Mauritius: In Search of Our Ancestors

25 February 2023

To follow the historical chronology of the arrival of Tamil-Indians first from Pondicherry and then from Madras the book was launched on 19th November 2022 by H.E. Mr N. Rengasamy, Chief Minister of Puducherry and on 19th January 2023 by Hon K.S. Masthan Minister of Minorities Welfare , and Non Resident Tamil Welfare. I offered to each State of Puducherry and Tamil Nadu a model ship of "John Allan" which brought my ancestors along with other indentured labourers to Mauritius in August 1884.

View short video on Pondy and Chennai launch.

After more than ten years of research and one year of hard work, finally our encyclopaedic book, "In Search of our Ancestors": A Historical and Pictorial Presentation and Tribute to the Tamil Indian Migration and Settlement in Mauritius and their Descendants (1728 To Present Times) and in other Parts of the World' has been published. This landmark publication is being released by Armoogum Parsuramen Foundation to celebrate the 294th anniversary by marking the arrival of the Sirene Ship from Pondicherry to Mauritius on 27th February 1729 with 165 Tamil artisans and slaves on board and the 188th anniversary of the arrival of the Indian indentured workers in Mauritius.

We are pleased to note that the first Indians to come to Mauritius were the Tamils from Pondicherry.

In fact, on 11 November 1728, the newly appointed Governor Dumas of Pondicherry sent 28 Tamil slaves to work on his new state in Ile de France, later to be named Mauritius. Between 1728 and 1930, it is estimated that more than 150,000 Tamil Indian artisans, free passengers including merchants and traders, slaves, and indentured men, women, and children reached the shores of our small Indian ocean island paradise. This massive book is essentially the long, complex, and epic social history of their migration, settlement, and their descendants in the making of the Mauritian state and nation over a period of almost three centuries.

We have proposed to the Chief Minister of Pondichery to celebrate with Mauritius the 300th Anniversary marking the arrival of Tamils to Mauritius in 2028.

It is also worth noting that The Muslims in Mauritius, commonly known as Lascars( "lascar" is associated with Indian seamen who were of Arabo-Indian descent), were also present on the island right as early as 1731, as testified by a settler in the colony Ally Khan who had petitioned the French Governor Maupin (1729-1735) for the freedom of his wife from slavery. Some more lascars were recruited on 1st May,1732 under contract with the administration of the "Compagnie des Indes".

Our indentured ancestors were bold enough to leave Mother India and Tamil Nadu Presidency's shores and cross the so-called Kalapani. Their sacrifices, toil, and determination to preserve their cultural roots which dates back thousands of years to the Indus Civilization, the Vedic Age, and early Tamil culture, have helped them to fashion the life of succeeding generations of their descendants. In many ways, what the Indian Diaspora stands for all over the world today is because of what our forefathers, including the Tamil immigrants, were able to achieve despite all the obstacles that they had to surmount.

They brought with them their ancient traditions and their sacred scriptures like the Thirukkural, religious Tamil prayers and traditions, the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Quran. The human values that governed their lives were the lofty values of simple working people everywhere, such as the preservation of their religions, cultures, languages, and traditions, as they struggled for a better life for themselves and their families.

The Tamils have been guided by the teachings of Thiruvalluvar. In Fact the Kural is revolutionary in many respects. Two thousand years ago Valluvar stated in Kural verse 972 "All human beings are equal by birth, but distinctions arise only because of the different qualities of their actions".

It is worth noting that In Search of our Ancestors Chapter 1-15 covers various facets of the history of Tamils in Mauritius and the History of Tamils in other countries are covered as follows: Chapter 16 Reunion Island, Chapter 17 South Africa, Chapter 18 Sri Lanka, Chapter 19 French Guadeloupe, Chapter 20 Fiji and Chapter 21 Guyana.

Today, we are the proud descendants of both indentured and free Indian and Tamil Indian passengers who played an important role in the fashioning of modern Mauritian state and nation. It is also important to remember that as V.S.Naipaul, the well-known Indo-Trinidadian writer, nobel prize winner of literature, and descendant of indentured workers, reminds us that "we carry the names of our immigrant ancestors, their blood flows through our veins, they form part of our identity, we reside on the land which they bought, and our history is a continuation of their history".

It is worth noting that in the early years of indentured labour the Indian immigrants at the Immigration Depot and now the Aapravassi Ghat lived harmoniously with each other as micro-community and they ate their food together, sang their songs, did their prayers, and told their tales and jokes. During those days in the Ghat they transcended religions, castes, ethnicities, and languages and the place where the seeds of Mauritianism were sewn and marks the genesis of the Mauritius nation.

Present day Mauritius need to revive this spirit of solidarity and unity of our ancestors.

