A Little-Known Place: Mauritius

The island of Mauritius (Mar-ISH-us) sits in the Indian Ocean 500 miles east of Madagascar (aka Malagasy Republic) just above the Tropic of Capricorn. It is just east of Reunion, a French owned island, and the two islands along with a few very small ones, are known as the Mascarene Islands. (Almost no one knows this; good trivia question.)

Mauritius, about the size of Rhode Island, was unoccupied when discovered and claimed by the Dutch in 1598, naming it after a Dutch prince. Slaves were brought in to harvest ebony timber. They abandoned the island in 1710.

Five years later, France took possession, renaming it Ile de France. They brought in slaves to build a port (Port Louis - the capital) and establish sugar, spice, and coffee plantations. During wars with the British in the 18th century, the island was a staging port for the French navy, which the British solved by capturing the island in 1810, renaming it with its present name.

When slavery was abolished by Britain in 1833, people of India were recruited to work the agriculture - half a million being brought in over the next 70 years. Indians now constitute 70% of the island population, with the rest being a mix of Europeans, Africans, and Chinese.

Now independent under British oversight (Britain appoints a governor general - largely ceremonial) the island is run by a prime minister selected by the elected ruling party.

About 1.2 million people now occupy this small island. Sugar remains the mainstay of the economy. The country's flag looks like this: