Trade in the Indian Ocean


The societies of the Indian Ocean,  including Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles, came into  being at different times through ancient slave trades and the  migrations of populations from Africa, Asia and Europe.

The system of slavery had existed in the islands of the Indian Ocean  since before colonization, particularly in Madagascar and the Comoros  Islands, where slaves were brought by Swahili traders from the east  coast of Africa.

The arrival of Europeans to the Indian Ocean in  the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries heralded the start of a  revitalized slave trade, which led to the population and exploitation of  the Mascarene Islands. Thus, the system of slavery severed millions of  people from their roots and ultimately gave rise to a new society.

For  example, new oral traditions developed throughout the period of  slavery  as slaves were forbidden to read and write up to the time of  the  abolitions. Furthermore, the suppression of slavery did not  propagate  the end of social discrimination as servility persisted  through  alternative forms of servitude such as recruiting, day-labouring and share-cropping.

The Oral Tradition UNESCO’s research program to identify and register the oral memory of the islands of the south-western Indian Ocean,   working from within the framework of the Slave Route Project, has   brought to the fore the need to safeguard the oral heritage of the   islands that have experienced the slave trade and slavery.

Additionally,  UNESCO’s programme to trace oral memory has generated  growing interest  in the preservation of memory among populations  effected by the trade.  As such, the University of Mauritius, the Nelson  Mandela Centre, the  Seychelles National Institute of Education, the  Abro in Rodrigues and  the CNDRS in the Comoros each launched  documentary programmes in 2001  and 2002. These programmes are  continuing with both inventory and field  training activities. Documents  have been digitalized and stored in the  national institutions of the  islands and may be accessed by the general  public.

An Inventory of Sites of Memory in the Indian Ocean Region The   programme to identify and catalogue the oral heritage, developed over   three years in collaboration with UNESCO, has achieved significant   results in the Indian Ocean region (Reunion, the Comoros Islands,   Mauritius and Rodrigues, the Seychelles Islands and Madagascar). It is   now possible to envision the drafting of an exhaustive list of all sites   linked to the memory of the slave trade. The programme must take into   account the specificity of the slave trade in the region such as its   development over a thousand years, and its continuation after the legal   abolition of slavery under the guise of recruiting. It involved not  only  the African continent but also the Indian sub-continent and Asia,  as  well as the places relative to marooning. In this respect, the data   collected on the oral heritage should provide information to help carry   out the listing of the sites and places of memory.

Some of the  islands of the Indian Ocean, such as Reunion, Mauritius,  and the  Seychelles, have already registered some of the sites linked  to the  slave trade. The project, which will be implemented during the  2006-2007  biennium, will begin by listing sites in Madagascar and the  Comoros  Islands, as they have not yet established an exhaustive list of  their  sites and places of memory.

The project will be coordinated by  the UNESCO Chair after a regional  scientific committee has been  established. The committee is to be  supported by local authorities as  well as regional scientific  institutions and academia