What’s in a Name?

canstockphoto14605142The 1st February is a public holiday in Mauritius celebrating the abolition of slavery in 1835. On 4 September 1833, the British Parliament abolished slavery in Mauritius. The act for the abolition of slavery was proclaimed on 1 February 1835 and lead to the repeal of the Code Noir (Black Code).

Much has been written and published about the history of slavery in Mauritius. However, one aspect of the condition of slavery which still affects some descendants is little known or ignored by most, it is the problematic of family names that persons carry.

Under slavery rule of the “Code Noir” (Black Code) the slave was regarded as moveable property, an object, owned by proprietors of sugar cane plantations. Slaves lost all of their heritage, country, family ties, names and language.

Slave owners usually gave silly names to their slaves which today are still mocked at. Many African (Creole) slave descendants today suffer shame and taunts because of the family name they have. This becomes clear in public places when names are called out in schools, hospital waiting rooms or in government offices. Examples of names in French: La Sourde, Labelle, Bellejambe, Legere, Sans Chagrin, Tranquille, Banane, Citrouille, La Hache, Melon, Soufleur, Assiette. The names refer to traits, objects or even fruit or vegetables.

Unlike indentured labour immigrants who kept their names and origins, slaves completely lost all original identities. Today some of the descendants opt for a legal name change in a bid to shed the scars of the past. Nevertheless, it is true to say that even today these people suffer injustice by carrying false names branded by slave owners.

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