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Liberated Slaves in Seychelles

Written by on 11 July 2020

The first people to pass by the islands and probably use them as temporary shelters were the ancestors of the people who eventually populated the nearby island of Madagascar. They rode the oceans on primitive but rugged outrigger canoes from their home in the Sunda Islands of the Malay Archipelago sometime between 200 and 500 AD and it is likely some of their craft, blown off course during their spectacular migration, used the islands as a base before venturing on into the azure vastness to what would eventually become their new home.

Early Arab explorers came across these island jewels dotted in a lost corner of the western Indian Ocean as they made their first forays into what they called ‘bahr al zanj’, (the sea of the blacks). This was perhaps a reference to the spoils of early expeditions when they captured slaves from the east coast of the African continent.

It is clear from certain early manuscripts of Perso-Arab origin that the Arab mariners of as early as the 9th century knew these islands as jazayer é zarrin (the golden isles) which is how their unreal natural beauty must have appeared after months sailing on a featureless ocean. The atoll of Aldabra, one of Seychelles farthest outposts, carries an Arabic name which means ‘the green one’: another reference to an island popping up, literally, from out of the blue. Certain rough island graves have also been attributed to Arab sailors who never made it home from their long, hazardous expeditions into the great watery unknown.

The next group of people to visit Seychelles and use it as a lair were the pirates. A little known historical fact places a large pirate community on the island of Ile Ste. Marie off north-western Madagascar in the early 1700’s as they fled, first the Caribbean and then the Cape Verde Islands to find a haven in the unknown waters of the western Indian Ocean. In Ile Ste Marie they founded their own pirate republic – Libertalia, complete with its own laws and language and they managed a commercial operation so large that it even tempted the Americans to travel for the first time into the Indian Ocean. Some of the great pirates of the day: Irving, Teatch, White and Kidd made an appearance at some point in Libertalia. It is even claimed that, from there, around 1720, Olivier Levasseur, known as La Buse, travelled to Seychelles with three ships where he concealed a fabulous booty he raided from the Vierge du Cap among the hills of Bel Ombre in northern Mahé. To this day, the treasure has never been found, even though it is claimed artefacts from this horde have made their way into certain private collections.

The pirates came and went but, after several exploratory expeditions, the French finally claimed the island beauty as their own, first occupying Ste Anne island before moving on to Mahé.

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