The Creole Diaspora in Australia
The Creole Diaspora of Australia is composed mainly of those coming from Mauritius, the Seychelles and Rodrigues. There could be a handful coming from Reunion Island or other Creole islands of the Pacific like Haiti and the West Indies.
Immigration to Australia began in the sixties and the bigger groups came in the seventies and eighties. Since then, there have been sporadic arrivals to the land downunder. The Creoles are to be found in most big metropolitan cities of Australia. The larger, the more organised and more vocal community is found in Melbourne where they also have two community radios. In the second place comes those of Sydney and third is Perth. In view of a warmer climate many Creoles from Melbourne and Sydney moved to the state of Queensland but these are mostly retirees.
The Creoles in Australia through the years have kept strong ties with their motherland mainly because they still have relatives over there. It is also a fact that they have kept most of their traditions and culture as most of them came as adults. In view of this situation the children, even born in Australia, have naturally acquired most of the Creole way of life. The community-based activities like balls, fancy-fairs, sports, social gatherings, etc, have also helped to keep a strong support in this direction.
How is the Creole Diaspora of Australia faring?
Even tough the life trend might be faster and stressful at times and the professional life is far from being the one “back home” the Creoles of Australia are not at all at odds with living the Creole way. The dwelling architecture could be different but the food cooked at home is still very Creole like. It is a bonus living in Australia where all the ingredients to prepare a typical Creole meal is readily available. The media is English but that is not a problem with the CD or Tape, one can listen to Creole music anytime. As for the news about the islands is concerned, the Internet is there or the community radio will give the headlines.
As for dancing there is a ball every Saturday in Melbourne if not there is surely a party or a club gathering this weekend when we will be drinking and chatting in Creole and about the latest gossip in the community or commenting on politics in the motherland. As for multicultural festivals, which are organized at State, level in Australia, there is always a Creole group to take part mainly displaying the traditional dances from those Creole islands of the Indian Ocean. The groups are also on display when from time to time an artist from the island will come to perform. The weekend manifestation that took place on the weekend of 11-13 March at Federation Square in Melbourne are seen by many observers as a great Creole La Faya or fiesta which brought together Mauritians, Rodriguans and Seychellois.
Our definition of Creole
As earlier pointed out our definition of Creole although based mainly on ethnicity is not limited to the colour of the skin and country of origins but also the cultural factor. Creole to our perspective is a mixed entity and continues to be mixed. In the Seychelles, Reunion and Mauritius there are many white people who we still classify as Creoles. We also call Creoles, the coloured people i.e mixed Europeans and Africans and then come those who are darker in colour and still bear the African traits. While such is not the case in Rodrigues and the Seychelles, in Mauritius and Reunion there has been some mixture of African and Europeans to Indians, Muslims/Arabs and to a very lesser degree to Chinese. These people have mostly adopted the Creole culture.
What constitutes the main aspects of the Creole Culture?
From their origins and living in an island, it is first the way of life adopted. The topography and climate influence the way these people produce and cook their food. Agricultural products and products of the sea constitute their daily or traditional meals. In Mauritius, for example, most Creoles live along the seaside and they are mainly fishermen. In Rodrigues and the Seychelles, maize, potatoes and manioc have for long been the base of their dishes until imported rice make its appearance in the 60s. In Reunion many people e.g. “les ti Blanc les hauts” are still living on their farms products. Apart from the Zorey or Arabs or Malabars, most Reunionais call themselves Creole. You could suddenly be asked “ou te Creole ou ?”
The Creole culture is also very strongly demonstrated by the way of partying, every occasion is a good one from Christening, to the holy communion, the birthday, the wedding, death/burial, history telling, the cultural games, bal le roi ou bal ran zarico, and celebrating Christmas and New year do have a sort of tradition attached to it. The music and dance of Creole is another strong facet of Creole culture. There cannot be a party or rejoicings if there is no “sega”…the traditional dance so rhythmic, sensual, exotic and sweating!!! Sega is a body, hip swing dance that takes its origins from traditional African dance, which has evolved with time. In Mauritius the only European dance, which is still prevalent, is the Quadrille and Lancier. In Seychelles and Rodrigues the “contredanses “ or Kamtole or danses traditionelles are the European based of Scottish, (Kotis) Polka, Waltz (Laval), which have been modified to add in the Creole “cadance”.
Although most Creole are Catholics ancient traditions and superstitions still exist and there are ways of doing things…it has to be done as we were told by the grandparents. These might as well fall under shared beliefs rituals and rules of behaviour. There are also some prevalent values surrounding rearing of children, respect for the elders, virginity, education, communication, etc…common to Creoles.
