Festival International de la langue et de la culture créole
célébré à Maurice en 2006

Pari reussi pour Xavier Luc Duval et son équipe

George De Lamare

While some Creole countries in the Caribbean and in the Indian Ocean have been holding Creole festivals since 1981, it is only this year that island of Mauritius has had its very first Creole festival. The initiative was bravely undertaken by the Minister of Tourism, Hon Xavier Duval, and his counselors and, as the Minister declared in his speech at the opening of the conference/debate on Saturday 2nd December, “This festival was long overdue”.

There could be many reasons for such a long delay among which, the lack of a strong credible and structured Creole organisition to push for it, the lack of leadership among creoles, no political will ever came form any part of the government, especially from the Ministry of Culture (where I noticed there is very little culture!!) nor did any private organization or ONG dared to go down that path in view of the cost and logistics, involved, let alone getting the support required.

Another reason, and may be more noticeable one, is because of the political and “communal” realities of Mauritius: such an event would be perceived as being pro-Creole and consequently “communal”.

The Creoles (as an ethnic group) in Mauritius have always felt that their culture is under threat, was not recognized and valorized let alone being victimized and not given the due recognition by any government. On the other hand there has always been a “mepris” from the other communities especially their political leaders, towards the Creoles and the Creole culture.

So it was under such circumstances that this year, things started to move the other way: the Catholic Church, under the leadership of  the Vicaire General, Jean  Maurice Labour, donne le coup d’envoie in celebrating openly “La zournee Internasyonal Kreol” followed by a series of manifestations in different locations namely, expositions, debates, cooking, concerts, mass, etc.. with the objectives of “mettre à l’évidence la richesse et la valeur de la culture Creole”.

It was then the turn of the Ministry of Tourism to follow et alors comment? In a very structured and “grandiose” way not to say popular.

The program started on Friday 1st December with a “Soiree de poesie Kreol” dans le cadre enchanteur du Domaines des Pailles. For those who have never been there, it is an old plantation area where there are still many of these beautiful Creole houses. On  that splendid night of tropical Mauritius, where the sky was of full of shining stars and the temperature warm and pleasant, the 250 people present would first enjoy  “les delices de la cuisine Creole” before listening to the flavoury, colourful and how explicit and exotic Creole poems. The Creole buffet displayed food from the Island of Rodrigues, from the Seychelles, from La Reunion, from the Caribbean, and from Mauritius of course. Being there and in my capacity of “fin gourmet”, I can tell you that it was very hard, to chose or to let oneself not be tempted to taste them all.  Some of those and reciting their poems were: Andre Legallant, Dev Virawsawmy, Tico Soupaya, Edouard Maurick, France Soopramayen and others. Les poèmes étaient récites sur un musique de fond au son de la ravanne, du triangle, de la douce, mélodieuse, voire excentrique  chorégraphie  de la jeune et charmante fille Creole qu’est la jeune et ravissante Mlle Valérie Géry qui n’a pas manque de séduire l’assistance. Opening the ceremony this is what the Minister Xavier Duval had to say: « C’est la premiere fois qu’un gouvernement mauricien organize un Festival International Creole. Ceci représente la reconnaissance de la contribution des créoles dans la construction du pays” and rightly so.     

The next day i.e. Saturday 2 there was a Conference on the theme “Ki Creolite” (Which Creolism) starting at 10.00 a.m open to the public.  The moderator of the Conference was our friend Lindsay Morvan which saw the intervention of some imminent Creolists coming from Mauritius, Seychelles, Haiti and Martinique. In his welcoming speech the Minister Xavier Duval stressed on the participation and role played by of Creoles in the political, economic, social and cultural development of Mauritius. It all started from the colonial days leading up to independence and continuing today. As he also rightly pointed out that  “This contribution is very often not seen and recognized”. He cited names of some of those who put their print in the history of Mauritius  among the many: Cyril Cure, Emmanuel Anquetill, Gaetan Duval, Gaetan Reynal, Marcel Cabon, among others. The Minister also emphasied on the multifaceted, the beauty and richness of the Creole Culture of which we should all be proud.

The Prime Minister of Mauritius, the right Honorable Navin Ramgoolam, son of the first post independence Mauritius, was next to address the audience which represented a cross section of the population for Mauritius. The front benches were full of all Ministers, Members of Parliament, Mayors and local Councilors, and other VIPs of the country. People had also come from all parts of the Island. “The Creole language is the cement of our unity” argued the Prime Minister, who went on to say that all Mauritius should be proud o of their history, ancestry and cultural background. “We should build on our history to be a nation, but very often it is politicians themselves who divide us into communities for electoral purpose. This poses a hindrance to us becoming a true nation.”

Time for the real actors to come into play. The first to “lecture” us on “ Ki Kreoilite” was Dr Arnaud Carpooran, linguist from the University of Mauritius. It was hard for him not to be academic and technical in explaining how the word “kreolite” can be construed and rehabilitate to fit in the Mauritian context and society. While those while those with academic background could follow, the rest were surely lost.

