Le Morne Cultural Landscape, Mauritius

An exceptional testimony to maroonage or resistance to slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries

Le Morne Brabant Mountain (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008, Le Morne Cultural Landscape is a rugged mountain on the southwest tip of Mauritius that juts into the Indian Ocean. It was used as a shelter by runaway slaves, known as maroons, throughout the 18th century and into the early 1900s.

Topography of Le Morne Brabant Mountain - A fortress for maroon slaves (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

The structure of the mountain gives it an almost fortress-like quality, with vertical cliffs all around, steep slopes intersected by ravines and valleys, and, at the top, a relatively flat plateau, all of which provided shelter for the maroon slaves.

The V-gap, where slaves used to cross (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

A vast gorge, known as the V-Gap, or the key to the mountain, made access to the plateau difficult. Oral history and early written accounts allude to a narrow and perilous pass that had to be negotiated by the maroons in order to escape from pursuers and take refuge at the top.

Cave shelter on Le Morne Brabant Mountain (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

Excavations carried out in cave shelters on the mountain revealed ashy deposits, confirming the use of fire, and the 300-year old bones of a young sheep, supporting the position that there were maroons on the top of the mountain and they were able to ensure their survival.

Endemic plant on the mountain, Helichrysum Mauritianum (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

Le Morne Brabant Mountain, with its unique and delicate ecosystem, is home to a large number of endemic plant species that include some of the rarest in the world. 

The flora is particularly diverse and includes 73 of the 311 species of endemic flowering plants of Mauritius. One of the plants which is endemic to the mountain is the L’Immortelle Du Morne - Helichrysum Mauritianum.

International Slave Route Monument (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

The International Slave Route Monument is a tangible symbol of the history of slavery in Mauritius and around the world. A central monument is surrounded by nine smaller stone sculptures which symbolise the places from which slaves were brought or to where they were sent. 

Sculpture of the International Slave Route Monument - Prayer to Break the Chains (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

One particular sculpture, by Haitian sculptor, Fritz Laratte, symbolises liberation from slavery. It tells the story of a slave who prayed to God to be liberated, and at the end of his prayers, his hands were suddenly liberated from the chains that had kept him in servitude. 

Ruins of Ah-yee shop in Trou-Chenille (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

The unique Ah-yee shop was an essential feature of the village from the very first day it opened at its original location in Trou-Chenille, as it provided the villagers with their basic necessities.  Testimonies reveal that the villagers moved with the shop.

Remains of the Chapel in L'Embrasure village (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

Stella Maris, the first Catholic chapel of Le Morne, dates back to 1891. It was located in the village of Trou-Chenille until WW1 when it was re-located to L’Embrasure.  After being destroyed by a cyclone in 1975, it was later re-built in concrete in Le Morne Village in 1987. 

Trou-Chenille Open-Air Museum (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

Trou-Chenille forms part of the rich cultural heritage of the Le Morne Cultural Landscape and is in the memory of a still-living population. Its open-air museum is comprised of five traditional huts, each depicting a different aspect of the daily life of those who lived there.

Macaque village (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

Archaeological surveys have uncovered evidence of another 19th-20th century settlement at the foot of Le Morne Brabant, named Macaque. The site is most likely associated with the Labonté and Béguinot families, who came to Mauritius from Madagascar in the early 1800s.

Old cemetery within Le Morne Cultural Landscape (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

An abandoned cemetery can be found in a remote area in the shadow of the mountain and dates back many years, even appearing in an archival map from 1880. Archaeological works in the cemetery have revealed that those buried there might have been of Malagasy and Mozambican origin.

Well at L'Embrasure village within Le Morne Cultural Landscape (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

This well is located in L’Embrasure village. The careful construction of the well suggests it dates back to pre-World War II. According to oral history, the water from the well was rarely used by the villagers but was mostly utilized by the shopkeeper whose shop was next to it.

Sega tree (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

So-called Sega Nights were held every week in Trou-Chenille. Villagers would gather under an old Banyan Tree, which they called the Sega Tree, and tell stories, and sing and dance to Sega music, which they played on the traditional instruments, the ravann, maravann and triyang.

Venerated Place of Resistance (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

The place of resistance is a sacred site at the foot of the mountain, linked to the resistance of the slaves. It is revered by the Rastafarian community, who go there to pay homage to their ancestors, and seek inspiration and spiritual reconnection through meditation and prayer.

Limekiln at Le Morne (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

The limekiln at Le Morne was built in the 20th century by the Cambier family. The villagers of Trou-Chenille and Macaque who used to work at the limekiln would carry corals and shells to the kiln, where they would be burnt at 140º Celsius to produce ‘quick lime’.

Mortar and pestle for grinding coffee (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

The special aroma of grilled coffee is the pride of this region.  Coffee beans brought from the neighbouring village of Chamarel are heated over firewood in a cast iron pot and are grilled until they turn black. The coffee is then ground using a pestle and mortar.  

Fisherman’s Hut in Trou-Chenille Open-Air Museum. A seine net (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

Fishing has been a traditional subsistence activity since the 18th Century and is an integral part of the local culture. Traditional methods include Seine fishing and basket trap (Kazie) fishing:

Fisherman's Hut in Trou-Chenille Open-Air Museum. A basket trap (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

A seine is a long net which has weights attached to its lower corners and is held in the water by four or five boats.
Basket traps, commonly used in the region, are submerged in the water with the bait inside. Traditionally woven with bamboo, they are today made with iron wire.

Ilot Fourneau (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

Many villagers have mentioned going by boat to Ilot Fourneau, to fetch water from the freshwater spring there. Records indicate that this small island, located around 600m from the shore, was used by the British authorities as a military post during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Passe de l'Ambulante (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

The channel known as the Passe de L’Ambulante is historically significant as the entry point through which many slave boats arrived to the island and as the exit point that maritime maroons passed through in an attempt to find their freedom and return to their homelands.  

Involving Local Community in Research (2008) by Le Morne Cultural LandscapeUNESCO World Heritage

The objectives of Le Morne Heritage Trust Fund are to collect, preserve and disseminate the elements of the intangible cultural heritage pertaining to Le Morne Cultural Landscape and to actively involve the local community, especially the younger members, in its safeguarding.  

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Le Morne Heritage Trust Fund:  lemorneheritage.org/

More on Le Morne Cultural Landscape and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1259/

Photos: Le Morne Heritage Trust Fund; Geoffrey D. SUMMERS.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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