Rodrigues is a charming remote little holiday island, 650 km to the east of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The volcanic island measures only 18 km in length and is 8 km at its widest point, and is estimated to be between one and four million years old.
Arabs are known to have visited the Mascarene Islands as early as the 10th century and a 12th century map by an Arab geographer Ash-Sharif al-Idrisi, shows a clear depiction of Rodrigues. The island itself was named in 1528 after the Portuguese navigator Dom Diogo Rodrigues. The Dutch visited the island from 1601 onwards for fresh supplies of food, and in 1691 an attempt was made to set up a farming colony of Protestant refugees, by Huguenot, François Leguat and 7 companions. While farming was not successful, tortoises, turtles, birds, fish and other seafood were plentiful. During the 18th century the French attempted to develop the island several times and brought African slaves to farm and develop stockbreeding. Slavery was abolished under British occupation and in 1968 Rodrigues was joined with Mauritius when it gained independence and today Rodrigues is an autonomous region of Mauritius.
The population of over 41,000 Rodriguans are mostly Creoles, descendents of the Malagasy, African slaves and the Catholic faith is predominant in society. There are also a small number of Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists as well as other Christian groups on the island. The people of Rodrigues live harmoniously and Rodriguans are considered to be charming and kind and live a simple and authentic lifestyle. Rodriguan Creole is the main spoken language, with the pronunciation slightly different from Mauritian Creole. French is also spoken and together with English are the main languages of business and government administration.
The economy of Rodrigues is very small and dependent mainly on Mauritius, and people are often engaged in numerous activities to make ends meet. The main traditional economic activities are fishing, vegetable cultivation, and animal rearing, but tourism is now coming to the fore as the income derived from exporting food crops, cattle and fish is outweighed by the costs of imports. With increased tourism activity, Rodriguans are focusing more on handicrafts, having recognised their touristic value to the island and a large variety are now available in the markets of Rodrigues.
The people of Rodrigues are also recognising the value of their unique environment to the tourism industry and have displayed real enthusiasm in the cultivation of endemic plants and are working hard to preserve their natural heritage. Rodrigues has made a special program for reforestation and the protection of the island flora a high priority, with certain areas of the island having been declared nature reserves. There are many endemic species in Rodrigues, including 42 species of trees, and unique or rare plants such as the vieille-fille, café marron, bois de mangue, bois pipe and bois de fer. The island is also home to the Rodrigues Fruit Bat, two species of bird - the Rodrigues Fody and the Rodrigues warbler. The reef also hosts a unique species of coral, many new species of crustaceans and two species of Damselfish. Unfortunately other endemic animals including the Rodrigues giant tortoise and Rodrigues Solitaire are now extinct.
The coral reef that entirely surrounds Rodrigues offers world-class diving and snorkelling and plays a great role in attracting tourists from all around. An interesting aspect of the coral reef of the island is that it is self-seeding, meaning it receives no coral zooplankton from elsewhere. This phenomenon likely accounts for the development of the endemic coral and other marine species.
The local cuisine is also a highlight of a visit to Rodrigues with a great variety of cuisines on offer, encompassing Créole, European, Indian and Chinese and Indian as well as, of course, a large selection of seafood. Part of the attraction of Rodrigues gastronomy stems from the freshness of the ingredients, and knowledge handed down over generations to create enticing dishes that delight the senses. A typical Rodriguen buffet may consist of Chinese pork, chicken curry, biryani, French-style vegetables, and Créole roast beef. Other Rodrigues specialities include octopus curry or stew, corn-fed chicken salad with ginger, honey glazed pork, cono-cono salad, Mussel gratin, sautéed crab, steamed fish, smoked ham and the ‘piments limon’ which are small pickled green lemons ground and mixed with chillies. The tasty soups made with fresh shellfish gathered from the beach and seasoned with spices and coriander are also highly recommended.
To accompany your meal you can choose ‘alouda’ a syrupy blend of milk, agar and flavoured syrup or a ‘lassi’ – a refreshing combination of yogurt and ice-water. You could also try a locally produced beer, or rum, which is affordable but usually quite strong. For those with a sweet tooth, try a dessert of papaya or coconut pies, with freshly grated coconut or flavoured with cinnamon, or a maize pudding. Sweet potato or cassava cakes are also a delight.