Libmonster ID: UK-1249
Author(s) of the publication: E. D. DEVNARAIN

Our compatriot Eleonora Danilovna Devnarain (Kalina) sent the material below to the editorial office of the magazine from distant Mauritius. She graduated from the Faculty of Philology of the Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1968. Since 1969, she has been living in Mauritius, where she began teaching Russian for the first time in the island's history. While studying Creole, folklore, and literature, she gradually immersed herself in Mauritian culture. For many years, as a guide of Russian culture in Mauritius, E. D. Devnarain decided, in turn, to introduce Russian readers to the history, traditions and culture of the islanders.

Mascarene Islands Keywords:RodriguesMauritiushistorytraditionsculture

An hour and a half flight on a small plane from the island of Mauritius, and out of the boundless blue of the Indian Ocean appears a tiny piece of land, you can say, rocks. It looks like the plane is about to land right in the ocean... In fact, we are approaching the airport, on the edge of the southern shore of Rodrigues Island, the smallest of the Mascarene Islands.

If it is customary to say about the island of Mauritius that paradise on Earth was created in its likeness, then the author of these lines found his paradise on the island of Rodrigues (in Mauritius it is called Rodrigue). After visiting Rodriguez for the first time in 1973, my thoughts kept returning to it, but only 20 years later, in 1993, I was able to visit this fabulous island again. Since then, for the past 15 years, I have been there every year, and it has become a part of my life.


The Mascarene Islands are a group of 3 small islands in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar: Reunion (2,515 square kilometers, population 800 thousand people, French ownership), Mauritius (1,865 square kilometers, 1.2 million people) and Rodrigues (110 square kilometers, 37 thousand people, part of independent State of Mauritius)1. All the Mascarene Islands are of volcanic origin, and on Reunion there is still an active volcano. The climate on all the islands is a combination of tropical and subtropical, very humid.

At the beginning of the 16th century, in 1513, the famous Portuguese navigator and diplomat Pedro de Mascarenhas, during a sea expedition for a large Portuguese "Indo-Company" for the trade and transportation of spices from India and Africa, accidentally deviated from the usual route, passed by two previously unknown small islands, which later received the name Mauritius and Reunion. During the following expeditions, following the same route, his compatriot, navigator Diego Rodriguez discovered a third, very small island near the first two, which he named after himself-Rodriguez, and the group of all 3 islands was named after the discoverer of Reunion and Mauritius - Pedro de Mascarenas, from which the name Mascarene Islands originates..

A group of these islands was probably already known to Arab and Malay navigators, although no trace of their presence was found there. On the first known map of 1502, all the Mascarene Islands were already marked. The islands changed their names many times, as many times as different powers discovered or occupied them. Rodrigues Island changed 13 names over three centuries, before in 1810, under the British, it did not receive its final, i.e. today's, name.

Despite the fact that the honor of discovering the Mascarene Islands belongs to the Portuguese, they did not-

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when you didn't land on any of them. The first colonization of Mauritius belongs to the Netherlands-from 1638 to 1710. (it was the Dutch who named the island Mauritius after the Dutch Prince Maurice de Nassau.)

As for Rodriguez, due to the fact that the approach of ships to it was more difficult than to the rest of the islands, it remained isolated from the influence of imperial powers for longer.


The first evidence of what the original Rodriguez was like appeared in Francois Lega's diary-description "The Journey and adventures of Francois Lega and his companions on two uninhabited islands of the East Indies", published in London in 1708. Through the efforts of the English researcher K. Millard, this book was reprinted in Mauritius in 2004, along with engravings and maps of the island itself. Francois Lega 3.

Thanks to F. Lega, it became known that on April 25, 1691, for the first time, a group of 10 French Protestant exiles landed on the island, where they stayed for two years. Subsequently, Lega settled in the UK, where he published the world's first book about an unknown island.

His diary is a unique document. He not only described, but also sketched: giant trees, eucalyptus groves, huge amphibious turtles, large birds from the Mauritius Do-do family, which here were called "Singles" ("Solitaire"), because they did not gather in flocks, and many other things that were later destroyed by Europeans forever.

