Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dilo Pourri by Stefan Hart De Keating


This write-up was penned, a few years ago, by Stefan Hart De Keating on his initial visit to Dilo Pourri, the first squatter community to inhabit Le Morne village. Stefan words are a picture of reality...a good friend, poet, fellow artist, peace pipe smoker, pioneer slammer in Mauritius and a "ti frere" as I often call him....






Dilo Pourri



Village au bout du Morne, Dilo Pourri tiendrait son nom « d’eau pourrie » du fait que certaines très hautes marrées bouchaient une source d’algues, rendant l’eau saumâtre. Cette source, à laquelle les villageois s’abreuvaient, est aujourd’hui obstruée par des maisonnettes.

* * * * * * *

On traverse en trombe le village du Morne, on est en retard sur le soleil qui s’apprête à se coucher. Jameel freine, regarde en arrière : « Wow ! Là, il y a une photo à faire. » Il gare le 4x4 sur le trottoir et je lui demande : « Où est Dilo Pourri ? »
— Devant.
Il descend et va faire une photo d’un pêcheur travaillant sur une pirogue à sec… Dilo Pourri ! Mais comment un village à l’île Maurice paradisiaque peut-il s’appeler ainsi ? Dilo Pourri !

Cases en tôle rouillée, certaines peintes de ces frappantes, égayantes couleurs, d’autres affichant leur appartenance rastafari parmi les arbres verdoyants et les fleurs tropicales. Brunissant nuages, rivage bleuté, vêtements rouges, noirs, suspendus. Sons de camion, oiseau, voiture, tam-tam, chanteur, chat, coq, chiot, chien, motocyclette, radio, rap, se succèdent. Passent femmes, fillettes, enfants de foot, Monsieur Dominos, vieille dame.

Dilo Pourri se compose d’une soixantaine de familles dont la plupart sont des descendants d’esclaves qui y ont élu résidence depuis des siècles. Les cases sont disposées en trois rangées, sur deux arpents de terre. Des sentiers boueux, entre les bicoques, mènent aux plus défavorisés qui squattent au pied de la montagne. En face du village, de l’autre côté de la route qui longe la première rangée, des jeunes jouent au foot sur la plaine en bordure de mer.

Emane une odeur dérangeante d’après pluie, mais très vite le son du « séga » prime. Une petite fille nous invite à sa case musicale pour que nous fassions une photo d’elle. Quelques chiens galeux aboient après nous. De la fenêtre, la fillette nous fait un sourire vivant. Sa mère lui demande de baisser le son de la radio cassette et sort de la case, curieuse de notre présence. Au loin, au-dessus des filaos et des cocotiers, la montagne du Morne domine.

Rien ne passe inaperçu. L’accueil est mitigé. Certains hésitent, d’autres non. Le problème est qu’ils croient que nous sommes des promoteurs touristiques venus convoiter leur terrain ou des journalistes ou encore que nous pourrons les payer pour leurs photos et interviews. Petit à petit, sachant la raison de notre présence, chaque regard commence à nous dire bonjour en souriant.



Madame R., pieds nus, rentre chez elle. Avec la boue, ses savates se sont décollées. Chaque jour, elle s’assied dans son salon, regarde la télé. Depuis que son ex-mari l’a battue au poignet, elle ne peut plus travailler à laver le linge, sa main droite lui fait trop mal. La nuit, elle a peur de dormir seule, peur de nouveaux venus qui lui semblent louches.
— Malgré tout, c’est bon et tranquille de vivre ici, nous avoue-t-elle.

A côté d’un pied de papaye dégarni, une case chante d’oiseau. G.L., 19 ans, engagé social, donne des cours aux enfants. J’apprends que la moitié des villageois a l’eau courante et 90% ont l’électricité et des fosses septiques dans leur cour pour leurs eaux usées. Le reste s’arrange comme il peut. Devant la boutique, sous un badamier, des joueurs de dominos s’amusent en cette fin d’après-midi hivernal. L’un d’eux me propose de les rejoindre.

