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Customs of Mauritius

Marriage and Family

Many Indian families arrange marriages for their children, generally with the consent of the bride and groom. Some Muslim grooms still give a dowry to the bride’s parents. A wedding is one of the biggest events for all Mauritian families, regardless of the ethnic group or religion. It tends to be an elaborate and expensive affair. Ceremonies vary according to religion. Among Hindus, for example, a bride and groom perform a ritual of walking around a fire during the Vivaha (marriage ceremony). As part of a Muslim ceremony, the bride and groom drink from a common cup to signify the beginning of their lives together. Women typically marry in their early 20s, while men marry a few years later. Divorce is relatively rare.

It is common to find extended families, including aunts, uncles, and other relatives, living together. There is great respect for the elderly, and it is considered the duty of their children to take care of them. Traditionally, families have been large; however, the trend encouraged by the government through family-planning programs is to have fewer children, perhaps two or three.

Eating

Rice is the dietary staple. Another is roti (Indian flat bread), and many Mauritians eat French bread at breakfast. Vegetarian cooking is common because of the dietary preferences of Hindus and Muslims. Indian cuisine is most common, but Creole, Chinese, and spicy variations of all three are also available. There is an abundance of seafood. Some dishes include faratas (similar to pancakes), briani (rice and vegetables with a mixture of meat, chicken, or fish, and a number of spices), vanneyan (chopped fish meatballs in a fish broth), dahl puri (thin bread with meat and curry sauce inside), chicken curry, pickled vegetables, and seasoned squid. Most Mauritians drink tea with milk and sugar after meals. Fruits, Indian sweets, French pastries, and peanuts are popular snacks.

Meals are generally eaten with a spoon, fork, and knife, but in many Indian homes people eat with the fingers of the right hand, and chopsticks are used in many Chinese homes. A guest is usually given the option of using cutlery or eating with the hand. An unexpected guest at dinnertime will be invited to share the meal. Hindus do not eat beef, and Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcoholic beverages.

Socializing

Mauritians usually shake hands when they meet. The French greeting Bonjour (“Good day”) is a commonly used term. Among the Hindu Indians, especially in rural areas, people traditionally place the palms together (fingers up) in front of the chest or chin and say Namaste, sometimes bowing slightly. English greetings are also acceptable. Among friends and relatives, kissing on both cheeks and hugging is common.

It is not customary to telephone before visiting. Guests are always welcome and refreshments such as tea with sugar and milk will usually be served, often with savories, cookies, or sweets. A host will usually insist that a guest accept food and drink, and it is good manners for a guest to sample something of everything that is served. Visitors are not expected to bring gifts, but it is appreciated when they bring flowers when invited to someone’s home for a formal lunch or dinner.

Recreation

Socializing with family or friends at home or (for men) in cafés and bars is the main recreational activity, but people also enjoy watching television, listening to music, and going to the cinema. In rural areas, people like to play cards and go dancing. Soccer is the national sport. Horse racing is a popular spectator activity. There are facilities for water sports at the resort hotels around the coast, where discos, casinos, and restaurants are increasingly patronized by wealthier Mauritians. Opportunities also exist for golf, tennis, and horseback riding.

Holidays and Celebrations

In addition to religious holidays, there are a few national holidays. They include New Year’s Day (1 January), Independence Day (12 March), and Labor Day (1 May). With a large population of Christians, the nation celebrates Christmas Day (25 December) and Easter. The Spring Festival (in January or February, also called the Chinese New Year) and Chi jiang (or Ching Ming, when the dead are honored) are the two most important holidays for the Chinese. Two holidays significant to the Muslims are Eid al-Fitr, a three-day feast that commemorates the end of the fasting month of Ramadan; and Eid al-Adha, a feast to mark the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah).

Among Hindus, festivals usually celebrate the victory of a god or principle. For example, Diwali (the Festival of Lights) is held during the dark of the moon in late autumn. It celebrates the triumph of dharma over adharma, or light over darkness. The Cavadee celebrates the feat of Idoumban, who carried two mountain peaks on his shoulders. Holi is a time when people sprinkle each other with colored water in celebration of Prince Bhakta Pralad’s defeat of the wicked Holika. During Maha Shivaratree it is popular to dress in white and pour sacred water on a representation of Shiva, one of the three primary Hindu gods. The water is drawn from the Grand Bassin, a high-elevation lake that is located in a volcano crater. Special ceremonies take place at the lake on the Great Night of Shiva during the summer festival.

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas