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The Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund :: Site History

The Aapravasi Ghat historical site is an important symbol of Mauritian identity since the ancestors of more than 70% of present day Mauritian population arrived on the island through this immigrant depot. The depot's name was changed in 1987 from "Coolie Ghat" to "Aapravasi Ghat" which in hindi means the landing place of Immigrants.

(a) Immigration and the Indenture system

Mauritius is a Nation composed of immigrants who came from Europe, Asia and Africa. Successive colonial governments introduced labourers from other colonies and from countries located on trading routes to the Indies: The Dutch (1598-1710) introduced Bengalis, Malagasys and South East Asian immigrants The French (1721-1810) brought labourers from Africa and India The English (1810-1968) initiated the arrival of indentured Indians, Africans and Chinese Even before the abolition of slavery in 1835, planters called for labourers as the sugar industry was expanding rapidly. The indenture system, which began in 1834, was institutionalized in 1842. Indentured labourers were bound by a contract for a stipulated period. Several depots were used to receive indentured labourers before the erection of the Aapravasi Ghat in Trou Fanfaron at Port Louis.

(b)The Aapravasi Ghat, a site of core indenture

The Aapravasi Ghat was constructed in 1849 to receive the indentured immigrants. The depot was enlarged in the 1850's to handle the immigrants who arrived each year by thousands. From 1849 to 1910, the Aapravasi Ghat played a central role in the day-to-day functioning of the indenture labour system and also in the lives of those immigrants and their descendants in Mauritius .

(c)The role of Aapravasi Ghat immigration office was to:

Receive newly arrived labourers

Perform sanitary control

Register immigrants and time-expired labourers

Deliver tickets and passes to immigrants

Allocate labourers to sugar estates or public construction projects

Supervise the return of migrants

Receive vagrants

Collect immigrants' payment of taxes

Deliver immigrants' marriage certificates

Record the purchase of land by immigrants

Inspect the estates on which indentured labourers worked

(d) Staff of the Aapravasi Ghat Immigration Office

Protector and Deputy protector of immigrants

The protector was the head of the immigration depot. His duties consisted of supervising the arrival and departure of immigrants and implementing government policy and laws at the depot. A deputy protector assisted him in these duties.

Depot Superintendent

He was in charge of management and discipline at the depot. He supervised the preparation of meals, cleaning of the yards and wards, reception of immigrants and other tasks related to the functioning of the Depot.

Medical Officer

A medical officer was appointed in the beginning of 1860 to examine newly arrived immigrants, to look after them during their stay at the depot, to vaccinate them, if necessary, and to report deaths.

Clerks performed administrative tasks such as registering of immigrants, delivering immigrant's tickets or passes, etc. A photographer was appointed in 1865 to take photos of immigrants.

He supervised embarkation on ships in the harbour.

His role was to allocate indentured labourers to employers.

Guards maintained order at the depot.

They were in charge of cleaning and maintaining the depot. Immigrants arrived in Mauritius from India after a journey that generally took eight to ten weeks. At the Aapravasi Ghat, they were fed and housed while being processed and received medical care if necessary.

(e) Being and Immigrant at the Aapravasi Ghat

When the immigrants arrived on a ship, they were allowed to disembark after they had been inspected by the medical officer who vaccinated those who had not already been vaccinated for smallpox. After landing, they sat in the yard of the depot to be counted and have any complaints recorded. Those who were sick were sent to the civil hospital. The Immigration Depot staff registered the personal details of each immigrant. In 1865, a photographic unit was created and a photographer took two portrait photos of each immigrant, one of which was attached to the immigrant's ticket while the second photo was retained in the Aapravasi Ghat's records which are now kept at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute. Immigrants usually stayed about two days at the Aapravasi Ghat to complete all administrative procedures. Subsequently, they were allocated to sugar estates. Planters came to the Aapravasi Ghat to pay the transportation costs of their new employees, and were given their certificates of engagement. A few days later, planters received the tickets of their indentured employees who started a new life in Mauritius .

