst others.
Until the early 1970's the inhabitants mostly ate grounded maize, which they mixed with rice. This mixture was named "du riz maille" (maize and rice). They also made soup with maize, as well as cakes or pancakes. A common meal would consist of "diri maille" a curry and chutney.
The inhabitants had their respective gardens where they planted maize, manioc, sweet potatoes and arrow roots mainly for their own consumption. They reared animals, such as, chicken, ducks and pigs. They also fished and hunted animals such as monkeys, hares, wild pigs and hedgehogs.
This tradition dates back to the days of slavery, and was one of the means of expressing resistance and obtaining relief from a hard week's labour; this is closely linked to the slaves and their descendants, although the Sega has now become a national feature. It was a common practice every Saturday night after a hard week's labour, for the villagers to assemble and dance the Sega. They brought with them a "wine" which they made locally, known as "tilambik" and they danced until early Sunday morning. It is still a common practice in the village to organise these Sega Nights.
An Inspiration for Artists
The landscape, the mountain and its story has and continues to inspire a number of artists and scientific writers. Some of them are :
- Writers: Lilianne Berthelot, Seddley Richard Assone, Roger Moss, Serge Ng Tat Chung, various inhabitants from the village.
- Painters: Malcolm de Chazal, Yves David, Bodha, Anna Lan
- Singers and Composers: Othentik Street Brothers, Cassiya, Ravanne Sans Frontiers, local inhabitants.
- Famous historical travelers and writers: Bernardin de Saint Pierre, Maximilien Wilklinski, Matthew Flinders, Nicholas Pike.
Attributes of the Le Morne Cultural Landscape
A Unique Space
- A holy mountain, because of the legend and feelings associated with it.
- A fortress protecting the idea of freedom, liberty and dignity for all people
- A temple, where rituals have been created and are enacted in order to heal the wounds related to slavery
- A sanctuary where people connect with and reflect upon the spirit of freedom and liberty.
- A shrine to the recognition and admittance of crimes against humanity and above all the ability of humans to forgive as a stepping stone to new beginning