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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What the hell Mauritius?

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Mauritius, like every  12th of March we renewed our vows to mark your 48th anniversary. I may be 15,000 km away, but know that you are in my heart more than ever. After all, you shaped me into the woman that I am today. You taught me diversity, tolerance, diplomacy, respect, and hospitality. You also gave me that infectious Mauritian smile.

From a very young age, you exposed me to different cultures. You made sure I understand and respect different religions and traditions by including this in the school curriculum. Multiculturalism forms part of my identity. Consequently, I can relate to French, English, Indian and Chinese culture.

To avoid deviating from tradition, you tell me that we stand as “one people, as one nation”. Yet, you leave me speechless every time you remind me that I am a creole or descendant of Indian, Chinese or French.

what wrong with you

See, I think that it is high time that we define our relationship. Sometimes I feel like you are dithering. What are we? Where do we stand? When are you going to make an honest woman out of me? Once a year, every year you tell me that we have a bright future together. You tell me beautiful lies and I fall for you.

I forget about your best loser, that system that aims to make sure that each ethnic group has its representation in the national parliament. The raison d’être might have been understandable when you were just born back in  1968. It was supposed to hold us together. We had been left to fend for ourselves when we received our independence from the British.

Imagine people from different parts of the world (China, India, France, Madagascar, Africa and England) with four major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism) and different cultures trying to cohabit together on a territory of only 2,040 km2.   Nobel prize-winning economist, James Meade predicted that we would collapse. But, look where we are right now! We have managed to achieve economic development and sustain peaceful coexistence amongst diverse communities.

Instead of learning from the past and moving forward, it seems that you have a lot of emotional baggage. Otherwise, I don’t understand why you keep bringing the Best Loser System (BLS). We are past that. Why do you insist that each political candidate declares their ethnicity to make sure that everyone has a fair representation in parliament? Aren’t we “one people, one nation”? Or is this just a rhetoric and a slogan that you flaunt each year?

It has been 48 years now and you are still confused about our relationship. You boast that we are multicultural so I celebrate Chinese new year, Diwali, Eid, easter, Christmas and you name it…But, you have a problem if I consider marrying out of my ethnic group. This leads me to that question: what is “Mauritianness”? Is it the homeland of my ancestors that you seem so hell bound to maintain or is it that hybrid culture that we created?

There is another thing which bothers me, do you have a complex of inferiority? Why do you insist on following global trends that do not suit you? Why do you rely on foreigners to solve your issues? Here I am with my work experience and my educational background but you don’t seem to see me. Instead, you would rather spend millions on exported labor and expertise that you could find right here. This does not make sense at all!

Mauritius, you and I, we can work this out together. You are and will always be my belove. But I am getting tired of our ambiguous relationship. It is high time to get your shit together. I have high hopes for you Mauritius. Live up to them…

 

 

Signs you grew up Mauritian

 

  1. You were threatened by your parents that you’ll end up sweeping the floor or in a sugarcane field if you did not get good grades when you were a kid.

threatened-by-parents

2. If you didn’t go to a private high school, you had to endure a single-sex high school.

high-school

3. You flirt in French but swear like a sailor in creole when you are angry.

swearing

4. The first time you meet someone, you speak in French. Depending on the response, you will decide if the rest of the conversation is going to be in French or in Creole.

enchante

5. You know at least one Mauritian friend who did not know how to speak creole because his parents forbid him to speak in that language. Or you are that Mauritian who was forbidden to speak in creole.

cant-speak

6. It is difficult for you to stick to only one language when talking to someone. Chances are, you will be mixing some french words, creole and English. Just like in this video:

7. You REALLY know how to dance the sega just like in this video:

Or you can manage it just like in this video:

Or you suck at it just like this guy in this video:

8. Either  category you fall, you always tell yourself that foreigners don’t know how to “casse lerein” (Make their hips swing) when you see them dance.

disaproving

9. If you don’t know how to make a rougaille, you’re not a true Mauritian.

cooking

9. You use “Ayo” to express annoyance and “fouf” to express frustration or annoyance too.

annoyance

10. Tea is very important. You drink it in the morning and it is important to have a “tea break” around 3 pm or 4 pm.

tea

11. You’ve been told your whole life that Rhum can solve coldness and some health issues…

rhum

 

12. When you meet another Mauritian and he/she asks you your last name and the place you live, you are sure that they will do a background research on you.

background-research

13. You didn’t listen to sega when you were in Mauritius but you found yourself indulging in Cassiya when you were feeling homesick abroad. Cassiya’s video:

12. That instant bond you get when you meet another Mauritian abroad when you hear him/her speak creole.

instant-bond

Don’t forget to like and share this blog post if you like it ;). And leave me your thoughts on the comment section below. Cheers :).