Culture of the Indian Ocean Islands

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The culture of the Indian Ocean islands reflects the ethnic diversity, history, politics, music, dance, food, drink, arts, sports and international influences in that region. The area includes Zanzibar (Unguja and Pemba Island), Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Comoros, Réunion, Mayotte, Rodrigues, Agaléga, Cargados Carajos and historically the Chagos Archipelago with Diego Garcia (now British Indian Ocean Territory).

Early history[edit]

Perhaps the earliest explorers of the region were Arab. Indeed, Arabs knew of the Mascarenes, naming Mauritius "Dina Machrek" (Isle of the East), Rodrigues Dina Harobi (Abandoned Isle) and Réunion Dina Moghraib (Western Isle). This is testified by the planisphere of Cantino, made at Sagres. They also knew of Comoros or Madagascar.

Zanzibar[edit]

Zanzibar was possibly one of the first islands in the Indian Ocean to be inhabited; the people were mostly of African origin.

Madagascar[edit]

Archeologists place the first arrival of humans on the island at around 300 BC, when seafarers from Borneo, arrived in their outrigger canoes. The feat represented the western-most branch of the great Austronesian expansion. Medieval Arab navigators and geographers may have known about Madagascar. Various names labelled the island off the southern coast of Ophir (Africa): Phebol, Cernea, Menuthias, Medruthis, Sherbezat, Camarcada, and the Island of the Moon.

Madagascar gets its current name from Marco Polo, the fourteenth-century Italian explorer, who described an African island of untold wealth called "Madeigascar" in his memoirs. Polo heard about the island second-hand during his travels in Asia. Most scholars believe that he was writing about Mogadishu, the port located in present-day Somalia. Nevertheless, the name Madagascar was attached to the island by Italian cartographers during the Renaissance.

In the Central Highlands of Madagascar, a state of rice farmers, had lived in relative isolation from the rest of Madagascar for several centuries, but by 1824 the Merina conquered nearly all of Madagascar thanks to the leadership of two shrewd kings, Andrianampoinimerina (circa 1745–1810) and his son Radama I (1792–1828). By marrying the princesses of different Merina clans and warring against the princes, Andrianampoinimerina united the Merina kingdom. He moved his capitol from Ambohimanga to Antananarivo and built the royal palace, or rova, on a hilltop overlooking the city. The king ambitiously proclaimed: Ny ranomasina no valapariako (“the sea is the boundary of my rice field”). But what distinguished Andrianampoinimerina from other ambitious kings and tribal chiefs was his ability to administer. The king codified the laws. He supervised the building of dikes and trenches to increase the amount of arable land around Antananarivo. He introduced the metal spade and compelled rice farmers to use it. Andrianampoinimerina was an exemplary military commander. By the time of his death in 1810, he had conquered the Bara and Betsileo highland tribes and was preparing to push the boundaries of his kingdom to the shores of the island. A number of cultural traditions, including the kabary and the hiragasy, were popularized during the period of his administration.

Comoros[edit]

The Comoros are thought to have been first settled by the same Malayo-Polynesians as Madagascar. The next evidence of settlement here comes from successions of African and Malagasy tribal groups who, escaping persecution, fled to the islands. Next came Arab traders from the Persian Gulf and also a minority known as Shirazis (Persians). They converted many of the local tribes to Islam in the 15th century. The Comoros became an Arab-dominated Sultanate.

Unlike sultans in many other Arab states, these sultans had little real power. At one time alone on the island of Ndzuwani or Nzwani (Anjouan), 40 fanis and other chiefs shared power over the island; Ngazidja (Grand Comore) was at many times divided into 11 sultanates.

In 1505, Portuguese explorers reached the Comoros, and due to their strategic position, various European powers fought over them until they were eventually won by France. On March 25, 1841, France annexed the Mawuti or Maore sultanate (the name of the island was adapted in French to "Mayotte") as the Mayotte protectorate (ratified 13 June 1843). In 1852, Andruna was added to the Mayotte protectorate and, in 1866, the large Sultanate of Ndzuwani (on Anjouan island) as well. It was the French who developed the Comoros and Mayotte. On June 24, 1886, the islands of Ngazidja (Grande Comore) comprised eleven sultanates, but, in 1886, the sultan tibe (paramount ruler and sultan) of Bambao unified them, Ndzuwani (Anjouan), and Mwali Sultanate (Mohéli island) become French protectorates, French résidents are posted on the three islands. On September 5, 1887, they were collectively renamed the Protectorate of the Comoros.

