Sir Maurice Paturau

Joseph Maurice Paturau was born in St. Pierre on 23 April 1916, the son of an engineer. He studied engineering at the University of London and graduated in 1939. He served as a military pilot during the Second World War and returned to Mauritius as Lieutenant Paturau. This war hero joined Forges Tardieu in 1947 as the Director General. He also became active with the Chambre d’Agriculture and served as the President of the MSIRI. From 1962 to 1966, he was the Minister of Industry and Commerce. He subsequently became the President of the “Joint Economic Committee”, an important body that took on the task of coordinating the economic activities within the private sector. During his distinguished career, he received many awards including a knighthood and the Légion d’honneur. His picture appears on the fifty-rupee bank-note. A man of immense courage, a pioneer with conviction, Maurice Paturau is a legendary figure. He died in June 1996.

Navin Ramgoolam

Navin Ramgoolam is the son of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the former Prime Minister of Mauritius. He was born on the 14 July 1947. After completing his secondary education from 1960 to 1966 at the Royal College of Curepipe, he moved to Ireland where he graduated in medicine. He then proceeded to the London School of Economics where he obtained his law degree in 1990. He returned to Mauritius and took over the Labour Party. In 1991, he stood for election. In 1995, he won a landslide victory with MMM as the partner. Navin Ramgoolam became the Prime Minister. In 2000, his party lost the elections and he became the leader of the opposition, but came back as prime minister in 2005 and 2010. In 2014, he lost his seat, but his presence on the political scene cannot go unnoticed, for Navin Ramgoolam is one of the most outspoken leaders in Mauritius. Over the years he has built up a reputation for being a strong leader and as prime minister he set out to “modernise” Mauritius.

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam

A humble man, born of humble parents on 18 September 1900. Politician, statesman, philanthropist and literary critic, he led the independence movement and served as Chief Minister, Prime Minister and Governor General. Commonly referred as Chacha, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) was educated in London and took the leadership of the Labour Party and fought for the rights of the labourers in Mauritius. He turned the Labour Party into a mass movement, and spoke out in favour of workers’ rights and equality. Influenced by the Fabian Society, he set the foundations for a modern welfare state in Mauritius. Some of his initiatives include the University of Mauritius, free public health care and free education. When Mauritius became independent in 1968, SSR became its first Prime Minister and set the platform to turn the country into a modern state. SSR remains a key figure in the political history of Mauritius.

Beekrumsing Ramlallah

He is often referred to as the “father of Aapravasi Ghat”. Born in 1915 in Long Mountain, Beekrumsing Ramlallah was a nation builder and battled on all fronts. His grandfather came from North India and settled near the village of La Laura. Since his early years, Beekrumsing Ramlallah was a social activist. In Long Mountain he founded the Sewa Samathi, a youth organisation. He then campaigned against the consumption of alcohol and for cow breeders to collect fodder from the sugar plantation. He was also the Chairman of the Hindu Maha Sabha. Beekrumsing Ramlallah was closely associated with Basdeo Bissoondoyal and Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. He was involved in many initiatives such as the creation of the Police Force, Public Service Commission and various governmental organisations. He was elected at the 1959 elections and served as a member of the Assembly for 17 years. In 1946, he founded the Nalanda Bookstore in Port-Louis. In 1953, he launched the Mauritius Times. Due to his relentless effort and commitment the Aapravasi Ghat became a historical site in 1985 and a World Heritage Site in 2006. In 2014, in his honour the B. Ramlallah Interpretation Centre was inaugurated at the Aapravasi Ghat. Beekrumsing Ramlallah fought for the freedom of the press. He passed away in 2000.

Frank Richard

Frank Richard was born on 18 August 1916. After completing his secondary schooling at the Royal College of Curepipe, he obtained a scholarship from the British Council and went to England to pursue his studies. He graduated from the University of Nottingham and from London University. He started his career as a teacher at the Royal College of Port-Louis, and he was considered as one of the best English teachers at that time. He was an educator and a policy-maker who understood the educational challenges of Mauritius. In long career in education, he served as the Director of the Teachers’ Training College, and as the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs. When the Mauritius Institute of Education was created, he was appointed as its first Director. Frank Richard had a vision and his views on education are well documented. He produced several reports and served on various educational committees.

Pandit Sahadeo

Pandit Sahadeo, also known as Dajee Rama, was born in 1899 and died in his ashram in Vacoas in 1978. He is an important historical figure. He was a close friend of Dr Maurice Curé, and they were among the founding members of the Labour Party. He was a member of the Executive Committee and a personal advisor to Maurice Curé and helped to forge the link with the labourers and workers across the island. In 1937, he was arrested and detained for organising the workers. Pandit Sahadeo travelled frequently to India and established links with the Indian National Congress. When Paul Bérenger, Dev Virahsawmy and other prominent members of the MMM were imprisoned by the Ramgoolam government in 1972, Pandit Sahadeo went on hunger strike for seven days as a protest and urging the release of the political prisoners. Bérenger has always showed his gratitude to the Pandit for his support and solidarity.  He was also a prominent member of the Arya Samaj. Pandit Sahadeo was above all a social worker who work effortlessly to build communities. His objective was to serve the country and its people and to him politics is about serving and not self-interest.

