Mauritius: A wreath laying and commemorative ceremony to mark the 137th anniversary of the closure of the Vagrant Depot and the International Day for Monuments and Sites was held yesterday, at the Vagrant Depot in Grand River North West, at the initiative of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund (AGTF) under the aegis of the Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage.
The Minister of Arts and Cultural Heritage, Mr Avinash Teeluck; the Parliamentary Private Secretary, Dr Marie Christiane Dorine Chukowry; the Lord Mayor of the City Council of Port Louis, Mahfooz Moussa Cader Saib; the High Commissioner of India to Mauritius, K. Nandini Singla; the Chairperson of the AGTF, Rishiraj Kanhye, as well as other personalities, were present.
In his address, Minister Teeluck said that commemorations are very important as they give us the opportunity to celebrate the memory of our ancestors. The latter has left a legacy which today allows us to enjoy democracy, liberty and freedom that we take for granted, he added. He stated that it is, therefore, important to pay homage to our ancestors who have toiled for the country as well as respect the values, principles and cultural heritage they have left us.
Speaking about the Vagrant Depot, he highlighted that it is an important ‘lieu de mémoire’ which bears testimony to the trials, tribulations and struggles of more than 60,000 indentured and non-indentured labourers who were imprisoned there between 1864 and 1886 and who have greatly contributed to modernising Mauritius. The Depot stands as a constant reminder of the determination, hard work and sacrifices of the vagrants to the oppressive labour laws of the colonial rule, which were meant to regulate their working and living conditions, he said.
For his part, Mr Kanhye underlined that the Depot represents a tangible symbol of oppression and resistance of the vagrants in colonial rule. It is crucial to pay homage to indentured immigrants and ex-slaves who have undergone injustices, sufferings and loss of life, he further stated.
The commemoration ceremony was marked by a presentation entitled ‘Forbidden Freedom: A Profile of the Vagrant Depot’; a slam proposed by the Nelson Mandela Centre for African Culture Trust Fund on ‘Remars lor zot pa’; a slam on ‘A Narration of Indentured Labourers and Vagrants in British Mauritius’; a performance of a popular Bhojpuri song by students of Petite Rivière Government School; and a ‘Tribute to our ancestors’ in Bhojpuri by Lillo Mathoor Group.
The Vagrant Depot of Grand River North West is located on the Pointe aux Sables Road and extends over an area of almost two acres. It is one of the most important historical and heritage sites closely linked with the history of the Indians in Mauritius during the 19th century. For most of the 1800s, it served as a place of incarceration for individuals who were brought from the Indian subcontinent to British Mauritius, such as the convicts and indentured and non-indentured labourers.
International Day for Monuments and Sites
Every year on 18 April, the International Council on Monuments and Sites celebrates the International Day for Monuments and Sites, whose establishment was approved by the 22nd UNESCO General Conference in 1983. The aim of the International Day for Monuments and Sites is to encourage local communities and individuals throughout the world to understand the importance of cultural heritage in relation to their lives, identities and communities. It also aims at fostering awareness of the diversity and vulnerability of cultural heritages and the efforts required to protect and conserve these heritages.
The 2023 theme, “Heritage Changes”, provides an opportunity to address issues related to understanding traditional knowledge and knowledge systems in the context of climate action. It also emphasises the role of cultural heritage in supporting fair protection for vulnerable communities in climate action and responding to the UN Decade of Action.