Currently, a nature reserve has been created on Rodrigues, named after the explorer - "Francois Lega".

From the "Diary" of Francois Lega: "We could not get enough of the small mountains completely covered with huge beautiful trees, which make up almost the entire island. Streams that flowed down from these mountains watered tiny fertile valleys and flowed through flat gaps to join the sea right in front of our eyes. We admired the secrets and divine Providence that first allowed us to be destroyed in our native land, then miraculously pulled us out to dry our tears in this earthly paradise that it showed us ... "4

The book by Francois Lega attracted attention to Rodriguez from France and Great Britain. In 1725, after several unsuccessful attempts, the French ship "Ressource" finally somehow approached Rodriguez and landed 5 people who stayed on the island for 9 months. Their main mission was to supply turtle meat to ships entering the Mascarene Islands. The result of their stay was a detailed "Plan of the island of Rodrigues" with directions of winds, tides and tides, with the designation of reefs around the island and possible passages in them, as well as flora and fauna, compiled by a certain Tafforet - one of these 5 "Robinsons". In 1726, a decree was issued from France - to leave the island, but not to remove traces of the French presence on it.

A small French permanent colony was established on Rodrigues only in 1750.

The first administrator of the island was Philibert Marragon, whose name remains in the history of Rodriguez.

In 1804, he conducted the first population census on the island, and at the beginning of the 19th century, 104 people lived on Rodrigues, most of whom were slaves brought from nearby Madagascar and Mozambique.5

The British began their conquest of the Indian Ocean with Rodriguez. They landed on it in 1809 and, gathering their fleet there, managed to recapture Mauritius from France. Rodriguez became a British colony in 1814. Since that time, its fate has been inextricably linked with the fate of Mauritius, first as part of an English colony, and since 1968, as part of an independent state and later the Republic of Mauritius. In October 2002, the Mauritian Parliament granted Rodrigues autonomy, and its Regional Assembly was elected, headed by the Chief Commissioner, a young and very energetic Sorbonne graduate, Johnson Russ, who belongs to one of the first families to settle in Rodrigues.


The Rodrigues are like one peaceful family, preserving much more of their acquired and partly invented culture and traditions than their" big " Mascarene neighbors-Mauritius and Reunion.

The population of Rodrigues consists mainly of descendants of former African and Malgash slaves, as well as mixed descendants of European colonizers to varying degrees. They created a kind of new multi-colored - from white, through all shades of beige, to brown-Creole race. Behind the scenes, the Rodrigues divide themselves into "reds"and " mountaineers". "Red" refers to the descendants of Europeans who actually became mestizos, their skin is really white-red, and their eyes are blue or green. They live on the coast, not far from the autonomous capital of Port Mathurin, where their French ancestors once landed. In contrast, the descendants of former slaves went to the mountains after the abolition of slavery, where they felt more confident. "Natives of the mountains" and began to cultivate-

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They would farm the land, raise cattle, and go down to the coast only to catch fish.

During the period before and immediately after 1968, when Mauritius gained independence, the island experienced an outflow of a certain part of the population. No one knew what an independent Mauritius, and hence Rodrigues, would face politically and economically.

The racial issue, differences in skin color, at least at this stage in Rodriguez are not a reason for any complexes or conflicts. The Creole language, African and European cultures formed an original fusion of the Rodrigues Creole culture. It should be noted that the island is home to a very small number of Rodrigues of Indian (mostly Muslim) and Chinese origin, who once washed up on these shores, engaged in trade and finally settled. Although almost all the people of Rodrigue have become Roman Catholics, there is also a small Muslim mosque and a small Hindu temple on the island.


In 1973, 5 years after Mauritius gained independence, when I first set foot on Rodriguez's land while accompanying my doctor husband on a 4 - month business trip, he was called the "Cinderella" of the Mascarene Islands. It was a time of poverty, abandonment, unemployment, impassability, almost complete lack of electricity and drinking water.