 Ti Frère

He gave Mauritians a unique blend of music. Ti Frère, the “king of sega” was born as Jean Alphonse Ravaton on 22 April 1900 in Quartier Militaire. His father, who originated from Madagascar, was also a singer and the influence of the African rhythm is evident in his music. Ti Frère created a typical style with his ravanne which became original. He grew up in the village at a time when there was little folk or local entertainment. He understood the plight of the poor, especially the poor creoles, who had little to celebrate. Ti Frère animated the “bal bobesse”, a sort of local Saturday night parties in the villages, with its own blend of music and dance. While singers like Gowry and Lallmohamed popularised “gamat”, Ti Frère sang for the poor. In 1925, he sang his first song, Tamassa, but sega was still unknown to most Mauritians. Ti Frère lived in poverty, he did odd jobs to survive, but his songs were heard across the Indian Ocean islands. In the 1960s, many influenced by the music of Ti Frère popularised sega. Ti Frère kept a low profile due to poor health, and eventually became blind. His last CD was produced in 1991. In spite of the fame, Ti Frère remained penniless, and died in 1992, at the age of 92. His music lives on.

Abhimanyu Unnuth

Born on 9 August 1937, Abhimanyu Unnuth is an acclaimed writer, poet and novelist. Writing mostly in Hindi, he developed his own style based on his experiences. He is best known for his novel Lal Pasina, (Blood-Red Sweat) published in 1977, a trilogy depicting the rise of political consciousness of indentured labourers in colonial Mauritius. In his writings he brings out themes such injustice, exploitation, and the plight of the indentured labourers. His poems and essays, written in Hindi, attempt to recover the religious identity of the Bihari indentured servants. Abhimanyu is an intellectual, his deep understanding of Indian mythology and of Hinduism, are apparent in his works. He writes with a passion and speaking the voice of the exploited on the plantations. The writings of Unnuth are a vivid reminder of our past and the challenges ahead.

Cassam Uteem

A former President of the Republic of Mauritius, Cassam Uteem was born on 22 March 1941. He studied Social Work in England. He became a prominent member of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) and served as a minister before being elected as President in June 1992. He resigned in February 2002, after he refused to sign the controversial PoTA (Prevention on Terrorism Act) bill. He continues to serve on several bodies and has remained a prominent figure in Mauritius. He campaigns actively on anti-poverty, social inequality and the marginalisation of communities. As an advocate for social justice, Cassam Uteem participates on national and international forums. In 2014, Cassam was appointed United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and Head of the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi. Cassam Uteem is a Member of the Global Leadership Foundation, an organisation that promotes good governance and democratic leadership. Many remember him as the “President of the People”.

Mokshda Kistoe West

Mokshda was the daughter of the well-known Arya Samaj preacher/missionary and Vedic scholar, Pandit Cashinath Kistoe. He was also an activist who campaigned for the downtrodden. She grew up in this type of environment, and her broad views were evident. She was full of grace and humble. Although she was a girl, she was taught from an early about gender equality. This perhaps explains her feminist inclination. In 1943, she won the “petite bourse”. At first she was denied admission at the Couvent de Lorette de Quatre Bornes because she was not a Christian. When she eventually got admission she was given the name of Myriam. She was a laureate in 1952 and afterwards went to Cambridge University. When she came back, she taught English and Literature at Queen Elizabeth College. She was the first Indo-Mauritian to become the Headmistress. Mokshda was a popular teacher, her students and colleagues saw her as a role model. She also served as the Registrar of the Mauritius Institute of Education. In 2017, she passed away at the age of 85.

Ernest Wiehe

Born 22 June 1944 and died 3 June 2010, Ernest Wiehe was a well-known saxophonist. Also a composer, pianist, architect, painter, he brought jazz music to Mauritians. He taught for ten years at Berklee College of Music in Boston, United States, and founded the Boston Jazz Orchestra.  In 1978, Ernest returned to Mauritius and showed his passion for music. He was inspired by the sounds of the ocean around him to create a unique style base on Indian, Creole, European and African cultures.  In 2001, he started teaching at l’Atelier Mo’Zar, founded by José Thérèse. Most of the students at this school were drop-outs who had little hope of a bright future. But people like Ernest rescued many of these kids and through music, he showed hope and empowered them to become successful citizens. In his honour the Ernest Wiehe Jazz Festival was first held in 2012, and since then this annual event brings musicians to celebrate jazz music. When one hears or speaks about jazz music in Mauritius, Ernest comes to memory.