(f) Origins of Immigrants

The majority of Indentured Labourers came from India , but indentured labourers also came from China, Madagascar and East Africa.Malagasy, Comorian and Chinese labourers were introduced when the British government of India suspended immigration to Mauritius from 1839 until 1842, and also between 1855 and 1860, when the demand for workers was exceptionally high. Unsuccessful attempts to introduce Indian labourers in Mauritius were made as early as 1826. Large scale indentured labour migration began in 1834. Most Indian indentured labourers were embarked at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The majority of those indentured Indian immigrants came from Bihar, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Bombay .

(g) Aapravasi Ghat : A symbol of Mauritian Identity

Nearly half a million immigrants climbed up the steps of the Aapravasi Ghat between 1849 and 1923. For this reason, the site is an important tangible testimony of the peopling of Mauritius and of the shaping of modern Mauritian identity. The steps of at Aapravasi Ghat © AGTF After the 1920s, the site was converted into offices for the Ministry of Social Welfare. The War Department used the building for a brief period during the Second World War. In 1950, the Public Assistance Department was established at Aapravasi Ghat as the immigration records were kept there. In 1960, cyclone "Carol" caused major damage to the site. The archives of the immigration depot had to be transferred to a safer place at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute. After this transfer in 1976, the building remained empty. Only a few structures have survived to this day since much of the site was destroyed in the 1980s when the motorway was constructed. In 1987, the historical importance of the Immigration Depot was recognized by the government and it was declared a National Monument. The site was renovated in 1986. In 2001, 2 November became a public holiday in memory of the arrival of the first indentured labourers who come to Mauritius on that date in 1834 on board the Atlas .

(h) Aapravasi Ghat Conservation Project

The setting up of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund in 2001 led to the implementation of a project to document, excavate, conserve and restore the Aapravasi Ghat site. Conservation Professionals from ICOMOS India (International Council of Monuments and Sites), were called upon to supervise the restoration and conservation of the site. The conservation project's goal is to restore the Aapravasi Ghat to its original condition by using the same kind of materials and construction methods used when the structure was built in the mid-nineteenth century.

(i) Application to the World Heritage Centre

Given its historical importance, the AGTF submitted a Nomination Dossier to UNESCO on 29 January 2005 for inscription of the Aapravasi Ghat on the list of World Heritage sites. A final decision on this application is expected in July 2006.

(j) Chronology

1834 Beginning of the indentured labour system under private auspices

1835 Abolition of slavery

1839 Suspension of Indian labour immigration by the British government of India

1842 Resumption of Indian immigration under government control 1849 Aapravasi Ghat becomes operational to receive immigrants

1849- 1865 Indenture system is fully operational; immigration to Mauritius peaks 1853-1859 Expansion and improvement of the Aapravasi Ghat Immigration Depot

1864 laying of a railway line through the centre of the Aapravasi Ghat 1910 Indian Immigration to Mauritius ends

1922 Labour ordinance formally ends the indenture system

1923 Indentured immigration ceases

1938 Post of Protector of Immigrants is abolished

1950 Public Assistance Department is established at the Aapravasi Ghat

1970 Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, visits the site

1976 Immigration records are transferred to the Mahatma Gandhi Institute

1987 Immigration Depot is declared a National Monument and renamed the Aapravasi Ghat

2001 Setting up of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund

2001 2 November is declared a public holiday

2004 Beginning of the Aapravasi Ghat Conservation Project

2002-2004 Archaeological excavation of the site 2004 Koichiro Matsuura, Director General of UNESCO, visits the site

2005 Dossier nominating the Aapravasi Ghat as a World Heritage Site is submitted to UNESCO

(a) Immigration and the Indenture system
(b) The Aapravasi Ghat, a site of core indenture
(c) The role of the Aapravasi Ghat
(d) Staff of the Aapravasi Ghat immigration office
(e) Being Immigrant at Aapravasi Ghat
(f) Origins of Immigrants
(g) Aapravasi Ghat: A symbol of Mauritian Identity
(h) Aapravasi Ghat Conservation Project
(i) Application to the World Heritage Centre
(j) Chronology

Developed by VCILT, University of Mauritius