Shiraz Bayjoo

Ile de France

HD Film 2015

The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is “knowing thyself” as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces without leaving an inventory. 1

 

The film ‘Ile de France’ is a non-narrative film, focusing on objects, architecture and environments that act as historical images or documents revealing encounters between Mauritius and its colonial past.

 

Until the 17th century, Mauritius was an uninhabited island. Its people can be traced almost exclusively to the exploits of European colonists. During French then British colonial rule, Mauritius was pivotal to the slave trade as a strategic trading port, bringing Chinese and Arab merchants and trafficking slaves from India, East Africa and Madagascar.

 

The film opens with a scene of rugged coastlines giving way to grassy banks moving through to images of the rainforest; these time-based landscapes are suggestive of early colonists. We enter the ruins of the first Dutch settlement, the stonewall ruins are covered with graffiti, the inscribed names of the subsequent French colonists who eventually made Mauritius their home, and so begins the story of Ile de France. The ocean however remains the constant, the real owner of these isles; there is a sense that this history is only a footnote in a greater story.

 

Several ruins are referenced within the film, from sugar plantations, to the water mill of an early gunpowder factory, overrun with vegetation and the vines from Banyan trees. Here the tentacles of the industrial revolution reach out; we start to unravel the purpose of the colony, the ambitions of empire.

 

The colonial architecture is further explored through the fading wooden houses of Port Louis. We are presented with sounds and scenes of these merchant houses, moving along the textures of their surfaces, aged in the tropics, with objects evocative of the different lives that have possessed these spaces.

 

Shadows move across interiors adorned with religious motifs and objects from Muslim and Indian traders that took possession of the former colonial mansions from the late 19th century onwards.

 

Mauritius, an important stopover in the eastern slave trade, also came to be known as the “Maroon republic” because of the large number of escaped slaves who lived on Le Morne Mountain.

 

This film is a testament to the powers of globalisation and the impact of colonial rule. Ile de France becomes part of the archive, where through contemporary society a more complex layering of cultural takeovers and integrations have occurred and remain visible today.

 

‘Throughout its history of human habitation, Mauritius has been a profoundly cosmopolitan place (reminding us that globalization has a long history)’. 2

 

1 Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks: Selections, International Publishers, New York, 1971

2 Creating the Creole Island: Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Mauritius, Megan Vaughan, Duke 2005

 

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