LANDSCAPE | LE MORNE BRABANT | MAURITIUS
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"Photograph by Clyde Louison"
Le Morne Brabant is a peninsula at the extreme southwestern tip of the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius on the windward side of the island. It is highlighted by an eponymous basalticmonolith with a summit 556 metres (1,824 ft) above sea level. The summit covers an area of over 12 hectares (30 acres). There are many caves and overhangs on the steep slopes. It is largely surrounded by a lagoon and is a well known tourist attraction. It is also a refuge for two rare plants, the Mandrinette and the Boucle d'Oreille.
The peninsula was notorious in the early 19th century as a refuge for runaway slaves. After the abolition of slavery in Mauritius, on 1 February 1835 a police expedition was despatched there ostensibly to inform the slaves that they had been freed. At the time the slaves had been using Le Morne summit for many years as a look-out point to spot military despatches from Port Louis being sent to re-capture them. On previous occasions when these attempts had been carried out they had been spotted by the look-outs, the warning issued to the rest of the slaves who chose to leap to their deaths from the rock, (into the area now known as 'The Valley of Bones'), rather than be recaptured back into slavery. This final expedition was carried out in full knowledge of what had happened previously and can only be understood as an extremely vindictive act by the colonial authorities following abolition. Since then the date is celebrated (particularly by Mauritian creoles) as the Annual Commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery. Le Morne is a World Heritage Site and has a monument to the slaves at the base of the rock which is quite moving and well worth a visit; note the omission of any participation from Britain (as opposed to France). The monument includes an inscription of this extract from the poem "Le Morne Territoire Marron" by Richard Sedley Assonne; "There were hundreds of them, but my people the maroons chose the kiss of death over the chains of slavery. Never must we forget their noble deed, written in the pages of history for the sake of humanity".
The peninsula of Le Morne benefits from a micro-climate. Le Morne Brabant Mountain was submitted to the candidate list of the World Heritage sites in 2003. In 2008, the nomination process concluded when UNESCO inscribed the site on the World Heritage List.
Cultural and aesthetic impact
With Aapravasi Ghat, the first World Heritage site of Mauritius, Le Morne highlights the historical significance of slavery and indenture, two labour systems that shaped modern Mauritius. It is a unique conjunction in the Indian Ocean and abroad, and UNESCO has promoted a symbolic meeting of those two systems, to foster a better understanding among the descendants of both the slaves and indentured labourers in the colonial plantation system.
Poet Khal Torabully, who developed the concept of coolitude, springing from intercultural strata of his native island, dreams that the memories of indenture and slavery will enhance debate on identity in Mauritius and elsewhere. For him Le Morne Brabant and the Aapravasi Ghat have to be considered as two characters of a collective narrative that will enhance openness and exchanges between cultures and dispel exclusive and sectarian views of identities.