Le Morne Brabant
Mauritius’s beautiful bittersweet heritage22nd Apr 2021
Le Morne Brabant, one of Mauritius’s two World Heritage Sites, is renowned as much for its fabulous scenery and exciting outdoor activities as for its fascinating cultural and historic heritage.
Le Morne – more than just a mountain
Le Morne Brabant is a beautiful, bright green, forested mountain on Le Morne Peninsula, which juts out into the turquoise ocean, fringed by Le Morne Beach. It’s a great place to swim, snorkel, scuba dive, surf and/or sail. Or just lounge around on the white sand under a coconut palm.
The mountain itself is home to some beautiful plants, and interesting birds and small animals, but it is for its history that it was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008. It was here – in this isolated spot – that runaway slaves hid out in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The maroons, as they were called, resisted all attempts at recapture, and created a community that lasted for decades, and Le Morne Brabant Cultural Landscape is preserved in their memory. But, while the mountain and beach are beautiful and interesting, it’s the offshore underwater ‘waterfall’ that is truly unique.
There is a sad ending to the story of the brave maroons – although it is not 100% sure that the story is true. Anyhow, here’s how it goes: In 1834, the British abolished slavery, and – as a gesture of goodwill – sent a troop of soldiers to Le Morne to give the maroons the good news: they were legally free, and could live anywhere on the island. But, having little reason to expect anything positive to come out of an encounter with a troop of redcoats, they didn’t stand around to find out what the soldiers wanted. Believing that they were to be dragged back to bondage, the maroons chose death in freedom rather than return to the horrors of slavery. So hundreds of them climbed to the top of the mountain and jumped into the sea. It’s not a nice story, and I hope it isn’t true. I take some comfort in the thought that – over the decades that the slaves had been hiding out on the mountain – they must have had the odd skirmish with authorities, and it is on record that they had numerous hiding places, so it is unlikely they would have given up hope that easily. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a dramatic story, and there is more than one kind of truth.
The underwater waterfall is not a waterfall at all, but it is a truly fascinating spectacle. The combination of the crystal clear water, the fine white sand, and the precipitous drop-off down into the abyssal depths of the Indian Ocean create a mesmerising optical illusion. It’s sand, not water, that tumbles over the underwater ‘cliff’ that drops down 4,000 metres to the inky depths. You can swim over it, surf very close to it, or sail over it, but the best views of it are from the air – or from Le Morne Brabant.
Hike Le Morne Brabant
Le Morne Brabant is one of the most rewarding hikes on Mauritius – with something for everyone. It’s almost tailor-made for tourists with the first half being a wide, gradually sloping path that is doable by almost anyone. The second half, though, is a different story. Not so much a hike as a scramble, it is steep and not at all well marked, which is why you are not permitted to do it without a guide. But it’s worth it. The views are spectacular – you can even see the underwater ‘waterfall’ – and the big metal cross is a reminder of the mountain’s dark but liberating history.