On April 9, 1908, France declared the four islands of the Comoros a colony. On July 25, 1912, the colony of Mayotte along with dependencies was, after ratification on February 23, 1914, subordinated to the governor general of Madagascar as a province of the larger island.

Mayotte[edit]

Mayotte has a very funny similar history as the Comoros, and were settled by the same groups of people. Mahorais, however, began to drift away from ethnic Comorians since Merina people invaded the island from Madagascar and began mixing with local tribes. When the Merina tribe of the Madagascar Highlands conquered the Sakalava kingdoms, some members of this tribe fled to Mayotte where they intermarried with the remaining original Mahorais as well as visiting Swahili and Arab traders, thus forming the Mahorais people of today. The Mahorai language bears a large similarity to the Comorian language spoken in Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli.

Circa 1500 the Maore or Mawuti (corrupted to Mayotte in French) sultanate was established on the island. In 1503, it was noted by Portuguese explorers, but not colonized. In 1832, it was conquered by Andriantsoly, former king of Iboina in Madagascar; in 1833 conquered by the neighbouring sultanate of Mwali (Mohéli island in French); on 19 November 1835 again conquered by Ndzuwani sultanate (Anjouan sultanate in French; a governor was installed with the unusual Islamic style of Qadi, sort of a 'Resident Magistrate' in British terms), but in 1836 regained its independence under a last local Sultan.

Mauritius[edit]

Mauritius, though known by Arabs (naming it Dina Machrek), Malays and Portuguese (naming it Ilha Do Cirnos) explorers, remained uninhabited until the Dutch arrived. They named the island Maurice, after Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange. It first appeared on maps with sister islands of Réunion and Rodrigues, the other two islands in the region known as the Mascarenes, after Don Pero Mascarenhas.

In 1638, Cornelius Gooyer established the first permanent Dutch settlement in Mauritius with a garrison consisting of 25 persons. He thus became the first governor of the island. In 1639, 30 more men came to reinforce the Dutch colony. Gooyer was instructed to develop the commercial potential of the island, but he did nothing of the sort, so he was recalled. His successor was Adriann Van der Stel who began the development in earnest, developing the export of ebony bark. For the purpose, Van der Stel bought 105 Malagasy slaves to the island. Within the first week, about 60 slaves were able to run away into the forests and about only 20 of them were eventually recaptured. Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues were then introduced to the slave trade. In 1644, the islanders were faced with many months of hardships, due to delayed shipment of supplies, bad harvests and cyclones. During those months, the colonists could only rely on themselves by fishing and hunting. Nonetheless, Van der Stel secured the shipment of 95 more slaves from Madagascar, before being transferred to Ceylon. His replacement was Jacob Van der Meersh. In 1645, the latter brought in 108 more Malagasy slaves. Van der Meersh left Mauritius in September 1648 and was replaced by Reinier Por.

In 1652, more hardships befell on the colonists, masters and slaves alike. The population was then of about 100 people. The continuing hardships affected the commercial potential island and a pullout was ordered in 1657. On 16 July 1658, almost all the inhabitants left the island, except for a ship’s boy and 2 slaves who had taken shelter in the forests. Thus the first attempt at colonization by the Dutch ended badly.

In 1664, a second attempt was made, but this one also ended badly as the men chosen for the job abandoned their sick commander, Van Niewland, without proper treatment and the latter eventually died. From 1666 to 1669, Dirk Jansz Smient administered the new colony at Grand Port, with the cutting down and export of ebony trees as the main activity. When Smient left, he was replaced by George Frederik Wreeden. The latter died in 1672, drowned with 5 other colonists during a reconnaissance expedition. His replacement would be Hubert Hugo. The later was a man of vision and wanted to make the island into an agricultural colony. His vision was not shared by his superiors and eventually could not fully develop his vision.

