The first phase of the Intercontinental Slavery Museum (ISM) project, which envisions to be a ‘Site of Conscience’ devoted to a deeper understanding of the history of Mauritians and the impact of slavery and the international slave trade on Mauritius, was launched on Tuesday by the Prime Minister, Mr Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, at ex-Labourdonnais Military Hospital, Quay Street, in Port Louis. The Museum is being created to remember the inhuman treatment suffered by slaves constituting a crime against humanity. It will therefore honour interculturality and promote remembrance and reconciliation.
The Minister of Arts and Cultural Heritage, Mr Avinash Teeluck, and other personalities were present. A temporary exhibition on the theme Breaking the Silence was also inaugurated. The exhibition, as part of phase one and in line with UNESCO’s Slave Route project, hence launches a consultative process (to end in January 2021) with the population on slavery. The Prime Minister, on that occasion, interacted with a group of students of the Notre de Dame de Lourdes RCA primary school who came up with their representations of slavery via drawings and texts.
The events were jointly organised by the Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage and ISM Mauritius Ltd in the context of the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) and the Commemoration of the International Day for the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition.
Mauritians have a duty to remember, says Prime Minister Jugnauth
In his speech, the Prime Minister emphasised that Mauritians have a duty to remember and should not forget their history but acknowledge it and recognise the sacrifices and contributions of slaves and slave descendants who have built Mauritius and have made the country reach where it is today. This is why in 2001, he recalled, 1st February was decreed a public holiday.
Speaking about the Museum, Mr Jugnauth indicated that it will retrace the history of slavery not only in Mauritius and the region but also in countries whereby slaves were exploited. The Museum will aspire to help all citizens and foreigners understand and remember the dark days which have marked the history of humanity, he pointed out.
The Prime Minister further expressed Government’s determination in making a reality the setting up of the Museum in line with one of the recommendations made by the report of the Truth and Justice Commission. Another recommendation of the Commission, said Mr Jugnauth, being translated into action is the introduction of a legislation into the National Assembly which pertains to the creation of a Land Division at the Supreme Court.
According to him, this demonstrates the conviction of the authorities to address the injustices committed whereby many people have lost their lands for various reasons. Since Mauritius is a country where the rule of law prevails, necessary facilities are being offered so that people who have suffered prejudice can claim their right vis-à-vis a Court being set up dedicated to deal with such issues, he highlighted.
For his part, Minister Teeluck, remarked that today Mauritius is giving the example on the international front with regards to the preservation of its history and commemoration of its heritage and contribution of its forefathers. The location is highly symbolical as it has been cemented by the sacrifices, efforts and bloods of our ancestors, he added.
In his address, the Chairperson of ISM Mauritius Ltd, Mr Jean Maxy Simonet, spoke of the active contribution of slaves in the socioeconomic development of Mauritius which have been characterised by a lot of sufferings and humiliation. A projection of the message of the Director-General of the UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay, was also aired on that occasion. For her, the Museum will fill up a void as there is no location to-date which can be explored and studied and which can transmit unsung narratives of slavery and slave trade in the Indian Ocean.
Intercontinental Slavery Museum
The setting up of a ‘Museum of Slavery’ in the capital city of Port Louis is one of the recommendations made by the Truth and Justice Commission in its report submitted in 2011.
The Intercontinental Slavery Museum near the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site, is a symbolical project geared towards remembering the resilience and struggles for freedom of the forefathers of Mauritians.
The implementation of the Project is being done into two phases. Phase one, funded to the tune of Rs 20 million, comprises the launching of the Intercontinental Slavery Museum on the ground and first floors of the south block of the ex-Military Hospital pending the full restoration of the building. In this first phase, the Museum will house exhibitions of various objects utilised by slaves. Phase two will be dedicated to infrastructural works. The Military Hospital, set up 280 years ago, was constructed by slaves in 1740 under the Governance of Mahé de La Bourdonnais, the first French Governor who resided permanently in Mauritius.