Over the last decades, the term ‘mari’ [a noun meaning husband] has crept in the popular parlance of Kreol language in Mauritius. It has become a common practice to use terms like ‘mari bon’, ‘mari deal’, ‘mari joli’, ‘mari kontan’, ‘mari gran’, ‘mari lour’, ‘mari konplike ’ etc. If the computer is asked to auto-translate these terms, it will give the following results: ‘Good husband’, ‘Husband deal’, ‘handsome husband’, ‘happy husband’, ‘tall husband’, ‘heavy husband, ‘complicated husband’. But in the Mauritian context, hilarious as it may sound, someone will tend to say in Kreol language “komputer finn mari fel dan tradiksion” [computer has failed in translation]. It will be funnier if the computer is given to translate some odd expression like “enn mari zoli fam kouma twa” ! Computer can be given another try: “Madam-la so mari enn mari bon mari” !
Prior to the intrusion of ‘mari’ as an adjective in the local folklore, Mauritians were frequently using the term ‘extra’ to qualify their degree of appreciation or level of description. Until the turn of this century, the Kreol dialogue was full of terms like ‘extra bon’, ‘extra zoli’, ‘extra for’, ‘extra vit’ ‘extra intelizan’, ‘extra komik’ etc. ‘Mari’, which has now supplanted ‘extra’, is, therefore, used to express either highest quality or degree or excellence. It often serves as a superlative for exaggerated or hyperbolical expression of praise.
While it seems that ‘mari’, as superlative, has made its place in the Mauritian folklore, it smacks of sexism or rather gender bias where the tendency is to implicitly or unconsciously give an attribute or certain attitudes and stereotypes to the males. It could be interpreted as an expression of hegemonic masculinity that seems to legitimize ‘male’s dominant position in society’.
What could explain the incursion of ‘mari’ in the adjective list of Kreol dialogue? It can find its root in the Mauritian folklore of abusive expressions such as ‘mari to mama’ whereby the slanderer tries to belittle his victim that he is ‘the husband of your mother’. It is part of the street brawl in which one party would verbally attack the opponent as being impotent and the other one would retort by saying “mo mari to mama”. In a coarse layman’s behaviour, one party would threaten the other by insulting “pa vinn deklar mari isi” [don’t pretend to be don of this area]. And the other one could challenge the manhood of other “si to enn vre zom, sort deor, lerla nou kone kisanla ki vre mari” [If you have the mettle of manliness, let’s have a fistfight to determine who is the don]. These injurious expressions connote the demonstration of masculinity.
In the 1960s, the term ‘mari’ started becoming part of popular slogans in football stadium, cinema halls and political rallies for supporters and fans willing to loudly support their respective teams or heroes. At that time, local football matches attracted huge crowds and the stadium used to resound with the jeers of the fans of each team, for instance ‘mari Fire, Cadet!’ and vice versa or ‘Mari Police, Scouts’ and vice versa. Similar atmosphere used to prevail in cinema halls: in most of the films, the villains would hold the emotions of the spectators in suspense by terrorising and victimising innocent people until the heroic entrance of the hero who would act as saviour or avenger. At the peak of the emotion, some spectators would cheer up at the mere appearance of their idol actor and applaud by shouting ‘Ala mari-la rantre ’! During election campaigns, political leaders as well as the political activists and the larger crowd have adopted the use of ‘mari’ to taunt their opponents. The graffiti around the island bear witness of slogans like “ABC mari XYZ”. So much so that even the advertising agents have incorporated the use of qualification ‘mari’ to vent the merits of their commercial products.
Nobody has imposed the use of ‘mari’ as a dominant adjective in the Mauritian folklore. It evolved naturally from the interactions of common people at the tavern, betting place, market, stadium, race course amongst others. But in due respect to all women – our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters – should we not actively think about the language we use, and choose to use words and expressions that are inclusive and do not belittle, discriminate or cause offence?