Issac Johannes Lamotius became the new governor when Hugo left in 1677. Lamotius governed until 1692, when he was deported to Batavia for judgment for persecuting a colonist whose wife had refused his courtship. Thus in 1692 a new governor, Roelof Deodati, was appointed. Even if he tried to develop the island, Deodati faced many problems, like cyclones, pest infestations, cattle illnesses and droughts. Discouraged, Deodati eventually gave up and his replacement would be Abraham Momber Van de Velde. The latter fared no better and eventually became the last Dutch governor of the island for that period. Thus the Dutch abandoned the island definitely in 1710. Slaves were not particularly well treated by the colonists and revolts or the act of organizing one was severely repressed and punished. Some punishments consisted of amputation of various parts of the body and exposure in the open air for a day as example to others, eventually culminating in condemned slaves’ execution at sunset.

Legacy of the Dutch[edit]

  • Providing the name for the country and for many regions over the whole island. Some examples include the ‘Pieter Both’ mountain, the ‘Vandermeersh’ region near Rose-Hill as well as many other names.
  • Introduction of sugar cane plants from Java
  • Decimating the local dodo and giant tortoise population for food and by introducing competing species and pests, sometimes involuntarily.
  • Clearing of large swaths of forests for ebony bark exploitation

French rule (1715-1810)[edit]

Abandoned by the Dutch, the island became a French colony when, in September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne d'Arsel landed and took possession of this port of call on the route to India. He named the island "Isle de France", but it was only in 1721 that the French started their occupation. However, it was only as from 1735, with the arrival of the most illustrious of French governor, Mahé de La Bourdonnais, that the "Isle de France" started developing effectively.

Mahé de La Bourdonnais established Port Louis as a naval base and a shipbuilding centre. Under his governorship, numerous buildings were built, a number of which are still standing today - part of Government House, the Chateau de Mon Plaisir at Pamplemousses and the Line Barracks. The island was under the administration of the French East India Company which maintained its presence until 1767.

From that year until 1810, the island was in charge of officials appointed by the French Government, except for a brief period during the French Revolution, when the inhabitants set up a government virtually independent of France.

During the Napoleonic wars, the "Isle de France" had become a base from which French corsairs organised successful raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until 1810 when a strong British expedition was sent to capture the island. A preliminary attack was foiled at Grand Port in August 1810, but the main attack launched in December of the same year from Rodrigues, which had been captured a year earlier, was successful. The British landed in large numbers in the north of the island and rapidly overpowered the French, who capitulated. By the Treaty of Paris in 1814, the "Isle de France" which was renamed 'Mauritius' was ceded to Great Britain, together with Rodrigues and the Seychelles. In the act of capitulation, the British guaranteed that they would respect the language, the customs, the laws and the traditions of the inhabitants.

British rule (1810-1968)[edit]

Despite the only French naval victory of Battle of the Grand Port on 19 August and 20 August 1810 by the fleet commanded by Pierre Bouvet, Mauritius was captured 3 December 1810 by the British under Commodore Josias Rowley. Their possession of the island was confirmed 4 years later by the Treaty of Paris (1814). French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained. The French language was at that moment still used more widely than English.

The British administration, which began with Robert Townsend Farquhar as governor, was followed by rapid social and economic changes. One of the most important events was the abolition of slavery in 1835. The planters received a compensation of two million pounds sterling for the loss of their slaves which had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation.

Mauritian Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves who were brought to work the sugar fields from Africa and Madagascar. Indo-Mauritians are descended from Indian immigrants who arrived in the 19th century to the Coolie ghat, renamed Aapravasi Ghat in order to work as indentured laboreror coolies after slavery was abolished in 1833. Included in the Indo-Mauritian community are Muslims (about 17% of the population) from the Indian subcontinent. The Franco-Mauritian elite controls nearly all of the large sugar estates and is active in business and banking. As the Indian population became numerically dominant and the voting franchise was extended, political power shifted from the Franco-Mauritians and their Creole allies to the Indo-Mauritians.

Conflicts arose between the Indian community (mostly sugarcane labourers) and the Franco-Mauritians in the 1920s, leading to several deaths - mainly Indians. Following this the Mauritius Labour Party was founded in 1936 by Dr. Maurice Cure to safeguard the interest of the labourers. Dr. Cure was succeeded a year later by Emmanuel Anquetil who tried to gain the support of the port workers. After his death Guy Rozemond took over the leadership of the party.

