Sugar Cane and the Spirit in their Veins – reconnecting with myself in Mauritius
I was one flick of a wrist too late. Twenty minutes into the tour at L’Aventure du Sucre, I met the Mauritius my heart had warned me about.
Madame Noelle saw the tear, suspended in my left eye like a glass bauble flickering with a graceless tremble. I blew my nose in a crumpled tissue while she turned around patiently, perhaps to spare me the indignity. Her sympathetic smile faded lightly into her tanned skin.
As we ascended a flight of stairs in L’Aventure du Sucre, a museum dedicated to the history and labourers of the Mauritian sugar cane industry, I admired her silk dress, the colour of a sunset cocktail. A dress suitable for meetings and greetings on an island. My earlier indiscretion had evaporated on the bridge of my nose and I followed the comfort of the luxurious folds of fabric, grounded by the sight of her heels.
“The people who work the cane fields say it isn’t blood that flows through their veins, but fangourin. This is the first pressing of sugar cane,” explained Madame Noelle
With the scent of molasses still clinging to the air, I sat outside and ordered another rhum cocktail, pondering the silent ‘h’ and the legacy of the French colonialists, the British after them and the Dutch who started it all where the Portuguese surrendered.
“Excusez-moi madame, puis-je vous servir un autre verre?” he addressed me, with a bright grin.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak French,“ I replied, meeting his smile and slurping the last of the cocktail, indicating that I was done. I knew he was wondering about my origins, this non-French speaking Mauritian-looking girl because I had fielded the very question all week.
Last night, as Sega dancers weaved barefoot on the beach to the slow sensual rhythm of a drum, uniformed waiters brought our group platters of pakoras, gateaux pigment and grilled prawns with vindaye sauce. I must have told at least 20 baffled Mauritian Indians that I was in fact, South African.
The sand fringing La Pirogue spilled over into shades of grey-blue waters, the needy night waves harassing the coral and volcanic rock. To an older gentleman, the maitre d’ of the beach restaurant, I mentioned the secret I harboured about a maternal great-great grandmother who was rumoured to be Mauritian.
I’m certain it was my great-great grandma that I thought of at the sugar museum when I saw the image of an indentured labourer, taking his first steps in the new land with a tin can attached to his neck. His future identity reduced to a number and a calling card to be worn like a tethered animal and his stoic face etched with uncertainties that many generations after would address with sorrowful murmurs.
And today, along with the slaves brought from Madagascar, the indentured labourers from India have become the visible face of Mauritius. The plantations and colonial houses remain empty – relics of progress and determination in an era where Europeans arrived fearlessly to a land yet untamed.
“It’s not easy to view a spoon of sugar the same way now, you know,” I heard myself telling my Dutch husband that evening over coffee.
Note: This short piece is an experiment in story-telling. While based on my own experiences, I have taken certain liberties in my own descriptions of others. Names have been changed.
With kind thanks to the curator of the museum.
The incredibly detailed museum, should be a must in your visit, if anything to understand a vital part of the Mauritian history:
Beau Plan Pamplemousses
The food is excellent, portions are on the bigger side.
This post is affiliated to the #MyMauritius blog trip, created and managed by iambassador and AHRIM in association with the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority and Air Mauritius. Food and the Fabulous maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. I was privately chauffeured around Mauritius by ABC Car Rentals. (I know, can’t beat that!)