OUTER ISLANDS OF SEYCHELLES (Zil Elwannyen Sesel) A. and D.Skerett,T.Pool.Camerapix.2010 (200p.)
In the ‘Foreword” the current President of Seychelles, James A Michel, wrote:
“Today, the outer islands are no longer isolated…Since 1980 the transport facilities, communications and provision of housing in the outer islands have all been transformed dramatically. The transformation has been led by Islands Development Company and its dedicated team. Airstrips have been built, infrastructure and utilities upgraded and modern housing constructed. The outer islands offer unprecedented job opportunities for Seychellois in combination with a standard of living that their grandparents would have found unimaginable. At the same time conservation has been embraced as never before to ensure the natural beauty of the islands is preserved for future generations
‘The former President of Seychelles, France-Albert René, said in his interview:
“I grew up until five years old on Farquhar before going to school on Mahé….I would like the Seychellois to realize that these are their islands and they should be able to visit them as freely as we travel to Praslin or La Digue, and for all our children to go and visit those islands……In my view tourism on the outer islands is expensive tourism…...We cannot say that for the sake of ecotourism, we’re not going to develop….People developing the islands have to do it in a specific way and respect the environment….Obviously, I am very fond of Farquhar, this is where I grew up, but the island nearer to us, which I like to go to with my family because it is quiet, and very beautiful is Rémire…….When I look back the happiest times of my life have been those spent on the outer islands of Seychelles”.
“In the outer islands there is a serenity, a peace of mind. a tranquility, an outer world experience which is extremely enriching and fulfilling. I think this is what Seychellois have to experience themselves, to really know the profound gratification that the outer islands have to offer. I have no doubt that I will return to the outer islands. I cannot say that I have a favourite outer island, because they are all special in their own way but top on my list are Farquhar for its distinctive characteristics, then Providence and Desroches”
In his Chapter on the ‘History of the Outer Islands’, the author traces the past working conditions there.
“The slaves were unwilling occupants, and there were others who found themselves on the islands through no fault of their own. At one time, it was recorded , he writes, that there were 34 slaves on Marie Louise, and 19 on Alphonse where they harvested “15,000 pounds of haricot beans”……while Desroches had a population of 47 slaves who “grew valuable crops of maize”.
In spite of the ‘official’ abolition of slavery on paper, a certain Dr. William Macgregor expressed his “horror” at the “…..curtailed wages, stinted rations, insufficient clothing, bad houses….excess of work and maltreatment….”.
The authorities were “increasingly aware” that not all owners of the “remote islands” acted as they should.
“In those times the islands truly were a world of their own, dependant on sailing schooners making periodic visits bringing supplies, workers, medicines and news, taking away disaffected workers, pregnant women, the sick and injured, and the precious harvest of copra and oil. When the schooner disappeared over the horizon, there was no contact with the outside world for three or four months, when the next ship was due, in these days before even radio contact was possible. The manager was absolute monarch of his tiny kingdom. Lives depended on his judgment, skill, mood, and sanity(conditions on remote islands being very conducive to paranoia after long periods of isolation). He had to be able to turn his hand to any skill which ensured the survival of his little population of souls. His word was law and there can be no doubt that some abused their power. If his men did revolt(and some did for example in 1924 on Alphonse) he could not send for the police. When there was murder done(another not infrequent occurrence), he had to don his detective’s hat, try and find the culprit and and have him quickly locked up to stop panic spreadiung amongst the tiny population. The tales of island managers’ excesses, obsessions and eccentricities are legion in Seychelles, but this is hardly surprising, since only exceptional men could have done the job, and exceptional men are often men of extreme natures”
In his article on ‘Outer Island Conservation ‘(p.175) the author writes that the Seychellois must feel a sense of pride in the outer islands. He affirms that today there are more young people working on the outer islands especially in the Tourist Industry.
In the 1980’s, he observed that the Island Development Company(IDC) employed mostly Seychellois labourers on the islands. Eventually, they had to bring in expatriates as there were not enough Seychellois prepared to work there. Work on these islands was traditionally considered to be “the last resort of the destitute and desperate” and a “safety net” while employment was considered to be THE “important social role of IDC”.
Skerrett in ‘The Last Frontier”(p.192) sees the Outer Islands as “the last frontier” in Tourism in Seychelles . For him, “carefully planned” or “well-planned” ecotourism could prove vital to the economy and could also be “the saviour of the environment”. In the Pre-Independence days the production of high-grade copra coming from the Outer Islands accounted up to three-quarters of Seychelles’ exports earnings. However, revenue from activities such as the extraction of guano, turtles and “barrelled egg yolks”...had a heavy toll on the “small fragile islands” transforming each one beyond recognition affirms the author.Tourism is bringing back Seychellois workers back and for him “Ecotourism is ideal for the Outer Islands because it is based on the principle of sustainability”.
CREATION OF ISLANDS DEVELOPMENT (IDC)
In Chapter 3, Mr. Glenny SAVY recalls the creation of the Islands Development Company (IDC).
The islands of Aldabra, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Farquhar and Desroches which had been proposed as Anglo-American military bases, were returned to Seychelles after being detached by Britain to form the British Indian Ocean Territory(BIOT).
On a round trip to the Outer islands, in 1979, Mr Savy writes that on board the ‘MV Nordvaer”, the former President, Mr. F.-A. René, the current President, Mr. J.A. Michel and the Principal Secretary of Finance, Mr. Guy Morel, proposed the creation of a new parastatal to manage the outer islands, developing them from both an economic and social point of view.
In April 1980, the IDC came into existence with its first General Manager, Mr. J. Belmont (former Vice President) and its first Vice Chairman, Mr. G. Morel.
At the same time the Government of Seychelles was negotiating to buy back islands such as Assumption, Cosmoledo and Providence.
Alphonse was acquired.
IDC was subsidised in the first two years and became “self-sufficient in revenue” in 1982, writes Mr. Savy. It was a profitable concern until the early 1990s and agriculture remained profitable until 1991-1992.
Around 2007, he affirms that IDC became self sufficient in capital costs as well and did not require government grants for projects such as construction of airstrips, electricity plants installations,, shipping, aviation, sewage plants etc...up to now.
The first hotel was built on the largest island of the Amirantes, Desroches, in 1987. In 2007, the hotel was extensively rebuilt while the Island Conservation Society established a centre on the island.
The second hotel on the outer islands came in 1999. Built on Alphonse, the Island Conservation Society as on Desroches established a Conservation Centre.
The IDC projects were facilitated by a group of very dedicated and competent staff
“We were all very determined to work, and our supervisors around us were very supportive. A day’s work started as early as 5 o’clock in the morning because of the heat of the island. We reared lots of pigs, cow and chickens, and cultivated a range of vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, egg plants, cucumbers, watermelon, pumpkin, corn...and we even tried our onions.”
Mr Nerry Maillet started his career with IDC in 1983 at the age of 18.
“When I look back on my career, I can say that IDC has made me the person I am today. This is where I did my trials and errors, where I stumbled, but also where I grew and mastered my trade. This is where I gained a lot of experience, be it in construction, navigation, agriculture, and so forth. Over the years, I have built my house with my own two hands, thanks to the knowledge and know-how that I have acquired from IDC”.
“Among all the outlying islands of Seychelles, Farquhar is the love of my life....I would encourage all Seychellois to visit “sa bann mervey e kado ki Bondye in donn nou” (=”All the wonders and gifts that the Good Lord has given us”), that is the Outer Islands of Seychelles. I feel there’s nothing like them in the whole world”.
(C)Zan Klod(Jean-Claude, P.MAHOUNE) and Ivans K.ANDRĒ