Mauritius i/məˈrɪʃəs/ (French: Maurice), officially the Republic of Mauritius (French: République de Maurice) is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) off the southeast coast of the African continent. The country includes the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, 560 kilometres (350 mi) east of the principal island, the islands of Agaléga and Saint Brandon. The islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and the French department of Réunion 170 km (110 mi) form part of the Mascarene Islands. The area of the country is 2040 km2, its capital is Port Louis.
The first Portuguese explorers found no indigenous people living on the island in 1507. The Dutch settled on the island in 1598 and abandoned it in 1710, Mauritius became a French colony in 1715 and was renamed Isle de France. The British took control of Mauritius in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars. The country became an independent state as a Commonwealth realm on 12 March 1968 and a republic within the Commonwealth on 12 March 1992.
The country’s populace is composed of several ethnicities, mostly people of Indian, African, Chinese and European descent. Most Mauritians are multilingual; English, French, Creole and Asian languages are used.
The Mauritian Constitution is based on the Westminster model. The head of state is the President but constitutional power is vested in the Prime Minister who is the head of government. Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy, economic and political freedom.
The island of Mauritius was the only home of the Dodo bird. The bird became extinct fewer than eighty years after its discovery.
The first historical evidence of the existence of an island now known as Mauritius is on a map produced by the Italian cartographer Alberto Cantino in 1502. From this, it appears that Mauritius was first named Dina Arobi during the Middle Ages[when?] by Arab sailors, the first people to visit the island. In 1507 Portuguese sailors visited the uninhabited island. The island appears with a Portuguese name Cirne on early Portuguese maps, probably because of the presence of the flightless bird, the dodo which was abundant at that time. Another Portuguese sailor, Dom Pedro Mascarenhas, gave the name Mascarenes to the Archipelago. In 1598 a Dutch squadron under Admiral Wybrand Van Warwyck landed at Grand Port and named the island Mauritius, in honour of Prince Maurice van Nassau, stadhouder of the Dutch Republic. Later the island became a French colony and was renamed Isle de France. On 3 December 1810 the French formally surrendered after the Napoleonic wars. Under British rule, the island’s name reverted to Mauritius i/məˈrɪʃəs/. Mauritius is also commonly known as Maurice (pronounced: [mɔˈʁis]) and Île Maurice in French, Moris in creole and मॉरिशस in Hindi.
The island of Mauritius was unknown and uninhabited before its first recorded visit during the Middle Ages by Arab sailors, who named it Dina Arobi. In 1507 Portuguese sailors visited the uninhabited island and established a visiting base. Diogo Fernandes Pereira, a Portuguese navigator, was the first European to land in Mauritius. He named the island ‘Ilha do Cirne’. The Portuguese did not stay long as they were not interested in these islands.
In 1598 a Dutch squadron under Admiral Wybrand Van Warwyck landed at Grand Port and named the island “Mauritius” after Prince Maurice van Nassau of the Dutch Republic, the ruler of his country. The Dutch established a small colony on the island in 1638, from which they exploited ebony trees and introduced sugar cane, domestic animals and deer. It was from here that Dutch navigator Abel Tasman set out to discover the western part of Australia. The first Dutch settlement lasted only twenty years. Several attempts were made —subsequently, but the settlements never developed enough to produce dividends and the Dutch abandoned Mauritius in 1710.
France, which already controlled neighbouring Île Bourbon (now Réunion), took control of Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Isle de France. The 1735 arrival of French governor Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais coincided with development of a prosperous economy based on sugar production. Mahé de La Bourdonnais established Port Louis as a naval base and a shipbuilding centre. Under his governorship, numerous buildings were erected, a number of which are still standing today — these include part of Government House, the Château de Mon Plaisir and the Line Barracks, the headquarters of the police force. The island was under the administration of the French East India Company which maintained its presence until 1767.
