In this article we share with you part two of our publications about the Maroon Legends of Mauritius in the context of the Le Morne Cultural Landscape as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Le Morne Mountain became the most important place of refuge for the maroons in Mauritius. It also became a beacon of hope for other maroons and slaves in other countries, who heard about the achievements and courage of the maroons in Mauritius.
We like to share once more a narrative that is inspired by historical events and based on our interviews with the slave and maroon descendants in Mauritius. This story is again written in the first-person narrative, this time in the voice of a young Kreole man to take us into the heart of the Maroon Quest. This Quest is part of our deeper Quest as human beings, irrespective of ethnicity or race, in the search for meaning, freedom and the expression of our authentic ways of being.
LOST IN PARADISE
“I wake up confused, my mind is still trembling with the echoes of my dreams. Each time the same dreams re-emerge. I am always on the run, no matter where I go it is not safe. I never know who I can trust. I am always on guard, not knowing what is next. I cannot ever put down my roots to remain in one place. I have to run, all the time. One does not know who is friend and who is enemy. I want to rest, but i cannot. I do not feel safe. There are voices in my head that I cannot silence. Images of flames that I do not understand. Voices of women and children screaming in terror. Behind the flames I see their eyes. They stare at me, penetrating me deeply with the terror of their pain as their bellies are cut open and their babies brutally taken out of their belly. How can they be so cruel, what did these women do to deserve this? Left to die in their own blood while seeing their children taken from them? For what? What happened to the babies; did they survive? I do not know my mother. I was taken from her when I was born and raised by women of different colour. Women like my mother were their slaves after all; not fit to bring up the child of a ‘white man’. “This will slowly fade out their blackness”, I was told. Creating a new breed of humans to fade out the savages, the blacks, the African and also the Indian slaves. So who am I then? Where do I belong?
My body is shaking violently as I am waking up. My mind feels outraged and numb at the same time. I do not understand; how can I feel so angry and yet so unable to express my rage? How can I feel so numb and paralysed and yet so upset and angry at the same time? There are always these conflicting forces inside me. One voice tells me to fight. The other voice tells me to obey, and to submit to the will of the Master in order to become a better man. This voice tells me to forget where I came from. To be grateful to those who gave me a ‘real’ education, a name by which I can pray, and a path where my sins can be forgiven. And yet at night my mother who I never knew returns to me from behind the flames as she screams in pain and tells them to stop. But nobody is listening to her as I am taken away from her, unable to do anything. I cry for the lost love I have never known, the sweet kisses that never reached me, the mother milk that was withheld from me. How can this woman, who is my real mother, said to be of the devil? Why does her blackness make her a woman of the devil? What ever did she do wrong? She did not ask for a child..She was taken against her will, again and again, as property of the Master who decided her fate. And after giving him a son, she paid with her life in a way that no human being or even an animal should ever have to suffer.
I feel completely lost in this world. Some people say I live in Paradise; beautiful beaches, tropical fruits, a place to stay and a place to work. But what does all of this mean when inside I feel lost? I don’t belong anywhere. I am of two colours; black and white, and I am lost between the two. I was not brought into this world because I was loved and wanted. I was created out of an act of crime. An act of terror that was not even considered illegal or criminal by the man who is my father. It was his right, as they said, and yet I have no rights to him. So what am I? When the white men says: “Me, I can make one like you anytime, but can you?” Ascertaining thereby once more what he believes to be his superiority!
I have found others with the Maroon Spirit who were also born out of love; some are even white, some are in other countries. One man going by the name of ‘Aimé’ is rich. He was born, he says, from a Master who loved his slave. They had several children. In those days should they have found out, they would all have been sold separately according to the “Code Noir”. The mother and the kids would have been sold to different buyers. As a consequence their resistance was always in the spirit of being “on alert”; scared of being prey of the ‘justice’ of those days. Under such his father was not allowed to give him his heritage. He had to use their well known triangular strategy by the notaries whereby his first name was not recorded as the full name of his father. He could not declare him in fear of retaliation of having his properties seized & sold. Later on when he becomes of age the “mixed blood” would have to buy from a friend of his father the property that his father would then first have to sell to another trusted white friend of his. On his title of ownership his father, who has a different name as you will recall, then becomes witness to this triangular sale.
