￼Before arriving in Mauritius I read scholarly articles and looked at several tourist and Mauritian websites. Many studies identified a few key issues between religious and ethnic communities that felt rather minuet in impact compared to the positive articles about how Mauritius is peaceful and tolerant, winning awards and intriguing the world with its many religious groups that have great respect for one another. General issues I read about before arriving included, but are not limited to Christian Creoles perceiving that they receive unjust police treatment; tension between Hindu, Christian and Muslim minorities; and that religious groups are not very knowledgeable about other religions on the island.
No country has a perfect system, so I understood and instead became strongly influenced by the harmonious awards and the great respect I read about. I felt strongly and was under the impression that Mauritius was peaceful and that in return it was a just and fair nation for all religious groups.
Soon after arriving on the island in May, I was discouraged and attempted to rebut every impression and article I had read during the planning phase of my trip. By the end of day one, I felt the tension between the ethnic and religious groups on the island and saw injustice play a part in everyday life around me. I observed that each religious and ethnic group was relatively exclusive from the others and felt that I was in the midst of several middle school clicks. I observed that the Franco were wealthy and had many Creole guards and Indian drivers. I was the only white person on the buses and I noticed the majority of Indo-Mauritians in the public sector. I felt the undercurrent of tension between different communities, the unspoken yet present resentment between the religious and ethnic groups, and I thought that I was in a place with utter injustice and fragile tolerance.
Two Weeks Into my Trip
By the end of the second week I took a turn towards reality. I had settled in and took time to take my strong emotions about the differences from my home in Columbia, SC out of the equation. I now had several interviews under my belt and had received the perspective of 3 different host families. Trying to pull the many perspectives together, I began the track towards a new conclusion. I observed that religious groups live side by side and have a great amount of respect for other religious and ethnic groups in Mauritius.
I also recognized that while peace is held on the island, it has less integration than many immigrant communities in my region of the U.S. More recently in Charlotte, NC, immigrants appear to become rather integrated and identify as being “American” by the second generation. However, in Mauritius people strongly identify with the country and culture of their ancestors. For example, my best friend Linda is a second-generation Vietnamese American, but she is not fluent in Vietnamese and she has never visited Vietnam. She wears the latest American fashion, eats mostly American foods and celebrates American holidays along with Vietnamese New Years when she is home with family. She is Catholic, not Buddhist like her ancestors and most importantly she identifies as being fully American.
In Mauritius, most families immigrated from India, France, England, China and Africa decades or centuries ago. My 25-year-old friend Tina was born and raised in Mauritius and her ancestors immigrated as Indian indentured laborers in the 1930s. She speaks English, Creole and Hindi, her religion is Hindu, she often wears Indian attire, and the only place she has ever traveled is India. Tina eats Indian food on most nights and she identifies herself as being Indian or Indo-Mauritian instead of fully Mauritian. From my observations, this occurrence is relatively common among most religious and ethnic groups. For instance, most Franco-Mauritians love their cheese, Sino-Mauritians love their Chinese food and like Tina, Indo-Mauritians make some of the best Indian food I have tasted. As a younger nation only gaining independence in 1968, the islanders do not have a strong Mauritian identity.
While the Mauritian and American ways are different, they are both beautiful. The separation of groups in Mauritius creates a uniqueness that I have yet to see in another country. In Mauritius, people hold to their ancestry instead of becoming supremely “Mauritian”. They are rich in culture. Along with Mauritius, they value India, France, Great Britain, Africa, or even Pakistan as their other home. This usually pertains to the place where their ancestors immigrated from, but many Muslims identify with Pakistan even though they are from India. The Hindus claim India so they chose to identify with a supremely Muslim nation.
End of Trip
By the end of my trip I had held 23 interviews and lived with eight families. I combined the perspectives of my contacts and my personal observations to create the perspective that I have today.
It was during my two-hour journey home on my last day on the island that I saw the sunset behind Port Louis, laughed as I passed many creoles riding their dirt bikes along the highway, enjoyed my last terrible whiff of the fish market and headed North to my comfortable guest house bungalow (bigger than most other Mauritians’ homes), that I realized that I had begun to identify with each Mauritian community. I do not claim to be an expert, but I had just begun enjoying all of the culture and their mixed perspectives of one another when my time on the island came to an end. How enriching it would be to live in Mauritius where so many religions and cultures flourish; where your church is across the street from a mosque and where your neighbor is likely to dress, pray, and worship differently than your own family.
Seeing the beauty of their differences more than ever before, I left Mauritius also understanding that the tolerance I read about towards other religions is fragile and not necessarily the “harmony” described on the tourist websites. I personally observed that Mauritius has peace with the absence of violence instead of peace with the presence of justice. They are very respectful and live side by side without a true sense of unity, harmony and integration. I, as my generation (Millennials) in Mauritius, feel that the country is evolving to become a more unified and “Mauritian” nation. Perhaps the issues are not the result of religion at all, but rather the result of human nature’s fight for economic and political power. Perhaps the resentment is just part of the average Mauritian seeking justice for their communities and ultimately for the greater social good and economic development of their nation.