* * * * * * *

Monsieur Dominos m’invite à m’asseoir auprès d’eux sur une roche et, d’une virulence spontanée, me dévide son paquet : « Les politiciens nous demandent de marcher avec eux et, une fois au pouvoir, nous mettent en prison. Les prix des produits essentiels augmentent sans cesse. Comment une personne pauvre pourra-t-elle s’en démailler ? Le gouvernement n’est pas en notre faveur. Depuis quatre ans, notre député n’a pas mis les pieds ici. »

« J’habite là depuis dix ans. Je connais des vieux de plus de cinquante ans qui ont toujours vécu ici et dont les parents habitaient là. Aujourd’hui les propriétaires terriens veulent nous chasser. Ils viennent avec des flics pour écraser nos maisons. »



— Mais vous êtes des squatters, je lui demande.
— Squatters ! J’habite Maurice ! Où veux-tu que j’aille vivre ? Sur les brisants ?
— Hé ! Concentre-toi sur le jeu, lui crie son partenaire, tu nous fais perdre la partie.

Et M. Dominos, comme je l’ai baptisé, de continuer : « Avant, ils ne voulaient pas qu’on reste dans la montagne, de peur qu’on braconne. Aujourd’hui ils veulent nous chasser du bord de mer pour y construire des hôtels et défigurer notre nature. Où vont-ils nous envoyer ? Ils vont nous renvoyer dans la montagne ! »

Dilo Pourri est clôturé, à l’arrière, du côté de la montagne, par quelques propriétaires terriens, chasseurs de cerfs et planteurs de bananes, qui possèdent des centaines d’arpents. Quiconque s’aventure dans ces chasses et plantations, prend le risque de se faire tirer dessus.
— Notre vie ne vaut rien, me dit le joueur de dominos.

Quand on l’écoute, on comprend leur haine qui date ou la colère grandissante envers ce gouvernement qui battit un empire mais délaisse les pauvres. Pourquoi le millionnaire vit-il sur la mer, alors que le pêcheur doit survivre dans la montagne et y porter son moteur de bateau sur l’épaule ? Le gouvernement ne pourrait-il pas créer des colonies de pêcheurs sur la côte puisqu’ils font aussi rouler l’économie du pays ?

— Où est la charité ? On prêche qu’il faut donner des compensations aux descendants d’esclaves. Pourquoi ne pas leur offrir un lopin de terre sur la mer ?



M. Dominos n’a pas fini de déballer sa rancoeur : « Un jour, mon fils et d’autres gamins ont coupé six eucalyptus pour faire des poteaux de football, leur principale distraction. Les flics, peu après, sont venus pour arrêter ces pauvres gosses. Heureusement que, finalement, le propriétaire de ces arbres a compris et a eu la générosité de rayer le cas. Sinon, c’était la poursuite judiciaire contre ces jeunes. »

« Je ne demande rien. Je demande juste un lampadaire, rien d’autre, un lampadaire. Si le gouvernement n’est pas capable de donner ce lampadaire, entre voisins on peut mettre de l’argent ensemble pour en acheter un, mais par principe on attend pour voir. » Il ne parle même pas d’éclairer toute la route, non, juste les maisons à l’arrière de chez lui.
— On est poussière qu’on veut effacer, lance-t-il d’un ton fataliste.

Il me montre alors quelques cases fermées. Les familles, qui normalement devraient habiter là, ont une autre maison en ville, et ça, c’est injuste et illégal, d’après lui. « Ces terrains ne peuvent être occupés que par ceux qui y habitent et n’ayant qu’une maison. Quand l’arpenteur du gouvernement descend pour vérifier, ces familles, prévenues par des complices, débarquent la veille. Si une personne ne voit pas clair, elle ne verra jamais clair. »

Un kitesurfer navigue dans le lagon, pleine lune en plein jour. Hé Morne mythique ! Corps sculpté, reposant, ventru, gonflé, nez pointé au ciel, bras ouvert posé sur la berge, ton One Eye a tout vu ! Et Dario, l'irréductible Mornais, de clamer par-dessus les eaux : « Quoi ! Nous étions là avant eux et ils mettent des barrages ! Tout à l’heure tous les barbelés vont sauter. Cette montagne reviendra aux enfants.



All photos copyright Jameel Peerally.