The next speaker Mrs. Dr. Esplanancia Baptiste, Hiatienne attaché a l’Universite de Michigan, USA started on a wrong foot in explaining that she changed her topic at the last minute; she was supposed to talk about “ Kreolite: movman literer ou mouvman e identaire” but preferred to talked about the Haitian revolution, this seems to have complicated her problem, her speech was completely out of context; we waited to the end of the expose to hear the word Creolite and how it fits in the Haitian context after the revolution but of no avail. Her style of communicating also also left us perplexed as pointed out by L’Express. She finally impressed no one. I personally know many Haitians who could have done a better job e.g. Pierre Roland Bain, Pierre Verney, Franklin Pierre or Marie Ludie Monfort just to name a few.

Mr. Michel Savy from the Seychelles was next to entertain the audience; I say “entertain” as he delivered his speech in a very humoristic and pure Seychellois style. He refereed to history and anecdotes to demonstrate how there have been attempts by our colonial masters to prevent the Creole culture from developing and flourishing. His theme was “ Creolite and Pluralite”. The paper/speech as one would expect, was tinted by sarcasm if not cynicism. 

The most noticeable intervention was to come from our next lecturer, Dr Danielle Florigny-Palmyre from Mauritius, who in a brilliant, clear and habile way exposed the flaws of stereotype perception of “Amuse Kreol’.There has eventually been a deliberate, if not degrading, way for many and “others” see and say that Creoles are only good at partying. Her subject was “The contribution of Creolism to the nation building” through which she gradually turned that stereotyped image into a positive one where with its numerous ingredients, its history, the people, its music, cuisine, the interaction with others, the notion of openness, values and traditions, Creolism has brought a new dimension, a new culture, ( Cultural militants like Georgy de Lamare-Lamvohee and Raphael Confiant would go further in saying “a new Civilisation”) to the world in general and to Mauritius in particular. She concluded in saying that today it is no longer the notion of “ Amuse” which predominates but rather “celebrate.” i.e. today with the advent of the International Creole Festival we are celebrating the Creole Culture. “ Le Festival International Creole peut donner sa dignité à la communauté Creole.” (We expect to reproduce the whole text on the site of IOCP soon).

The last speaker was Pr Felix-Lambert Prudent. He is a well known Creolist from Martinique who is now in charge of the language section at the University of La Reunion. Having been in the Indian Ocean for some time, he does understand fully the Creole language of Mauritius and the Seychelles in which he started his speech which he finished in French. He talked about the different cycles of Creolism as he has known them in the Caribbean starting from pre-colonial days to today. He also gave an account of the work undertaken since 1981 to bring creoles of the world together and paid tribute to Mme Danielle De St Jorre who has been the architect of this demarche; the launching of BannZil Kreole and the names of those present at the first meeting( among them was your honorable servant, thanks Felix!!) Mr. Prudent concluded by stressing that the notion of PAN-CREOLE should continue and there should be more and more of this sort of festivals and meetings where Creolism will continue to develop and enrich itself still more.

Question time was postponed to the afternoon which was very interactive and some excellent interventions came out for Jean Marie Richard, Jean Yves Violette, and Jimmy Harmon among others. Again the need to for a dialogue among all Creole activists, artists, leaders was stressed and the need for the Centre Culturel African to become a Centre Culture Creole was deem expedient. There are no Africans in Mauritius, not a single one, not even Mario Flore who says he is an Afro-Creole. As for me, I hate to hear this sort of segmentation of Creole into pigeonholes. We are all creoles with a common culture, even this does not imply that we should all “kiss” each other but it is time to stop lamenting over the past, let’s move forward, s’il y a reconciliation a faire faisons le une bonne fois que ce soit a au niveau de l’ile Maurice ou ailleurs. Creolism is more of a culture than anything else. Let us all come together.

The Saturday All Night Concert was the “apotheose” where the Mauritian public was en delire. 75,000 people, young creoles in majority, were given a free treat, a concert with all the Creole stars coming form various part of the world. The vedettes were: Kaoma, Jacob Desvarieux, Chella du groupe Kasav, (Martinique) Frankie Vincent, a Lambada group from Brazil, JM Volcy from the Seychelles, Madelon from Rodrigues, Baster from La Reunion and from Mauritius- Mario Armel, Michel Legris, Eric Triton, Toto Lebrasse, Clarel Betsy, The Steel Jazz Band, Nancy de Rougere and Kot sa, Alain Auriant, Evolutik without forgetting the group Komiko who made the public laughed their heads off.

“Such a night!” would say the Creole Elvis Presley, or “What a night!”

Sunday was timer to relax an enjoy a creole meal on one of the 5 restaurants of the Domaine des Pailles. Each restaurants was offering the cuisine of a particular country/Creole island. The price was more that reasonable Rs150.00 = $US4.00 or $A6.00 or 3 Euros. Never would one get such a meal for this price in the western world and in such an environment. We will give more details about the food in another article.

And for me to say “What a festival it was!!” Un succès sur tous les fronts. Bravo donc a Xavier Luc Duval et a son équipe. A tous ceux qui on été l’avant plan comme a l’arrière plan. Quelques noms en passant Robert Desvaux, Lindsay Morvan, Stéphanie Anquetil, Roshan Seetohul, Muslim Bhatoo, Robert Pallamy, Jean Marie Richard entres autres. Un succès populaire selon le journal Le Mauricien. 

Louis de Lamare.         

Port-Louis: la Citadelle vue depuis l'hippodrome. Photo F.P.