A distant Island
A distant Island
Several nations crossed the Indian Ocean in the early 18th century. The French were the first to be really interested in Île de France. The Dutch, who were there, left it forever. They were disappointed, discouraged and even disinterested perhaps by its wild state and the distance that separated it to the great continents.
The Indies Company came to settle there. They looked rather for a port to shelter their vessels during the four long cyclonic months. Île de France had not really great thing to offer. It was covered with dense vegetation. There were swamps, ravines, rivers, creeks, stretches of plains, forests still virgin, lakes lost in the woods, beautiful, finest white sand beaches, attractive coastal regions, and a number of fowls, eels, fish, and turtles.
Between Port Warwyke, later Grand Port and Port North West, they opted for the latter, which was later called Port-Louis. This region of the island was separated at that time into two parts by a swampy ravine carved by mountain streams The Thumb. Thick vegetation extended up to the dreary of the discovery, today the Signal Mountain, and the district Remparts to the left and up to the district of the river Latanier to the right.
Palisades boxes, earthen and straw huts, and barracks covered with lataniers leaves served to homeless men of the East India Company and to the soldiers.
It was the beginning of a long work assiduously developed under the leadership of great men like the Governor Mahé de Labourdonnais, the Intendant Poivre, the Bailli de Suffren; their efforts, at different periods, helped to the formation of a well-built settlement in these lands and whose footprints marked the future generations.
Several important buildings such as the Hotel of the Government, the hospital, the barracks, the lodge, the parish church, housing, offices, and even a penal colony for the Maroons, repeat offenders, criminals, troublemakers were built in various places in the city. The residential and commercial areas extended to places were activities were taking momentum. A variety of plants and animals reached the island later on. The forests were proliferated with various animals, monkeys, turtles; some regions were transformed into orchards, gardens for these exotic plants coming from around the world. The colonial agriculture found its birth in the approaches and activities that the agronomists, botanists, and gardeners put in place for the implementation of major projects that took considerable dimensions years after.
While the Director of the East India Company found in Port-Louis a fortified house, a warehouse, a port of call, the Governor Mahé de Labourdonnais found rather a well-built town in the Indian Ocean. Several services were already put in place on the Island. The openings of the accessible roads connecting one neighborhood to another helped the inhabitants to move with facilities. The settlers were engaged in frequent trips inside the island. A lot of people coming from distant regions and eager to become, wealthy, approached the Island with the intention of settling there and make fortune as quickly as possible. The arrival of the committed Indian, Malagasy and African slaves, did increase in a short time the number of inhabitants. The French fleets, in the arms race and the conquest of the land, often clashed with English squadrons who showed highly feared. During the Seven Years’ War, the East India Company, willing to act on its own, was completely ruined transferring all its outlets in India and at the same time the Île de France against a large sum of money to the King of France.
The activities in Île de France became at this time intense. The Island had the reputation of being the nest of pirates. Several unscrupulous men landed there to make fortune on public misery. At sea, privateers, pirates, filibusters, merchant ships, were struggling for survival. The natural disasters, calamities, bloodshed, and massacres could not be avoided. Only the most cunning, the most powerful, the best equipped, best prepared were spared. The settlers gathered at the parties that the officers of the quarters organized. People were having fun at parties, festivities. The settlers’ children became accustomed to the worldly life by sources of distractions that people anxious to organize their lives were at the very heart of the fledgling company.
The arrival of the royal administrators wore other changes in the appearance of the Island. In a short time, the repairs of dilapidated buildings were carried out. Exceptional recoveries of agricultural activities allowed the island to buy export-ready food products. Three water mills manufactured flour, bakery, shops; a printing press was put in place and working beautifully. Food products also abounded the Island and allowed the inhabitants to take advantage.
Although the licentiousness among whites as among the blacks reached a considerable proportion, the royal administrators had a hard time to suppress these immoralities of old date. This, by cons, not so much affected the manners of the island.
The cabarets of the city welcomed everyone, thirsty for entertainment; the presence of officers and settlers from distant areas was very marked. The scandals, the multiple public clashes, the confrontations between individuals or group of people, the social conflicts, and the screw-ups of disorders were strongly reprimanded by the people having the competence to maintain public order and to enforce it. The current laws decreed by the Council, the black slave trade, the notices, and announcements reached the general public by normal ways of decent and adequate manners.
The militias were circulating the area and chased the miscreants, bandits, criminals, thieves of the major railways, the brown blacks. The commanders of the district had a very delicate task to bring order and justice. They were constantly faced with difficult situations, which could complicate their lives.
