Mauritius establishes an International Slavery Museum

The Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Mauritius organized a launching ceremony for the new Intercontinental Slavery Museum in Port-Louis on 20 October 2020 together with its inaugural exhibition entitled “Breaking the Silence”.

This event included the participation of high level officials such as the Prime Minister Hon. Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Mauritius and Seychelles, Ms. Christine Umutoni, the Honorable Minister for Arts and Cultural Heritage, Mr. Avinash Teeluck, the Chairperson of Intercontinental Slavery Museum, Mr Jean Maxy Simonet,  the President of the International Scientific Committee of the Slave Route Project, Ms. Vijaya Teelock,  together with other community dignitaries and stakeholders. UNESCO’s Director-General Ms. Audrey Azoulay also participated in this event, through a recorded a video message that was presented during the opening ceremony, broadcast live on national television as well as on social media.

The launch of this historic museum had  been delayed due to the state of environmental emergency that was declared in Mauritius as a result of a tragic oil spill in August 2020. It follows the commemoration of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (23 August) and underpins the objectives of the International Decade for People of African Descents. It also provides an important new medium for raising awareness on the UNESCO Slave Route Project as well as the UNESCO General History of Africa and its pedagogical use. Lastly, this event precedes the commemoration of the arrival of Indentured Laborers in Mauritius on 2nd November.

The new museum aims to: study slavery and the slave trade in the Indian Ocean; gather, collect and preserve documents and oral history on slavery; create and preserve a catalogue of artefacts related to slavery; host a permanent exhibition and organize regular travelling exhibitions; promote curricular development and scientific research as well as the production of educational and pedagogical materials. A series public workshops are planned to follow the opening and engage the public in defining the role for this museum in society.

The museum building was converted from the Ex-Labourdonnais Military Hospital, which is one of the oldest buildings of the island of Mauritius and is highly significant in the history of slavery, as it was constructed by slaves in 1740. The museum is located near the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage site, an Immigration Depot which marks the history of indentured labour in Mauritius. The establishment of the museum is one of the key recommendations of the 2012 report of the Mauritius Truth and Justice Commission, which was set up to investigate the history of slavery and its consequences in Mauritius.

Through this new museum, the Government of Mauritius is demonstrating its commitment to raising awareness of the legacies of slavery and the slave trade, and is also showing how museums can play an active role in education, outreach and the promotion of human rights in line with the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections.

Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, who participated in this event via a video message expressed her best wishes and support via a video recording where she highlighted how this new Intercontinental Slavery Museum fills an important void in the history of Mauritius, in that until today, there was not such a place where we can explore, study, share and transmit these lesser-known histories of slavery and the slave trade and indenture labor in the Indian Ocean region. She further underscored how the museum opening is a decisive step and a symbolic one, not only for Mauritius, but for the Indian Ocean region and the world.