Meeting African Spirits In Mauritius; The Island’s African heritage

by bria4123 on January 1, 2013


In my last morning in Mauritius, I explored one of the narrow roads of a small town between Tamarind Bay, where I had stayed, and the airport. Small Christian shrines in front of homes, bright Hindu temples and the call to prayer from the local mosque blended with softly colored houses surrounded by greenery.

Several children played in the streets. A bald Afro-Mauritian man who looked about 50 stood in front of his house and we greeted each other. I walked on for a few minutes, savoring one last immersion in the island’s dances of colors, faiths and friendly people. I then turned back to ensure enough time to reach the airport.

He was still in front of his home, and he invited me in for cake. I said, “I’m honored to join you,, but I’ll literally have to eat and run because I’m on my way to the airport to fly to Malaysia.”

We sat in his living room, which was painted in a soft yellow. His name was Philippe, and he had worked in many hotels, but had retired. “I’m sixty and my health isn’t as good as it used to be.”

“But you look ten years younger.”

“I FEEL sixty.” His smile and eyes blended warmth and resignation.

His wife and granddaughter joined us. I enjoyed this small and intimate family, but began to look at my watch. Air Mauritius ran only 2 flights to Malaysia per week. Philippe said, “I’ll get the cake and orange juice now.”

“I’ll need to hurry.”

“It will  only take a minute.”

Ten minutes later, he was still in the kitchen. While playing with his granddaughter, I kept glancing at my watch. After another 5 minutes, there was still no sign of him.

He finally came and apologized for being late. After we ate, he walked with me to the car. My driver was pacing around with the expression of a concerned mother. He said he was considering reporting me to the police as a missing person. But for Philippe, human company trumped linear time.

Many traditional African societies stress human interaction over precisely defining things. I even found this when I met a Nigerian man in a German railroad station. Dynamic interactions also form the basis of a lot of African music . Human company is often more valued than abstraction, and this focus shapes a lot of African thought and art into forms that are more flexible than what Westerners have often emphasized. I’m greatly looking forward to exploring this world again when I go back to Africa in March or April–I don’t expect to be in a hurry to leave.

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