Between 1525 and 1866, the transatlantic slave trade forcibly removed 12 million people, mainly from Central and West Africa, and redistributed them across the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean. In 1994, UNESCO launched the Slave Route Project to commemorate this tragedy and document the various sites that played a critical role in the transatlantic slave trade.
One of such sites is the Slave Route Monument in Mauritius, which was established in 2009 to commemorate the impact of slavery and the slave trade on Mauritian history. The Slave Route Monument is located at the foot of the famous Le Morne mountain on the west coast of Mauritius.
The Monument’s design is patterned after a compass; each stone sculpture points toward the different locations from which enslaved people were purchased or stolen. These locations included Madagascar, Mozambique, Haiti, Senegal, France, India, China, Malaysia, and Réunion island.
Indeed, Mauritius is one of the few countries in the world that was actually populated from scratch by “foreigners”, so the blend of cultures and traditions makes the island unique. The demographics of Mauritius have stayed true to this historical incident. Indian-Mauritians are in the majority, followed by African-Mauritians and then Europeans. This composition has created a unique culture, from language to religion.
The island country boasts of clear blue waters, long mountain ranges, lush planes, and stunning waterfalls that have made it an exclusive tourist destination for many. But to better understand its chequered past including its history of slavery and freedom, then the Slave Route Monument is where you should be.
History says that in 1639, the first enslaved men and women were brought to the island from Madagascar under the Dutch East India Company to work on the sugarcane and tobacco plantations and to fell ebony trees. In 1769 when trade was opened to the French, large numbers of enslaved people were brought in from other places in Africa as well as India. By 1835, slavery was finally abolished under British rule.
However, before this happened, Le Morne Brabant, the mountain where the Slave Route Monument sits, was used as a refuge and shelter for runaway slaves in the 18th and early 19th centuries. These escaped slaves, who became known as the Maroons, built homes in the caves embedded in the mountain. They felt safe at Le Morne as it was not only isolated but largely wooded, making them feel protected. With its steep cliffs, Le Morne was also difficult to traverse.
Thus, many of the Maroons remained there for some time until slavery was abolished in 1835. And just when they should breathe the air of freedom, the unfortunate happened. Legend says that after the abolition of slavery, a group of soldiers went to the Le Morne area to let runaway slaves know that they were finally free. But the slaves, right after seeing the soldiers and other officials approaching, feared that they were about to be recaptured and taken back to the slaveowners.
Thus, they climbed the mountain and jumped to their deaths, landing in the ocean. It remains one of the tragic yet resilient stories of enslaved men and women who chose death over slavery. Today, even though you can take a hike up Le Morne or visit there to soak up the sun, the site stands as a reminder of the struggle of the enslaved and the significance of freedom. And for visitors who want to specifically pay homage to those enslaved in the past, the Slave Route Monument located at the foot of the iconic mountain is the place to be.