Jun 182018
 

Today is Constitution Day in the Republic of Seychelles, celebrating the ratification by referendum in 1993 of its current constitution. Seychelles is a sovereign state in the Indian Ocean made up of 115 islands whose capital is Victoria. Ir lies 1,500 kilometers (932 mi) east of mainland East Africa. Other nearby island countries and territories include Comoros, Mayotte, Madagascar, Réunion, and Mauritius to the south. With a population of roughly 94,228, it has the smallest population of any sovereign African country.

The Seychelles were uninhabited throughout most of recorded history. Some scholars assume that Austronesian seafarers and later Maldivian and Arab traders were the first to visit the uninhabited Seychelles. This assumption is based in part on the discovery of tombs which are no longer accessible. The earliest recorded sighting by Europeans took place in 1502 by Vasco da Gama, who passed through the Amirantes (an archipelago within the Seychelles) and named them after himself (islands of the Admiral). The earliest recorded landing was in January 1609, by the crew of the Ascension under captain Alexander Sharpeigh during the 4th voyage of the British East India Company.

The Seychelles became a transit point for trade between Africa and Asia, and the islands were occasionally used by pirates until the French began to take control starting in 1756 when a Stone of Possession was laid on Mahé by Captain Nicholas Morphey. The islands were named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Louis XV’s Minister of Finance. The British controlled the islands between 1794 and 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars. Jean Baptiste Quéau de Quincy, French administrator of Seychelles during the years of war with the United Kingdom, declined to resist when armed enemy warships arrived. Instead, he successfully negotiated the status of capitulation to Britain which gave the settlers a privileged position of neutrality. Britain eventually assumed full control upon the surrender of Mauritius in 1810, formalized in 1814 at the Treaty of Paris. Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903.

Independence was granted in 1976 as a republic within the Commonwealth. In 1977, a coup d’état by France Albert René ousted the first president of the republic, James Mancham. René discouraged over-dependence on tourism and declared that he wanted “to keep the Seychelles for the Seychellois.” The 1979 constitution declared a socialist one-party state, which lasted until 1991. In the 1980s there were a series of coup attempts against President René, some of which were supported by South Africa. In 1981, Mike Hoare led a team of 43 South African mercenaries masquerading as holidaying rugby players in the 1981 Seychelles coup d’état attempt. There was a gun battle at the airport, and most of the mercenaries later escaped in a hijacked Air India plane. The leader of this hijacking was German mercenary D. Clodo, a former member of the Rhodesian SAS. Clodo later stood trial in South Africa (where he was acquitted) as well as in his home country Germany for air-piracy.

In 1986, an attempted coup led by the Seychelles Minister of Defence, Ogilvy Berlouis, caused President René to request assistance from India. In Operation Flowers are Blooming, the Indian naval vessel INS Vindhyagiri arrived in Port Victoria to help avert the coup. The first draft of a new constitution failed to receive the requisite 60% of voters in 1992, but an amended version was approved in 1993.

Seychelles was in the news in the US recently because of a secretly arranged meeting there between members of the Trump Administration and surrogates to form a secret back channel between Russia and the White House. The Seychelles are sufficiently remote to be off the radar of mainstream media. In the 1970s when the Seychelles opened an international airport, the islands became an international jet set destination, and tourism has been a major source of income ever since, essentially dividing the economy into plantations and tourism. The tourism sector paid better, and the plantation economy could only expand so far. Thus the plantation sector of the economy declined in prominence, and tourism became the primary industry of Seychelles.

In recent years the government has encouraged foreign investment to upgrade hotels and other services. Despite its growth, the vulnerability of the tourist sector was illustrated by the sharp drop in 1991–1992 due largely to the Gulf War. Since then the government has moved to reduce the dependence on tourism by promoting the development of farming, fishing, small-scale manufacturing and most recently the offshore financial sector, through the establishment of the Financial Services Authority and the enactment of several pieces of legislation.

Breadfruit is a staple on the Seychelles, and folklore, repeated in different places in different parts of the world I have visited (concerning a local product), says that if you eat a dish of breadfruit cooked on the Seychelles, you will return. I rambled on about cooking breadfruit here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mutiny-bounty/  Another delicacy on the islands is curried fruit bat. There’s also shark chutney, which is not a chutney in the Indian sense, but a main dish. I can describe how these dishes are made, but I have never had them (nor visited the Seychelles), so my descriptions will be rather generic. Fruit bats are first boiled until tender, skinned and jointed, and then simmered in a curry sauce. Shark chutney is made by boiling skinned shark, mashing it well, and then simmering it with squeezed bilimbi juice and lime. This in turn is mixed with fried onion, pepper, salt and turmeric, and served with rice and lentils.

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