The introduction of Indian contractual workers by individual planters during the British period started between 1820 and early 1830s. Arrival registers of the Indian Immigration Archives (MGI) testify that labourers from the Indian Peninsula disembarked in Mauritius as from 1842 and originated from Colombo, Cochin, Pondicherry, Madras and Calcutta. These experimental importations of local planters were an evident means of overcoming the acute shortage of labour arising in the colony. The Importance of Slave Labour
The slave trade which flourished in the 18th century, was attacked by reformers in Britain and in 1787, a society for its abolition was instituted in England. In the face of mounting opposition against slavery and the conditions of slaves on plantations, William Pitt, the British Prime Minister, tabled a motion in Parliament in 1792 to gradually abolish slavery. In 1807, the shipping of slaves to British colonies was forbidden and in 1808, the slave trade was prohibited. When in 1810, the British took over the island, slave trade became illegal. In 1834, British abolished slavery. It is phased out on the island under a transition period known as “apprenticeship”. However, in Mauritius and elsewhere, the sugar plantation economy since its inception had depended, for its success and profitability, on plentiful, cheap, coercible and disciplined labour force. Slave labour had, for centuries, been the backbone of the plantation colonies of the Caribbean. In 1835, Indentured labour system introduced. In subsequent decades hundreds of thousands of workers arrive from India. Mauritius was the first British Colony to embark on the ‘Great Experiment’ of importing an indentured labour workforce from the sub continent. Since the proclamation of the abolition of slavery in 1833, there was the urgent need to replace the local labourers liberated from slavery by an indentured workforce. This workforce later on became a majority population group. 453,063 Indentured labourers were brought in Mauritius under the indenture Agreement.
The status of being a Slave and the Code Noir
Characteristics define an enslaved person:
•The slave has the status of a ‘good’ or ‘bienmeuble’ •A slave can be bought, sold, hired or pawned.
•The owner has absolute power over him or her.
•The owner controls not only the labour of the slave but his person and life after work. Slave women for example were sexually exploited. •The denial of family ties a slave can not only be separated from his or her family but has been removed from his or her homeland. •A slave is an ‘exclu’ in a slave society
(Source: VijayaTeelock, Mauritian History, from its beginning to modern times, 2001) A slave had no existence in law at that time as he/she was a ‘bienmeuble’, (‘res mobiles’, a ‘good’) and the legal status of the slave decided by all laws that applied to goods or moveable property. Far from proposing his workforce as a merchandise, the slave himself is an object. The employer buys the merchandise which belongs to him. The owner has the right to sell, to kill the slave. There is choice of becoming slaves, you are black and automatically you become a slave, maybe why there was no Code des Esclaves but instead Code Noir (LettresPatentes) Ce code rédigé au temps de Colbert restera en vigueurjusqu’en 1848, date de l’abolitiondéfinitive de l’esclavage par la France. Quelquesextraits du Code Noir :
“Déclarons les esclavesêtremeubles… Voulonsque les hommeslibres qui auronteu des enfants avec des esclavessoientcondamnéset les ditsesclavesconfisqués au profit de l’hôpital… Leurdéfendons de tenir le marché des esclaves le dimanche… Défendons aux curés de marier des esclaves sans le consentement de leurs maîtres… Les enfants qui naîtrontserontesclaves… Les esclaves non baptisésserontenterrés de nuitdansun champ voisin… Les esclavesabandonnésserontadjugés à l’hôpital… Déclarons les esclaves ne pouvoiravoirrien qui ne soit à leur maître… Ne...