• Across the censuses 1871-2000. A survey of religions

    1. Mauritius: a kaleidoscope of people and religions

     

    To understand the unique blend of our multi-faceted plural society, we need to know about the major happenings that have moulded our heritage.

    Before the 1840s, the population was made up mostly of descendants of French and African origins. This “General Population” is fully aware of its unique and lasting contribution in shaping Mauritius. After the 1840s, the influx of Hindus and Muslims from the Indian subcontinent has added to a more complex social fabric. Mauritian ethnicity has undergone a radical evolution. In the third quarter of the nineteen century, the Chinese (from two specific regions of China) started coming in much smaller numbers. There has been a leap from 158,462 Mauritians in 1846 in the first census under British administration to a population of 1,178,848 in Census 2000.

    Although the first census was taken as early as 1735, Mauritius really became a multicultural society by the mid-nineteen century. 17 official censuses have been carried out every decade from 1846 to 2000. They are like seismographs registering the evolution taking place, each of them adding new pages to our history. This series of six articles is meant to focus on the evolution of the main religions of the country.

     

    The demographic history of this period reveals that the past two centuries have each experienced, at about half point (that is during their fourth to sixth decades), a sudden influx of population. The reasons, however, were not the same for the two centuries under consideration.



    The two decades of the 1840s – 1860s witnessed the introduction of some 208,000 workers from India who settled permanently in Mauritius while some 69,500 others returned to India.

    In the next century, the 1940s – 1960s were the baby boom period which transformed the country into an essentially young society with a reproductive capacity that placed Mauritius in the top list of overpopulated countries. The demographic situation changed rapidly. Within twenty years, Mauritius had turned young with large families putting pressure on education, housing and food resources. The population growth rate from 1952 to1962 was 3.12% per annum.

    The situation, however, has been changing since the 1980s. At the turn of the twenty first century, the country is now beginning to face problems associated with an ageing population.

    Compilation of religious data from 1871 onwards

    A brief survey of the religions mentioned in the censuses is necessary to have an idea of the complex situation inside each religious group. .

    No account was taken of the religious creeds professed by the population in the first census of 1846 under British administration.

    In 1871, when the compilation of data about religion began, there were 22 headings. From 1911 to 1941 they were reduced to 8 headings.

    Table 1 A

    Mauritians according to religions

    1871, 1901, 2000.

     

    1871

    1901

    2000

    Christians

    89,099

    120,048

    379301

    Hindus

    132,652

    206,131

    585,210

    Muslims

    41,575

    41,207

    196,240

    Chinese religions

    743

    3,274

    8,151

    Other Religions

    17

    137

    5,034

    No religion

    51,956

    226

    4,912

    Total

    316,042

    371,023

    1,178,848

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The remaining censuses of the twentieth century revealed a real explosion in the number of religions.

    In 1952, at mid XXth century, religious denominations according to the census, numbered 22.

    In 1962 there were 36 religions listed.

    In 1972, the number rose to 54.

    In1983, they reached a record figure of 87.

    In 2000, it has gone down to 49 headings.

     

    The large number of religions mentioned can be explained by the social and political history of these decades. Moreover since 1957, under the pressure of Sookdeo Bissoondoyal, the Mauritian State has been providing every year direct government subsidies to the major religious groups, on a per capita basis. Financial subsidy for the various religious federations is based on the returns about religious affiliation in the Census.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Table 1 B

    1952-Religions of each Ethnical Group of the Population

    Religions

    General Population

    Indo-Mauritian

    Chinese

    Total

    Grand Total

     

    Male

    Female

    Male

    Female

    Male

    Female

    Male

    Female

     

    Christian Religions

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     Catholic Church

    67,613

    74,847

    7,207

    7,445

    4,233

    3,741

    79,053

    86,033

    165,086

    Church of England

    1,451

    1,610

    709

    696

    252

    187

    2,412

    2,493

    4,905

    Church of Scotland

    262

    274

    11

    10

    5

    2

    278

    286

    564

    Presbyterian Church

    29

    45

    4

    1

    33

    46

    79

    Methodist Church

    6

    7

    14

    18

    1

    1

    21

    26

    47

    Seventh Day Adventist

    672

    787

    96

    114

    49

    40

    817

    941

    1,758

    The Swedenborgian

    57

    69

    47

    36

    104

    105

    209

    Christian Denominations

    48

    38

    10

    10

    9

    3

    67

    51

    118

    Jewish Religion

    1

    1

    0

    1

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    172,767

    Muslim Religions

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Sunnee Hanafee

    19

    35

    32,754

    31,151

    1

    32,773

    31,187

    63,960

    Sunnee Shafee

    1

    2,779

    2,586

    2,779

    2,587

    5,366

    Ahmadi Cadiani

    2

    4

    3,508

    3,346

    3,510

    3,350

    6,860

    Sheeite

    1

    299

    306

    299

    307

    606

    Bohra

    123

    92

    4

    1

    127

    93

    220

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    77,012

    Hindu Religions

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Hindu Sanatan

    14

    22

    107,621

    103,056

    6

    7

    107,641

    103,085

    210,726

    Arya Samajist

    2

    2

    15,189

    14,430

    15,191

    14,432

    29,623

    Kabir Panthi

    653

    596

    653

    596

    1,249

    Other Hindu Religions

    28

    34

    28

    34

    62

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    241,660

    Chinese Religions

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Buddhist

    1

    1

    10

    9

    4,809

    2,871

    4,820

    2,881

    7,701

    Confucian

    478

    285

    478

    285

    763

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    8,464

    No Religion

    45

    19

    59

    74

    465

    234

    569

    327

    896

    Not stated

    19

    20

    124

    77

    106

    55

    249

    152

    401

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Total

    70,241

    77,782

    171,241

    164,086

    10,421

    7,429

    251,903

    249,297

    501,200

     

    New sects or subgroups have emerged within the main religions. In certain cases there is a great confusion between language, caste and religion. One major conclusion that can be drawn is that Mauritians are very religious-conscious. They know exactly to what religious group they belong and have declared it willingly during the censuses. Only a mere 0.2% throughout these years has not specified their religious affiliation.

    It is possible to compute the average annual growth rate of the major religions in order to assess their comparative evolution. Muslims have recorded the highest growth rate. Over the second half of the twentieth century, those practising the Muslim religion have increased at an average rate of 1.97% per year. Comparative average annual rates are 1.86% for Hindus and 1.65% for Christians.

    Finally it is to be borne in mind that the differentiated growth rates recorded by the three major religions are the result of several factors, such as family size, emigration, immigration and religious conversion from one religion to another. There is however no data available to quantify each of these factors.

     

    Table 1. C

     

     

    Mauritians have managed to make the most of their religious and ethnic diversities, the rainbow symbolising the multiculturalism that characterizes our nation. Mauritius is often cited, at international levels, as an example of peaceful coexistence, though the situation is not as idyllic as it may seem to outsiders.

    Monique Dinan 

    Across the censuses 1871-2000

    A survey of religions

    1. The Mauritian Christians

    Roman Catholicism was the first religion introduced and practised in the island. It was in fact as early as 1616 that the first mass was celebrated by a Jesuit priest Manoel d’Almeida, but it was in 1722, when the French took possession of the island, that Catholicism became the official religion of the island. Although the Roman Catholics have remained, throughout these centuries, the most important Christian religious group spreading far and wide across the country, other Christian denominations, preached by ministers from overseas, have sprouted.