This other maroon François is of a great well known family born of an unknown mother they say. As time went by he noticed that although he was blond blue eyed as his father, that his beloved “Nénéne” who had been taking care of him since his first breath had many similar features to him. His square hands and toes were identical to hers. This other one named Jacques had a unique father, a carpenter specialised in boat building. He was a man of great skills. He could, therefore, afford to bypass the “Code Noir “disallowing him to live among the blacks. This carpenter Pierre was himself the son of another Pierre “brigadier lieutenant colonel de gendarmerie”. When he arrived on the Island he was given a plot of land by the Emperor. The colonel died when his children were still young and no one could retrace the title deeds of the land. Pierre the son of Pierre took a free woman of mixed blood as his concubine, and under the nose of the police he build his house in the black quarters “la ville noire” of Mahebourg, where he settled.
There is also this old woman called Josephine who just died. She used to tell us that she was born a baby slave the day before all the slaves were freed by Napoléon the Emperor. Her mother named her after Josephine the Empress to keep awake the memory that after a while they were re-made a slave. Indeed, some time later Napoléon influenced through his wife Josephine by the planters who claimed that they were going bankrupt, reinforced slavery in Isle de France! Her mother in revolt for freedom ran away and gave her the name of Josephine to remind her that freedom is never definitive; that you must always remain vigilant! One night their brothers and sisters went to sleep for a last time as freemen & women to wake up the next day as slaves again. However Josephine on her mother’s back with the help of some had run away to reach Le Morne to be raised as a Maroon, proud to remain free!
I was told that not long after I was born the whites were no longer allowed to keep slaves. That it was not ‘legal’ to do so. Some were given a piece of land to live on others were told to keep working for the white men. They never put me in chains, but I have been chained by the inner turmoil and conflicts that I am not able to resolve. What does my freedom mean knowing the context of my birth? How can I ever be free in a world where I am lost? Lost to myself, and lost in a world that does not recognise my true identity. In the midst of all my turmoil I keep going, trying to forget. To silence the voices in my head it helps to drink. Sometimes I pass out, looking for a few minutes of bliss in the silence of my forgetting. The same visions and voices return, however, afterwards. Drinking help was temporary, yet now I cannot stop. This rum that I take blows out my brain. This may be the new way to control those of us who can think. Unable to shut out the pain, I feel tense all the time. I shout in anger to those who love me. How can I explain, I do not want to hurt them, but the voice of the Master is strong inside me. There are times I want to be like him, when I am in control I no longer feel that I am the one powerless and rejected. Yet the burning fire deep inside me is older even than the Master. It is older than any of them; it is part of Mother Africa. Beyond these flames of terror lives a different fire. This fire brings us home to our Spirit Songs that connect us to our Ancestors. For this we need our traditional drum, not the one that was given to us by the whites to entertain them at night. Our drum is much deeper; it resounds like the feet of the Elephant and the roar of the Lion. This is our true Sega, the one that heals our wounded souls. When I dance to this drum I become one with my Ancestors. Although we are no longer known by their names, we know in our heart they have not forgotten us. Through our Songs and rituals we feel the support of our Ancestors. This returns our Spirit home to Mother Africa. I then feel strong and connected in a way that I have not ever been able to express.
When we return to work the next day the weight of our collective pain pushes our heads down once more. The drums are now fading as a distant memory, a time beyond this place in Paradise where so many of us feel lost. It seems impossible to integrate who we are into who we are told to be. While growing up I was told of the stories of the Maroons, the brave men and women who fought for our freedom. Who gave their Life in the resistance to all this violence and oppression. I am told they too are part of me and in my blood. How do I give expression to this when I feel so lost in ‘paradise’? Their home is not my home; the whites remind me of this each day when we are made to work for them, for their ‘paradise’. I do not know where my home is since I have no idea where I belong. There are so many others like me who feel just as lost, we find connection in this pain. This is becoming our togetherness; bound by the same fate that was decided for us by those who never saw our humanness.”
