A Glimpse at History

Rodrigues Island bears the name of its “official” discoverer, Portuguese navigator Don Diego Rodriguez, although the latter merely located it on a navigation chart in 1528. Furthermore, it has been established that the island was known and referred to as Dina a Robi on maps dating from the 11th century, drawn by Moorish navigators scouring this part of the Indian Ocean.

A Dutch flotilla under the command of Admiral Wolphart Harman touched the island in 1601. However, the first settlers to set foot in Rodrigues on 01 May 1691 were seven French Huguenots led by François Leguat. They were seeking refuge following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. They lived here for two years but finding the isolation and the lack of female company unbearable, they set sail for Mauritius on a raft in May 1693.

Leguat narrated his adventures in Voyages et Aventures de François Leguat en deux îles désertes des Indes Orientales (“The Voyages and Adventures of François Leguat on two desert islands of the East Indies”). Published in 1708, it provided a precious description of the fauna and flora of Rodrigues, namely the famous “solitaire” (Pezophaps solitaria) and species of land tortoises, then abounding on the island. The account of Leguat was the source of great debate and was questioned by many incredulous scientists. It was rehabilitated at long last with the lengthy and enthralling research work undertaken by 20th century historian, Dr Alfred North Coombes, and compiled in The Vindication of François Leguat.

Permanent settlement was established again on the island during French settlement in the Mascarene region from 1720 to 1810. Pieces of land were then granted to settlers of French origin, namely the famous Philibert Marragon and Gabriel Bégué, who started exploiting the marine resources and developing agriculture on the island. In 1761, the visit of a group of scientists led by Father Alexandre Pingré to watch the transit of Venus produced some effervescence among the inhabitants. The observations were made on a hillock at the outskirts of Port Mathurin that still bears the name of Pointe Vénus. It is the actual location of the Pointe Vénus Hotel, following in the steps of the first hotel on the island and its architecture of colonial British influence.

The British took possession of the island in 1809. At the time, the island counted about a hundred inhabitants. In 1810, Rodrigues was used as the launching pad for the victorious assault on “Isle de France”, renamed Mauritius pursuant to the terms of the Treaty of Vienna in 1815. The British occupants were favourable to settlement in Rodrigues and encouraged the agricultural development of the island to the extent that it became the “farmland” of Mauritius.

Traditionally linked to Mauritius by sea, Rodrigues took a leap into modernity in 1972 when the first Air Mauritius flight landed at Plaine Corail. Since then, the service has developed considerably, from a few weekly flights by a De Havilland Twin Otter to current daily flights by the national carrier’s ATR 72.

On the political side, the people of the island voted for the first time in 1967 in the historic poll for the independence of Mauritius and its outer islands. Rodrigues is represented at the National Assembly in Port Louis since that date. In 2002, the latter unanimously voted in favour of a constitutional law granting an autonomous status to Rodrigues regarding its internal affairs and bringing about the devolution of certain administrative and political powers. The Rodrigues Regional Assembly was established following elections. The local Executive has the same powers as a Regional Government presided by a Chief Commissioner, who is the direct interlocutor of the Prime Minister and of the Central Government regarding Rodriguan affairs.

Rodrigues’ Culture

There are a few decades ago the people of Rodrigues found their entertainment in traditional music, the sound of sega drum and accordion in small balls on Saturday evenings. Cultural awakening which occurred at the end of the 1970s allowed the construction and consolidation of the cultural identity of Rodrigues through the development of these various elements, which form the base of the culture of every nation: food, music, crafts...

It should be noted the great influence of the Catholic religion in everyday and cultural life of the population. Religion, respect for tradition and family are the pillars of Rodrigues life. Today, it can be seen that the local music and traditional dances are quite used during shows in hotels and other cultural events. It is the same for the traditional dishes; and crafts which are found everywhere in the market. These dishes which were despised have now become a luxury in major tourist and cultural events. The Rodrigues' music is present on the stage of international cultural events. Rodrigues’ culture is an asset that must not only be developed and exploited, but which above all also needs to be preserve as it is the essence of the Rodriguan cultural identity.

Rodrigues' culture

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At the heart of the Indian Ocean, at latitude 19°43’ S and longitude 63°25’ E, Rodrigues Island stretches over a surface area of 108 km2. Some 650 km to the north-east of Mauritius, it is the part of Africa that is closest to Australia. Born from volcanic activity between 1.3 and 1.5 million years ago, the island – 18 km long, 8 km wide – is the smallest of the Mascarene archipelago. Rodrigues is a mountainous island with a succession of valleys plunging to the 300 km2 lagoon, bringing an exhilarating feeling of weightlessness whilst meandering through steep escarpments and terraced fields towards its 80-km coastline. One of the most characteristic features of this enthralling though accessible island is its relief. The efforts of the most adventurous culminate in the joys of basking in one of the numerous deserted inlets, all the while gazing at white-tailed tropicbirds gliding through the air to and from their nests in surrounding cliffs. The island enjoys a tropical climate with temperatures varying between 28 and 35°C during the Southern summer, which coincides with the cyclonic season (November to April) and between 18 and 27°C in winter.

 

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Rodrigues in Images