Each year on the 2nd November, Mauritius observes the Anniversary of the Arrival of Indentured Labourers. It is usually celebrated at the Aapravasi Ghat site where more than 400,000 indentured labourers took their first steps on Mauritian soil between 1849 and 1924. Aapravasi Ghat then became a National Heritage site in 1987 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.
1834 marks the beginning of the arrival of indentured labourers in Mauritius. That year, on August 1st, a vessel named Sarah berthed in the Port Louis depot – on its board, the very first 39 indentured labourers from South India. This migration wave would swell with the abolition of slavery and the need for the British to recruit workers for the sugarcane factories and fields.
Slavery was abolished in Mauritius on February 1, 1835 – thus closing a chapter as old as two hundred years. The British are in dire need of workers for the sugarcane fields and factories. They decide thereon to turn to India to recruit an abundant source of labour and to ensure that Mauritius becomes the sugar granary of the Empire. Between 1834 and 1924, 451 746 indentured labourers embarked in the ports of Calcutta, Mumbai or Madras – all set out to find fortune in Mauritius. They dream of better life conditions and flee the numerable catastrophes in India : famine, plague, unemployment and floodings.
In Mauritius, the first labourers worked on the Belle Alliance or Antoinette sugar estates, not far from the village of Piton in Riviere du Rempart district, after arriving on the ship Atlas on 2 November 1834 after a six week journey from Calcutta. These workers were employed by the trading company Hunter-Arbuthnot & Company, who provided the Governor of the day with a financial guarantee that the workers would not become a burden on the state. They were then put to work on the sugar estates, also owned by Hunter-Arbuthnot, where they toiled for six days per week, from early morning until sunset.
It is the arrival of these particular labourers which is commemorated at Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site on the 2 November every year. Their arrival marked the beginning of an influx of some half a million indentured labourers between 1835 and 1910, a migration which had and a profound impact on Mauritian life and culture.