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The Arrival & Settlement of the Marathi Indian Immigrants in Mauritius during the Age of Indenture

By Satyendra Peerthum, Historian, Lecturer, & Writer

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On 20 September 2023, Ganesh Chaturthi is being celebrated at the national level in Mauritius. The worship of Lord Ganesha and this particularly famous Hindu religious festival is one of the important contributions of the Marathi community to our Mauritian national cultural heritage. However, until recently, the history of the Marathi Indian indentured workers from western India in our island has been largely overlooked. The exception would be Anand Mulloo’s Marathi Settlements in Mauritius published in 1991 and last week’s launching of the publication of Assad Bhuglah, Mauritian scholar and writer, the Kokni Diaspora in Mauritius who came from the western coast of India.

Immigrant Gunputh arrived in Mauritius at the age of 30 from Bombay in 1864. He was photographed at the age of 40 in 1874 at the Immigration Depot. (MGIIIA/PE Series)

 

Between 1826 and 1910, an estimated 10% of all the Indian indentured workers or around 45,207 men, women, and children who arrived in Mauritius came from the Bombay Presidency and neighboring regions. They came mainly from regions and districts such as the Konkan, Bombay and its surroundings, Thana, Satara, Ahamadnagar, and Ratnagiri. From 1849 to 1910, more than 40,000 of the Marathi indentured workers were landed, registered, and resided for 2 to 3 days at the Immigration Depot, known today at the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site, and climbed up the emblematic 16 steps of this hallowed site.

Between 1865 and 1914, thousands of Marathi immigrants were photographed and registered as Old Immigrants or who served their period of indenture. Ever since 2002 and 2004, these historical facts have frequently been emphasized by the staff of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund in its publications and its guided visits at the site for Mauritian visitors and tourists. Equally important, between 1992 and 2023, hundreds of Mauritians have been able to trace their Marathi Indian ancestors and obtained their MGI Immigrant Ancestor Certificate and a picture or pictures of their forebears which today they proudly display in their homes.

The Main Regions and Districts of Recruitment for Marathi Indentured Labourers in Western India during the 19th and early 20th centuries (MGI, Labour Immigrants in British Mauritius/ A Pictorial Recollection, 2001)

During that period, the overwhelming majority of these labourers were called ‘Maratte’ or ‘Maratta’ and dozens among them also came from present-day Rajasthan and Gujarat. The Marathi immigrants and their descendants settled in different parts of Mauritius namely Black River, Plaines Wilhems, Savanne, Moka, Grand Port and Flacq. At a later period, between the late 1800s and early 1900s, they settled in Port Louis and in other parts of urban and rural Mauritius.

Immigrants Rowjee and Herou were among the first Marathi immigrants to set foot on Mauritian soil in August 1834. They arrived on board the ship the Sarah along with 29 indentured workers. Rowjee was 55 years old and came to work for Mr. Bickajee, an Indian Parsi settled in Mauritius, on a 5-year contract. Herou was 45 years old and came to work for the same employer and returned to India in 1867 at the age of 78.

Between 1834 and 1838, a total of 272 Marathi immigrants arrived in Mauritius on four ships from Bombay. On 12th August 1838, the ship the Lavinia brought around 155 men mostly adult male Marathi labourers to work on the Mauritian sugar estates. During this early period of indentured immigration, only 11 Marathi women and 5 children reached Port Louis.

On 15th June 1843, the Mertoun arrived in Port Louis harbour from Bombay. The majority of the 289 passengers were classified as being Maratta, including 4 women, and they were sent to work on sugar estates located in differents parts of the island. During the following month, the Ward Chipman arrived in Mauritius with another batch of Marathi immigrants. The arrival of the Mertoun and Ward Chipman marked an important period in the migration of thousands of Marathi indentured workers to Mauritius. Between the 1840s and the 1870s, the bulk of these immigrants reached Mauritian shores.

Immigrant Raggoo was 20 years old when he arrived in Mauritius from Bombay in 1865. He was photographed at the age of 40 in 1885 at the Immigration Depot. (MGIIIA:PE Series)

It is interesting to note, the registers of the Registrar General Office indicate that between the 1850s and the 1930s, more than 5,000 Marathi immigrants and their Indo-Mauritian children and descendants bought at least 10,000 arpents of land for more than Rs 5 million in different regions of Port Louis and all the eight rural districts of the island. The majority of them obtained between half and two arpents of land mostly in the rural districts, close to sugar estates, and started the process of establishing villages. In the process, they played a key role in preserving the traditions and culture of our Indian ancestors and the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site is intimately linked with the history of the arrival and settlement of the Marathi Indians in our island.

 

 

 

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