     

    Roman Catholics

    The Roman Catholic Church is founded on Jesus-Christ, the promised Messiah of the Jews, true God and true man, in the eyes of the believers. It goes back directly to the Apostles and to Peter who was appointed head of the Church, by Christ himself. The college of bishops and the Pope are their successors, in an uninterrupted line, spanning over 20 centuries down to the present day.

    Catholicism, ever since 1722, when the Lazarist priests were entrusted with the responsibility of the Church, has remained a dynamic force in the country. The Catholic church in Mauritius has been a great pioneer in the field of education and social services. In the nineteenth century, the invaluable contribution of Blessed Jacques Désiré Laval made the Church aware of its commitments towards the liberated slaves and the poor. Mgr. Jean Margéot, made Cardinal in 1988, became the first Mauritian bishop of Port-Louis in 1969. His vision and the teachings of his pastoral letters helped to instill in independent Mauritius much respect and caring for the poorer sections of the population.

     

    The Anglicans of the Church of England 

    Anglicans are the Christians who refer to the Book of Common Prayer completed in 1549 and who are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. They have much in common with Roman Catholics, but believe in the private interpretation of the Bible. They do not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.

    Anglicanism was introduced in Mauritius when the British took possession of the island. From 1812 onwards, military chaplains served the small Anglican community who had to settle in the new British colony.

    Mgr. V. W. Ryan was ordained as first bishop of Mauritius in 1854. When he arrived in 1855, there were only 3 priests and 3 chapels. In 1850, Mgr James Chapman, bishop of Colombo came to consecrate the 3 Anglican churches in the island : the Cathedral St James in Port-Louis, Saint Thomas church in Beau-Bassin et Saint-John Church in Réduit. When Mgr. V. W. Ryan left in 1867, there were 13 priests, 12 churches and chapels and 28 schools. He had also provided education for the poorer children, many of whom were of Indian descent.

     

    The Presbyterians of the former Church of Scotland

    Presbyterians are followers of Calvin and John Knox. They were formerly known as the Church of Scotland; since 1979 they have come to be known as the Presbyterian Church. The first Presbyterian minister, Patrick Beaton came to Mauritius in 1851 and, soon after, the first Presbyterian Church of St Andrews, was opened, a beautiful building, located a the time near the Post Office in Port-Louis, which was converted in 1914 into the Rum Warehouse building. Reverend Jean Lebrun who did tremendous work educating the poorer children of the island was a Presbyterian. Over the years, two congregations of Presbyterians have developed. An English-speaking congregation worships at St Columba, Phoenix, but there are also six French-speaking parishes dealing on equal terms with the French and Swiss Reformed Churches.

    Catholics, Anglicans and Presbyterians have been working together in an ecumenical movement since the 1960s.  

     

    Christian sects

    Sects are voluntary groups adhering to definite creeds. Their members follow a leader who has usually distanced himself of established religions.

    The sects of Christian origin can be classified under four headings:

     

    1. The millenarist sects

    These sects are expecting the return of Christ and predict events associated with the end of the world.

    The Baptists

    The Baptists believe in the supremacy of the Scriptures rather than in Church and hierarchy. They form the largest Protestant group in the U.S.A. (where the first Baptist Church was set up in 1639) and the second most important Protestant group in the world. Baptism is given to adults only, since they must publicly profess their faith.

    Many dissident groups – for example the Seventh Day Adventists, the Mormons and the Witnesses of Jehovah – have emerged which can all be traced back to the Baptist Church, although there are fundamental differences between them.

     

    The Seventh-Day Adventists

    Founded in 1844 by William Miller and Ellen White, the Seventh Day Adventists lay a special emphasis on the return of God and the end of the world. According to them, the followers of Christ will reign with him for a thousand years – the millennium. They practice baptism on adults by immersion. They forbid alcoholic drinks and tobacco. Their weekly observances are held on Saturdays (Sabbath), not on Sundays.

    The Adventists, introduced in Mauritius by Mr. Badaud, appear for the first time in the 1944 Census, with 1,019 followers.

     

    The Methodists

    Methodism began in England around the 1750’s as a movement within the pre-existing Protestant Church, and not as a new sect. It retained the theology of the Anglican Church, but Wesley finally ended in setting up a new movement.

    In the 1871 Census, there were 197 Methodists in Mauritius, but their numbers rapidly diminished afterwards. In Mauritius, the Methodists are at times associated with the Presbyterians.

     

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses

    The Movement originated from the U.S.A. in the footsteps of a former Presbyterian, Charles T. Russel who had been an Adventist. The group was first known as the Society of the Watch Tower; in 1931, it became the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    It was introduced in Mauritius by a Scotsman, Robert Nisbet, in the 1930s, but with the arrival, in 1953, of Mr. Ralph Bennett, a Canadian missionary, and his prolonged stay in the island, the number of adherents increased. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the Bible, but reject the creed of the Apostles. Every member is meant to be a preacher and do regular house visiting. They have two publications: The ‘Watch Tower‘ and ‘Réveillez-vous’.’

     

    1. The Rationalist sects

    the Christian Science

    The Church of the Christian Science, (Scientists), has been defined by Mrs Baker Eddy, its founder, as a church designed to commemorate the world and works of Christ. It works at reinstating primitive Christianity and the lost element of healing. The followers want to fight against evil in all its forms; for them disease is only an illusion. They have a powerful weekly in the U.S.A. «The Christian Science Monitor». They propose a key to divine science which, they claim, helps to heal and bring salvation.

     

    1. Sects associated with the world beyond

    Some sects place much emphasis on the techniques of meditation and internal psychoanalysis in order to achieve religious salvation.

    1. The Scientologists, Rosicrucians, Theosophians and other newer groups amalgamate beliefs from the East or catch up with modern science, as well as with flying objects and other extra-terrestrial bodies.

     

    1. Orientalist Sects

    Orientalist sects such as Meditation Transcendentale and the Zen have been trying to get a foothold in Mauritius and have a small numbers of followers.

     

    1. Pentecostal and Charismatic movements

    Pentecostal movements, keen on bringing a revival in the Church, appeared in the first decade of the XXth century in the U.S.A.

    Towards 1967-1968, Pentecostal movements appeared in Mauritius, but after a decade, they have been subdivided into various groups. They have been active, each new sect drawing on groups of followers.

     

    1. Assemblies of God

    The Assemblies of God constitute the largest of the various Pentecostal institutions that have cropped up in the last century. The Assemblies of God was founded by Rev. R. Flower in 1914 in U.S.A. and is composed of self-governing churches.

    Aimé Cizeron, a French man who arrived in 1967 introduced in Mauritius the Assemblies of God. He attracted people by laying emphasis on healing and cures. By 1968, Aimé Cizeron had recruited a number of Mauritian preachers. In 1972, he had to leave the island, but several centres had been opened throughout the country. Members of the Assemblies of God are still active, one group has maintained the name of Assembly of God but other breakaway groups, previously linked with them, are presently known under new names.

     

    1. Mission Salut et GuÉrison

    Mission Salut et Guérison is closely associated with the Assemblies of God but has known its own evolution.

    Other Pentecostal Churches have been active. Their leaders are in most cases former members of the Assemblies of God.

     

    1. The Centre Chrétien

    The Centre Chrétien has links with the Christian Centre Fellowship International that originated in the U.S.A. but the Mauritian branch is affiliated with a South African branch which offers support.

     

    1. La Voix de la Delivrande

    La Voix de la Délivrande (L.V.O.) is an offshoot of the Assemblies of God. It severed with the main body in 1980. It is now affiliated with a group known as the Full Gospel of the Church of God which has its centre in New York.

     

    1. The Life Centre

    The Life Centre Ministry (L.C.M.) secured official registration in January 1980. It belongs to a sect with its headquarters in the State of Colorado.