There was no air connection with Rodriguez, the only thing that "connected" it with Mauritius was a ship that once a month covered the 650 km separating the islands in two days. It was on this ship that we arrived at Rodriguez.

All the personnel - both the administration and the specialists - on Rodriguez consisted at that time (and partly now) of Mauritians, they were sent there in order of priority. Few of the Rodrigues who received higher education in Mauritius or abroad returned home: just loving your island is not enough if there are more opportunities for work in other countries. Now Mauritius and some other countries provide special scholarships for the best students of Rodrigues in various higher educational institutions, with the condition that they then work in Rodriguez for at least 5 years.

As we jogged the Jeep across the off-road road to the house assigned to us, I was struck by the fact that all along this so-called road, many men were squatting on the ground, hammering away at the stone. It was a strange sight, and so was the answer to my question as to what makes such an unproductive occupation as chiseling huge volcanic rocks: "We need to come up with some kind of work for the unemployed Rodrigues!"

I read the records of that time (June 23, 1973): "All around are solid hills, mountains, hills and stones, stones, stones. But from any place you can see the ocean. The island itself is a solidified volcanic mass, with trees and shrubs clinging to it. It is difficult to live in such conditions, and it is difficult to engage in agriculture... In the midst of this mountainous and rocky landscape, here and there you can see scattered small huts made of sandstone, which is mined here and there. The people of Rodrigue don't like to settle together, and so they live with their houses scattered haphazardly."

Even what little I saw on the first day struck me: wild, almost primeval beauty, and people who, despite the impassability of roads, climatic difficulties, and poverty, were a model of calm and inner dignity. When I reread these old notes now, I can clearly see the picture of Rodriguez at that time. I felt then that I was not on a desert island, but in fact almost "Robinson" island. My "Friday" was a Rodrigue driver who drove me around the island in a jeep, telling me some of the everyday details of the life of the Rodrigues, and always with a smile, with a joke. I recognized the island and its people. It was then that I had the idea to write a real book about Rodriguez and the Rodrigues. However, circumstances forced each time to postpone this plan for the "near future", which turned out to be quite far away.


By 1993, Rodriguez was already regularly flown by plane-2-3 times a day. There was also the first hotel on Vatny Bay, the best beach on the island with white and light sand like cotton wool. So there was now a place to stay. I must admit that I was very worried. What has happened to the island and the people over the past 20 years, and will I find again what made me love and attach to this corner of the earth so much?

Of course, this is no longer the island that Francois Lega was lucky enough to see, but it now has the" Reserve of the Giant Turtle and the Big Grotto " named after Francois Lega, where the Rodrigues (with the help of the Mauritius "Crocodile Park") try to restore at least some of the lost flora and fauna. We were shown giant tortoises that have already grown up in Rodriguez. Moreover, you can "adopt" or "adopt" any of the turtles you like: in this case, you will constantly be sent a report on their life and health along with photos!

Rodrigues has many grottoes and caves, and the coast is full of deep-sloping lagoons, which is not surprising given its uneven, hilly terrain, given the island's volcanic origin. It is not for nothing that legends about hidden treasures by pirates live here.

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And yet, while acknowledging the island's undeniable natural, slightly wild, peculiar beauty, there is something else about it that is hard to put into words. The ocean that surrounds it and is visible from any place seems bluer and greener, more brilliant and seemingly more boundless than anywhere else. The sky hangs very close above your head, and the stars are brighter and more visible - no wonder back in 1761, it was on Rodriguez that the famous astronomer Pengre, sent by the French Academy of Sciences, observed the so-called "Transit of Venus", i.e. the moment when the planet Venus passes between the Sun and the Earth, and its shadow is reflected on the sun in the form of something that happens twice a century. Today, on the site of the small observation tower built for Pengre, there is a new, recently opened hotel "Point of Venus", in the main hall of which there is a large bust of Pengre himself.


Of course, Rodriguez has changed a lot since we first visited him in 1973 and continues to change constantly. It's overgrown with roads, electricity grids, pretty concrete houses with satellite dishes on their roofs, and a large assortment of goods in stores. Bus rides are now a great way to get around and communicate at the same time for the people of Rodrigues, who almost all know each other, and for tourists who want to see the real life of the island.

