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 News - 17-Apr-2017

Sega Singing Mauritius' Secret Past

Le Morne literally means ‘a compact mountain’, and the village tells tales of a secret past that Mauritius has ignored until recently.

In 2008, the village of Le Morne was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, and more research and acknowledgement went into the history of the slaves of Mauritius. The Dutch brought slaves with them when they inhabited the island 500 years ago. Successive occupation by the French and the British saw the practice continue until slavery was abolished in 1835.

What Is Le Mornea's Significance

From the very first group of inhabitants on the island, slaves escaped from their tortuous lives. They fled to the Le Morne mountain and lived there in the caves among the cliffs that protected their haven on three sides. These runaway slaves were known as Maroons and did everything in their power to free and accommodate other slaves on the island.

At the foot of the mountain is a banyan tree that served as a meeting place for escaped slaves, as well as those who were already free. Today, both the mountain and the tree have insignificant markers, but tourist groups will be shown these when they arrive there as part of their island history tour.

What Is Sega

Sega is the music that the slaves made in the evenings to celebrate life and their freedom. Until very recently, the music was considered a lower-class music and frowned upon at resorts and on beaches. But there is a new interest in the history of Mauritius and with it the music that tells the story behind the white beaches, luxury resorts, and postcard-pretty pictures.

The music has its origins in Senegal, where many of the slaves were taken from, and it is played with simple instruments. “Musicians played the triangles, a maracas-like rattle box called a maravanne, and a goat-skin drum called a ravanne. The skin on the ravanne wasn't stretched like modern drums. Instead, the skin was heated over a bonfire during the party, and the heat stretched the skin until the sound rang true. On Saturday nights under the banyan tree, maroons would organise a ball rann zareko, which means roughly a white bean party,” says guide Stephano Duc. “If at the end of the night you found yourself with the beans in your pocket, it was up to you to organise the next night,” Duc explains.

What Is the Future of Sega

“Now sega is deeply wrapped into the island's identity. At national holidays, in the posh beach resorts and TV commercials, singers perform with dancers who wear white petticoats and colourful skirts that pay homage to 18th-century fashions.”

As research and interest in the history of Mauritius increases and the popularity of sega grows, the music is sure to grow and develop into a cultural keepsake for all Mauritians.

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