     

    Counting the Christians

    Table 2 A

    1871-2000: Christians in Mauritius

    Mauritius & Rodrigues

     

    1871

    1881

    1891

    1901

    1911

    1920

    1930

    1944

    1952

    1962

    1972

    1983

    1990

    2000

    Roman Catholic

    81,789

    107,441

    115,438

    113,224

    115,984

    117,491

    126,153

    141,941

    165,086

    218,572

    245,570

    250,125

    287,726

    278,251

    Church of England

    375

    909

    3,662

    3,321

    2,315

    2,690

    3,564

    3,715

    4,903

    6,705

    6,224

    5,438

    4,399

    3,102

    Church of Scotland

    111

    381

    899

    1,285

    404

    681

    901

    450

    564

    987

    826

    611

    578

    612

    Total

    82,275

    108,731

    119,999

    117,830

    118,703

    120,862

    130,618

    146,106

    170,553

    226,264

    252,620

    256,174

    292,703

    281,965

    Adventist

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1,758

    2,473

    2,482

    3,070

    3,312

    3,641

    Baptist

     

     

     

    4

     

     

     

     

     

    28

    43

    177

     

     

    New Jerusalem

    96

     

     

    138

     

     

     

     

    79

    97

    119

    28

     

     

    Swedenborgian

     

     

     

    3

     

     

     

     

    209

     

     

    21

     

     

    Methodist

    197

    41

     

    8

     

     

     

     

    47

    76

    62

    62

     

     

    Jehovah’s Witnesses

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    223

    816

    1,082

    1,663

    2,213

    Assembly of God

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    605

    3,688

    8,236

    9,641

    Pentecostal Church

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    492

    2,035

    1,978

    3,040

    Mission Salut & Guérison

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    113

    912

    1,013

    1,304

    Christians not specified

    1,409

    879

    41

    418

     

     

     

     

    2,211

    2,962

    4,861

    11,883

    16,202

    21,644

    Other Christian

    5,122

    6,680

    2,886

    1,644

    2,883

    1,973

    1,184

    1,618

    118

    65

    129

    808

     

    1,805

    Sub total

    6,824

    7,600

    2,927

    2,215

    2,883

    1,973

    1,184

    1,618

    2,211

    2,991

    5,791

    34,636

    48,711

    97,336

    Grand Total

    89,099

    116,331

    122,926

    120,045

    121,586

    122,835

    131,802

    147,724

    172,764

    229,255

    258,411

    290,810

    341,414

    379,301

     

    Table 2A is a breakdown of the Christian religions practised in the country. The Roman Catholic Church is by far the most important group in the island. From 81,789 followers in 1871, the Catholic Church regroups 278,251 Mauritians in 2000.

    The new sects that have appeared since the 1960s have attracted members from all walks of life and from all ethnic groups. The large number of 87,695 appearing under the heading ‘Other Christians’ reveals the pulling power of the different religious sects. The one drawing the biggest number is the Assembly of God with a total of 9,641 followers in Mauritius and 242 in Rodrigues.

    By the end of the twentieth century, they represented a percentage of 23% the Christian population.

    It is also observed, with some surprise, that since the 1980s, many Mauritians are reporting themselves as Christians without giving any indication as to the Church or sect to which they belong. There were some 22,000 Mauritians, about 5.5% of the total Christian population, who did not define their religion in Census 2000.

    Each religious group claims a proportion of these non-denominational Christians. Faithfulness to a religious group entails a sense of belonging and a pride in asserting one’s membership to it. Perhaps the best explanation about Mauritians who simply declare themselves as Christians is that they want to be distinct from the non-Christians.

    The Indo-Mauritian Christians

    The Indo-Mauritian Christians form a small but cohesive group. By the 1840s, there was already present, a free Catholic Indian Community, coming mostly from Pondichery. Some of the members of this community were well-off and educated. The majority lived in the Camp des Malabars in the eastern suburbs of the capital, as A. Nagapen has pointed out in his study “The Indian Christian Community in Mauritius.”(1)

    The censuses show that, throughout the period of immigration of indentured labour, there has been a small but constant flow of Christian Indians among those who came to work in Mauritius.

    Roman Catholic Indo-Mauritians numbered some 9,990 in 1891. In 1952, they were 14,652.

    The Indo-Mauritians who belonged to the Church of England were 1,331 in 1891 and 1,403 in 1952

    The Indo-Mauritian belonging to other Christian denominations were some 689 in 1891 and 366 in 1952.

    The data concerning the 1944 Census reports a total of 3,201; this does not correlate with the figures of the other decades. There has probably been an omission of the first digit. This set of figures has been corrected in Table 2 B to read 13,201.

     

    Table 2 B

    Indo-Christians in Mauritius

     

    1891

    1901

    1911

    1921

    1931

    1944

    1952

    Roman Catholics Indo-Mauritians

    8,274

    8,712

    11,617

    15,055

     

     

     

    Roman Catholics Other Indians

    1,716

    1,043

    671

    324

     

     

     

    Total

    9,990

    9,755

    12,288

    15,379

    13,316

    13,201

    14,652

    Church of England Indo-Mauritians

    970

    879

    810

    998

     

     

     

    Church of England Other Indians

    361

    233

    102

    53

     

     

     

    Total

    1,331

    1,112

    912

    1,051

    1,379

    1,231

    1,403

    Other Christian Indo-Mauritian

    455

    528

    782

    625

     

     

     

    Other Indian

    234

    186

    134

    38

     

     

     

    Total

    689

    714

    916

    663

    258

    293

    366

    Total Obtained

    12,010

    11,581

    14,116

    17,093

    14,953

    14,725

    16,421

    Adapted from censuses 1891-1952

    There is no data concerning the Indo-Mauritian Christians in any census after 1952.

    A question remains without a definite answer. How have the Indo-Mauritian Christians described their identity after the 1952 census? When they answered the question about religion, they have probably acknowledged their identity as Catholics, but when asked about the language of their forefathers and language spoken at home, their answer probably revealed their Indian heritage. This is but one example that religion does not coincide with ethnic identity.

    Monique Dinan

    Reference : Nagapen A., The Indian Christian Community in Mauritius. Roman Catholic Diocese of Port Louis. 1984

    Across the censuses 1871-2000

    A survey of religions

    1. The Mauritian Hindus (1)

     

    The Hindus are a highly religious people moved by an earnest desire for truth. There is a deep and lofty idea of God, Brahma, in whom there is supreme transcendence and perfect simplicity; but there is also the relative God to be worshipped under the three main forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Human life is subjected, according to the Hindus, to the law of retribution and rebirth, until complete liberation. Hindu beliefs are founded on Vedic texts written in Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindus. There is no tradition of centralisation of the faith as in the Catholic Church or in Islam.

    Hinduism is a quest for experiments, not a corpus of dogmas. Hindu mythology is extremely rich and reveals a deep religiosity. There is no single Hindu religion but an array of religious groups, adding to the complexity of the Hindu society. While great importance is attached to external practices, there are also silent recitation and meditation leading to a state of union with the absolute God.

    The Dharma (order in the world) is at the centre of the Hindu religion. The word Hinduism has been made up by Westerners. The Hindus call their religion Sanatan Dharma or the Eternal Dharma, the eternal law which governs every aspect of life. Hinduism has known various phases of development either on a cultural or on a doctrinal level.