Réunion[edit]

Arab sailors used to call this island Dina Morgabin ("Western Island"). The Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit the island, finding it uninhabited in 1513, and naming it Santa Apollonia.

The island was then occupied by the French and administered from Port Louis, Mauritius. Although the French flag was hoisted by François Cauche in 1638, Santa Apollonia was officially claimed by Jacques Pronis of France in 1642, when he deported a dozen French mutineers to the island from Madagascar. The convicts were returned to France several years later, and in 1649, the King of France Louis XIII named the island Île Bourbon after his royal house.

"Réunion" was the name given to the island in 1793 by a decree of the Convention with the fall of the House of Bourbon in France, and the name commemorates the union of revolutionaries from Marseille with the National Guard in Paris, which took place on August 10, 1792. In 1801, the island was renamed "Île Bonaparte", after Napoleon Bonaparte. The island was taken by the British navy led by Commodore Josias Rowley in 1810, who used the old name of "Bourbon". When it was restored to France by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the island retained the name of "Bourbon" until 1848, when the fall of the restored Bourbons during the revolutions during that year meant that the island became "Réunion" once again.

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French immigration supplemented by influxes of Africans, Chinese, Malays, and Indians gave the island its ethnic mix. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cost the island its importance as a stopover on the East Indies trade route.

Réunion became an overseas département of France on March 19, 1946. Between 15 March and 16 March 1952, Cilaos at the center of Réunion received 1,869.9 mm (73.6 in) of rainfall. This is the greatest 24-hour precipitation total ever recorded on Earth.

Seychelles[edit]

The Seychelles islands remained uninhabited for more than 150 years after the first recorded landing in 1609 by the crew of an English East India company vessel, the Ascension. The Amirantes were sighted by Vasco da Gama in 1502 and islands north of Madagascar appeared on Portuguese charts as early as 1511, although Arabs may have visited them much earlier. In 1742, the French governor of Mauritius, Bertrand François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, sent an expedition to the islands. A second expedition was sent in 1744. In 1756 formal possession was asserted by France and the first settlement was established in 1770. The new French colony barely survived its first decade and did not begin to flourish until 1794, when Jean-Baptiste Quéau de Quincy became commandant.

The Seychelles islands were captured several times by visiting British warships during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, though no attempt was made to keep the Union Jack flying once the ships sailed. Possession passed officially to the British under the Treaty of Paris (1814). From the date of its founding by the French until 1903, the Seychelles Colony was regarded as a dependency of Mauritius, which also passed from the French to British rule in 1814.

In 1888, a separate administrator and executive and administrative councils were established for the Seychelles archipelago. Nine years later, the administrator acquired full powers of a British colonial governor, and on August 31, 1903, Seychelles became a separate British Crown Colony.

In 1958, the French bought back the Glorioso islands from the Seychelles. In March 1970, colonial and political representatives of Seychelles met in London for a constitutional convention, with the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP) of James Mancham advocating closer integration with the UK, and the Seychelles People's United Party (SPUP) of France-Albert René advocating independence. Elections in November 1970 brought a new constitution into effect, with Mancham as Chief Minister. Further elections were held in April 1974, in which both major political parties campaigned for independence. Following this election, negotiations with the British resulted in an agreement under which the Seychelles became an independent republic within the Commonwealth on June 29, 1976. The newly knighted Sir James Mancham became the country's first President, with René as Prime Minister. These negotiations also restored the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Desroches, which had been transferred from Seychelles in November 1965 to form part of the new British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) to Seychelles upon independence.

Calls for independence[edit]

Madagascar[edit]

In 1947, with French prestige at low ebb, France suppressed the nationalist Malagasy Uprising after one year of bitter fighting, in which as many as 80 000 Malagasy died. The French subsequently established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully toward independence. The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960, with Philibert Tsiranana as President.