Sunday, October 30, 2005




Le Morne mountain has been my point of focus for the last six years. I've spent this time getting to know Le Morne village and its wonderful people, the mountain in all its angles and shades of light and colour. My photos I hope reflect the greatness of Le Morne as a Mauritian symbol of freedom. After all we all came from somewhere else and made this island our home. Some of us came as slaves, others as indentured labourers to serve the colonial powers that had settled upon the island. As a professional photographer, this is my contribution, to support Le Morne as a world heritage site.

LE MORNE

from a legend of lemuria
to
a monument to freedom



In the southwest of Mauritius, overlooking the coast of Black River, the Morne Brabant mountain rears its massive and weather-beaten head for all to see. This great rock which towers to some 240 metres is much more than a distinctive landmark. It bears witness, like nothing can, to a very painful period in the island’s history. But it also carries an undying message. A message of man’s unquenchable thirst for freedom.



It used to be a refuge for runaway slaves, who escaped the cruelty and miseries inflicted upon them by their masters. Le Morne , a reminder of the dark days of slavery, now stands, over and above everything else, as a natural monument to freedom.

UNESCO is expected to declare Le Morne a World Heritage Site…

Le Morne also forms part of the Lemurian origins of the island…



Un pays qui n’a plus de légendes se condamne à mourir de froid.. Mais un peuple qui n’aurait plus de mythe court vers la mort.
Dumézil Goerges


Legend has it that…


Once upon a time a colony of giants inhabited the great crescent of Lemuria. One day they set out in search of the land of Paradise. They searched east, they searched west; they searched north, they searched south, but Paradise was never in sight. Then one day on their return journey to their native land, while they were roaming over the Tropic of Capricorn, they found a magnificent island freshly forged from the depths of the sea by Vulcan, the blacksmith magician of the Gods. The Lemurians decided to remain on the island.



This is how Mauritius was first discovered and settled…

This race of Titans were master-builders. With their chisels and their hammers they sculpted, over the years, the quaint shapes of the mountains. One was in the form of a reclining lion, another was like a Lemurian head, yet another was in the shape of a titanic thumb … The Lemurians lived on the island for many millions of years. Then one day, they left for some unknown reason. But before they left, they placed sentinels at different strategic peaks, wrote down their prophecy and gave life to these mountains.

This is how the Morne mountain came to be posted at the extreme western point to guard the entire western coast of the island…
The flattened summit served the purpose of an altar from where the Lemurians could gaze at the translucent sea right to its bottom. It is from there that they implored the Lord of the sea to accept their offerings…

The above belongs to the world of myth and legend.
The following Story of LE MORNE is much closer to reality

Ton Maxime was born and raised in the shadow of Le Morne in full sight of the sea. Everything in his world had a function – the winds and the clouds, the currents and the surf, the rocks, trees and mountains. They were his friends and his constant companions. He depended on them for his daily bread. They helped and guided him in his daily struggle for survival. This is why Le Morne stood so high and rugged and stretched so far out into the sea. In all weathers, on hot sunny days as well as in rain and storm, Le Morne was always there, above the waves, holding its old, grey head so high that it could be seen for miles around. It guided the fishermen to their favourite mooring grounds. It led them back home by day and by night well clear of the reefs and treacherous headlands to the safety of the bay.

But Le Morne was much more than a useful landmark. It guarded the fishing bays of the entire Black River coast. It was always there, watching over them as it had watched over and given shelter to the last of the runaway slaves…
Many years ago, when he was still a boy, Ton Maxime liked to go far into the woods and mountains to hunt for deer, wild pig and hare. One day he had followed a wild pig to the foot of Le Morne. He broke through the thick bushes and suddenly he saw a sight that froze his blood in his veins -- Among the huge boulders, a large number of skulls and bones lay scattered at the foot of the towering cliff. The place was as silent as a graveyard. He was filled with terror and started to run as fast as his legs could carry him.
When he reached home he told his father what he had seen.



“Tell me father,” he asked, “is Le Morne inhabited by man-eating demons? I’m very frightened. I’ll never go near Le Morne again.”
After a long silence, his father said:
“My son, you must not be afraid of Le Morne. Listen to me carefully. I’m going to tell you something that will fill your heart with sadness. But it is important for you to know the truth. Many years ago, a long time before you were born, many of our people were stolen by force from their homes in lands very far away beyond the sea. They were brought to this country to work as slaves on the sugar plantations. They were sold to different masters. Some were good masters, but many were very cruel. When some of our people could not bear it anymore they ran away and hid in the forests.