    Benjamin Walker, in his book "The Hindu World" (1) has classified three phases in Hinduism:

    • Medieval Hinduism, a category including the strict forms of the Hinduism of the Vaisnavites and Saivites, and covering also Puranic Hinduism.
    • Reformed Hinduismhas broken away from Brahmanism and was greatly influenced by Islam. Mention should be made of such reformers as Dadu and Kabir (in Mauritius, there is a group of people known as ‘Kabir Panthis’, who profess to be disciples of Kabir). Guru Nanak stands as a very special case, because the reformist movement initiated by him was rejected by Hinduism and became the Sikh religion.
    • National Hinduismpromotes a synthesis that glorifies past history; the religion seeks to convert and tends to be nationalist. This is represented by societies like the Arya Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission.

     

    The Sanatanists

    Throughout the XIXth century, the Indo-Mauritians were followers of orthodox Hindu rituals. Hindu temples, irrespective of their deities, known as Shivalas (abodes of Siva) were opened, the first one at Gokoola as early as 1867; there were about six of these temples by the end of the XIXth century. The Sanatanists who look upon the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Angas and the Upavedas as their sacred books still constitute the majority of the Hindus in Mauritius.

     

    The Samajists

    The Indo-Mauritians underwent a cultural and religious revolution with the introduction of the Arya Samaj in the island. The Arya Samaj, founded in Bombay in 1875 by Dayananda Saraswati, wanted to get rid of influences external to Hinduism. It rejected Islam and Christianity that had been influencing the Indian subcontinent and it activated Indian nationalism. It aimed at a return to the Vedas, requested justice for all and the equality of the sexes. It asked for the abolition of castes and a simplification of Hindu rites and rituals. The Arya Samaj soon became a powerful movement, not only among the Indian masses in India, but also in Mauritius. The Arya Samajists worship Brahma in spirit; they do not believe in statues or idols. The first ‘Samaj’ was opened in Port Louis in 1910.

     

    From 1910 onwards

    Although opposed by orthodox Hindus, the Arya Samaj appealed greatly to working classes. Manilall Doctor, who came to the island in 1910 and was the first Indian lawyer to practise in the country, gave a firm foundation to the Arya Samaj. It whetted up Indian nationalism in the country and promoted the education of the poorer classes. Hundreds of evening schools were opened to teach literacy in Hindi. The Samajists were so full of zeal that they woke up the Sanatanists. There was an active emulation between them, resulting in an upsurge of Indo-Mauritian nationalism. The conflict and discussions between the Arya Samaj and the Sanatan Dharma maintained bhojpuri and hindi alive. Both on the religious and cultural levels, a great re-awakening took place. Missionaries came over from India. Mauritians went to the mainland for religious study. The Sanatan Dharma temples opened the Hindu Maha Sabha in 1925 to promote Hindi teaching on a national scale, not only on a religious but also on a vernacular basis. In 1960, theMauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation was set up to administer the temples and coordinate the religious activities. The most important religious celebration – the Maha Shivaratri with its first pilgrimage to Grand Bassin which first took place as early as 1898, took an increased importance when water from the Ganges, the sacred river of the Hindus, was poured into Grand Bassin, renamed "Ganga Talao".

    Hanuman is a popular deity in Mauritius. Small altars, adorned with red flags, are dedicated to him and can be seen everywhere around the island.

     

    The Samajists were also active in setting up branches throughout the island, building temples and mandirs and teaching the message of the Vedas. However a first split occured among the Samajists in 1926, mainly on a question of castes. The two rival Samajists groups merged again in 1950 as the Arya Sabha which has its headquarters at the Champ de Mars and branches throughout the island.

    A second split occured when another group, the Arya Ravived Pracharini Sabha, was registered in 1935 in the wake of the celebrations of the centenary of Indian immigration. It has since been active in the teaching of secular Hindi and literature. The group nowadays has a cultural and educational institute that is dynamic. They regroup mostly the lower castes.

    In the late 60s, Mauritians belonging to the caste of the Gahlot Rajput have constituted another branch of the Arya Samaj known as the Gahlot Rajput Sabha.

     

    The Caste System

    The caste system is an extremely important feature of Indian life. It has divided society into numerous closed groups, based on heredity. One belongs to the caste in which one is born. A caste is also characterised by the keeping of common customs and the celebration of common feasts. It was formerly strictly compulsory to marry within one’s own caste. Benedict Burton, in his book "Indians in a plural society" (2), writes "Without putting too much weight on our sample it can be seen that a very large number and wide range of castes were to be found among the immigrants; and that although a large proportion of them came from the lowest castes… the highest castes were also represented".

    In India, there are four major "castes" (jati) or rather groups of castes that make up a hierarchy ("Varnas"). According to most of the scholars, the three upper ‘Varnas’ correspond probably to the three classes of invaders who reduced the fourth group, the original settlers, the ‘Sudras’, to a state of serfdom.

    The Brahmins, the upper class of society, are the priests and interpreters of the traditional code of conduct. They exercise spiritual power. Their duties are to study, to preach, to offer sacrifices and to receive the fruits thereof. They are vedic in their approach and they lay special emphasis on ritualism.

    The Khsatriyas, formerly the class of kings and soldiers, exercise secular power. Their duties include studying, using weapons, and defending the land, protecting life and possessions of the people.

    The Vaishyas are the third class. They detain economic power. They are landowners and traders.

    The Sudras, the lowest group, have to serve the three upper classes.

    Below them come the untouchables – whom Gandhi called the Harijans (the people of God Hari). They are also subdivided into ‘subcastes’ and lead a downtrodden life.

    When the Indian workers left India for their new countries of settlement, like Mauritius or other cane-growing countries and South East Asia, there was, in some cases, an attempt to break away from the strict framework of the castes that maintained strict barriers between people.

    The caste system, characterized by many traditions and restrictions, is extremely complex. In Mauritius, the ignorance of Oriental languages has, for a long time, hidden from the non-Indian, the existence of the different castes within Indo-Mauritian society. Only two main divisions were known: the "grandes nations" (marazes, baboojees) and the "petites nations".

     

    Towards More Casteism?

    In Mauritius, the influence of the caste system is more strongly felt at the time of weddings. In the political and economical field, casteism has been having a decisive influence. Some have commented on casteism as a refined form of apartheid and have underlined its resurgence in India, mainly in the field of modern politics. It is interesting however to note that Census 1983 revealed for the first time the numerous subdivisions prevailing in the Indo-Mauritian society and which are to be found within each group, whether Hindus, Tamils or Telegus and others. This emergence of castes has appeared under the heading of religion, but it must be stressed very strongly that figures associated with each caste are not totally reliable, since the largest majority of Mauritians have mentioned their religion without reference to caste. The following definitions will help to give some understanding of the terms used in the statistical tables referring to Hindu religion.

    Maraj may be derived from the word Maha (great) raja (king) – a word with no caste connotation, but it conveys a notion of greatness and supremacy. In Mauritius maraj or mahraz belong to the Brahmin class of priests.

    Baboojee is a term of respect and endearment that does not refer directly to caste in India. In Mauritius those who belong to the second caste of Khastriyas have been known as Baboojees.

    The Vaishyas, the third caste, are found among the Vaish of Mauritius. They constitute a large group with many ramifications and are associated with different trades.

    The Sudras are made up of various subcastes: the Chamars and the Dusads are regrouped in the Arya Ravived Pracharini Sabha.

    The Rajputs have regrouped since 1965 in the Gahlot Rajput Maha Sabha.

     

    The minor groups

    Minor religious groups have also been mentioned in the censuses. Two of them belong to reform groups in India, who are opposed to excessive devotion to statues and mythology. They therefore reflect the influence of Islam on Hinduism.

