Though relatively nearby to the main island of Mauritius and part of its namesake republic, Rodrigues‘ unspoiled lagoons and stunning mountains are unique in their beauty and are, in contrast to their larger neighbour, unsullied by the impact of tourism. When one thinks of Mauritius, holiday resorts and bustling beaches spring to mind – Rodrigues is culturally and atmospherically a far cry from the mainland, even if it geographically close. Quiet, subdued and stunning, it is an island that will etch itself in your mind.

An outcrop of volcanic hills and deep turquoise waters, the slow pace of Rodrigues and the predominantly African and Creole communities that dwell there could be from a different country and era to the diverse melting pot that Mauritius brings to mind. A community based around farming the hilly landscape, with little sugarcane in sight, the general feeling of the place is entrancingly slowed-down – a 45rpm record played at 33 speed – with the most alluring results imaginable. If anyone was ever looking for a place to unwind, Rodrigues cannot be far off the best option on the planet.

A bit of History

When the British abolished slavery in Rodrigues, many of the Africans who were subjected to living there by their captors would stay – there was no subsequent influx of Indian or Chinese communities as seen on the mainland and the culture of the island remains steeped in that colonial history, with little in the way of outside influences. Rodriguan Creole is generally spoken -a dialect that is itself intoned with and indebted to longstanding tradition – though English is the official language, and French is also spoken. As in Creole cultures across the world, Catholicism is prominent and this is reflected in the pace of the island, one that set at a respectful, thoughtful meander, with little crime and a generally relaxed mood.

Rodrigues (3)

Rodrigues’ unspoiled lagoons and stunning mountains. Photo: Rinald Mamachev

17th Annual Festival Kreol

But Kreol Magazine was not here to relax. The annual 17th Festival Kreol had arrived and the island was to be given a rare opportunity to speed up, rather than slow down. For 12 days, a full-blown bonanza of Creole and Rodriguan culture was to be explored and celebrated and the attractions and events were as interesting, diverse and exciting as ever Kreol had seen.

The event looked to the future of Rodriguan Creole culture, as well as its past, with the theme of ‘Nou listwar, nou lavenir’ (our history, our future). The festival started on the 30th November, but there was little in the way of its main events until a week later, so plenty of time was spent exploring the beautiful island, taking in the landscape (by turns island paradise and craggy hillsides), the local crafts (which are often ornately weaved and beautifully rendered wicker baskets and headgear made from coconut byproducts, as well as some very interesting screen printed items) and food (completely stunning – there is heavy emphasis on seafood and local herbs, as well as ground corn and kidney beans). An octopus curry is a must. All of this was enjoyed in the friendly, congenial atmosphere that both the island and this festival denotes – and we still had the events to look forward to.

And when the events commenced, they were every bit as entertaining as we could wish for. Opening proceedings with the traditional, folk music Sega Tambour, unique to the island, the festival started as it meant to continue. A fascinating, dazzlingly rhythmic display of vocal performance, percussion and dancing, the Sega Tambour is more indebted to African music than any Creole style, and the results were hypnotic – a raucous barrage executed with deep ability and musicianship that has to be seen to be believed. A large crowd formed and danced wildly.

After we had recovered our breath, there were speeches and discussions from dignitaries such as Rodrigues’ Commissioner for Youth, Arts and Culture, Ms. Edouard, and a panel discussing the identity, culture and issues facing Creole culture in the Indian Ocean, moderated by Florence Francois, which included representatives from La Reunion (Mr Raoul Lucas) and the Sagos Refuges Group (M Olivier Bancoult), as well as from Mauritius (Mr Richard Sedley), Seychelles (Ms Cindy Georgette Moka and Ms Marie Flora Ben David) and Rodrigues (Ms Christine Perrine). The following day saw a performance by the comic theatre group Komico, who performed very well to a wholly appreciative crowd, which was indicative of the humour and sense of fun that pervaded the event.

Music, Culture and Fun

In tandem with the more serious discussions and lighter comedy acts during the festival there was a variety of musical acts from across the Indian Ocean, which brought a more international flavour to the event. With crowds being drawn that reached in excess of 2,000 at times, the festival set itself apart as something as an island Glastonbury – a relentless party atmosphere that never once strayed away from friendliness and exclusivity. This culminated in the superb spectacle that was the Indian Ocean Concert, which saw incredible sets from local acts such as Jekel za Angel, Blakkazie, Macken, Ton Dero, MC Justice, Captain Hooligan, Sydney Alfred and Mr Snyp, those from further afield including Prophecy and Mary Jane Gaspard from Mauritius, as well as Antoinette Didon and Phillip Toussaint of the Seychelles. With such a strength to so many of these performances, it is a wonder that many of the acts aren’t well known elsewhere, and the whole event was staged and organised superbly. As local favourite Solitaire closed the event with a rapturously received set, the energy and positivity of the audience was palpable.

With something of a headache after the full-on festivities of the Indian Ocean Concert, we entered the final day with the trepidation that comes with an imminent end to a fantastic trip. However, our heavy hearts and our headaches were swiftly alleviated by the Pique-Nique a la Campagne, in which a transition back to more traditional Rodriguan culture was evident. Ample amounts of delicious food, traditional games played by adults and children as well as a local musician to anchor proceedings into the festival mood.

Looking to the Future

The Festival Kreol is a testament to how traditional culture is worth celebrating and how it can find itself perfectly appealing and accessible to modern audiences, in the right setting. Appealing to the old and young simultaneously, the Rodriguan event was one in which everyone was treated with respect and everyone could be, and was, included. 2016 has been a year, globally, that saw division sewn like never before, and the Festival Kreol was the perfect antidote to it. If you’re ever in Mauritius, then Rodrigues island is a must, and if you’re going this year, make sure you go for the 18th annual Festival Kreol.