My father worked for a captain in the army. He was forced to help his master hunt down the slaves that had run away. One day he could not bear it any longer. There were thirteen captured “esclaves marrons” in chains. They were going to be severely punished the next day. At night, my father freed the prisoners and escaped with them to the top of Le Morne mountain. This place was at that time very densely forested and the most inaccessible place in the whole of the island. The mountain of Le Morne became their home. In the course of time, the small group was joined by other slaves who had run away from their masters. My father fell in love with a beautiful girl called Reka. They were married in a simple ceremony on top of the mountain. I was born shortly afterwards.

“We were all living happily together. We worked together and helped each other. We hunted deer, wild pig, monkeys and tenrecs. We also fished in the lagoon and had plenty of seafood. We had all the wood and the fronds we wanted for our houses. We made mats and bed covers from Vacoas leaves. We grew our own vegetables in places hidden on the mountain.
“In the evenings, we came together round a small fire and exchanged sanspek and sirandane and we sang and danced. We made our own ravanes, maravanes and triangles. We were very happy to be free.

“The years passed. Meanwhile many changes had taken place on the island. Slavery had been abolished and all the slaves had been set free. But we were cut off from the rest of the island and we didn’t know. Soldiers were sent out to the forests and mountains, not to hunt down and capture the escaped slaves but to tell them that they were free. But we didn’t know.
“One day, some soldiers found a path to the top of the Morne. They had guns and long knives and they were shouting in a strange language. We all thought they had come to capture us and to take us back to work on the plantations. We could not bear to be separated from each other and to be made to work like slaves. All of us - men, women and children – grouped together on top of the mountain on the edge of the cliff. As the soldiers advanced on us, my father and I threw ourselves at them, waving our knives. They started firing at us. My father was killed instantly and I was knocked down. At the same moment, all our people hurled themselves to their deaths hundreds of feet below.

I was the only survivor.
“I wish I had died along with the others. But I now realise that I had been saved so that I could tell the story of our people to you, so that you could tell it to your children, so that they could know that our people did not die in vain.
“Now you know, my son, those bones you saw at the foot of the mountain are the bones of our people. You can be proud of them. Rather than live as slaves, they preferred to die as free men. You see, my son, you have no reason to be afraid of Le Morne. It is your friend as it was a long time ago to your people. It was their last refuge on earth as well as their tomb.”
The next day, Ton Maxime and his father woke up before the sun and went to that unknown clearing at the foot of Le Morne. There they buried the bones in a secret place.

(adapted from “Tales From Mauritius” by Ramesh Ramdoyal)










Ode au Morne

Montagne échevelée d’azur,
Roc fantastique surgi des entrailles de la Terre
Pour te figer au bord de l’onde…
Près du sable fragile surplombant l’abîme
Don’t les courants furieux t’enserrent,
Ne sens-tu pas le vertige des profondeurs…

Mais ton éternité vient de ce masque
Sculpté dans la lave. Sphinx don’t le profil
Se fige vers l’horizon perdu
Des mers d’où viennent jadis
Ceux qui firent notre Histoire…


Le cri de l’esclave qui se jeta de tes falaises
Cherchant dans la mort la liberté déjà acquise,
Retentit encore le long des parois où s’accrochent les lianes.
Quels tourbillons dans l’étreinte des cyclones
Hurlant leur impuissance de t’abattre
Ravagent tes sommets où le sel et le vent
Ont gravé les hiéroglyphes du temps…

(extract from Philippe Lenoir)



Montagn Morn kouma enn koutpoin zean
Taye par letan, lapli ek divan;
Montagn Morn, gardien Losean Indien
Depi pli lontan ki letan ansien:
Montagn Morn, Montagn Morn dir moi kifer,
Toi ki enn lien ant lesiel ek later,
To lizie fier-foutan pe trakase,
To fron fringan pe ramas-ramase?

(extract from Dev Virahsawmy)

All photos copyright Jameel Peerally.


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