    The Kabir Panthis group has been established for a long time in Mauritius. They were the only group outside the Sanatanists and the Samajists appearing in the 1952 Census. They are regrouped in the Kabir Dharma Maha Sabha. Kabir (1440-1518) was a philosopher of the fifteenth century. His collection of hymns is known as Bijak. Some Mauritians have a long tradition as followers of Kabir who, although being basically a Hindu, has assimilated islamic influences in his teaching. In Mauritius, these followers numbered 1,249 in 1952, 1,413 in 1972. They were 157 in Census 2000.

    The Sikhs are those who adhere to Sikhism, founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1538) and developed by his nine successors called Gurus (spiritual guides). Their book of worship, the Granth Sahib, is the pivot of a Sikh’s religious life. A strong monotheism and the rejection of caste and caste-practices characterise them. In Mauritius the Sikhs, known as Sepoys, were found formerly amongst prison guards and soldiers. In the 1970s, their small community opened a public prayer place, at first in Floréal and in 1976, moved to Beau-Bassin, where they meet and pray in the Punjabi language.

    Hare Rama Krishna is a recent sect known as the Hare Krishna International Association for the Conscience of K founded in the west in 1966 by Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977). Importance is placed on meditation. The disciples usually live in community and they recruit young members who have to leave their family to come into the fold.

    Other religious groups such as the Ramakrishna Mission, the Divine Life Society, the Sai Baba Society and other minor ones have not been mentioned in the census.

    Table 3

     

    Indo-Mauritian Population according to Religious groups 1846-2001

     

    1846

    1851

    1861

    1871

    1881

    1891

    1901

    1911

    1921

    1931

    1944

    1952

    1962

    1972

    1983

    1990

    2000

    Hindus

    132,652

    202,281

    209,079

    206,103

    202,716

    201,895

    202,192

    203,709

    241,660

    332,851

    421,707

    506,486

    535,028

    585,210

    Mahomedans

    41,575

    35,316

    34,763

    41,146

    39,145

    44,939

    50,592

    57,813

    77,014

    110,322

    136,997

    160,130

    172,047

    196,240

    Roman Catholics

    9,262

    9,990

    9,755

    12,288

    15,379

    13,316

    13,201

    14,652

    Church England

    1,331

    1,112

    912

    1,051

    1,379

    1,231

    1,403

    Other Christian Indo-Mauritians

     

    689

    714

    916

    663

    258

    293

    366

    Parsees

     

    347

    16

    49

    271

    206

    9

    N/A

    19

    Other Hindus

     

    58

    1,005

    109

    36

    N/A

    12

    Not Stated

    1,787

    52

    149

    444

    1,282

    867

    N/A

    201

     

    Total

    56,245

    79,996

    192,634

    216,258

    248,993

    255,920

    259,086

    257,697

    265,524

    268,649

    265,247

    335,327

    443,183

    Monique Dinan

     

    To be followed next week

     

    Across the censuses 1871-2000

    A survey of religions

    The Mauritian Hindus (2)

    Counting the Hindus

    Since the 1952 Census, the question on religion brings a whole range of responses among the Indo-Mauritians. Two major groups have since emerged. Those enumerated as Sanatanists made up about 211,000 followers while the Samajists numbered about 30,000. There were 4 Hindu sub-religions mentioned in 1952, they became 17 in 1962; they were 23 in 72 and 44 in 1983. Among the Indo-Mauritians, a very complex picture emerges with the references to castes, languages and provincial origin.

    The censuses of 1990 and 2000 have revealed a trend to more sensible regroupings of the Hindus.

    The Telegus of Andhra Pradesh and the Marathi from Maharashtra show also the same sense of cultural identity in their declaration of religion in the census; they want to specify their cultural as well as their religious group, although such divisions are not to be found in India.

    In Mauritius the Northern Hindus, Tamils, Telegus and Marathis each have a distinctive type of temple but there are no restrictions as regards visiting and worshipping.

     

    A variety of names associated with religion.

    In the 1983 census, there is a long list of terms that can be associated with Indian history, culture or language enumerated under the heading of religion. An attempt is made here to explain these words. Terms such as Bhojpuri and Bengali refer directly to language. Other terms have a closer link with racial origin.

    The Aryans constitute a family of peoples known as Indo-Europeans. The word Arya means noble. These people came from the steppes of central Europe. One group spread in Iran and another one over India. The immigrant Indian branch has left a legacy of its faiths and customs in the Vedas, written in Sanksrit.

    Dravidians is the name given to people of south India who have remained separated from the Aryan invaders settling in northern India. The Dravidian languages include Tamil of Tamil Nadu, Malayalam of Kerala, Telegu of Andhra Pradesh (including the former state of Hyderabad), Kannada or Karanese or Karnataka (former Mysore state and neighbouring areas) and Konkani of Goa and some areas of the West coast.

    In Mauritius the Northern Hindus, Tamils, Telegus and Marathas have each a distinctive type of temple but there are no restrictions as regards visiting and worshipping.

     

    The Tamils of Mauritius

    In India, the Tamils have no specific Tamil religion; they are followers of Hinduism. In the southern area of India, Hinduism has flourished however in a spectacular way: in no other region of the subcontinent, is to be found such a large array of colourful temples.

    Saivism is one of the important groups of Hinduism. It has largely contributed to the religious evolution from the seventh century onwards and consists in the exaltation of Siva to the position of a Supreme Being. Saivism has particularly marked the religious rites of the Tamils in India and is well developed in Mauritius. Tamil Saivism favours a piety based on the concept of a unique personal God illuminating the souls and conducting them to his own bliss, but certain images of Siva can be associated with cruelty and destruction.

    The "Tamil" religion is a term and a reality which is peculiar to Mauritius and which has no counterpart in India, even in the State of Tamil Nadu.

    The Tamils have a long religious history in the island. As early as 1771, Pierre Poivre granted them leave to have their first temple, in Pamplemousses Street but the first large temple was opened in the 1850s at Terre Rouge. In 1854, the Shri Sockalingum Meenatchee Temple, dedicated to Siva, was constructed in the north of Port Louis, according to specific Dravidian standards.

    In Mauritius the Tamils differentiate themselves from those who profess other forms of Hinduism by referring to their religious creed as Saivism. Their temples sometimes built on hills and colourfully decorated are regrouped in the Mauritius Tamil Temple Federation.The Tamils have usually developed their own religious rites and ceremonies and wish to maintain an identity as a group. Cavadee is one of their most important feasts.

     

    The Telegus of Mauritius

    The Telegus come from the state of Andrah Pradesh, which has 45 million people and hold second position next to Hindi among the fifteen languages officially recognised in India. By 1830, there were some 900 Telegus in the island, most of them coming as contractors for the construction of railways. The others came as contract labourers for the sugar industry. The Mauritius Andrah Maha Sabha established in 1946 has promoted the social life of the Telegus and has helped to maintain their cultural identity. It was in 1962, that the Ougadi festival was celebrated in Mauritius.

     

    The Marathas from the Deccan plateau

    The Maratha formed about 17% of the contract labourers who came and settled in Mauritius. Since they came from the hilly surroundings of the Deccan plateau, they settled in the hilly regions of Black River and Vacoas. The Darmik Sabha, founded in 1959, aimed at teaching Marathi to adults. Since 1960, the Marathi Mandali Federation is regrouping the Marathi associations helping also in the formation of the priests. The Mauritius Marathi Mandali Federation (MMMF) organises an annual and spiritual pilgrimage known as Dindi Yatra in the region of Henrietta Cascavelle, during the month of Shravan when they hold special prayers and festivities.