Masters and Slaves had to respect regulations and anyone, looking to break the law, would not be spared from the yoke of justice. But how many of the social injustices, which were never respected, denounced? The weak always suffer in silence the law of the strongest and it is only justice that comes from heaven which gives the balance to the situation.
When the war of American independence was broke, Île de France, because of its strategic position, helped the French under the command of Bailli de Suffren, to lead a glorious war against the British in Indian waters, around Pondicherry. The British suffered heavy losses and unimaginable defeats. They recognized the importance of Île de France in the Indian Ocean. Their courage and their determinations to defeat turned their eyes toward this island that they were trying to seize.
Obviously, at a time too remote, similar islands in almost all parts of the world were the least protected against attacks from the outside. The garrisons and the fortresses weakened under the relentless onslaught of enemies. The strongest only exercised their domination. Aside from such dangers, these places were constantly threatened by internal conflicts that were causing many problems in the population.
Île de France was not spared from these crises, which awakened within the population the fears, the frights, the uncertainties of the existence that people felt like this morning, the news that announced and described the horrors of a night was bumping against the deaf ears even by sleep, but startled, stunned by what was said, by what we told. Port-Louis emerged from the darkness as dawn was breaking.
The lights of the invasive sunrise hunted too dark shadows by the absence of the moon. Omar was in his miserable checkbox in the suburb of Port-Louis. He was already awake, but could not move. He made an effort yesterday carrying furniture he had sold to a trader in the city. He was exhausted and felt severe pain, which had made him grow long complaints often mixed with croaking frogs. No one heard.
The death could surprise him in this state and in even worse conditions, without anyone knowing. Omar had a habit of waking up early in the morning. Only the disease could hold him back to bed. He asked God to help him, to give him his strength, not to abandon him in such an important moment of its existence. He recognizes in himself a man too old to continue to live alone. His state of weakness, the poor night he had spent so overwhelmed that he was convinced that he only had little time to live. The disease often disturbed his thoughts and made him see reality.
"I don’t have to live all alone anymore", he said, "I am too old and I need help."
He heard the rooster crows that announced the approach of the day. He wanted to get rid of this nightmare which began to frustrate him. He noticed the dark glimmers which infiltrated by the interstices of its checkbox. The cold which got through the exits had no effect on the old Omar. The mattress was wet from sweating. Throughout the night Omar was overwhelmed by cramps and fevers. He got up with a lot of penalties and of willingness to prepare an herbal tea with plants that he had recovered in the mountains and he had piled up on the shelf next to his bed.
"Your old carcass will not hold for a long time Omar", he said, turning on the fire, "you will leave this world well before that you imagine, and without having done your duty. Who cares about you, your existence? Your face wrinkled, your white beard means nothing in the spirit of these few buggers of the district you know. Your presence in this society is but the shadow that we forget so quickly. You should flee before it is too late. Yet, old fox, if we knew that you possess a fortune so vast, the world would be at your feet. But did you not always flee the company? You feared so much the rich that you resigned yourself in spite of your fortune, to remain poor. It is your belief. Life has taught you lessons that you cannot forget so quickly. And then note that you have lived a life marked with misfortunes. "The barking of dogs showed him the sunrise.
People went to the fields. He greatly opened the window to invite the fresh air to enter into the three empty parts of its case. 'This pure air', he thought, "which comes from the mountains hunting the diseases. I, therefore, have any chance to heal me. I do not intend to keep the bed and rot in this room. A would land slaves this morning. I must not miss this opportunity. It is absolutely necessary that I should visit the pier to buy me a slave. I have a great need.'
The hinge side of the window was detached from the wood. The flying gave the appearance of wanting to fall from one moment to the other. Omar looked worried by looking at trees. His mind was elsewhere. While he was preparing to go out, his eyes were expressing a certain sadness by crossing dark and empty rooms, which repulsed his memories that he could not forget. He very much regretted the old furniture, which was his only companion during his hours of solitude, his misfortunes and disorders. This furniture represented the indications and the testimonies of a turbulent life lived in the depths of the islands at a time where the existence depended on the bravery, strength, of the intelligence and luck. His past reached him by bit in memory, to him to review in an imagination otherwise low of the least troubled the sequences interspersed with his life, reminding him of the circumstances which had led to the acquisition of old furniture of value and this treasure that he checked every night before sleeping. It was to monitor all alone the treasure that Omar had never wanted to introduce anyone in his miserable accommodate. Indeed, his condition was so deplorable that people neither had for him attention nor visited him. Omar had carried for a long time his observations, his studies on what motivated and interested people in the world. The fortune alone could exercise on a whole people the influence and the undeserved attention of unscrupulous people the holding between their hands by the exercise of the dishonesty or by other dubious procedures. Omar had chosen to conduct his life in his own way and it delighted him! It was enough for him. Omar had a past which often caused him the obsession.