ACKNOWLEDGING THE PRESENCE OF THE PAST IN WHO WE HAVE BECOME
The removal of the physical chains as testimony to the abolishment of slavery did not release the mental and emotional chains. The generations that grew up as descendants of the slaves and maroons continued to experience the archetype dynamics of master-slave relationships. They experienced time and again that true equality was almost impossible when your skin colour or cast was different from those who held among themselves the balance of power, by embodying the dominant archetype of that particular time.
These stories about the oral history and maroon heritage of Mauritius share common roots with others who suffered the same fate in other places in the world. This heritage is thus not unique to Mauritius. The pattern of the master-slave archetypes are as old as humanity. Indigenous communities around the world suffered the same treatments by the colonisers of their country. Much research has been carried out to document and report on these human right violations. It is not the purpose of our research and storytelling to add to the academic discourse about these issues. Our work as social innovators, therapists, and catalysts is rather to work for the transmutation of these chains to liberate the presence of the past from within our present time. It is only in the present time that we can do our work. It is from this work that we hope to ignite and support the co-creation of a new Story that honours all the members of our human family.
THE HEART OF THE MAROON QUEST
On the top of Le Morne Mountain lives a rare endemic flower called Trochetia boutoniana, or Boucle d’Oreille in Kreole. This particular variety of Trochetia only grows on the slopes and the top of Le Morne Mountain. A botanist once told us that this flower can only grow in the wild and does not like to be cultivated, captured or re-planted.
It became the National Flower of Mauritius since 1992. This characteristic about Trochetia boutoniana expresses very well the heart of what the Maroon Quest is all about.
The Maroon takes a stand to grow in freedom by resisting the attempts of others to capture and modify our roots and belonging. All over the world people attempt to assimilate, integrate and capture people into their systems. Archetypes rule; the structure of the system determines the behaviour of the elements of the system. All of us form part of a system. Life itself is a system. The maroons too form part of a system. Their organisation is a system as well, one that takes place within the context of the systems it attempts to resist being assimilated by.
The Heart of the Maroon Quest comes from our Human Quest for Liberation from all that threatens our authentic ways of being. Our roots play an essential role in this Quest. By severing people’s roots we cut deep into the fabric of their identity. This also affects deeply the extent to which people can receive the wisdom support of their Ancestors. This support has traditionally been transmitted via our root systems from one generation to the next for thousands of years, if not longer. When people’s ancestral roots are severed they often create a new Tree that connects their roots in the shared experience of their suffering. This collective ‘new’ body will then hold the sense of belonging and identity that is born from the cutting away of the Tree of their Ancestral roots.
THE NEW TREE
This new ‘Tree’ (or collective body) is formed by the DNA pool and collective memories of all who become mixed by blood or spirit in the new offsprings of this tree. The ‘Kreoles’ born from this new Tree hold within them the lineages of all who they are connected to via their bloodlines, yet most of this is carried forth unconsciously. The severing of one’s roots from the original Ancestral Tree becomes even more painful when those who contributed to the formation of this new Tree via their gene pool, do not acknowledge the rightful blood relationship. The young Kreole man in this Story shares the gene pool with the white ‘Master’ who took his black African mother for his pleasure. Yet by the mere fact of being removed from the Ancestral tree of both Mother and Father, this mixture of the gene pool has lead to an even deeper sense of isolation and sense of not belonging.
The sense of disempowerment becomes even more pronounced when issues of landownership come into play during the forced removal of many of the slave and maroon descendants from their village.
AUTHORS: This article was written by Anneloes Smitsman and Kurt Barnes. Copyright remains with the authors. Permission to share with acknowledgement of authors as per citation.
Citation: Smitsman, A. & Barnes, K. (2016). Lost in Paradise, the Maroon Quest. EARTHwise Centre.