Mauritius Telugu Cultural Centre Trust under the aegis of the Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage

Brief History

Mauritius is a diasporic society formed by successive waves of migration from different countries and regions of three continents. It started as a port of call with settlers from Europe and slaves from Africa in the 17th and early 18th centuries.. In subsequent years more settlers arrived from Europe bringing in yet larger numbers of slaves from East Africa and Madagascar, and also artisans from South India. As regards immigration from Andhra, or the Telugu country, a few migrants might have been introduced in the 18th century and in the early years of the 19th century. However, a regular inflow of people from Andhra started after the abolition of slavery in 1835, in context of the Indian Identured System introduced by the British. In fact, Mauritius was the seat for the “Great Experiment’’ of the Indentured system.

It is interesting to note that majority of the Telugu people who migrated to Mauritius as “Identured labourers” during the period 1834 to 1912 were from the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh namely: Srikaakulam, Vijayanagaram, Vishaakapatnam, East Godaavari, West Godaavari and Krishna. Some also came from Ganjam district which now forms part of the state of Orissa which is north to Srikaakulam, Andhra Pradesh. Some people first embarked at the korenghi port, from where they were sent to Mauritius. That is why the Telugus of Mauritius are also known as the “Korenghis” or “Coranghess”. Some also embarked from the Vishakapatnam fishing port.

Some Telugus also came from the southern districts of Andhra Pradesh namely Guntur, Nellore and Cuddapah. They embarked at “Chenna Patnam”, the ancient port of Chennai.

Some non-Telugus in Mauritius also called the Telugus as “Teleng” which could be derived from the word “Telengoos” used by the Tamilians to denote the Telugus. It could also be derived from the word “Telegana”, a region in Andhra Pradesh or the Telugu caste “Telega”.

However, due to the small number of Telugus who could have come from the Telengana region, the derivation of the word “Teleng” could well be from the Tamil word “ Telengoos” for the Telugus.

The first few Telugu immigrants recruited as agricultural labourers by private enterprise arrived in Mauritius in 1835, followed by a much more significant batch in 1836. Regular emigration of Telugus started when emigration to Mauritius under the indentured labour system started on an official basis under the Order-in-Council dated 15 Jan 1842. They were recruited from Madras Presidency on a contract basis of 3 and 5 years.

The immigrants were filled with hope when they were brought to Mauritius. They were told they will get gold when they will turn rocks. But when they reached Port-Louis and after having climbed the steps at immigration square, it gradually dawned upon them that they had become the unwilling victims of a system that was devised to stultify their bodies and stifle their spirit. Yet, they were undaunted and decided to oppose hatred with love, cruelty with forbearance and inhumanity with generosity.

The Telugus in Mauritius are today scattered all over the island. Wherever they have settled they have built a Telugu temple and have preserved most of their traditions and culture. Thousands of kilometres distance from their homeland have not been a hindrance in preserving most of the culture and traditions till now.

For a culture to exist, it must have people. That people should have a language to communicate. For that language to exist, it must be a written one within its literature. Below is a brief on the Telugu Culture and Tradition:

LANGUAGE: The Telugu language belongs to the Dravidian group of languages. It has been influenced by Sanskrit when the Kavitrayam translated the Maahabharatam into Telugu. It is called by the European as the “Italian of the East” because its accent is very near to Italian. It has its own script and it is the official language of Andhra Pradesh and one of the 18 official languages of the Republic of India. Telugu is spoken by over 80 million people in Andhra Pradesh and some 20 million in other Indian States. Late Tamil Poet Subramaniam said that it was the Telugu language that transformed the Tamils into musicians.

DANCE: Andhra Pradesh has given the world dance forms like kuchipudi, Perini Sivatandavam and theatre form like Yakshaganam  Kuchipudi dance originated from the Kuchipudi village in the Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh. It is a ballet form dance originally performed by men only but nowadays it is also performed by women.

MUSIC: The Telugu music is synonymous to Caarnatic music. There is no student learning this music without learning the Telugu Kirtanaalus written and composed by Tyagaaraja, Annamaacharya and Raamadaasu. The instruments accompanying this music are mrudangam, veena, flute, violin, ghattam and taalam.

DRESS: It is not a denying fact that the saree is of a Dravidian origin; so also is the BOTTU and the TAALI. Majority of people wearing the saree today, wear it the Telugu way. As regards men the traditional dress is the DHOTI. Girls wear the LANGA and DUPPATTA. Ladies should wear flowers in their KOPPU and the MATTELU. (Toe-ring)

FOOD HABITS: The basic food for the Telugus in Mauritius is rice, consumed with 7 different curries (dal bringel, pomme de terre, haricot, banan raper, giraumon, Jacque, rason-rasam, piment, achard) accompanied by sagoo and appalam (aplon). All are served on banana leaves, a typical south Indian custom and are to be eaten with hands. Most of the cakes are made up of rice like gaarelu and ariselu.

FESTIVALS: The typical Telugu festivals are: Ugaadi, Ammoru Pandaga, Raamabhajanam, Simhadree Appannah, Makara Sankranti, Deepavali, Venkateshwara Pooja

“Telugu is singularly melodious. It is the sweetest and most musical of all the Dravidian tongues, and it sounds harmonious even on the lips of the most illiterate. It has been just called the Italian of the East” - Henry Morris, Telugu Grammar, London 1890