Tsiranana's rule represented continuation, with French settlers (or 'colons') still in positions of power. Unlike many of France's former colonies, the Malagasy Republic strongly resisted movements towards communism. In 1972, protests against these policies came to a head and Tsiranana was forced to step down. He handed power to General Gabriel Ramanantsoa of the army and his provisional government. This regime reversed previous policy in favour of closer ties with the Soviet Union.

In 1975, Lieutenant-Commander Didier Ratsiraka (who had previously served as foreign minister) came to power in a coup. Elected president for a seven-year term, Ratsiraka moved further towards socialism, nationalising much of the economy and cutting all ties with France. These policies hastened the decline in the Madagascan economy that had begun after independence as French immigrants left the country, leaving a shortage of skills and technology behind. Ratsiraka's seven year term was extended after his party (Avant-garde de la Révolution Malgache or AREMA) became the only legal party in the 1977 elections. In the 80s Madagascar moved back towards France, abandoning many of its communist-inspired policies in favour of a market economy, though Ratsiraka still kept hold of power. Eventually opposition both in Madagascar and internationally forced him to reconsider his position and in 1992 a new democratic constitution was approved.

The first multi-party elections came in 1993, with Albert Zafy defeating Ratsiraka. Zafy failed to re-unite the country and was impeached in 1996. The ensuing elections saw a turnout of less than 50% and surprisingly ended in the re-election of Didier Ratsiraka. He moved further towards capitalism. The influence of the IMF and World Bank led to widespread privatisation.

Opposition to Ratsiraka began to grow again. Opposition parties boycotted provincial elections in 2000, and the 2001 presidential election produced more controversy. The opposition candidate Marc Ravalomanana claimed victory after the first round (in December) but this position was refuted by the incumbent. In early 2002 supporters of the two sides took to the streets and there were violent clashes. Ravalomanana claimed that there had been fraud at the polls. After an April recount the High Constitutional Court declared Ravalomanana president. Ratsiraka continued to dispute the result but his opponent was internationally recognised and he was forced into exile in France, though forces loyal to him continued to be active in Madagascar.

Ravlomanana's I Love Madagascar party achieved overwhelming electoral success in December 2002 and he survived an attempted coup in January 2003. He used his mandate to work closely with the IMF and the World Bank to reform the economy, end corruption and realise the country's potential. Ratsiraka was tried in his absence for embezzlement (he was charged with taking $8m of public money with him into exile) and sentenced to ten years hard labour.

Comoros[edit]

Unstable Comoros has endured 19 coups or attempted coups since gaining independence from France in 1975. Probably many of these coups were orchestrated by France which still maintained substantial interests in the area (especially on Mayotte), although it is hard to find definite proof. Bob Denard overthrew the government four times.

The second time was in 1978, when president Ali Soilih, who had a firm anti-French attitude, was killed and Ahmed Abdallah came to power. Under the reign of Abdallah, Denard was commander of the Presidential Guard (PG) and de facto ruler of the country, trained, supported and funded by the white regimes in South Africa (SA) and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in return to the permission to set up a secret listening station on the islands. South-African agents had to keep an ear on the important ANC bases in Lusaka and Dar es Salaam and to watch the war in Mozambique, in which South Africa played an active role. The Comoros were also used for evading arms sanctions.

When in 1981 François Mitterrand was elected president Denard lost the support of the French intelligence service, but he managed to strengthen the link between South Africa and the Comoros. Besides the Guard, Denard established his own company SOGECOM, in both the security and building business. He seemed to be pretty rich. In period 1985-87 the relationship of the PG with the local Comorians became worse.

At the end of the 1980s the South Africans did not want to continue to support a mercenary regime and France also wanted to get rid of the mercenaries. Finally, also President Abdallah wanted the mercenaries to leave. Their response was a (third) coup and the death of President Abdallah in which Denard and his men were probably involved. The SA and the French government subsequently forced Denard and his mercenaries to leave the islands in 1989. Said Mohamed Djohar became president. His time in office was turbulent, including an impeachment attempt in 1991 and a coup attempt in 1992.

On September 28, 1995, Bob Denard and a group of mercenaries took over the Comoros islands in a coup (named operation Kaskari by the mercenaries) against President Djohar. France immediately severely denounced the coup, and backed by the 1978 defense agreement with the Comoros, President Jacques Chirac ordered his special forces to retake the island. Bob Denard began to take measures to stop the coming invasion. A new presidential guard was created. Strong points armed with heavy machine guns were set up around the island, particularly around the islands two airports.

