What a contrast Mauritius is from Rodrigues. It’s like going from Connemara to London. We tied up in the centre of
a new waterfront hotel and shopping development for £5 per day. The only security was a guy with binoculars in a tower on
the end of one of the buildings. In the evenings we were besieged by promenaders - incredulous that we’d come from Ireland
in such a small boat. How many days was the favourite question as if we’d come straight from Norn Iron to Mauritius.
The island is the third most densely populated place on the planet and it shows in the air pollution and the thronged streets.
No long walks here but the buses were still cheap and we travelled all over - through packed cities, tea gardens, sugar cane
fields and fishing villages.
When discovered Mauritius was uninhabited and the French and English colonists brought in slaves and indentured workers
from India, Madagascar and China. These people all stayed long after the plantations were split up and most of the whites
left. The population now is more than 50% Hindu with Muslim, Christian and Chinese following. The mix of cultures is especially
visible in the religious edifices. The Hindu temples were splendidly gaudy but quiet and peaceful inside with recorded chanting
and bells tinkling in the breeze. I learnt a bit about the various Gods and by the end of our visit could tell the different
God worshipped in each temple by the statues on view outside. The main mosque in Port Louis is huge with wonderfully intricate
carving in wood and cement. Visits by tourists weren’t allowed during Ramadan and each midday the street was crammed
with men in white robes arriving on motorbikes for prayers. The mosque was right on the edge of Chinatown, which is a reflection
of the ease with which the religions co-exist - at least so it appears to the outsider. Among the people though the various
groups seem to remain separate. It’s easier to tell "what are ya" than in Norn Iron as each culture has its distinct
dress code. Some of the Muslims are very strict with the women dressed from head to toe in black including complete veil and
long black gloves.
The burial grounds too are near one another and we spent many happy hours touring the main Christian graveyard. Here we
found a tall but broken marble column to one Arthur Chichester ‘filius quartus’ to the marquis of Donegall. Our
Latin isn’t sufficient to say if this was fourth son or grandson. But he died en route to Mauritius in 1843 and is buried
there. Many of the old French tombs were like miniature mausoleums some of which had been broken open and piles of bones lay
inside. It’s fascinating to read the history of the island on the stones - administrators, soldiers and planters, cholera
and hurricane victims, children and wives with the same death date. Then there are the Indian and Chinese converts with Hindu
tridents on the tombstone and the Chinese have their traditional pagodas complete with incense burners at the foot. The best
name we saw was that of the family Ho Fock.
With all these different religions requiring ‘parity of esteem’ the Mauritians have had to be very clever in
the matter of public holidays. Apparently there is a Hindu holy day nearly every week. So each year they rotate the major
festivals as public holidays between the various religions. Imagine how that would work in Norn Iron? During our 3 weeks in
Mauritius we had the Blessed Pere Laval Catholic feast day where thousands visit his tomb and pray for miracles. It was Ramadan
and we saw the Hindu festival of Ganesh the elephant God who is the remover of obstacles and regularly called on by students