Preserving Chinatown in Mauritius

Updated 9:28 AM ET, Thu January 10, 2019
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A martial arts Wing Chun school in Chinatown in Mauritius. The district is one of the oldest Chinatowns in Africa having been built by migrants arriving as far back as the 1780s. But there has been a small Chinese presence in Mauritius since the 1600s when the Dutch bought over indentured laborers. Today, Chinese Mauritians are moving out of the area -- mostly abroad.
Street art in Chinatown in Mauritius. The area is now mostly a center for trade rather than living. It's a problem that is being seen elsewhere in the world from Washington and San Francisco's Chinatown to Cuba, in Havana's Barrio Chino, one of the oldest and largest Chinatown districts in Latin America that now famously contains very little Chinese, according to the Visit Cuba website. CNN
Stephan Ah-Sen is a choreographer who had been living abroad, in Singapore, for the last 17 years. He recently returned to Mauritius to help his father run the family business. This shop in Chinatown has been in his family for over half a century. "I am one of the rare ones to come back and stay to work in the shop," he said. CNN
First discovered by Arabs, Mauritius was uninhabited when the Portuguese found it during their early voyages around 1507.
Next came the Dutch who named it after their prince -- Maurits Van Nassau in 1598. Dutch, French and British colonial governments turned the island into a slave plantation, enforcing slaves from neighboring Madagascar and elsewhere across Africa. When slavery was fully abolished in 1835, the British bought in indentured servants from India whose descendants now make up around 70% of the population. Laborers from China were also recruited.
Pictured: Port Louis circa 1955. Household items displayed outside an Indian merchant's shop.
Richard Harrington/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Today, residents of Chinese descent are made up of Hakka-speaking Chinese who arrived from the Guangdong province in the late 1800s. Many had planned to work on the gold mining rush in South Africa and had stopped at Mauritius on their way.
Pictured: Tea being served at a restaurant in Port Louis' Chinatown in Mauritius.
Chinese descendants believe that if they can spark a revival in Chinatown, the community will thrive once again - enticing other young people who are Chinese Mauritian to return to the island. CNN
Younger residents are helping to repaint old buildings. "We are seeing shops closing down because no one is around to take up the shop and continue the legacy in a way because a lot of the kids who go abroad overseas to study they don't come back," said Ah-Sen. CNN
Some residents worry that the community "in a few years' time, might become as dead as the dodo," according to Roland Tsang Kwai Kew in an article published in local paper Defimedia -- referring to the flightless bird that was native to Mauritius but became extinct. "Nowadays, most of the third generation of Mauritian Chinese who have left Mauritius to study abroad do not want to come back and work for the country," he wrote.
Pictured: A bakery in Chinatown in Mauritius selling mooncakes.
It's claimed nightly patrols by a martial arts school has helped keep the peace and cut down on crime in the community by just being present. CNN