There are few hotels in Rodrigues yet and there is no glitz and "chic" of Mauritius - this would destroy it, but there is a joy to breathe, communicate with people, walk and wander around it, it is real, absolute nature,and this is what a person needs most now.

With the granting of autonomy in 2002, the self-awareness of the Rodrigues people and their belief in the future of their island increased and would have been even stronger if the island's budget had not been dependent on the Mauritian one. The Rodrigues administration is well aware that without the help of Mauritius, their small island will not be able to survive - funds are needed to further develop the island's infrastructure, create agricultural farms and cooperatives, and expand opportunities for fishing. All this should contribute to the main goal - to make Rodriguez a small paradise island for tourists, where they can relax not only physically, but also mentally, away from the noise and stress of big cities.

The supply of drinking water, alas, is still one of the main problems of the islanders, and the lack of water for irrigation and irrigation is a huge obstacle to the full development of agriculture. One of the most important projects for the island is the construction of a reservoir and dam to preserve rainwater and water from small but numerous rivers and waterfalls, as well as stations for desalination of seawater.6


What Rodriguez has, in our time, is absolutely priceless and is already extremely rare-this is his very atmosphere. On the island it is easy to breathe, in the literal sense of the word, because there is no industry (!) - only folk crafts. No one leaves Rodriguez without souvenirs - colorful baskets and hats that are woven from local plants.

Every week on Saturday morning, a market is open in the capital of Rodrigues, Port Maturen, which attracts residents from all over the island. In addition to various types of vegetables and fruits, the counters are filled with cans of spicy seasonings made from tiny green peppers and tiny Rodrigues lemons - and these are also handmade "souvenirs" (every tourist will certainly take a few cans with them). There are a lot of seasonings: pepper with lemon, with octopus, with fruit, lemons in sweet and sour sauce with pepper - the eyes run away!

The cuisine of Rodrigues is very delicious, and so that tourists can fully see this, so - called "hospitable tables" are organized in families-real home-made dinners made from local products, prepared according to traditional recipes by the hostess of the house, and sometimes the whole family. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the life, character, and traditions of the local population and at the same time taste, for example, octopus curry (one of the most popular local dishes), of course, with obligatory rice and, possibly, green papaya salad, which is also typical of the local specifics. There are many different seasonings for rice. And before the meal begins, you will be offered to drink a "small punch" - indeed, a small dose of rum mixed with a large amount of green lemon finely chopped right with the skin, a spoonful of the famous Rodrigue honey and a pinch of brown sugar.

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It's so delicious that I know from personal experience that even a non-drinker will drink it!

It is very interesting to observe relationships in the family. Women in Rodriguez are the backbone of the family. If men catch fish, women dry it, salt it, and sell it. They also go out early in the morning to "hunt" for octopuses: walking through the water, they put them on pointed sticks. The octopuses are then cleaned and hung out on ropes to dry in the sun. Salted fish and fresh, frozen or dried octopus are also a favorite food of Rodrigues, however, as in Mauritius, where it comes from Rodrigues.

Women prepare, roll up in cans and sell all the condiments that we talked about. They also weave colorful baskets, hats, and also manually make many other items: trays, bags, folders, various souvenirs, coconut jewelry-they try to earn as much as they can. They are quite independent and even ready to raise children without husbands, who, despite their cheerful disposition, often have children by different wives-however, even this is treated leniently on the island. On the other hand, the sense of respect and responsibility towards the elderly and old parents is very strong: there is not a single nursing home in Rodriguez.

The people of Rodrigue are very respectful of the church, and Sunday Mass can be crowded, although, as elsewhere in the world, young people are now less likely to attend church. The first Catholic priest was sent to Rodriguez in 1850, when the island had only 400 inhabitants. Today, 97% of Rodrigues are Roman Catholics. The largest Catholic church was built at the expense and hands of the residents themselves in 1929.7

Rodriguez managed to preserve his traditions - both domestic and cultural. Music and dance are a vivid example of how natural the process of mixing European and African cultures was, and how it contributed to the creation of the island's own Creole culture. It must also be said that even the Creole language has been preserved in a more traditional form than in Mauritius, not to mention in Reunion, where it is completely "off-French".

