The island republic of Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean (2,000 km. off the southeast coast of Africa) was uninhabited when the first European explorers (the Portuguese) first pass through it in 1507. When a Dutch squadron visited it in 1598, they gave the island its present name (in honor of Prince Maurice van Nassau), and officially made a colony in 1638 (launching sugar cane agriculture there). With that settlement being unprofitable, the Dutch abandoned Mauritius in 1710. Five years later, the French (having already established a colony in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion – 226 km. west of Mauritius) established its own colony there, and changed the island’s name from Mauritius to “Isle de France”.
The French proceeded to build a more prosperous sugar-based economy, along with establishing the naval base of Port Louis (now the island’s capital), as well as shipbuilding facilities. Since Mauritius became an important stop for international commercial ships going through the Indian Ocean, there was a struggle between the French and the British for control of that area. That result was a British takeover of the island (changing its name back to Mauritius). Mauritius, whose population increased during French rule when they brought in contingents of slaves from various East African countries (which was 85% of the local residents by 1777), would see an even larger increase in its population when the British brought in contingents of indentured servants from India (to work the island’s sugar fields). Latter waves of free Indians were brought in by the British authorities to work in the armed forces, and police. Other Indians became traders, businessmen and merchants.
British rule continued in Mauritius until the island was declared independent in 1968 (becoming a republic within the Commonwealth in 1992). Nowadays, Indo-Mauritians (locals of Indian descent) are the majority of the island’s population (around 68%). Creoles (locals of African descent) are about 25% of the population, while other ethnic groups – ranging from descendants of Chinese immigrants, to French-Mauritians and Anglo-Mauritians – form the rest of the island’s population (explaining the country’s current multi-ethnic composition).
English and French are generally accepted as the official languages of Mauritius and as the languages of government administration, courts, and business. The constitution of Mauritius is written in English, while some laws, such as the Civil Code, are in French. Along with English and French, Mauritian Creole (a French-based dialect), as well as various Indian (from Hindi to Tamil) and Chinese languages (Cantonese, Mandarin), form the rest of the tongues spoken in Mauritius.
Mauritius’ current economy is based on tourism, textiles, sugar, and financial services (the latter making Mauritius the “Bermuda of the Indian Ocean”). Mauritius has a wide range of natural and man-made attractions, boasts a tropical climate with warm turquoise blue waters, attractive beaches, tropical fauna and flora complemented by a multi-ethnic and cultural population that is friendly and welcoming. Currently, over a million tourists visit Mauritius – with large numbers arriving from UK, France, India, and even the nearby island of Reunion. In recent times more visitors are coming in from emerging tourism markets like China. Tourism currently makes up 14% of the island’s GDP.