The first slaves arrived in Mauritius from Madagascar in 1639, a year after the Dutch East India Company established a settlement on the island, to fell ebony trees and work on the tobacco and sugar cane plantations. When trade was opened up to French nationals in 1769, slaves were brought from other places, including Zanzibar, increasing the population dramatically from 15,000 to 49,000 in just thirty years. During the late eighteenth century, slaves accounted for around eighty percent of the island’s population, and by the early nineteenth century there were 60,000 on the island.
Mauritius was the last place in the British colonies to abolish slavery, on 1 February 1835. At that time, slaves accounted for two-thirds of the population: about fifty percent from Madagascar, forty percent from East Africa and just under seven percent from India. After abolition, 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. Today, Le Morne Heritage Trust Fund, Royal Road, Le Morne Village (451 5759; Mon–Sat 10am–3pm, Sun 10am–noon) offer tours led by village guides, custodians of traditions handed down from their slave ancestors, which offer a unique perspective on this largely Creole community.
The abolition of slavery is commemorated at the International Slave Route Monument on the Le Morne Peninsula, where the President recently heralded runaway slaves as Mauritius’s first freedom fighters. Despite this, the island is only gradually coming to terms with its colonial past and the Creole population remain among the poorest and most disadvantaged in Mauritian society.