Thursday, 20 October 2011

Culture of Mauritius

The culture of the country reflects its diverse ethnic composition. There are many religious festivals, some important ones being (in random order) Divali (the hindu festival of lights, in October), Christmas, Cavadee (a penitence festival of the south Indian tradition of hinduism, in January), Eid ul Fitr (celebrating the end of the period of fasting in Islam. As the Islamic calendar does not correspond to the Gregorian calendar, the date of its celebration in the year tends to vary. In 2003 it was celebrated in November). Sega is an indigenous musical form. As it started among slaves of African origin, it is conventionally believed to be of African origin. However, according to some observers, there is no easily found equivalent in mainland Africa to the hip-swaying style of sega dancing, and to the musical instruments used (notably the ravane, a piece of goatskin tightly drawn over a wooden hoop). Sega could therefore be of mixed origin.

Culture of Mauritius
Sega comes in many forms, There is the commercial variety sung in hotels, usually of a joyous mood, the more politically involved sega engagé, with strong leftist overtones, and the rough-hewn sega typique, a traditional form of sega, which starts as a slow melody and gradually gathers speed. Modern creole music also shows the influence of ragamuffin, rap and mainstream pop styles. In the countryside, where the population is predominantly of Indian origin, bhojpuri songs (from a rural dialect of Bihar province in India) are still popular and have been recast in modern forms. Like in most countries with a colonial past, Mauritian literature was traditionally of a conservative cast, with much emphasis on the proper use of the dominant language (in this case French). From the 1930’s onwards however, Mauritian writing became more progressive in both its form and content (eg "L’étoile et la Clef" by Loïs Masson). The 1970’s saw the birth of modern creole literature (which claims antecedents, however, in a 19th century compilation of creole folktales by Charles Baissac, which is the first major work in Mauritian creole).

Church in Mauritius

Literature in hindi and other indian languages also evolved concomitantly with the rise of the Indian community throughout the 20th century. A notable writer in hindi is Abhimanyu Unnuth, whose work (notably "Lal pasina" - the red sweat - is a powerful narration of the travails of Indian workers in the 19th century) has been well received in literary circles in India. Mauritian literature in French in the 1960’s and 70’s had a penchant for poetry of a symbolical and esoteric character, maybe deriving from the strong interest of Mauritian society for spirituality. Raymond Chasle, Jean Fanchette, Jean Claude d’Avoine, Malcom de Chazal are the representatives of this school. The 1980’s and the 1990’s have seen the return of prose, maybe because of a need felt to narrate the rapid changes in a society undergoing industrialisation. The success in the early 80’s of "Le chercheur d’or" ("the gold seeker") by French writer Jean Marie Le Clezio could also have influenced this re-awakening of interest in prose. The parents of Mr Le Clezio, who is a leading figure of contemporary writing in France, were Mauritians - "the gold seeker" is based on the adventures of his grandfather, who spent many years seeking a pirates’ treasure in Rodrigues. He has had a consistent interest in Mauritian culture, and has given significant help to the development of Mauritian writing.

Temple in Mauritius
Some noted contemporary Mauritian writers are: Carl de Souza ("La Maison qui marchait vers le large"- "the house which walked towards the horizon" ), Ananda Devi Nursimloo ("Soupir" - "Sigh"), Sedley Richard Assone ("De l’amour et autres poèmes" - "Of love and other poems"). Oddly enough, there is not so much Mauritian literature in English despite Mauritius being a British colony for 158 years. Two notable exceptions however, are Lindsey Collen, a social activist and writer whose novels ("Mutiny") have received favourable reviews abroad, and R. Bucktowar ("A temple on the Island").

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