Mauritius - Culture
Over half the population of Mauritius is Hindu and roughly another fifth is Muslim; both groups descend from labourers brought to the island by the British to work the cane fields. While some of the resident Chinese and Sino-Mauritians were also brought over as labourers, most came to Mauritius as entrepreneurs, and many still control the lion's share of village-based commerce. The remaining population is composed mainly of Créoles, descendants of African slaves, and Franco-Mauritians, the original settlers of the island. Franco-Mauritians, who make up about 2% of the population, still control many of the sugar plantations, although many emigrated to South Africa and France following independence.
English is the official language of the island, though you're bound to hear French, Créole (a melange of French and various African dialects) and a smattering of Indian languages. The island's main contribution to the performing arts is the Créole séga, a foot-shuffling, body-gyrating, downright erotic dance that's generally performed on the beach to the rhythm of Latin American, Caribbean and African pop. Séga variations to Créole music are popular in the island's discos and are certainly more entertaining than the well-choreographed 'cultural shows' you'll see in hotel lounges.
Probably the most famous novel set in Mauritius is Paul et Virginie, a rather sappy love story by French author Bernadin de St Pierre that you'll find reference to across the island. Famous Mauritian authors include Malcom de Chazal, Robert Edward Hart, Edouard Maunick, the brothers Loys and André Masson and humourist Yvan Lagesse. René Asgarally and Ramesh Ramdoyal are the best known of the contemporary writers producing works in Créole. Both Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain visited the island and wrote of their experiences, and Charles Baudelaire's very first poem, A une Dame Créole (To a Créole Woman), was written in the Mauritian town of Pamplemousses.
One highlight of a visit to Mauritius is the magnificent mixture of cuisines on offer. The most common varieties are Créole, European, Chinese and Indian, with seafood almost always the specialty. In addition, a typical Mauritian buffet might include a Muslim biryani, Indian chicken curry, Chinese pork dish, Créole roast beef and French-style vegetables. Boiled rice is served with just about everything. Common dishes include rougaille, a Mediterranean dish of tomatoes, onions, garlic and any kind of meat or fish, and daube, an octopus stew. Favorite local beverages includes lassi, a refreshing yogurt and ice-water drink, and alouda, a syrupy brew of agar, milk and flavourings that's available everywhere from streetside vendors. Locally produced beer and rum are potent, plentiful and cheap; wines are expensive and usually imported from France or South Africa.