From 1767 to 1810, except for a brief period during the French Revolution when the inhabitants set up a government virtually independent of France, the island was controlled by officials appointed by the French Government. Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre visited the island and wrote Paul et Virginie, a successful novel situated on the island. In particular Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen, a successful General in the French Revolutionary Wars and, in some ways, a rival of Napoléon I, ruled as Governor of Isle de France and Réunion from 1803 to 1810. British naval cartographer and explorer Matthew Flinders was arrested and detained by the General Decaen on the island, in contravention of an order from Napoléon. During the Napoleonic Wars, Mauritius became a base from which French corsairs organised successful raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until 1810, when a Royal Navy expedition led by Commodore Josias Rowley, R.N., an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, was sent to capture the island. Despite winning the Battle of Grand Port, the only French naval victory over the British during these wars, the French surrendered to a British invasion at Cap Malheureux three months later. They formally surrendered on 3 December 1810, on terms allowing settlers to keep their land and property and to use the French language and law of France in criminal and civil matters. Under British rule, the island’s name reverted to Mauritius.
The British administration, which began with Sir Robert Farquhar as Governor, was followed by rapid social and economic changes. Slavery was abolished in 1835. The planters received two million pounds sterling in compensation for the loss of their slaves who had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation. The abolition of slavery had important impacts on Mauritius’ society, economy and population. The planters brought a large number of indentured labourers from India to work in the sugar cane fields. Between 1834 and 1921, around half a million indentured labourers were present on the island. They worked on sugar estates, factories, in transport and on construction sites. Additionally, the British brought 8,740 Indian soldiers to the island.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, many Mauritians volunteered to serve under the British flag in Africa and the Near East, fighting against the German and Italian armies. Some went to England to become pilots and ground staff in the RAF. Mauritius was never really threatened, but several British ships were sunk outside Port-Louis by German submarines in 1943.
The first general elections were held on 9 August 1948 and were won by the Labour Party. This party, led by Guy Rozemont, bettered its position in 1953, and, on the strength of the election results, demanded universal suffrage. Constitutional conferences were held in London in 1955 and 1957, and the ministerial system was introduced. Voting took place for the first time on the basis of universal adult suffrage on 9 March 1959. The general election was again won by the Labour Party, led this time by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. A Constitutional Review Conference was held in London in 1961 and a programme of further constitutional advance was established. Two eminent British academics, Richard Titmuss and James Meade, published a report which dwelt upon the social problems caused by overpopulation and the monoculture of sugar cane. This led to an intense campaign to halt the population explosion, and the 1960s registered a sharp decline in population growth.
In 1965, the Chagos Archipelago was split from the territory of Mauritius to form British Indian Ocean Territory. A General election took place on 7 August 1967, and the Labour Party and its two allies obtained the majority of seats. Mauritius adopted a new constitution, independence was proclaimed on 12 March 1968, and the country became a member of the Commonwealth realm. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the first prime minister of Mauritius. In 1969, the opposition party Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) led by Paul Berenger was founded. Later in 1971, the MMM, backed by unions, called a series of strikes in the port which caused a state of emergency in the country, and the leader was imprisoned.
Mauritius was proclaimed a republic within the Commonwealth twenty four years after independence on 12 March 1992.
The total land area of the country is 2040 km2, which is the 180st largest nation in the world by size. The Republic of Mauritius also incorporates the island of Rodrigues, situated some 560 kilometers to the east and is 104 km2 in area, the Agaléga situated some 1,000 km to the north of Mauritius and Saint Brandon situated some 430 km to the north-east of Mauritius, both with total land area of 71.2 km2. Mauritius claim sovereignty over Tromelin islands, small islands that lie 430 km to the north-east of Mauritius. The nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) cover about 1.2 million square kilometers of the Indian Ocean. Four fishing banks fall within EEZ limits, the Soudan Banks (including East Soudan Bank), Nazareth Bank, Saya de Malha Bank, Hawkins Bank. In 2011 the United Nations endorsed the joint submission of Mauritius and Seychelles to extend their continental shelf of 396,000 km2 in the Mascarene region which gives the two countries sovereign right to jointly manage and exploit the seabed and subsoil of the joint area.
The island of Mauritius is relatively young geologically, having been created by volcanic activity some 8 million years ago. Together with Saint Brandon, Réunion and Rodrigues, the island is part of the Mascarene Islands. These islands have emerged from the abysses as a result of gigantic underwater volcanic eruptions that happened thousands of kilometres to the east of the continental block made up by Africa and Madagascar. They are no longer volcanically active and the hotspot now rests under Réunion island. There has been no active volcano on Mauritius island for more than 100,000 years. Mauritius is encircled by a broken ring of mountain ranges, varying in height from 300 meters to 800 meters above sea level. The land rises from coastal plains to a central plateau where it reaches a height of 670 meters, the highest peak is in the southwest, Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire at 828 metres (2,717 ft). Streams and rivers speckle the island, a lot of them are formed in the cracks created by lava flows.
