So, what are you?

mauritian-creole

Credit: SEO Mauritius 

Questions about my origins have been filling up my mind lately. Blame it on the number of nationalities I have been attributed (From Moroccan, Fijian, Hispanic, South-African, Portuguese…You name it!) Or maybe it is also because of that stranger who stopped me abruptly on King street while I was walking to meet my friends. “What are you?” He asked upfront. I think I must have looked puzzled cause he proceeded to say: “Cause I can tell from your looks that you are mixed”. I get that remark a lot lately. Especially since I moved to Canada. I guess my ambiguous look is to be blamed. After all, my features do not quite fit anywhere (olive skin, brown slanting eyes, and black curly hair).

 

Well, I guess that in the Mauritian ethnic classification which compromises of white Mauritians (of English or French origin), Indo-Mauritians, Muslim Mauritians, and Sino-Mauritians (of Chinese origin), I am a créole. Creoles are the most mixed ethnic group of the island. We come in different shades and hair type. Ranging from black, caramel skin, olive skin, and nearly white…Kinky hair, coily hair, curly, wavy, and straight. You name it! Blame it on the fact that creoles are often a mix of two or several ethnic groups of the island. To sum up, we are products of slave trade and colonization. We are descendants of Europeans, indentured laborers, slaves and Chinese. As a result, we can be mistaken for a Muslim, Hindu, African, Chinese depending on our facial feature and skin color.

Regardless of our differences, we are homogenized and tossed under the “general population” group. I like to think of us as residues of people who could not be fully categorized as Sino-Mauritians, Indo-Mauritians, white Mauritians, and Muslim Mauritian. Despite being regrouped under a category, we have come to create sub-groups: nasyon (black), créole claire (clarified créoles) and mulâtre (mulattoes). As you can tell, colorism has played a significant role in creating a division. In the Mauritian context, a mulatto does not mean to be a person of mixed white and black ancestry. It means to “appear nearly white”. Surnames give away the “true lineage” of mulattos. On a quick note, last names are very important in Mauritius. Your surname can give away your race and parentage. Especially if you are a direct descendant of slaves.

In the past, masters would give their slaves a name that they thought depicted them. Their female slaves normally had sexual connotation names while the male slaves got names that were in relation to animals or the way their masters perceived them. For instance, female slaves would get names like “Prude” (prudish) or Bellejambe (beautiful leg). While the male slaves got names like “Bourrique” (donkey) or “Résidu” (residue). Though this belongs to the past, our colonial legacy is still ever present. Creoles with lighter skin like me have the privilege to access higher social and economic status compared to creoles with darker skin. It is no secret that specific mix of races is also more valued over others. This is blatant when you see that creoles who are direct descendants of French colonizers still occupy a dominant position in Mauritian society.

Though these divisions are flagrant and known to Mauritian Creoles, we continue to be perceived as one homogenized group by non-creoles who fail to understand our complexity or our malaise. So, we are lumped together as rootless people who are still struggling to define their identity while other ethnic groups frantically trace their origin back to India, China or Europe. Creoles have little to no remembrance of the land of their ancestors. We are deprived of historical context and homeland. The birthplaces of our ancestors are only transmitted through word of mouth and assumptions. Our culture is a mix of Northern India, Eastern Africa, Madagascar, Southeastern China, and France.

I think most creoles go through an identity crisis at some point in their life. Especially when you are abroad and you are perceived differently. Finding a community that represents you is difficult. I have tried to understand the so-called “Creole culture”  but even today, I fail to explain or understand it. I was just led to believe throughout my life that we are good sega dancers, the party animals of the island, we are “more open” compared to other groups, we speak French better than English, we are all Christians, and we prefer to make merry instead of working hard, and investing in our education.

I refuse to accept or believe that stereotypes are our culture. Nor do  I want to embrace one of the communities of my ancestors over the other. Instead, I am embracing the features that I got from my Malagasy heritage, African heritage, European, and Indian heritage. I have come to acknowledge my multi-racial, multi-cultural, and the legacy that comes along with it. This reminds me of the famous Mauritian singer Kaya’s song “Ki to Ete” (What are you?) which says, “mo  content ki mwa mo fin ne melanze, pas la honte ki mo ape dire mo ene batard mwa” ( I am happy to say that I was born mixed. I have no shame in saying that I am a bastard). I acknowledge the trauma that my ancestors got from being uprooted and relocated to colonies. But this belongs to the past now. We have to move forward and try to set aside our post-colonial mindset. Instead, let us embrace our country’s rich history and culture. The question we should ask ourselves is this: how do we reinvent ourselves? What do you think? Do we really have a “malaise creole”? If so, how do we overcome this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m a martian in Toronto

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Lately I have been thinking that terming me as a “martian” would be suitable. After all, if you remove the “u” and the extra “i” in Mauritian, you get the word martian…Honestly, this is exactly how I feel since I landed in Toronto. Every time I say that I am Mauritian, I get the clueless look. I feel like I am a rare species.  I have lost track of the number of nationalities I have been attributed and stereotypes that I had to break. Yes we have running water, we also have WiFi, 3G, 4G and not all Mauritians are fishermen.

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Okay, blame it on the fact that there is no cultural representation of Mauritians and no one talks about it. But, I was never prepared to become an ambassador of my country. Least have to bring the subject every time I meet someone. For, I can always expect to get the question “where are you from”? which is always followed by: “Where is that?”

I still remember my dad telling me that I need to be prepared to be asked about my country. I remember laughing it off and telling him that I’ll just say the basic. You know an island in the Indian Ocean next to Madagascar. And that we are  multilingual since we speak French, English and créole.

But, it turned out that the basic does not surfeit when people ask me what language I am talking when they hear me speaking creole. “But I hear some french words. What kind of language is that?” Or having to explain that there is no average look for a Mauritian. “You guys are really from the same country?” When they see me hanging with my Mauritian friends from different ethnic groups. Or how come I know so much about Indian and Chinese culture.

yeah-uh

I guess that I have never been so culturally aware or talked so much about Mauritius’ history . Well, long story short: The french colonized Mauritius and brought slaves from Africa and Madagascar to cultivate the land. Later, the English overthrew them and took over the island. With the abolition of slavery, many slaves flew. To make up for the loss of labor, the English brought Chinese and Indians. So, basically the Mauritian society is made up of European descendants, Chinese, Indians and Africans. And creole is the language that our ancestors invented to be able to communicate with each other despite their different nationalities and language barrier. It is a mixture of french, English, African and some terms from Hindi and Chinese.

Consequently, Mauritians’ cuisine is a blend of Chinese, European, Indian and creole food. And we do not have a “typical Mauritian look”. Just scratch that part. But we do have some common character traits: we are very friendly, we smile a lot, we are helpful, we are usually late and we always  use “ayo” to express different kind of emotions. From fear to irritation and surprise. And Mine Appolo is a huge thing. At least for most of us. I can go to the extent of saying that it is a national anthem. Chili must always be part of our dish. And yeah flip-flops are mandatory! Hey after all we are a tropical island and gorgeous beaches are ever present and it is our duty to maintain the islander lifestyle!

Ever since I am here I feel like I have become a representative of my country. And it is so much pressure! I have never been so aware of my “créolité” . And paradoxically, I  am learning more about my own culture and my country.

Oh and yeah here’s a video on my island made by a compatriot:

 

*Back to being a brand ambassador again* Hahaha.

Do let me know if you’ve ever felt the same way while living abroad in the comment section below. Cheers 🙂