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History of Mauritius
The Arabs
Arabic(?) inscription on a wax block found in 1598 by Heyndrick Dirrecksen Jolinck
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The Arabs
   
  Al Idrisi's circular world map  
  Arab traders traveled through the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in ships called dhows. These double-ended ships had lateen sails and carvel construction. They were strong enough to withstand the seasonal monsoons, the storms that swept in from the Indian Ocean.  
   
  Modern Arab dhow  
 

The routes to India and China via the Moluccan Islands were controlled by the Arab fleets from the seventh century through the time of Vasco da Gama's Portuguese exploration of the India Ocean. This monopoly allowed the Arabs to control much of the commerce in silk, spices, and other exotic merchandise. The invasion into Indian Ocean waters by the Portuguese marked the decline in Arab sea power. Arab merchant ships have been sailing the Indian Ocean for centuries. Important trading routes linked the east coast of Africa and Madagascar with the Arabian peninsula, India and Indonesia.

Perhaps the Mascarene islands were discovered when a cyclone (a very severe storm of the tropics) caught an Arab dhow unaware and pushed it towards Mauritius.

The traveller Suhliman seems to have given the name of TIRAKKA to the Mascarene arcipelago

In 1502 Alberto Cantino reproduces an Arab map and creates the first "European" map mentioning Mauritius with it's Arab name. This map depicts a group of three small islands south east of Madagascar that bear Arabic names: Dina Mozare, a corruption of Diva mashriq, (Eastern Isle).for Rodrigues, Dina Margabim, a corruption of Diva maghrebin or Western Isle, for Reunion, Dina Arobi, from Diva harab, ("Desert Isle" - Others transate this as "Square Isle") for Mauritius. Other maps list the island under the names Dinarobin and Dina Margabin. It is also unclear whether it is Mauritius that was called Dina Arobi or Rodrigues and vice-versa for Rodrigues.

Later Portuguese maps of the early 16th century are further evidence of the discovery of the Mascarenes Archipelago by Arab seamen.

Due to lack of documentary evidence, it is difficult to say with certainty when Arab seamen first landed on the island. Historians point to the end of the 14th century or the beginning of the 15th century as the most likely period for the discovery of the island by Arabs and Malays.

In 1598 Heyndrick Dirrecksen Jolinck, a member of the first Dutch crew to land on Mauritius, wrote:

On 24 (September) 1 and my companions were about six or seven miles from the ship in the ship's boat and going ashore we found a ship's yard lying on the beach and [it] was 44½ feet long and the middle 8 palms thick and at the top 6 palms and [it] was cedar wood of the sort which grows in the Indies, so that it was obvious that a ship had been wrecked here, because along the beach we found more than 200 pounds of wax on some of which Arabic inscriptions were written as follows: (see picture at the top of this page)

But it was difficult to read, because it probably had been drifting at sea for a long time and it was badly battered and rubbed.[1]

Jolinck thought the inscription was Arabic ("Arabische schrift")[3]. However, this does not seem to be the case and it's content has yet to be interpreted.

It is unclear to whom this wax belonged. The crew was convinced it belonged to a Portuguese vessel.

Barnwell and Toussaint [2] surmise that it was two thousand years old and had once belonged to Phoenician traders. It is difficult to believe that a piece of wax would just lay around for 2000 years.

The Arabs never attempted to settle for several reasons.

Firstly, Mauritius was too far removed from their usual trade routes and devoid of populations with whom to trade with and secondly the journey to and from the islands was far too dangerous for Arab dhows.

When Vasco da Gama had sailed along Africa's east coast, according to a myth he was guided by an Arab pilot, Ahmad ibn Majid, who used an Arab map then unknown to European sailors. This theory has now proven to be incorrect.

Recently the Omani Foreign Minister claimed to have evidence that Mauritius in fact formed part of their kingdom in the 15 th century and as such was occupied by them.

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Reference

[1] Moree P.J. 1998
A Concise History of Dutch Mauritius, 1598-1710
London and New York: Kegan Paul International

[2] Barnwell, P.J. and A. Toussaint 1949
A short history or Mauritius,
London: Longmans

[3] Journal of Heyndrick Dirrecksen Jolinck, mate on the Vriesland, p.48 General Archives, The Hague, Archives of the companies of the East Indies, archive 1.04.01, item 60

Tibbetts, G.R. 1971
Arab Navigation in the Indian Ocean Before the Coming of the Portuguese
being a translation of Kitab al-Fawa'id fi usul al-bahr wa'l-qawa'id of Ahmad b. Majid al-Najid. London: The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Arab Maps

Institute for Environmental and Legal Studies