LOCATION: Seychelles Islands
POPULATION: About 72,000
LANGUAGE: Creole, English, and French (official languages); Gurijati; Chinese; other European and Oriental languages
RELIGION: Christianity (Roman Catholicism)
The Seychelles Islands were a French possession until 1814. They were then under British rule until they gained their independence in 1976. The Seychellois are of African, European, Indian, and Chinese ancestry. The majority have black ancestors who arrived from Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Over time, the different ethnic groups have intermarried. Thus, there is a great degree of racial diversity among the Seychellois.
The Republic of Seychelles is one of the world's smallest nations in size and population. It is located in the Indian Ocean, east of Tanzania. It has a total land area of only 171 square miles (444 square kilometers), about two-and-a-half times the size of Washington, D.C. The population of Seychelles is only 72,113 people (1994 estimate). The exact number of islands is unknown but has been estimated at 115. Hills up to 3,084 feet high (940 meters) characterize the granite islands. There are also coral islands and reefs.
Mahé, the main island, is home to about 90 percent of all Seychellois. It contains the capital and only city, Victoria, and the only port.
Seychellois have three official languages: Creole, English, and French. Creole developed from the French dialects of the original settlers. Its vocabulary is mostly French, with a few Malagasy, Bantu, English, and Hindi words.
Most Seychellois can speak and understand French. Most younger Seychellois read English, the language of government and commerce. French is the language of the Roman Catholic Church in the Seychelles Islands.
The following is a Seychellois proverb in the Creole language: Sak vid pa kapab debout (meaning "One doesn't work on an empty stomach"). Its literal translation is "an empty bag will not stand up on its own."
Accomplished storytellers and singers pass on Seychellois culture and social customs through fables, songs, and proverbs.
Storytelling is at the center of the traditional moutia performance. The moutia began during the days of slavery. Two men told stories about the hard labors of the day. Women then joined in to dance, accompanied by singing and chanting. Modern performances still involve dancing to typical African rhythms. Performers often use satire to entertain and teach people of all ages.
Almost all the inhabitants of Seychelles are Christian. More than 90 percent are Roman Catholic. Sunday masses are well attended. Religious holidays are celebrated as religious and social events.
Like other Africans, many Seychellois Christians still follow tradional religious practices. These may include magic, witchcraft, and sorcery. It is common to consult a local fortune-teller known as a bonhomme de bois or a bonne femme de bois. Charms known as gris-gris are used to harm one's enemies.
The Seychellois have ten public holidays: New Year's Day, January 1–2; Good Friday and Easter Sunday, in March or April; the Fête Dieu (Corpus Christi), in May or June; Assumption Day, August 15; All Saints' Day, November 1; the Day of the Immaculate Conception, December 8; Christmas Day, December 25; and the Queen's official birthday.
Families often take advantage of public holidays to picnic at the beach and swim. They may also attend a traditional dance and storytelling performance called a moutia.
Weddings and funerals are occasions for lavish spending. A family might spend half a year's income on a child's wedding. Sometimes both the bride's and the groom's families pay for the event.
On Mahé, the most elaborate Catholic funerals include three rounds of bell ringing. There is also singing, organ music, and a sermon. The loud tolling makes the death known to everyone. Less expensive funerals involve a more modest ceremony with less bell ringing. At the simplest funeral, a single bell is rung eleven times.
Skin color figures importantly in social relationships and career opportunities. Designations for whites include the Grand Blanc (a white person with property or a good job); the Blanc Coco, or "white chocolate" ( a working-class white who works for a grand blanc); and the Blanc Rouille, or "rusted white" (an uneducated plantation owner who needs an educated black person to do the accounting). Landless poor people, mostly of African origin, are at the bottom of the social ladder. They are called Rouge (red) or Noir (black), depending on the darkness of their skin.
It is said, jokingly, that after giving birth, a Seychellois mother asks first what color her child is, and second whether it is a boy or girl.
Western-style dating is fairly common in the capital city, Victoria, but in the outer islands traditional forms of recreation usually bring couples together with other young people.
Traditional houses rise on stilts above the ground. The main room is used for eating and sleeping. The kitchen is separate to maintain cleanliness. Woven coconut leaves make naturally cool walls and roofs. However, galvanized iron is gradually replacing them for roofing.
Mothers are dominant in the household. They control most daily expenses and look after the children. Family size is relatively small by African standards.