     

    The Gujaratis

    The Gujaratis have come from the state of Gujarat – the homeland of Gandhi. The Gujarati merchant class – Muslims and Hindus- were of great commercial ability and formed in Mauritius an energetic middle class. Manilall Doctor, the lawyer and Swami Dayanand, founder of the Arya Samaj, have been great promoters of their culture and language. Gujarati was in fact the first oriental language to be broadcasted on the local radio station.

     

     

     

    Table 4

    1952-2000: Mauritians belonging to Hindu religions

     

    1952

    1962

    1972

    1983

    1990

    2000

    Sanatanist

     

     

     

    1,636

    4,659

    2,522

    Hindi-speaking

     

    131,987

    189,061

    86,691

    33,809

    3,041

    Tamil-speaking

     

    11,709

    41,439

    1,495

    17

    44

    Marathi-speaking

     

    5,923

    14,344

    8,731

    120

    134

    Telegu-speaking

     

    6,938

    13,601

    945

    21

    105

    Gujarati-speaking

     

    186

    267

    37

    28

    Total

    210,726

    156,743

    258,712

    99,535

    38,626

    5,874

    Arya Samajist

     

     

     

    4,882

    950

    528

    Hindi-speaking

     

    85,087

    90,171

    26,378

    600

    269

    Tamil-speaking

     

    2,000

    3,849

    59

    49

    Marathi-speaking

     

    1,786

    2,067

    175

    Telegu-speaking

     

    4,312

    4,434

    122

    Gujarati-speaking

     

    9

    49

    29

    Total

    29,623

    93,194

    100,570

    31,645

    1,550

    846

    Others

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Hindu

     

    30,864

    4,713

    202,394

    288,578

    420,271

    Tamil

     

    36,191

    15,227

    66,773

    68,451

    71,477

    Marathi

     

    5,598

    1,174

    11,524

    20,069

    19,921

    Telegu

     

    8,295

    7,905

    27,511

    28,606

    29,687

    Gujarati

     

    59

    34

    63

    Rajput

     

     

    22,821

    15,441

    15,018

    10,621

    Vaish

     

     

    5,378

    8,045

    13,215

    647

    Ravi Ved or Hindi Arya Ravived

     

     

    1,999

    37,716

    2,418

    899

    Kabir Panthis

    1,249

    1,498

    1,413

    790

    206

    157

    Puranic

     

     

    529

    760

    1,358

    198

    Vedic

     

     

    314

    1,155

    55,155

    23,687

    Rabidass

     

     

    155

    271

    129

    15

    Other Hindu denominations

    62

    409

    763

    2,863

    1,649

    910

    Total

    1,311

    82,914

    62,425

    375,306

    494,852

     

    Grand Total

    241,660

    332,851

    421,707

    506,486

    535,028

    585,210

    Adapted from Censuses 1952-2000

     

    Table 4 with its long list of descriptive names illustrates all the problems that one encounters when studying the religious creeds of the Indo-Mauritians.

    In 1952, the situation is still simple; two major groups emerge. The Sanatanists make up the large majority with some 211,000 followers while the Samajists regroup about 30,000 faithful. Only one other group, the Kabir Panthis, appears.

    From 1962 onwards, a new trend is noted. Besides the 157,000 Sanatanists and the 93,000 Samajists, there is a consistent group of 80,000 who have deemed it more important to stress their cultural identity associated with the Indian provinces from which they originated, than to specify whether they belonged to the Sanatanists or to the Samajists.

    The 1972 figures show a somewhat different picture; cultural and provincial identity is reduced in importance but reference to castes takes the lead, the Rajput (22,821) and the Vaish (5,378) being the particularly noticeable although these figures are in no way exclusive. Nevertheless reference to religion is well illustrated with about 259,000 Sanatanists and 100,000 Samajists.

    The 1983 Census figures tell a different story. Proper religious denominations comprise much inferior numbers (99,535 Sanatanists and 31,645 Samajists). Cultural identity and reference to castes account for three-quarters of the Indo-Mauritian population. The Hindus, mostly of the north-eastern states of India number more than 200,000, the Tamil group comes second with 67,000 followed respectively by the Telegu 28,000 and the Marathis 12,000.

    The Ravi Ved with about 38,000 followers appears as an active group in the 1980s. They belong to the group of Samajists who are regrouped with the Arya Ravi Ved Pracharini Sabha.

    There is a regrouping of the new names associated with the Hindu religion in the census of 1983. They are constituted of minor denominations which, when added together, make up a total of 2,863 people. The element of caste is highly prevalent in all these groups.

    The Censuses of 1990 & 2000 show fewer regional subdivisions in the Indo-Mauritian group than for the preceding years. More than half of the total of 535,028 has registered simply as Hindus.

    Monique Dinan

     

     

    References

    1. Walker Benjamin, Hindu world. An encyclopedic survey of Hinduism. Bk.1. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt.Ltd. 1983.
    2. Burton Benedict, Indians in a Plural Society, 1961 HMSO.

     


    Across the censuses 1871-2000

    A survey of religions

    1. The Mauritian Muslims

     

     

    In 1805, the Muslims of Mauritius constructed their first mosque in the eastern suburb of Port-Louis. They appeared for the first time in the census of 1871 under the name of Mahomedans. They numbered 41,575 and represented 13.1% of the total population.

    From 1891 to 1921, the censuses differentiated between the Indo-Mauritians and the Other Indians; those professing the muslim religion were to be found in these two categories.

    From 1891 to 1952, the census data revealed that there were a few members of the General and Chinese population who adhered to the Muslim religion. In the census of 1901, the following reference can be noted, "the Hindus showed a decrease of 2,948 persons whereas the followers of Mohammed have increased by no less than 6,445. Many Hindus have become converts to Mahommedanism".

    The mosque is the focal point of the Muslim community and the religious associations are formed around it. In 1965, there were already 65 mosques in Mauritius

    The 1972 Census showed two different sets of figures, one concerning the community, a total 137,081, and another one concerning religion, showing a total of 136,997. From 1983 onwards, there is no reference to community, so that the figures refer only to religion.

     

    The followers of Islam in Mauritius

    Although belonging to one great community, all having in common the same religious obligations, the Mauritians of Islamic faith have, as all the other religious families, experienced sub-divisions. All the groups bear allegiance to the Koran that remains the basic source of Islamic teachings and laws.

    1. The Sunnite group in Mauritius can be subdivided into:
    2. Sunnee Hanafites or Calcuttias. They make up the large mass of workers. They came as indentured labour from north-eastern India and have spread in the countryside. An elite has gradually emerged from their ranks and constitutes a middle class, holding jobs in the different spheres of Mauritian life. The Sunnee Hanafites numbered 101,282 in 1972.
    3. Meimons (also known as Memons) have originated from the province of Gujarat in western India and speak Gujarati. They are a minority group subdivided into: the Kutchi Meimons originating from the Kutch peninsula and a smaller group – the Halai Meimon – from the region of Kathiawar. They have an important role in the religious field and have helped in the process of islamisation. As early as 1852, they had opened the Jummah Mosque in Port Louis. They have invested in the world of affairs and are dealers in textiles and grains. Since 1903 they have set up the Sunnee Cutchee Meimon Muslim Societywhich has been active in the social and religious field.
    4. The Sunnee Surtees have originated from the region around Surat in Gujarat. They constitute a merchant and jewellers’ class. In 1902 they were registered under the name of Surtee Sunnee Musulman Society. They have done much in the field of education. In 1912 they opened the Taher Baghin Port Louis, an important meeting place for the Muslims.

     

    B Chiites or Shiahs

    The Shiahs have much in common with the Sunnites in their organisation but their holy place of pilgrimage is in Iraq. They are mostly present in Iraq, Persia and north India.

