The anniversary of the arrival of Indentured Labourers
On Sunday 2nd November, Mauritius observes the Anniversary of the Arrival of Indentured Labourers, the final public holiday of the year before Christmas. But how did this national day of remembrance originate?
Also called Indian Arrival Day, the public holiday is marked not just in Mauritius but also in various nations of the Caribbean and South America, including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana and Suriname. It commemorates the arrival of workers from the Indian subcontinent as indentured labour – a system where migrants were legally obligated to work for their employer for a fixed number of years – a majority of whom were brought over by British colonial authorities or trading companies working on their behalf.
In Mauritius, the first labourers worked on the Belle Alliance or Antoinette sugar estates, not far from the village of Piton in Riviere du Rempart district, after arriving on the ship Atlas on 2 November 1834 after a six week journey from Calcutta. These workers were employed by the trading company Hunter-Arbuthnot & Company, who provided the Governor of the day with a financial guarantee that the workers would not become a burden on the state. They were then put to work on the sugar estates, also owned by Hunter-Arbuthnot, where they toiled for six days per week, from early morning until sunset.
It is the arrival of these particular labourers which is commemorated at Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site on the 2 November every year. Their arrival marked the beginning of an influx of some half a million indentured labourers between 1835 and 1910, a migration which had and a profound impact on Mauritian life and culture.
Photo: Defi Media