Sexual relationships without formal marriage are common among the Seychellois. Most family units take the form of informal unions known as living en ménage (by household). Nearly three-fourths of all children born in the islands are born out of wedlock. However, many are legally acknowledged by their fathers. The Church and civil authorities disapprove of unmarried couples living together. However, such unions are usually stable and carry little social shame for either partner or for their children.
Women enjoy the same legal, political, economic, and social rights as men.
Generally, the Seychellois wear modern, Western-style clothing. Women go to market in cotton smocks and sandals. They wear locally made straw hats for sun protection. They may also wear African sarongs. Men wear hats, also, and loose-fitting, short-sleeved shirts and trousers. For casual dress, both men and women wear shorts. Some uniformed public servants, such as traffic police, also wear shorts.
The Seychellois Creole cuisine combines a wide variety of cooking styles, including English, French, Chinese, and Indian. Creole cooking is rich, hot, and spicy. It blends fruit, fish, fresh vegetables, and spices. Basic ingredients include pork, chicken, fish, octopus, and shellfish. Coconut milk makes a good sauce for seafood meals. Fish is served in many ways: grilled on firewood, curried, in boullions or soups, and as steak. Turtle meat is called "Seychelles beef." People also enjoy salads and fruit desserts of mango, papaya, breadfruit, and pineapple.
Locally made alcoholic beverages include palm wine (calou). Bacca is a powerful sugarcane liquor drunk on ceremonial occasions.
Since 1981, a system of free education has been in effect, requiring attendance by all children in grades one to nine, beginning at age five. Students complete six years of primary school and three years of secondary school. Those who wish to continue their education attend a National Youth Service (NYS) program. In addition to academic instruction, the students receive practical training in gardening, cooking, housekeeping, and livestock-raising. They produce much of their own food, cook their own meals, and do their own laundry.
Students may attend Seychelles Polytechnic, a technical trade school. They may also study abroad through British, U.S., and French scholarship programs.
African, European, and Asian influences are present in Seychellois music, dance, literature, and visual art. African rhythms are apparent in the moutia and séga dances. The sokoué dance resembles masked African dancing. Dancers portray birds, animals, and trees. The contredanse is a French import, with origins in the court of King Louis XIV (1638–1715). Traditionally, Seychellois performed their music on drums, violins, accordions, and the triangle. Nowadays, the acoustic guitar is usually used as well.
Two young performers, Patrick Victor and David Filoé, have adapted the traditional moutia and séga dances in a modern setting. Seychelles' most celebrated poet is Antoine Abe.
The tourist industry directly employs some 15 percent of the population. In addition, it creates jobs in construction, banking, and other fields. Many households supplement their income from family garden plots and by raising pigs.
An unusual profession on the islands is calou (palm wine) tapping. Tappers must climb a tree twice daily. Using a special tap, they collect the sap in a bamboo or plastic container.
Seychellois play a variety of sports. The most popular participant and spectator sport is soccer. Basketball is also popular.
Seychellois are fond of singing. They often perform informally together at night when visiting with friends. Families and friends gather on their verandas in the evening for friendly games of checkers and cards.
Seychellois radio and television broadcasts offer programs in Creole, English, and French. Videos and movies are also popular.
Seychellois are accomplished painters, drawing inspiration from their environment. Sculptors and carvers fashion teakwood goblets, cigar and jewelry boxes, and board games such as dominoes and backgammon. Jewelers make coral and shell bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Batik-dyed cloth is becoming fashionable.
Juvenile delinquency, resulting from boredom and isolation, is a growing problem. Many adults suffer from alcoholism. In addition, an alarming number of young people are beginning to use marijuana and heroin. Sexually transmitted diseases are widespread. Efforts to contain them have been ineffective. Domestic abuse remains a problem.
Bennett, George. Seychelles . Denver, Colo.: Clio Press, 1993.
Doubilet, David. "Journey to Aldabra." National Geographic (March 1995): 90–113.
Franda, Marcus. The Seychelles: Unquiet Islands . Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1982.
Mancham, R. James. Paradise Raped: Life, Love and Power in the Seychelles . London: Methuen, 1983.
Vine, Peter. Seychelles. London: Immel Publishing, 1989.
Internet Africa Ltd. [Online] Available http://www.africanet.com/africanet/country/seychell/ , 1998.
World Travel Guide, Seychelles.[Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/sc/gen.html , 1998.