    Among the Chiites are the Cocknies, the Kodjas, the Bohras and the Aga Khanites.

    1. The Cocknies originated from Cochin in the south east of India. They were specialised in boat making. Many of them merged up into the Mauritian population through intermarriage with Creole women and have become known as Creole lascars.
    2. The Kodjas are Chiites who originally came from Kutch. In the 1960s, they created an association working in collaboration with the Chiite federation of East Africa. In 1962 they opened a mosque in Port Louis; they have a school where Arab and Urdu are taught and they observe the Chiite religious feasts.
    3. The Bohras (a word which means trader) are mostly descendants of Hindus converted to Islam in the Bombay region. They are a small group that came for the first time in Mauritius in the 1880s. They opened a mosque at rue Louis Pasteur, Port Louis in 1917 and maintain links with the Bohras of the east coast of Africa.
    4. Aga Khanites, also known as Ismaelians or Seveners, arrived in Mauritius in the 1970s with two families of settlers from East Africa. They are Chiites and have their mosque in Quatre-Bornes.

     

    1. The Ahmadists

    The Ahmadists, also known as Ouadianists, are a group founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1905) in the region of Oadian in the Punjab, India. They were introduced in Mauritius by Sufi Ghulam Mahammad in the 1910s. They soon had to face opposition from the orthodox Sunni Muslims and have evolved along lines of their own. The Qar-Us-Salam in Rose Hill is the Central mosque of the Ahmadi.

     

    Counting The Muslims

    The Muslims have a well-organised religious cult but they have been enumerated in the censuses under different groupings

    In the census of 1952, there were 5 headings for a total of 77,014 Muslims.

    In the census of 1962, there were 6 headings for a total of 110,332 Muslims.

    In the census of 1972, there were 8 headings for a total of 136,997 Muslims.

    In the census of 1983, there were 9 headings for a total of 160,130 Muslims.

    In the census of 1990, there were 5 headings for a total of 172,047 Muslims.

    In the census of 2000, there were 5 headings for a total of 196,240 Muslims.

    One comes to the conclusion that Muslims have been a very consistent group among the Mauritians. In 1952, they constituted 15.4% of the Mauritian population and over the two last decades have represented 16.6% of the population.

     

    Table 5 A

    Mauritians of Muslim religion 1871-2000

    Muslim Groups

    1871

    1881

    1891

    1901

    1911

    1921

    1931

    1944

    1952

    1962

    1972

    1983

    1990

    2000

    Sunnee Hanafee

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    63,690

    19,554

    101,282

     

     

     

    Sunnee Shafee

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    5,366

    1,114

    7,381

    155

     

     

    Shiah

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    608

    243

    747

     

     

     

    Ahmadi

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    6,860

    957

    4,255

    1,045

    164

    119

    Sheik Momine

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    220

     

    2,633

    56

     

     

    Sunnee Jammat

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    290

    31

     

     

    Sunnee Surtee

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    157

     

     

     

    Islam

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    86,419

    20,102

    123,339

    91,809

    71,009

    Muslim

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    34,810

    79,697

    124,943

    Arab

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    173

     

     

    Mahomedan

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    352

    339

    121

    Urdu

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    169

     

     

    Other Muslims

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    270

    2,045

    150

     

    38

    48

    Total

    41,575

    35,316

    34,763

    41,208

    39,265

    44,995

    50,678

    57,848

    77,014

    110,322

    136,997

    160,130

    172,047

    196,240

     

    In 1952, 83% of Muslims were Sunni Hanafi, 7% were Shafi, 0.8% were Shia, 0.3% were Bohra and 8.9% were Ahmadi. The majority of the Muslims have come from those regions where the immigration of indentured labour took place. In Mauritius, they were largely concentrated in the eastern suburbs of Port-Louis and in Phoenix until the last decades. Now they are to be found everywhere in the island. New mosques for prayer and meetings are being built.

     

    Table 5 B

    The Muslims in Censuses 1972, 2000

     

    1972

    2000

    Sunnee Hanafee

    101,282 

     

     

    Sunnee Shafee

    7,381 

     

    Shiah

    747

     

    Ahmadi

    4,255

    119

    Sheik Momine

    2633

     

    Sunnee Jammat

    290

     

    Sunnee Surtee

    157

     

    Islam

    20 102

    71 099

    Muslim

     

    124 943

    Mahomedans

    2

     

    Other Muslims

     

    1504

    Total

    136,997

    196,240

     

    Monique Dinan

     

     

     

    Across the censuses 1871-2000

    A survey of religions

    1. The Mauritian Chinese

     

     

    Table 6 A

    The religions of the Chinese in Censuses 1972, 2000

     

     

    1972

    2 000

    Christians

    18,383

     

     

    Buddhists

    5,067

    4,144

    Confucians

     

     

     

    Chinese

    299

    4,007

     

    Total

    24,084

    8,151

           

     

    The Chinese are the most recent immigrants to Mauritius. From 1830 onwards, attempts had been made to have Chinese labour in Mauritius to work on the land, but this never succeeded. From 1845 onwards, the Chinese immigrants to Mauritius were mostly of the trading class. In 1850, there were 586 Chinese in Port-Louis and 38 in the countryside. In 1861, Port-Louis became an open harbour and the Chinese immigration speeded up, but not at the same rate as Indian immigration. The first Chinese immigrants came from the province of Canton – Kwang Tong – in south-east China. Another group also came, the Fou Kien (Fook Yen). There are few descendants of the second group to be found in Mauritius. Many of the Cantonnese and Fou Kienese, although forming the leading group in the country in the last century, have since emigrated to surrounding regions in the Indian Ocean. The Cantonnese constitute nowadays a minority group.

    The Hakkas, originating from the province of Honan in north-east China were late comers, but soon became well established in number.

    Throughout the nineteenth century, the ratio of man to woman was extremely disproportionate. As late as 1911, there were only 355 women out of a total Chinese population of 3,313. There has been a lot of intermarriage with women from other communities, thus creating an important group, not recognised as being strictly Chinese.

    Mauritius has thus become the homeland of two Chinese groups: the Cantonnese (the first and smallest group) and the Hakka (the largest group). Both however aim at maintaining the cult of their forefathers, which is a very important feature of the Chinese way of life. The importance of the clan or family group is predominant. Clan is a cohesive unit that ties together a number of families sharing one similar name. These families can trace their origin far back to one common ancestor.

    Whereas the Hindu caste system creates a hierarchy on a vertical scale which grades society from upper to lower classes, the Chinese community has, with the clan, a nuclear structure which means that equality prevails with an emphasis on solidarity.

    In 1908, the establishment of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce – Va Siong Kwong So – was a symbol of the strong presence of the Chinese in the country.

     

    A brief survey of the evolution of the Chinese community can be obtained from the censuses.

    In 1871, 2,287 Chinese were recorded. They had become 24,084 a century later, in 1972.

    In 1877, when the British liberalised immigration, a majority of Hakka immigrants – from Honan in Central China – outnumbered those from Fukien and Canton who were the first settlers in Mauritius.

    Between 1895 and 1900, up to 7,000 Chinese arrived in Mauritius. From 1881 to 1901, the numbers remained almost the same – 3,558 in 1881; 3,662 in 1901.

    The disproportionate sex ratio led to liaisons or marriages between Chinese and Creole. Even by 1901, there was still great imbalance with only 58 females for 3,457 males. To counteract the disproportionate sex ratio, a large group of Chinese women came over to get married in the 1920s with the result that Census 1944 showed a much-improved sex ratio. The number of Chinese women jumped from 1,512 in 1921 to 7,429 in 1952, but the men 10,421 in 1952 still outnumbered the women.

