Mauritian - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The religions of Mauritius are Hinduism (52 percent), Roman Catholicism (31 percent), Islam (16 percent) and Buddhism (1 percent). Within Hinduism there are many variants, which correspond to variants found in India itself. Low-caste practices of animal sacrifice are common in rural areas. Maratha and Tamil variants of Hinduism are also distinctive in relation to the dominant Bihari variety. Every year, the Maha Shivaratri is celebrated by Hindus, who march to a lake in southern Mauritius (since the Ganges is too distant). Most Muslims are Sunnis; a few are Shias and Ahmadis. A local Catholic custom is an annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Jacques-Désiré Laval, a now-beatified nineteenth-century priest. Syncretist beliefs are common, and traces of heterodox European and Indian beliefs and traditional African beliefs can be identified among Hindus and Creoles alike, particularly in rural areas. Belief in witchcraft is common, but it is rarely important socially.

Religious Practitioners. The Catholic church is led by the Archbishop of the Mascareignes and the Seychelles, the most powerful religious person in Mauritius. Catholic priests are highly respected and powerful in their local communities. Many are involved in social work. Hindu pundits and Muslim imams are also powerful, although their religions do not require formal leadership. Pundits and imams wield power in ritual and in the context of Hindu and Muslim youth clubs ( baitkas and madrassahs, respectively). Buddhism is of negligible importance in Mauritius; most of the Buddhists are also Catholics. The longanis (French longaniste ) is a sorcerer with considerable power in many locations. His or her magical power consists of the ability to heal the sick, divine the future, and influence people's character. The longanis is used by people of all ethnic groups; most longanis are Creoles or Hindus.

Ceremonies. There are three spectacular annual religious ceremonies. The Tamil festival Cavadi is a rite of passage involving fire walking; it is participated in by many non-Tamils. The Catholic Père Laval pilgrimage is exclusively Christian, and the Maha Shivaratri is exclusively Hindu. All major rituals and festivals of the largest religious traditions, including the Chinese New Year, are celebrated by their followers.

Arts. The only indigenous art form of Mauritius is the séga, a form of music similar to the Trinidad calypso, having been shaped in the encounter between French planters and African slaves. Now evolved into pop and dance music, the séga is very popular. Indian traditional and popular music are also widespread and are performed locally, but European classical music has only a limited appeal. The literature of Mauritius is comparatively rich; authors write mostly in French and Hindi, although radical nationalists have in recent years taken to writing in Kreol. Whereas Mauritian literature tends to deal with ethnicity and the search for cultural identity, the visual arts tend to be romantic and nature-worshiping in character.

Medicine. As many as seven distinctive traditional medical systems have been identified in Mauritius, in addition to scientific medicine. Mauritians tend to believe in, and use the services of, several different practitioners of medicine. Healing techniques may range from Indian Ayurvedic medicine to Chinese herbal medicine and the incantations of the longanis. Although the main killers are heart disease and diabetes, a common complaint is move 1er ("bad air"), which is perceived as psychosomatic. The general symptoms are giddiness and tiredness. Health services are free, and all major villages have a dispensary.

Death and Afterlife. The belief in an afterlife is universally common, and death is generally accepted as an inevitable fate. Hindus and Christians arrange wakes for their deceased. Muslim and Christian graveyards are visited around the time of important religious ceremonies, and flowers are planted on the graves. The Hindus cremate their deceased.

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