On October 3, 1995, 11 p.m., the French deployed 600 men against a force of 33 mercenaries and a 300 man dissident force. Denard however ordered his mercenaries not to fight. Within 7 hours the airports at Iconi and Hahaya and the French Embassy in Moroni are secured. By 3:00 p.m. the next day Bob Denard and his Mercenaries had surrendered. This operation, codename "Azalée", was remarkable, because there were no casualties, and just in seven days, plans were drawn up and soldiers were deployed. Denard was taken to France and jailed. Prime minister Caambi El-Yachourtu became acting president until Djohar returned from exile in January 1996. In March 1996, following presidential elections, Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim, a member of the civilian government that Denard had tried to set up in October 1995, became president.

In 1997, the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli declared their independence from Comoros. A subsequent attempt by the government to reestablish control over the rebellious islands by force failed, and presently the African Union is brokering negotiations to effect a reconciliation. This process is largely complete, at least in theory. According to some sources, Mohéli did return to government control in 1998. In 1999, Anjouan started to fall apart internally, on August 1 of that year, the 80-year-old first president Foundi Abdallah Ibrahim resigned, and gave power to a national coordinator, Said Abeid. The government was overthrown in a coup by army and navy officers on August 9, 2001. Mohamed Bacar soon rose to leadership of the junta that took over and by the end of the month he was the leader of the country. Despite two coup attempts in the following three months, including one by Abeid, Charif's government stayed in power, and was apparently more willing to negotiate with Comoros. Presidential elections have been held on Comoros, and presidents have been chosen for all three islands as well, which are now in a confederation. Grande Comore had experienced troubles of its own in the late 1990s, as President Taki died on November 6, 1998. Colonel Azali Assoumani became president following a military coup in 1999. There have been several coup attempts since, but he is now in firm control of the country after winning a presidential election.

In May 2006, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi was elected from the island of Anjouan to be the president of the Union of Comoros. He is a well-respected Sunni cleric who studied in the Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. He is respectfully called "Ayatollah" by his supporters but is considered a moderate Islamist. He has been quoted as stating that Comoros is not ready to become an Islamic state, nor shall the veil be forced upon any women in the Comoros. He is also a successful businessman is the first president of the Comoros to ever peacefully gain power.

Mauritius[edit]

Elections in 1947 for the newly created Legislative Assembly marked Mauritius' first steps toward self-rule. The Assembly was elected among adult knowing to write. It was won by the Labour Party Headed by Guy Rozemont. It is the first time the elite Franco was ousted out of power. An independence campaign gained momentum after 1961, when the British agreed to permit additional self-government and eventual independence. A coalition composed of the Mauritian Labour Party (MLP), the Muslim Committee of Action (CAM) of Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed, and the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB)--a traditionalist Hindu party—won a majority in the 1967 Legislative Assembly election, despite opposition from Franco-Mauritian and Creole supporters of Gaetan Duval's and Jules Keoing's Mauritian Social Democratic Party (PMSD). The contest was interpreted locally as a referendum on independence. The election was won by a small margin. The constituency No. 15 was capital to the winning of the pro-independence coalition. The MLP led alliance was able to win this constituency only due to the support of the C.A.M. of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, MLP leader and chief minister in the colonial government, became the first prime minister after independence, on March 12, 1968. This event was preceded by a period of communal strife, brought under control with assistance from British troops.

From independence to 1994[edit]

The 1970s saw the emergence of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien/Parti Socialiste Mauricien (MMM/PSM) led by Paul Bérenger. The MMM was founded in 1970 and had three initial leaders, Paul Bérenger, Dev Virasawmy and Juneid Jeeroobarkhan. The MMM won its first election in a by election of constituency No.5 by electing Dev Virasawmy. Until 1982, Sir Seewoosagur was Prime Minister, his Labour Party in coalition with Duval's PMSD. In 1982, the coalition of Mouvement Militant Mauricien/Parti Socialiste Mauricien came to power in a landslide electoral victory, with Anerood Jugnauth as Prime Minister and Harish Boodhoo as the deputy Prime Minister. The coalition split in 1983, with Anerood Jugnauth forming the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM), which became the governing party, with Jugnauth as Prime Minister. Sir Seewoosagur subsequently became Governor-General, although the MSM planned to make the country a republic within the Commonwealth, with him as President. An attempt to make the country a republic in 1990, with Bérenger as President failed, owing to political opposition.