     

    The religions among the Chinese

    The Chinese are followers of one great philosophy, Confucianism and two religions, Taoism and Buddhism. In China, religion is an expression of Chinese culture rather than a system of dogma. The people do not separate faith from other aspects of their lives. They all share a common ritual : the ancestral cult. In Mauritius, there has been no strict division among the Chinese as to which religious group they belong.

    The first Chinese pagoda was opened in Port Louis in 1846.

    Other pagodas were built by the Nam Shun Fooye Koon Society of the Cantonese and the Heeh Foh Society of the Hakkas.

    Up to the end of the XIXth century, 92% of the Chinese, living in Mauritius, were following traditional Chinese religions. A few had converted to Christianity, since this was an obligation before getting married to a Catholic. The leader of the Chinese community, during the third quarter of the XIXth century, Affan Tank Wen had become a Catholic. There were 216 Catholic Chinese and some 3,250 followers of the Chinese religions by 1900.

    Counting the Chinese

    It is only from 1901 onwards that the Chinese were differentiated in the census according to their religion. This table of figures published in the Census of 1911 depicts the religions followed by the Chinese at the beginning of the 20th century.

     

     

     

    Table 6 B

    Religions of the Chinese population

     

    1901

    1911

    1921

    1931

    Roman Catholic

    213

    520

    2,035

    2,120

    Church of England

    12

    1

    2

    57

    Other Protestants

    8

    45

    34

    16

    Other Denominations

    3,249

    2,955

    4,419

    1,285

    Hindus

    13

    5

    Mahomedans

    1

    4

    Not Stated

    26

    128

    255

    5,436

    Total

    3,509

    3,662

    6,745

    8,923

    P.19 Table XXVIII Census 1911

     

    In 1911, the Commissioner of the census made this comment: “The changes since the last census examination are on the whole unimportant, the principle occurring in the Chinese population which evidences a tendency to conversion to the principles of Christianity, and especially towards Roman Catholicism.

    This may be due in part, to the inclusion of a certain number of Creole women or at least half cast Chinese females, but it is evidently in great measure due to bona fide conversion, as the falling off in the other Pagan (that is Buddhist) clearly shows.”

     

    In 1950, the Catholic Chinese Mission was set up by Father Vanderwalle who had been a missionary in China for 19 years before coming to Mauritius. The Chinese converted in larger numbers to Catholicism. The Chinese who have turned to Anglicanism constitute a small group.

    At the same time, the Mauritian Buddhists were active buiding pagodas and Buddhist halls. The Buddhist nuns have their temple at Volcy Pougnet Street, Port Louis.

    By 1952, the number of Catholic Chinese exceeded, for the first time, that of the followers of the traditional Chinese religions. It seems as if this trend has been on the increase in recent years.

     

    From the 1983 Census onwards, it becomes impossible to have an idea of the number of Chinese from the statistics relating to religion, since the majority of them are enumerated as Catholics.

    If reference is made to Chinese spoken languages, the total number enumerated is 27,752 for the 1983 Census.

    In 1990, only 17,652 reported one of Chinese languages as being spoken by their forefathers. Probably only private data compiled by the different Chinese societies, may provide a correct estimation of the number of Mauritian Chinese. 

     

    Table 6 C

    1871- 2001: Mauritians of Chinese religions

     

    1871

    1881

    1891

    1901

    1911

    1921

    1931

    1944

    1952

    1962

    1972

    1983

    1990

    2000

    Christians

     

    233

    566

    2,071

    2,193

    2,814

    8,528

    15,762

    18,383

    Buddhists

    &

    Confucians

     

    3,250

     

    2,968

     

    4,419

     

    1,285

     

    7,518

     

    7,680

    5,950

    5,067

    3,657

    2,766

    763

    666

    335

    76

    Others 

    26

    128

    255

    5,445

    550

    878

    680

    299

    865

    Total

    2,287

    3,558

    3,151

    3,509

    3,662

    6,745

    8,923

    10,882

    17,850

    23,058

    24,084

     

    Other religious denominations

    Three groups, having no direct link with the great religious families already mentioned, have been present for a number of decades in the censuses. Although limited in number, these Mauritians are very conscious of their identity.

    The Parsees

    The Parsees were Arab traders and they were most numerous in the 1880s.

    Table 6. D

    Parsees 1871-2000

    1871

    1881

    1891

    1901

    1911

    1921

    1931

    1944

    1952

    1962

    1972

    1983

    1990

    2000

    3

    347

    16

    49

    271

    206

    9

    19

     

    The Jews

    The Jews have been present in very small numbers in Mauritius since the very first censuses.

    The presence of 1,414 Jews in Mauritius in 1944 consists of Jewish families, coming from Central Europe on their way to the Middle East. They were detained in Mauritius during the Second World War and were allowed to settle in Israel after the War. Most of them have not forgotten their two-year stay in Mauritius. Many have come back to visit friends and to pay their respects to forty of their compatriots, buried in the Jewish cemetery at Black River.

    Table 6 E

    Jews 1871-2001

    1871

    1881

    1891

    1901

    1911

    1921

    1931

    1944

    1952

    1962

    1972

    1983

    1990

    2000

    14

    8

    41

    5

    1,414

    1

    27

    35

    The Bahai

    The Bahai religion was founded in 1844 by Baha’U’llah (1817 – 1892). It was introduced in Mauritius in 1954 by Americans and Iranians. It is a religion without clergy, which puts emphasis on personal prayer, ascetism and a simple life. Their headquarters is at Port Louis and they have an Institute in Rose-Hill.

    Table 6 F

    Bahai 1871-2001

    1871

    1881

    1891

    1901

    1911

    1921

    1931

    1944

    1952

    1962

    1972

    1983

    1990

    2000

    479

    755

    677

    1,134

    841

    Conclusion

    Religions in census 2 000

     

    Christians

    379,301

    Hindus

    585,210

    Muslims

    196,240

    Chinese religions

    8,151

    Other Religions

    5,034

    No religion

    4,912

    Total

    1,178,848

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Churches, mosques, temples and pagodas, all beautifully maintained and decorated, are symbols that Mauritians have the will and the means to take good care of their religious buildings. They testify that the religious heritage our fathers and forefathers have been so eager to transmit is very much alive in Mauritius.

    Mauritius is a secular state where religions co-exist peacefully. The major ones benefit from direct government subsidies on a per capita basis. Financial subsidy for the various religious federations is based on the returns about religious affiliation in the censuses.

    Religions have an important role to play in improving the quality of lives of Mauritians by promoting greater social justice.

    Our story is one of diversity; it is up to us to make our world one of harmonious living. To look back gives a better understanding of the hard work, struggles, progress and perseverance of those who have preceded us. Mauritians have lived, loved and toiled to make Mauritius the rainbow nation. We cannot stop now. The country is still in the making. We are writing history through our decisions and actions. It is the responsibility of all of us to create a future of which our children can be proud. May the different hues of our rainbow country shine brightly in the years to come to reveal our unique identity among the nations of the world. It is time to forge ahead and create a country where meritocracy and justice are as important as ethnic origin. Our rainbow nation will move ahead if we foster spiritual values that will allow us to build the inner strength that bring the very best out of citizens and encourage them to uphold moral and family values as the surest way to an enriching life. Social justice paves the way to peaceful coexistence. Our Mauritian fabric needs this spiritual backbone to forge a nation of able, happy and peaceful citizens. 

    05/12/2000 Monique DINAN