Another lesson we must retain is the struggle of the women for human rights in Mauritius.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Belle Vue Harel massacre, which took place on 27th September 1943. Early on the fateful morning of 27th September 1943, Since sunrise, the estate camp residents had taken their baths and were preparing items for a communal prayer which they held once every week. The Deputy Commissioner of Police proceeded with more than three dozen men to the camp just as the camp residents were still in the middle of their weekly prayer. Anjalay Coopen and her companions were upset that their prayers had been disturbed with the arrival of the police and seized whatever objects they found nearby to defend themselves. The labourers advanced towards the police officers. In panic, the police fired sixteen shots at the striking workers, which left three dead, Anjalay Coopen, Kistnasamy Mooneesamy, and Moonsamy Moonien.

Anjalay Coopen 32 year old pregnant woman was shot dead in cold blood and her child never saw the light of day. Anjalay still remains a powerful symbol of the ultimate sacrifice which some brave Mauritian workers were willing to make during the early period of the Mauritian Labour movement to fight against tyranny and for the social and economic emancipation of the workers.. Anjalay was truly inspired by Kural verse 972 " All men are born equal" and fearlessly fought for rights of all workers. Anjalay Coopen in her death had become the mother of all and she was the first lady martyr of Mauritius working class movement.

We need to mark the historic date of the 80th Anniversary of Anjalay Coopen on 27th September 2023 in a fitting manner.

I am guided by Thirukkural Verse 213 in my social mission. "In heaven and Earth, there is nothing worthier to possess than the nature of helping others."

Mahatma Gandhi in one of his sermons in Calcutta in 1948 shortly before his assassination stated "We cannot be selfish and think of ourselves, our personal advancement, and career only. We need to give back, care for and serve our fellow human beings and the World. Indeed service to man is the highest calling which we cannot ignore and forget, as it is also service to God the Almighty"

After retiring in 2011 I decided to dedicate my life on a mission of giving back to Mauritius by serving persons with disabilities through the Global Rainbow Foundation and in 2022 I launched a GRF in India to serve persons with disabilities in India.

India has greatly contributed to the Mauritius economic development and our forefathers sacrificed and suffered a lot to make us what we are today. I think each one of us Indian immigrants should think of doing something to help the needy people in India.

I encourage all of you to find your roots and see what we can do to give back to the needy persons in your ancestors' native place.

Distinguished Guests, ... Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me briefly share with you my journey of In Search of my Ancestors

In 1991 I undertook a pilgrimage to Salem, Tamil Nadu to find my roots and I did find my ancestors native place in a small village called Vaniampadi, Mellur. I warmly thank Satyendra for his extensive research on my ancestors history.

I have always been passionate about my roots and after the 1991 pilgrimage I have kept in touch regularly with my ancestor's native place and associated with them in some social and religious activities.

Dylan: Video on Salem Roots?

With the launching of this book, it allows me to pay tribute to Immigrant Parasuraman, my great grandfather and his wife Murrichee and their two sons, Minesami 4 years old and Balamuttu one and a half years old who left Salem on a journey of seven days on foot and by train and arrived in Madras in early July 1884. On 12th July 1884 they travelled along with other hundreds of indentured labourers from Madras Port by Ship "John Allan" number 1326 to reach Mauritian shores on 5th August 1884. The ship remained on the high seas close to the entrance of Port-Louis harbour for almost 10 days as there were several cases of the small pox on Board. On 14th August 1884 they were sent to the quarantine station on Flat Island. After one week stay there and with no new cases of the small pox they were transferred to Immigration Depot.1884 Immigrant They spent one week at the depot and then on 28th August 1884 Immigrant Parasuraman and his wife were registered with number 398254 and 398255 respectively. They were then sent to work on a five year contract on Beau Bois Sugar Estate in the Flacq district. In 1892 they left Beau Bois to go to work on a sugar estate in Pamplemousses and later moved to CapMalheureux. Parasuraman passed away in 1912 at the age of 66 leaving his 56 year old wife to raise his children who were already working. In May 1921 Murrichee left her children and the colony on ship Mutha to return to India.

As a matter of fact, chapter 15 in the book is entirely dedicated to my family, where it all started with my great grandfather.

My determination to give back to India through Global Rainbow Foundation India is reinforced by the affection and honour bestowed upon me by Mother India. In fact In 2018 H.E. Mr Banwarilal Purohit, Governor of Tamil Nadu and Chancellor of the prestigious Tamil University in Thanjavur conferred on me the Honorary Doctorate. . In December 2022 the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu nominated me as a Member of the Non-Resident Tamil Welfare Board which will look after the welfare of non-resident Tamils globally and connect Indian Tamil immigrants with their roots.

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