Theatre & Films Productions

Aapravasi Ghat 2012

UNESCO Aapravasi Ghat

The Aapravasi Ghat Indian Indentured Immigrants Arrival Celebration Committee extended its invitation to attend the Annual Yaj Ceremony to pay tribute to the first Indentured Immigrants who arrived in Mauritius on 2 Nov. 1984. And today I did it duty to respond to the invitation by being present as early as 8.00am at Coolie Ghat, Port Louis.

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During my studies in Dip. in Performing Arts at MGI (Centre for Mauritian Studies), I got the opportunity to study the module MST 1221 Mauritian Studies – Overview of History by Historian Mr. J Ng Foong Kwong. Lecture 5 was on Slavery and Abolition  followed by Lecture 6 – Indentured Labour Immigration. One of the assignments I worked in this module held the theme ‘Discuss whether the Practice of Slavery left no trace in the new labour system, Indian Indentureship (l’engagisme) was practiced in Mauritius between 1835 and 1912. An extract of the work that I submitted:

The introduction of Indian Contractual workers during the British Period started between 1820 and early 1830s. Arrival registers of the Indian Immigration Archives (www.mgifolkmuseum.mu) testify that labourers from the Indian Peninsula originated from Bihar, Pondicherry, Madras, Calcutta, Kerala etc. These experimental importations of local planters were an evident means of overcoming acute shortage of labour arising in the colony.

The Proclamation of the Abolition of Slavery was done in 1833. Mauritius was the first British colony to embark on the ‘Great Experiment’ by bringing around 453,000 labourers under the Indenture Agreement. Some main points how this was different from Slavery:

1. A labourer does not surrender his workforce for life. One is employed in return for a salary.
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2. The labourer had human dignity, unlike slaves.
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3. Recruitment of labourers was done by recruitment agents, unlike slaves who were force to come and work in Mauritius. Then there is the famous story of The british agents telling the Indians that they will discover Gold under the rocks found in Mauritius and they will become rich very soon!
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4. Slaves had duties to accomplish to the master and did not had any property rights. Indentured labourers had the right to accumulate capital and send money to their relatives in India. They bought land and morcellement plants.
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5. Disapora difference. There was no African diaspora because their human dignity have been deprived. Hence no posisbility of tracing the roots of Africans. For indentured labourers people of Indian Origian can trace the roots of their ancestors
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6. African slaves did not have the opportunity to return to their homeland. This is the point of no return to life, facing no natural death. The indians knew their place of origian and oen third of them returned to India.
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Today 2 Nov. 2012, I had the opportunity to assist to the Yaj Ceremony performed different ‘Chef Religieux’.
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Then there was speech by Mrs. Sarita Boodhoo, Chairman Bhojpuri Speaking Union…
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and then an hommage to Mr. Bikramsingh Ramlallah who started the tradition of doing a Yaj each year at Coolie Ghat.
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At the time when I was having a look at the 16 Steps,
Aapravasi Ghat 16 Steps

I had the opportunity to converse with an elderly person who told me ‘My Dada was a Coolie. I was able to re-trace my roots.’

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This is the place where the Labourers took a bath after landing on the unknown soil, very far away from their homeland and after a perilous travel from the boat departed in Calcutta.
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Luckily for me, this year, I was able to attend the Official ‘Depot de Gerbes’ by the Head of States and the listen to the Speeches.
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Then, there was the inauguration of the ‘Reconstruction of the Village in 1866’ done by the Ministry of Arts and Culture. The exhibition is opened for free to the Public for 2 months.
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One response

  1. The 16 steps of the Aapravasi Ghat is the emblematic symbol of this World Heritage Property as they represent the arrival of 458,000 immigrants. The successful establishment of the indentured labour system in Mauritius led to its adoption from 1830 in different parts of the European colonial plantation world.

    2 November, 2012 at 8:07 pm

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