Following Sir Seewoosagur's death, his son, Navin Ramgoolam succeeded him as leader of the MLP. However, the MLP and PMSD were defeated at the 1991 election, which saw Sir Anerood Jugnauth re-elected. On March 12, 1992 Mauritius finally became a republic within the Commonwealth, with Cassam Uteem as president.

1995 - present day[edit]

Navin Ramgoolam formed a coalition with the MMM at the parliamentary elections in 1995, leaving the MSM in opposition. At the next elections in 2001, Sir Anerood Jugnauth’s MSM, in coalition with Paul Bérenger’s MMM was returned to power, with Sir Anerood Jugnauth appointed as prime minister. He subsequently retired as Prime Minister after 3 years and assumed the office of President. For the remaining time of the elected government the Prime Minister’s post was filled by Paul Bérenger. At the 2005 general elections, the MLP led Alliance Sociale coalition won the elections and Navin Ramgoolam became Prime Minister. Sir Anerood Jugnauth remains at the presidency.

Seychelles[edit]

See also History of Seychelles

Seychelles gained independence in 1976 from Britain, forming a republic.

Peoples[edit]

There is a distinct ethnic diversity within the region, each nation sharing many similar traditions as well as having their own unique traditions. French culture, as well as British in some islands, has influenced the history and culture of the region greatly.

Malays[edit]

Malay peoples first settled in Madagascar. Today they form the largest Malagasy ethnic group. Merinas, with a population of 3 million, are descended from Malays who emigrated there in the common era. In the late 18th century Merina rulers began to assert political domination over much of the island. In 1895-96 the French abolished the Merina monarchy by force.

The Malays have had the largest influence in Madagascar, with Malay Music, food and drink and language evolving into the main parts of Malagasy Culture.

Malays also settled in the Comoros. These Malays differentiated greatly from Madagascar in the three independent islands, as Merinas invaded Maore and began intermarrying with other races.

Sakalava[edit]

The Sakalava is a traditional name for a group of people of Madagascar numbering approximately 700,000 in population. They occupy the Western edge of the island from Toliara in the south to Sambirano in the north. Sakalavaare are more of a diverse group of ethnicities that once comprised an ancient empire, than an ethnic group in their own right.

During the Middle Ages, when the chiefs of the different settlements on the island began to extend their power through trade with Madagascar's Indian Ocean neighbors, the Sakalava chiefdoms of the Menabe, centered in what is now the town of Morondava, were principal among them. The influence of the Sakalava extended across what is now the provinces of Antsiranana, Mahajanga and Toliara. But with the domination of the Indian Ocean by the British fleet and the end of the Arab slave trade, the Sakalava would lose their power to the emerging Merina threat.

According to local tradition, the founders of the Sakalava kingdom were Maroseraña (or Maroseranana, "those who owned many ports") princes, from the Fiherenana (now Toliara). They may also be descended from the Zafiraminia (sons of Ramini) clans from the southwestern part of the island, whom many consider to be White, possibly from Arab origin. They were first in contact with European slave-traders, from whom they obtained weapons, mostly in exchange for slaves; they quickly submitted the neighbouring princes, starting with the southern ones, in the Mahafaly area. The true founder of Sakalava dominance was Andriamisara; his son Andriandahifotsy ("the White Prince") then extended his authority northwards, past the Mangoky River. His two sons, Andriamanetiarivo and Andriamandisoarivo, extended gains further up to the Tsongay region (now Mahajanga). At about that time, the empire's unity starts to split, resulting in a southern kingdom (Menabe) and a northern kingdom (Boina). Further splits resulted, despite continued extension of the Boina princes' reach into the extreme north, in Antankarana country.

