On the morning of my last trip to Mauritius ,we had the morning free and I was determined to see as much as I could around Port Louis.So when our family friend suggested a visit to the Aapravasi Ghat which is a UNESCO World Heritage site I was rather excited..Situated in the heart of the bustling Port Louis ,it is actually rather easy to miss the Aaparvasi Ghat as it looks like an ordinary facebrick building along the waterfront.
What is a UNESCO world heritage site ?
World Heritage site is a landmark or area which is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as having cultural,historical, scientific or other form of significance, and is legally protected by international treaties. The sites are judged important to the collective interests of humanity.
World Heritage Sites are cultural and/or natural sites considered to be of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’, which have been inscribed on the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee.
These places or buildings are thought to:
- have special importance for everyone
- represent unique, or the most significant or best, examples of the world’s cultural and/or natural heritage
Outstanding Universal Value is considered to transcend national boundaries and to be of importance for future generations to come.Presevation of such sites is important so that history can be seen and never forgotten.
On entering the gate the sign post on the gate was a collage of sad exprssionless faces of the immigrants who had come to Mauritius as Indentured labourers to work on the sugar cane plantations.A sense of sadness instantly filled me up as this reminded me of my own heritage and the fact that my great great grandparents too had come to South Africa as labourers to work on the sugar plantations for the British.
What is the Aaparvasi Ghat ?
Simply translated it means Immigration depot, which became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2006.This site is of great importance and reference point in the cultural and historical identity of Mauritius.68 percent of the current population are of Indian ancestory and came as Indentured labourers in what was called the Great Experiment.
The Aapravasi Ghat was built in 1849 and Mauritius was the first British Colony to recievr an indentured labour workforce from India.It is estimated thay between 1849 and 1923 half a million labourers passed through here and this is a clear indication of the large Indian population on the Island and the strong ties still with India.
The Abolition of slavery in European colonies in 1834 was a problem for the sugar plantations as they depended on slave labour.The emancipated slaves were demanding higher wages and better living conditions.At this time India was experiencing a depressed economy and the hardworking Indian population seemed to be a solution to the problem.
The Great Experiment
This was the name given to the Indentured Labour programe.The labourers agreed to work for a determined period of time in return for the cost of passage , basic accomodation and a small wage.The contract was for a period of one tfive years and included medical care and food rations.Labourers arrived from China , Comores , India , Madagascar , Mozambique and several SE Asian counteries.The conditions that the Indentured labourers worked in were far from perfect and they experienced irregular payments of wages, poor housing and food rations ,lack of medical care and penalties for missing work.
The great experiment was the greatest migration in history.This modern indentured labour system replaced the slave system.
Aapravasi Ghat Experience :
I simply could not shake of the feeling of sadness that came over me as I entered the museum.It was if I walking down memory lane with my ancestors.The museum has interactive displays and replica living areas of how the labourers worked and lived in cramped living quarters.
On arrival to the Aapravasi Ghat the immigrants had to go through a security clearance and were given paperwork.Their paper work was rolled up and put into a metal canister which they kept on them.The images that caught my attention where the huge collages of immigrant faces all in black and white and none of the faces smiling.All the people were bedecked in their finery but their eyes told another story.
To think all those years ago these brave people took a chance and travelled half away across the world in hope of a new and better life for their families.I often joked with my Gran asking her why did her parents not go to Mauritius instead ,to which she replied Durban was where most of their people came to meaning from their villages.With them they brought their culture ,history ,food and general way of life which can be seen all over the island of Mauritius.But like all immigrants they had to adapt to their new lives and change even they way they had to prepare their meals.
The replica living quarters were constructed of mud and grass and was very basic in structure and design.It consisted of one large room which was used for cooking and sleeping.Up to eight adults slept in one room.The cooking utensils were made of wood or iron and I could identify several that are found in my own home including the three legged South African potjie pot.Walking into these homes it felt like I was intruding into the lives of these people.
I walked out the Aapravasi Ghat sad but also understanding my own roots and herirage.I stood on the platform where the immigrants landed and silently said “Shukriya ,for all the hardships and trials you had to endure so that I can live the life I have.Your braveness and strength is something I can not believe the fact that you took such big chances into the unknown.I am because of you.” A deep breath ,a big sigh and tears starting to fill my eyes I made my way to my waiting taxi.I was so grateful to experience the Aapravasi Ghat and suggest that if you are in Mauritius you should defo visit.
Aapravasi Ghat Information :
1.It is FREE to enter.
Monday – Friday 9am to 4pm
Saturday – 9am to 12pm
Sunday and public holidays – Closed
3.Situated in the heart of Port Louis ,near the Caudan Waterfront.
Do you visit UNESCO world heritage sites when you travel ?
Be Inspired !