The island of Mauritius is situated some 2,000 kilometres (1242 miles) off the south east coast of the African continent, between Latitudes 19°58.8′ and 20°31.7′ South and Longitudes 57°18.0′ and 57°46.5′ East, it is 65 km long and 45 km wide, its land area is 1,864.8 km2. Mauritius is surrounded by more than 150 kilometres (93 miles) of white sandy beaches and the lagoons are protected from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef, which surrounds the island. Just off the Mauritian coast lie some 49 uninhabited islands and islets (see Islets of Mauritius), some of them are used as natural reserves for the protection of endangered species.
Mauritius sought to regain sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago situated 1287 km to the north east (see Chagos Archipelago sovereignty dispute). The Government of the Republic of Mauritius does not recognise the British Indian Ocean Territory, which the United Kingdom created by excising the Chagos Archipelago from the territory of Mauritius prior to its independence. Mauritius claims that the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius under both Mauritian law and international law. Starting in the 1960s, the islands 2,000 residents were gradually removed as a process of enabling the United States to establish a military base on the island. The Chagossians has since engaged in activism to return to the archipelago, claiming that the forced expulsion and dispossession was illegal.
The country is home to some of the world’s rarest plants and animals but human habitation and the introduction of non-native species have threatened its indigenous flora and fauna. Due to its volcanic origin, age, isolation and its unique terrain, Mauritius is home to a diversity of flora and fauna not usually found in such a small area. Before its discovery by the Portuguese in 1507, there were no terrestrial mammals on the island. This allowed the evolution of a number of flightless birds and large reptile species. The arrival of man saw the introduction of invasive alien species and the rapid destruction of habitat and the loss of much of the endemic flora and fauna. Less than 2% of the native forest that once stretched from the mountain tops of the central plateau to the shore now remains, concentrated in the Black River Gorges National Park in the south west, the Bamboo Mountain Range in the south east and the Moka-Port Louis Ranges in the north west. There are also some isolated mountains which are Corps de Garde, Le Morne Brabant and several offshore islands with remnants of coastal and mainland diversity. Over 100 species of plants and animals have become extinct and many more are threatened. Conservation activities began in the 1980s with the implementation of programmes for the reproduction of threatened bird and plant species as well as habitat restoration in the National Parks and Nature Reserves.
When it was discovered, the island of Mauritius was the home of a previously unknown species of bird, the Dodo. Dodos were descendent of a type of pigeon which settled in Mauritius over 4 million years ago. With no predators to attack them, they lost their need and ability to fly. In 1505, the Portuguese became the first humans to set foot on Mauritius. The island quickly became a stopover for ships engaged in the spice trade. Weighing up to 50 pounds, the dodo was a welcome source of fresh meat for the sailors. Large numbers of dodos were killed for food. Later, when the Dutch used the island as a penal colony, new species were introduced to the island. Rats, pigs and monkeys ate dodo eggs in the ground nests. The combination of human exploitation and introduced species significantly reduced the dodo population. Within 100 years of the arrival of humans on Mauritius, the once abundant dodo became a rare bird. The last one was killed in 1681. The dodo is prominently featured as a supporter of the national Coat of arms of Mauritius.
The population estimate (as of 1 July 2012) for the whole republic is 1,291,456. The female population outnumbered the male population by about 19,430. The population on the island of Mauritius only is 1,253,000, and that of Rodrigues island is 38,167. Agaléga and Saint Brandon had an estimated population of 289. Mauritius is a secular country and freedom of religion is a constitutional right. In 2011, Mauritius was ranked third in Africa in the Human Development Index and 78th out of 187 countries worldwide.
Statistics on ethnicity are not available because such questions were removed from the population census. The people of Indian descent (Indo-Mauritian) follow mostly Hinduism and Islam. The Franco-Mauritians, Creoles and Sino-Mauritians follow Christianity. A minority of Sino-Mauritians also follow Buddhism and other Chinese-related religions. According to the 2011 census made by Statistics Mauritius, Hinduism is the major religion at 49%, followed by Christianity 32%, Islam 17% and Buddhist 0.4% in terms of number of adherents.