While Arab and Malay sailors knew of Mauritius as early as the 10th century AD and Portuguese sailors first visited in the 16th century, the island was not colonized until 1638 by the Dutch. Mauritius was populated over the next few centuries by waves of traders, planters and their slaves, indentured laborers, merchants, and artisans.
The island was named in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau by the Dutch, who abandoned their colony in 1710. The French claimed Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Ile de France. It became a prosperous colony under the French East India Company. The French Government took control in 1767, and the island served as a naval and privateer base during the Napoleonic wars. In 1810, Mauritius was captured by the British, whose possession of the island was confirmed 4 years later by the Treaty of Paris. French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained; French still is used more widely than English.
Mauritius' Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves who were brought to work the sugar fields. Indo-Mauritians are descended from Indian immigrants who arrived in the 19th century to work as indentured laborers after slavery was abolished in 1835. Included in the Indo-Mauritian community are Muslims (about 15% of the population) from what is now Pakistan. The Franco-Mauritian elite controls nearly all of the large sugar estates and is active in business and banking. As the Indian population became numerically dominant and the voting franchise was extended, political power shifted from the Franco- Mauritians and their Creole allies to the Hindus.
Elections in 1947 for the newly created Legislative Assembly marked
Mauritius' first steps toward self-rule. An independence campaign
gained momentum after 1961, when the British agreed to permit additional
self-government and eventual independence. A coalition composed of the
Mauritian Labor Party (MLP), the Muslim Committee of Action (CAM), and
the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB)--a traditionalist Hindu party--won a
majority in the 1967 Legislative Assembly election, despite opposition
from Franco-Mauritian and Creole supporters of Gaetan Duval's Mauritian
Social Democratic Party (PMSD). The contest was interpreted locally as
a referendum on independence. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, MLP leader and
chief minister in the colonial government, became the first prime
minister at independence, on March 12, 1968. This event was preceded by
a period of communal strife, brought under control with assistance from