The sale of furniture related to his decision to leave the island to join his family in India after more than forty years of separation. As he entered the old age, his ideas turned to its past, to his very origins. He pampered for a long time the idea of finding his family: his children he had left behind quite small and his wife who had never left his imagination.
He spent a long time to go back in time and to see the life cycle of misery in the streets of his hometown Gujarat in India. He separated from his family by the confusion that caused the strife in his country. Hired by the men of the East India Company, the coolies wanted to escape the poverty which rages in their country in the suppression of English. They boarded the ship, leaving behind families, parents to serve on distant islands. Omar was one of those people in distress and traveled for a long time in the ships that roamed the seas; he faithfully served the French teachers, attended in their maneuvers, defended against the pirates, protecting his best during severe storms. He carried in sedan chairs during long walks in the depth of the islands. The force that he had deployed in his youth, his suffering, the experiences that he had acquired, had made him a clever man, shrewd and tough.
By opening the drawer to take the currency he had won the day before the sale of furniture, Omar was seized with an unspeakable weakness. He stood for a while at the end of the table. He felt shooting pains. He had never felt such symptoms before. He always avoided being examined by a doctor. He preferred to fight his health complications on his own, using his knowledge of medicinal plants. And yet that day his afflictions, his state of old age, his despairs, made him think he had fragile health. He had already started to wear his health care if he did not want to lose a life by negligence, leaving the future unanswered, dreams in progress, unfinished projects. This dream was to be able to assign to his family, condemned in the intense misery of life, this treasure he had acquired as a reward by a French captain he had saved a long time from the hands of pirates torturers, who chased him, stalked him to the confines of this island. Omar, deploying at that time all his force and his wiles, had hidden it in a cave. The poor captain was tired, exhausted and lugging with him a fabulous treasure, a purse containing hundreds of gold coins. The captain imagined that his life was priceless and gave Omar eagerly a handful of these parts before disappearing forever in nature by a stormy and gloomy night. This wealth, buried therefore under the ashes of his home, composed of three large carved stones, remained the same index of conflicts that the privateers were conducting pirates of the high seas; these pirates came from the Caribbean, to sow the disorders among the merchant ships and in the various islands of the oceans. If in seas their skills made them famous, relentless, on earth they suffered enormous losses without ever decide to resign them, to repent or even to amnesty if their case did not seem necessary.
The possession of such wealth was never for Omar an object of temptation to try to use his property in order to compete for the richest people of the city. He always compared the wealth to the honey and the people to the ants, which approach only to take advantage. In fact, he did not want to engage in business that could get him into trouble. He had never wanted to either mix his life with which he could not adapt. To be rich is a good favor, but to live free for Omar is much better. This choice to prefer the freedom to wealth was made while he was serving a bourgeois family, parents of the Governor, in the district of Moka years ago. An epidemic had wiped out the entire family. Omar himself was seriously ill but his constitution saved him.
Now that he was in an advanced age, his failures gave him doubts and even worries about his health, persuading him again of a few days he had left to live, and just throw a dull glow, in his suffering, on his forehead: regret not being able to live his life as he had always wanted, while near his family. He began by having the conviction of never being able to achieve his dream that he had cherished for years during his miserable life, in a fantasy designed firmly, with resolution and with promise that never the idea of a life of splendor, grand, exuberance, was to tickle the spirit nor touch his thought in the absence of his family and in the instar of a miserable life which the latter, in an incomparable world, had to lead. The resolution he had taken this morning, which had abducted him from his sight the veil that hid his real existence to buy a slave who would take care of him and help him in his efforts, had given him courage, despite the trouble he must have felt to get up to go to the auction in the public square, in downtown. By making the last effort to close windows and doors, Omar left his home and engaged in a rutted path, covered with herbs and other wild plants, still wet by the morning dew; his box was hidden behind trees and was hardly noticeable to passersby. With measured steps, the overcoat blown by a moderate breeze, Omar made his way across to other miserable huts in the area.