A quick Google search returns the verdict: Mauritius seems to be all about sandy beaches. But Google doesn't know the whole story, and it's time we Mauritians took matters into our own hands.
Local is trendy. In Mauritius, the word is plastered on advertising posters, shop fronts, restaurant menus, hotel Instagram posts, and marketing campaigns for banks. This trend, intensified by the enforced reacquaintance with what’s closest to home of the Covid-19 era, is not unique to Mauritius. The extraordinary rise of Airbnb and the obsession many tourism trendsetters have with “authentic” experiences that “feed a sense of place” reveal a quest for the local that shows
no signs of abating.
But how do we define ‘local’ and ‘authentic’? After all, our frangipani flowers come from South America, the shells sold on our beaches are imported from the Philippines, and our woven baskets from Madagascar. It might almost seem like the things that characterise us are not especially Mauritian after all. Yet the country has the potential to shake off its image as a tropical paradise and reveal its treasure trove of unexpected riches. The true spirit of Mauritius is not found where you might expect (nor in the things you might expect to praise the country for), so where can this truth, this spirit, be found?
A search for the real thing
The Larousse dictionary defines authenticity as “sincerity of feeling, truth of testimony.” Truth is what characterises the authenticity of a relationship or an experience. To find the real Mauritius, we talk to Mauritians. We walk through the lively streets of Port-Louis, where dal puri and gro palto are sold side by side. We listen to Anne-Ga and Explik or Ka on Radio Plus. The real Mauritius is woven into the clothes imagined by Mauritian designers, and resides in the skillful hands that create ‘Made in Moris’ products. It is displayed on the walls of the Imaaya gallery, and seen on the stage of the Caudan Arts Centre. The true Mauritian spirit can
be experienced at an electronica party, a beach picnic, or a Cavadee procession. In other words, open your eyes and take a look: the real Mauritius is everywhere, not just on our beaches!
Ananda Devi writes: “French, Creole, Teleguo, all these languages are shadows that taunt me, lights that elude me. None of them belong to me. I open my mouth and I know that my true language is silence.” In this sense, this quest for the local is perhaps a quest for a collective self. A journey of identity. A question asked more than an answer provided. Perhaps it is this that distinguishes us from the rest of the world? Far from the “Rainbow Nation” cliché, Mauritius is – in truth – a nation in the making. To accept this is to honour the authentic truth.
So let us do without the stereotypes that overshadow our diversity. Like a snake rejects its outgrown skin, let us step away from the sega/coconut tree images that hang around our necks. Let's be proud of our beaches and our traditions, but also welcome our creative impulses, our rebellious youth, our mixture of races and cultures, and our complicated relationships. Let us truly move forward.