Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, Literature Nobel Prize winner, and Issa Asgarally, his local promoter, published a petition that they initiated and had signed by a group of “intellectuals” to support Jean-Claude de L’Estrac’s candidature to become new head of the International Francophone Organization (OIF).
Colonization leaves its mark in many ways in Mauritius, even nearly fifty years after it ended. There is still, for example, the Raoul Rivet bust in the Company Gardens with the outlandish quotation engraved on it: “Je dois a la France d’etre un homme pensant.”(Literally: “I owe it to France that I am a thinking man!”) Without France, he would not have been a conscious human being. Lordy! And then, there’s still a statue of Queen Victoria, sulking in front of Parliament. And the pro-slavery ideologue D’Epinay still stands domineeringly over the Company Gardens 179 years since the end of slavery. It is perhaps time to transplant these statues, perhaps to the back corner of some garden, or into some museum. But these are mere statues. These are creatures made of marble, stone and concrete.
In Le Mauricien of 22 July, a series of writers, artists and other intellectuals of a Francophile bent, live creatures all, in the here and now of 2014, have signed this common declaration supporting Jean-Claude de L’Estrac’s candidature for top boss of the OIF. And it is a declaration that is full of “pesanteurs coloniales”, to quote a phrase from their declaration, not dissimilar to the Raoul Rivet howler. They maintain, in the declaration, that the French language no longer carries with it its old “pesanteurs coloniales”, the heavy stigma of colonization it bore in the past.
But the declaration itself is full of “pesanteurs coloniales”. For a start, there is absolutely no reference in it to the existence of the language of all the people of Mauritius, including Jean Claude de L’Estrac, that is to say, Mauritian Kreol. The petition mentions the French language, naturally, and the English language, and it mentions the Oriental languages, as making up the Mauritian linguistic scene. But Mauritian Kreol is absent. It is invisible to them. This is a typical effect of “pesanteurs coloniales”. Colonizers do not see the language of the colonized. They may even believe it is not a language at all. It is, anyway, not relevant to them. And this petition, with all its “pesanteurs coloniales” , gets adhered to by a dozen intellectuals, even in the year 2014, 46 years after Independence!
There is another structural fault in the petition that gives away a truly amazing level of internalized colonization, too. They refer to the “Republic of Mauritius” by the term used in French colonial times, “L’Ile Maurice”. Quite inaccurately, and most callously. They refer to Mauritius as “l’ile carre-four”, in the singular, not even “iles carrefours”. By making this mistake, Rodrigues and Agalega are voided of their inhabitants, and made terra nulla: “there is no-one living there!” The violence is thus invisible. It is in their very grammar. According to the petition, there are people only on one island, in the singular. And this error is not without other dire consequences, well beyond grammatical ones. By making this mistake, which is apparently merely syntactical, they collude with hiding the illegal occupation of the island of Tromelin by France, even though Mitterand said the island would be returned to Mauritius, and they mask the illegal occupation of the Chagos archipelago by Britain, even though Thatcher promised its return. And further consequences are even more grave. The syntactical mistake of “ile” also colludes to go on hiding from public view the US military base on Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago. It would indeed be difficult for an “archipelago” to sit naturally “in” an “Island”. Therefore, Chagos Archipelago cannot be part of “L’Ile Maurice”. So, the mistake in syntax helps perpetuate the fact that Diego Garcia remains out of all social control, used and abused as springboard for B-52 sorties to bombard Afghanistan and Iraq, to effect “rendition” and to torture illegal prisoners, and to pollute the pristine oceans with nuclear matter.
This kind of imprecision by supposed “intellectuals” is unfortunately not just because they are stupid. They are not. They are all brilliant minds. The problem is that they continue quite unconsciously to suffer from the “pesanteurs coloniales” that they say no longer exists around the French language. They do not act in bad faith. It is mere accidental collusion with the powerful.
To conclude, let’s look at one of the more repulsive sentences in their petition: “Cet attachement a la langue francaise et les cultures lui ont associèes] nous amène, aujourd’hui à nous engager pour l’avenir de la Francophonie. ‘Ma patrie, c’est la langue dans laquelle j’ecris’.” So now they confuse written language with motherland. The Mauritian Republic, itself, thus becomes a terra nulla. If enough people write French, that (the French language) will then be their motherland. Talk about bowing down to the powerful colonizer. Talk about committing yourself to such obsequiousness as to swear loyalty to the mother-tongue of the ex-colonizer while not managing to so much as mention the Kreol language, self confessed mother- tongue of over one million Mauritians, amongst whom L’Estrac is one.
(Translated into English from the original Kreol in Revi LALIT no 115, August-September, 2014),