A typical Rodrigues orchestra is an accordion, most likely brought here from France, and instruments of African or Malgash origin - drums "tambour" or "ravan", a metal "triangle" that is beaten with a stick, and "maravan" - a box made of hollow sugar cane in which grains or pebbles roll.

On all the Mascarene Islands, varieties of traditional Creole sega - the dance of African and Malgash slaves, which was even banned before independence. Now it's a fun dance. As soon as the music starts playing, everyone starts dancing! On Rodrigues, this is a "sega-tambour", which differed from other versions by its special incendiary and fast pace.

On the island, they also dance their own versions of European dances, brought here once, during the colonization, and remade by the Rodrigians in their own way. Even the "Russian polka" dances on the distant and almost unknown Rodriguez! At the same time, the girls wave their handkerchiefs and lead a general round dance! There are also "mazurka" (mazurka), "kotish" (from the English "scotish", i.e. Scottish dance), " lavai "(waltz) and the absolutely charming "polka bebe" - "children's polka", so named because the movements in it are the simplest. All these dances were performed by the Rodrigues at their Sunday bean balls. Why"beans"? Perhaps because Rodrigues is home to the wonderful red beans that both Rodrigues and Mauritians adore. The tradition of these "balls" continues to be preserved, and on Sundays the ball is arranged alternately in different villages. A Creole Culture Festival is held every year in Rodrigues, a history museum has been built, and there is a project to create a national library. Rosar Perrin, Cultural Adviser to the Chief Commissioner of the Rodriguez Regional Assembly, shared with me her plans for preserving cultural traditions on the island.

in conclusion

The most famous French writer of Franco-Mauritian origin, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, Jean-Marie Le Klezio, dedicated two of his books to the island of Rodriguez, which is connected with the history of his family. One of them, "Gold Digger" 8, is dedicated to his grandfather, a member of a well-known, wealthy Franco-Mauritian family. Having gone broke, my grandfather decided to find a treasure hidden there by pirates on Rodriguez. He never found the treasure, but he found the wild, extraordinary beauty of this island, another world that turned out to be more expensive for him than any wealth, changing his view of the true values of life.

A century and a half later, his grandson, Jean-Marie Le Klezio, who was born in France, decided to follow in his grandfather's footsteps to understand his family's history and his grandfather's extraordinary love for this small island. The result of this trip was his diary book "Journey to Rodriguez", which was published in France in 1986,9 The words he found to describe Rodriguez are not just brilliant, but extremely true. Now Rodriguez is supposed to create the "Route Le Klezio" (grandfather), restored thanks to the books of his famous grandson, a citizen of France and Mauritius. I want to conclude my story about a small island in the Indian Ocean with a quote from his book:

10 " Fiery sun, cloudless sky, dark blue sea framed by foam on the reef line, black lava, groves of acacia trees, tamarins, thick bushes bent by the wind, sharp leaves of the waqua tree. Earth crab holes. A world where people are rare, and therefore friendly, is close. A world without anger, without grief, without defeat. And then the night sky, beautiful, starry, alive as another world, with its roads and dwellings."

Port Louis (Mauritius)

1 Population and Vital Statistics. Republic of Mauritius, Year 2006.

North-Coombes A. 2 The Island of Rodrigues. Mauritius, 1971, 2002.

Millard C. 3 Rodrigues. The First Settlement - 1691. Voyage et aventures de Francois Leguat. Mauritius, 2004.

4 Ibid., p. 29.

North-Coombes A. 5 Op. cit.

6 Express, 22.04.2009.

7 Rodrigues 2007. Publication de Southern Press Ltd., Mauritius.

Le ClezioJ.M.G. 8 Le chercheur d'or. Gallimard, 1985.

Le Clezio J.M.G. 9 Voyage a Rodrigues. Gallimard, 1986.

10 Ibid., p. 27 - 28.


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