SATYENDRA PEERTHUM
Historian, Lecturer & Writer

Introduction

On Friday, 2nd November 2018, the Government of Mauritius and the Mauritian nation will be commemorating the 184th arrival of the indentured labourers in Mauritius at the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site. Until recently, one of the largely neglected themes of Mauritian indentured labour historiography has been the experiences of the non-Indian indentured labourers, the Indian Siddhis, and the Liberated Africans in Mauritius in the second half of the 19th century during the Age of Indenture.Between 1826 and 1879, or over a period of more than half a century, an estimated 12,663 Indian Siddhis (of African descent) and non-Indian contract workers consisting of Chinese, Malagasies, Comorians, East Africans (mainly Mozambicans, some Ethiopians, and others), and the Liberated Africans reached our shores (1). In addition, it shows that just like for the legal and illegal slave trade between the 1730s and 1820s, Mauritius was a major regional hub for the importation of indentured labour in the Indian Ocean World.

The Other Indentured Immigrants

Between 1843 and 1879, there were thousands of Yemeni, Arab, Sinhalese, Omani, Ethiopian, and Burmese contract workers, Indian Siddhis, and Liberated Africans who worked and lived for several years in Yemen and Réunion Island and even Reunionese contract workers who reached Mauritian shores. During this period, there were thousands of free East African workers who went to work in different parts of the Indian Ocean World such as India, Aden in Yemen, Sri Lanka, Mayotte in the Comoro Island, Nossi-Be in Madagascar, Mauritius and its dependencies such as the Seychelles and Chagos.

The Immigrant Ticket of Tsimalay,
a Malagasy indentured worker, who
arrived in Mauritius at the age of 20
and was registered at the Immigration
Depot in 1850. He worked in Savanne
district under a 3-year contract and was
discharged in 1853. (MGIIIA/PE Series)

During the same era, hundreds of Siddhis or Indians of African origin, Mozambicans, Ethiopians, and other East Africans, who had lived and worked for many years in India, were landed, registered, and photographed at the Immigration Depot in Port Louis like Marjook and Dane. The non-Indians and Siddhi Indian immigrants were truly a heterogenous group who got on board ships at 41 ports of embarkation in 12 different countries and colonies in various parts of the Indian Ocean World and beyond. Between 1826 and 1879, more than 12,663 of these workers reached Mauritian shores. They consisted around 2.7% of the total number of 462,800 of the contract labourers who landed in Port Louis from January 1826 to August 1910.

Their Heterogeneity, Numbers, and Geographic Origins

The heterogeneity of these indentured immigrants shows to what extent during the course of the 19th century, the establishment and expansion of the indentured labour system in Mauritius had a direct impact on the modern history and movements of populations in the Indian Ocean World. Most of them came to work as labourers to work on the sugar estates and many of them were also sent to work in Port Louis and the colony’s newly emerging towns and villages. A small minority among them were also skilled and semi-skilled artisans who knew how to read and write and achieved some measure of social and economic mobility in Mauritius between the 1850s and early 1900s. Around more than 4% among them got married, had children, purchased property, and died at a very old age. A total of more than 300 of their life stories have been recorded and analysed and will soon be published.

Three recently-landed Mozambican Liberated Africans in chains and
photographed at the Immigration Depot in Port Louis in 1869 as part of British anti-slavery and anti-slave trade offensive in the Western Indian Ocean
(Mauritius Museums Council)

Between the 1840s and 1870s, a relatively low death rate prevailed among this segment of the indentured immigrant population. Many nnn nnn of them deserted and were arrested as vagrants for illegal absence, and desertion while they protested vehemently against their inhumane living and working conditions. Eventually, more than 40% among them returned to their countries of origin. Those who remained either came to Mauritius as Christians and Muslims or converted to those faiths and were able to achieve some measure of social and economic mobility.

In conclusion, between 1829 and 1879, an estimated 12,663 Indian Siddhis and non-Indian contract workers consisting of Chinese, Malagasies, Comorians, East Africans (mainly Mozambican, some Ethiopians, and others) and the Liberated Africans reached Mauritian shores. Over a period of half a century, their arrival clearly demonstrates that Mauritius was a major oceanic and regional destination for not only the Indians, but also non-Indian indentured workers in the Indian Ocean World. On 2nd November, the arrival of these thousands of non-Indian and Siddhi Indian contract workers and their contribution to the making of modern Mauritius must be remembered and honored.

TABLE 2 Ethnicity of the Indentured Immigrants & Country Ports

NOTES 1. MGIIIA, PE 1 to PE 161, Indentured Immigrant Ship Arrival Registers for 1826 to 1910; MNA, Z2D Series Volumes 1 to 188, Free Passenger and other Passengers Ship Arrival Registers for 1826 to 1911.

2. Estimated from MGIIIA, PE 1 to PE 161, Indentured Immigrant Ship Arrival Registers for 1826 to 1910; MNA, Z2D Series Volumes 1 to 188, Free Passenger and other Passengers Ship Arrival Registers for 1826 to 1911.