The cultural world heritage sites of the Indian Ocean islands of Madagascar and Mauritius bear testimony to the relatively recent process of human settlement here. Many of the islands’ inhabitants originated in Asia, and present-day populations represent a unique fusion of peoples and cultures from as far afield as Indonesia, India, Africa and Europe. Each of the world heritage sites provides testimony to a particular aspect of this process of colonisation, including the occupation and development of the Madagascar highlands by people from Indonesia, and the role Mauritius has played in the trans-shipment of slaves and indentured labourers.
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, in the Madagascar highlands just north of Antananarivo, is closely associated with the Merina people, who trace their origins back to a phase of immigration from Indonesia perhaps 500-600 years ago. Their appearance, culture and livelihood pattern, including the terraced rice-paddies that provide their staple food, show strong affinities with Indonesia. The royal city and burial site bears testimony to the social and political system which has existed in the Malagasy highlands since the 16th century.
In Mauritius, the Le Morne Cultural Landscape protects a remote and rugged mountain peninsula that was settled by runaway slaves during the 18th and early 19th centuries. They occupied caves and built rudimentary settlements, relying on the natural features of the landscape to protect them. As the slave trade was drawing to a close, the British chose Mauritius, in 1834, as a new centre for the establishment of a system of indentured ‘free’ labour. An estimated 500,000 Indian labourers were brought into Mauritius through Aapravasi Ghat (at the dockside in the Mauritian port of St Louis) to serve in the Island’s sugar-cane fields or be trans-shipped to other areas including Reunion Island, Australia, Africa and the Caribbean.
To read more about each of the world heritage sites in Madagascar and Mauritius, and see a slideshow of each place, follow these links: