Mauritius is a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of the African continent. It is so small that you can reach its four corners in one day.
The country has become a tourist mainstay on the continent and tourism has been a key factor in its development. The country’s clear blue waters, long mountain ranges, lush planes, and stunning waterfalls have made it an exclusive tourist destination for many from Europe.
One of these natural landmarks has garnered a lot of attention from tourists of late. Le Morne Brabant has received hundreds of reviews on TripAdvisor, almost all of which are raves about the views from the mountaintop. Those who have hiked the mountain talk about the difficult hike, but always remark that it was well worth it. One reviewer called it one of the most special places on earth, and another, the must thing to do in Mauritius.
What most reviewers don’t mention, however, is the monument at the base of the mountain. The Slave Route Monument is located at the foot of Le Morne mountain in clear view of the caves in the cliff where runaway slaves were known to hide and into the “Valley of Bones” where many dropped to their death.
The Slave Route Monument is a garden enclosure with sculptures honoring the slaves and the country’s dark slave past. The engravings symbolize the different origin and destination countries of the slaves brought into or sent from Mauritius, which include Mozambique, Madagascar, India, China, Malaysia, Haïti, Réunion island, France and Senegal.
The first slaves arrived in Mauritius from Madagascar in 1639 to cultivate tobacco and sugar cane plantations and ebony trees after the Dutch East India Company established a settlement on the island. In 1769, the Dutch opened the trade to French nationals and the slaves brought from other places, including Zanzibar grew from 15,000 to 49,000 by 1835. By the late 1700, slaves accounted for almost eighty percent of the island’s population. By the early nineteenth century there were 60,000 slaves on the island.
When Mauritius abolished the slavery on 1 February 1835, the last of the British colonies to do so, slaves accounted for two-thirds of the population, with fifty percent from Madagascar, forty percent from East Africa and just under seven percent from India. A village called Trou Chenilles was established for freed slaves on the southern foot of Le Morne Mountain, which was later moved to Le Morne Village.
Beyond the country’s own slave population, Mauritius was a major port for the shipment of slaves to the world. According to American historian Pier Larson, over 200,000 slaves arrived in Mauritius and Reunion Island from East African and Malagasy ports and many died aboard slave ships en route to their destinations. Many were illegally introduced after the British outlawed the slave trade in 1800.
Mauritius established the Slave Route Monument as a symbol to recognize and commemorate the impact and influence of slavery and the slave trade on Mauritian history in 2009. It was part of a larger UNESCO effort officially launched in Benin in 1994 known as the Slave Route Project. Monuments have been erected in countries affected by the slave trade to this effect.
In one tragic tale about the settlement at Le Morne, some say that after the British passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834, a group of soldiers and police went to the village area to let runaway slaves know that they were finally free. But the slaves, upon seeing the authorities, feared that they were being recaptured and returned to their masters, and climbed to the top of the cliff and jumped. Hundreds of slaves died rather than face the tortures of slavery.