Creole and politics
While white Creoles in the islands have always held positions of power through the colonization process, those of African descents way back from the slavery days have for long endured a condition of servitude and limited to jobs where his physical strength is put to the test. It was typical in Mauritius to see only black people working at the docks embarking and disembarking goods. Carrying the heavy sugar bags, one would remember the sweat mixing with the melting sugar under the heat, attracting the bees on the body of the human carriers. The other jobs were on lorries (enfle camion = Lorry helper), fishermen, cane cutters, and so on, with only a meager income. On the social side the back Creoles would live in the slums and in the suburbs where facilities like water and sewage were inadequate. The situation was a bit better for the coloured as they were eager to move up the rung of the ladder of opportunity with a little bit of help from the whites. They managed to get into the public service, in the private sector and as foreman on the sugar mills owned by the rich white oligarchy. The situation turned around in Mauritius where the Indians took the political power, while the rich white families remain and are still economically strong, the coloured and black Creoles are very much marginalized. This situation has caused many coloured Creoles to migrate to England, France and Australia. In the Seychelles the white Creoles still hold the political and economic power although the black represents the majority. The situation in Rodrigues has seen a change since the partial autonomy given to the island. Most of the counselors are of back origin and the chief Commissioner is a coloured person. The few whites Creoles in Rodrigues are located at Oyster Bay and La Ferme and St Gabriel but they hold no political or economic power.
The Creole Islands of the Indian Ocean
The Seychelles and Rodrigues are 98% Creoles i.e people of African and European origins. In Mauritius the situation is different because of its history. While the first inhabitants were of European and African origins, when slavery was abolished many Indians were brought in as indentured labourers to work in the sugar cane fields. Those of Indian origins are now in majority in Mauritius. However, although the Creoles constitute only 28% of the population, the Creole language is the national (but not official) language of the inhabitants. In the Seychelles though political determination the Creole is the official language taught in schools since 1980. In Rodrigues, which is still a territory of Mauritius, in view of the strong Creole predominance, language is not a problem every body speaks Creole and Creole is used in schools as medium. In La Reunion there are many organizations like Zizkakan who are seen to push for the recognition of the Creole language.
A word on Rodrigues
The island of Rodrigues is situated at 500 kilometers East of Mauritius. It was populated from the French colony of La Reunion (then Ile Bourbon) by some French farmers, who came along with their black servants of African and Malagasy origins. There has never been slavery as such in Rodrigues and no indenture labour from India as the climate and the land was not appropriate for growing sugarcane. The population grew at a very slow pace and remained virtually cut off from the rest of the world. A dependency of Mauritius under the British rule from 1803, it was annexed to Mauritius after the latter severed ties from England in 1968, although the Rodriguans had voted differently. Through its isolation the Creole culture flourished far from the occidental and oriental influence. Rodriguans are proud to call themselves Creole.
As people of Indian origin governed Mauritius, it was noted that not much attention was given to the development of Rodrigues as they were seen to be different. Because of this situation the Rodriguans fought to have a say and a voice. This voice was only heard in 1976 when an ex-Rodriguan priest, Serge Clair, founded the Rodriguan Party and was elected to the Mauritian Legislative Assembly in 1982. After nearly 30 years of negotiation Rodrigues was given the status of Regional Autonomy in September 2002. Still very much dependent on Mauritius, the trend is to open up to the International community for help towards development projects and scholarship to help the future generation to be still more in control of the Island’s future.
There have been regular attempts to create an International Creole Organisation. In 1982, the government of the Seychelles took the initiative of organizing the first colloque Creole which we had the chance of attending alongside many chercheurs et linguists from the Indian Ocean Islands, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands and from America The engagement was taken to work for the unity of Creoles all over the world and for the promotion of the Creole language and culture. The idea made its way slowly but never reached the expectations due mainly to some divergences d’opinion. Nevertheless every year, during the Creole week in the Seychelles, some academics from the Creole world meet to discuss and brainstorming or to present a paper related to la chose Creole. The example was followed by Rodrigues and to a lesser degree La Reunion. The Creole International day is celebrated on the 28 of September.
Let me now end with a statement from the CHC of Nachitoches which is also relevant to us
“Today this bond among Creoles nationwide is strong. There is tremendous pride in knowing where we come from. We are committed to the challenge of correcting the wrongs and misconceptions associated with this culture and will represent the Creoles in a true light. Their culture and heritage, rarely acknowledged in spite of its uniqueness, is worthy and deserving of attention and preservation; without it an important part of the American experience could be lost.” The Creole Heritage Centre.
Louis de Lamare