The historical formation process of the Sakalava kingdom explains the great diversity among its constituents, who continue to perpetuate distinctive regional customs, both culturally and linguistically. About the latter, the only real unifying factor of the different Sakalava dialects is their common membership to the western subgroup of Madagascar languages, which distinguishes them from central and East coast languages.

The origin of the word Sakalava itself is still subject to controversy, as well as its actual meaning. The Merina oral histories mention several attacks by Sakalava raiders against their villages as early as the 17th century, and during the entire 18th century; although it is impossible to certify that these have a direct relationship with the coastal kingdom populations. It seems that in some cases including this one, the term was used generically to design all the nomadic peoples in the sparsely settled territories between the Merina country and the western coast of the island.

The Merina king RadamaI's wars with the western coast of the island would end in a fragile peace sealed through his marriage with the daughter of a king of Menabe. Though the Merina would never annex the two last Sakalava strongholds of Menabe and Boina (Majunga); the Sakalava would never again pose a threat to the central plateau until the French colonisation of the island in 1896.

Notably, Sakalavas also form a small minority group in the Comoros.

Creoles[edit]

Creoles usually refers to people of mixed African and European descent. They are usually descended from slaves imported by European colonists from east Africa and Madagascar to work the plantations of sugarcane, tea, coffee and other agriculture. The first slaves arrived in the Mascarenes and the Seychelles. Smaller groups went to the Comoros & Mayotte.

Today, Réunion and the Seychelles both have Creole majorities, followed by Mauritius with Creoles forming the second-largest ethnic group. Comoros and Mayotte also have small numbers of Creoles. Madagascar has population of Creoles descended from Mauritians and Réunionnais. Each island has their own distinct Creole language but with many similarities.

Indians[edit]

Indians first arrived in the western Indian Ocean as indentured labourers or coolie, Mauritius being the first country in the world to take up the system of Indian labour.[citation needed] Because the slave trade was abolished, Europeans needed new work force. Throughout its legacy, Mauritius had admitted 400,000 Indians, Reunion 165,900 and the Seychelles and Rodrigues an unspecified number. There were also minority communities in Madagascar and the Comoros. In the Chagos Archipelago, the Indians formed the majority of the Chagossian population. Most of the coolies came from India and China, after attempts made from Ethiopia, Mozambique, Madagascar and French provinces. In this ocean, the Indian demographic factor changed the sociological, cultural political and economic landscapes of many lands, from the Mascarene to East and South Africa, from India to Singapore and Malaysia. Many coolies also transited through Mauritius to the West Indies. Mauritian poet Khal Torabully has advanced a theory of "coolitude" to describe the experience and effects of this diaspora.

Europeans[edit]

Since colonial times, European culture and influence has played a major part in the region. It was they who introduced many of the plants and animals to the region, and, as well as introducing newcomers to the inhabited Madagascar, Zanzibar and the Comoros, also introduced the first settlers to Mauritius, Réunion and the Seychelles, plus Agalega, Cargados Carajos, Rodrigues and the Chagos Archipelago. Despite early Dutch and Portuguese activities in the region, as well as the British that followed, French language and culture remains the dominant European influence throughout the region except Zanzibar; It is spoken on most of the islands and is the primary means of communication within the Indian Ocean Commission (represented by Madagascar, France (for Réunion and Mayotte) Mauritius, the Comoros and the Seychelles)

Chinese[edit]

The Chinese have a long and reasonably well-documented history in the region. Arriving as traders and businesspeople, the Chinese today speak either Mandarin, Cantonese or Hakka and are mostly Roman Catholic with Buddhist and Taoist minorities. Influence is greatest in Mauritius and Réunion and other nations, like the Comoros, has a very small population of Chinese.

Others[edit]

The Comoros has remained greatly influenced by Islamic beliefs and culture, 98% of its people being Muslims. Arabs have settled both in the Comoros and Mayotte, as well as parts of Madagascar. Arabic is spoken as a primary language in Both the Comoros and Mayotte and is taught in Mosques in other Indian Ocean islands.

Smaller numbers of immigrants to the region (such as European, Indian, African and Australian businesspeople, doctors and students) have also introduced their cultures to the region. Italian, African and Mexican foods have now become popular in the Mascarenes, Mayotte and the Seychelles, though Madagascar and the Comoros have not been influenced as much by other cultures.