By Dawood Auleear

We feel flattered by and have benefitted from the description by Mark Twain of Mauritius – he said that first God created Mauritius and then made paradise after its image. We have used this to help develop our tourism industry which is earning us a large amount of foreign currency and is the means of livelihood for 100,000 people. People do get fed up with the best after a while and to keep on attracting visitors the hotel industry has to reinvent itself to meet the changing tastes of its clients. Our hotels are pulled down some years after they were built to be replaced by a totally new batch with different architecture and landscape. Also, we have developed a kind of “fusion” cuisine which takes in and combines local as well as international preferences; tourist sites have also evolved and been developed to a relatively high level to make them more interesting; we have also attracted more tourists from more countries.

There have been long debates about what facets of our culture we can show and what we cannot. There is hardly any night life on the island as we do not have bars and clubs of international standards. We have plenty of historical buildings built from the times of French colonial occupation that were among the first to be built in the Southern hemisphere, like the Champ de Mars racing course and the Theatre de Port Louis.  In fact it is not well known that Enrico Caruso, who was the most admired Italian operatic tenor of the early 20th century and one of the first musicians to document his voice on recordings, had performed there and he was very impressed with the acoustics.  Today the theatre is most of the time inactive although in the more recent past in the latter half 20th century it has hosted several performers of international stature like Claude Pieplu. Our historical sites need maintenance; not many Mauritians (even our taxi drivers who take tourists round the island) know about them.   Sadly, very often the taxi drivers are unable to express themselves in the language of their clients, and lack any knowledge and are unable to create any curiosity among their clients about our past.

On the other hand, the Blue Penny Museum is filling a gap and should be applauded for it. Among its collection it has a couple of the most valuable stamps in the world. Stamps have stories to tell and Mauritius has become famous thanks to some of our stamps. One stamp in particular could have caused a diplomatic issue between East and West Germany – a Mauritian stamp had found itself in a museum in Berlin which itself had caused political and diplomatic problems between East and West Europe but it was the reunification of Germany that brought about a solution. It also happens that one of our early stamps landed in the USA during our early history.

The Blue Penny Museum receives about 50,000 visitors every year and is also the initiator of many historical enterprises like publishing on various topics like our art, our maritime history, our flora and fauna, even proposing to stage exhibitions for our artists overseas. He is ambitious, this Blue Penny Museum curator. When one listens to Emmanuel Richon speaking passionately about our cultural treasures, one would think that he is Mauritian born. There are aspects of our culture that have not been tapped or tapped enough. And when one realises that a third of our tourists are cultural tourists, one wonders why the Blue Penny Museum is not being given the means to help us maximise our foreign currency-earning potential to the full.

What is aggravating is the fact that the Blue Penny Museum receives no financial support from our Ministry of Tourism. Museums overseas are funded by the state like the museum in St Denis, La Reunion. Some people say that it is supported by the Mauritius Commercial Bank which is a profitable enterprise. True. But so are the hotels who have received fabulous sums lately through the MIC and who get customers as a result of the efforts of the Tourism Board Road Shows in European capitals, costing millions of rupees to the Mauritian taxpayers. We have to get our priorities right. If we care for our tourism sector and recognise that tourism is here to stay and contribute to our livelihood, we need to talk to the Blue Penny Management and help them help us. And this is not rocket science. It is just common sense.