Friday, June 3, 2016


With less than 250 years’ worth of history to our credit, our young nation most certainly wants to promote the little we do have and share it with the quarter million visitors who holiday in our country every year. And that is all the more reason why the stories and tragedies in our history must be told in their entirety and not from a single perspective.

The story of Pompée, the slave who was sentenced to die at the stake, is just one of the many tales already told through the critical eyes of the historian and now the romantic eyes of the artist. And credit for the dedicated art exhibition must go to our local artist and sculptor Egbert Marday.

Opening the exhibition to coincide with this year’s edition of FetAfrik, when our rainbow nation celebrates the African dimension in its melting pot, was well chosen too. Except that as is so common with our omnipresent party politics and political rhetoric in everything we do, the occasion seems to have given government ministers and officials another golden opportunity to claim credit on behalf of their government for improving things for everyone.

That the exhibition showcasing the life of the Mozambican slave and his ‘heroic’ murderous act against what some have termed “the barbaric system of 1810” should ‘bring the story to life for all Seychellois to understand what really happened so we can fully appreciate the future,’ may seem evident to the culture minister.

That it should ‘promote our vibrant history and give tourists and residents alike the opportunity to learn more about important aspects of our history’ may seem less evident to the rest of us, especially since the slave was tried and convicted of murder, even if he pleaded in court that he killed his white overseer because the latter beat him up and because he did not like to be commanded by a white man. The punishment received by the Mozambican-born field worker was that he be burned alive by the French colonial authorities on 15 August, 1810 near the Moosa River in the tiny nameless establishment of a very young colonial outpost barely 40 years old.

“We need to learn from that past so that we can appreciate the future,” the culture minister said as he opened the exhibition which could only have been one artist’s perspective on the slave’s life story. Of course Pompée’s story evokes oppression and repression, and heroism and revolt against barbarism. But it also evokes rebellion and a heinous crime by a man who broke the law. Pompée cleaved his overseer with a sickle whilst his partner in crime held him down. Hardly the stuff of romance and certainly no act of self defence!

This may have been one of the tales upon which our so-called people’s revolution of 1977 was justified with its promise to restore power to an oppressed nation. But it also illustrates perfectly the dangers of viewing history through rose tinted glasses and seeing it in a rosecoloured romantic perspective.

Whilst no one doubts that Pompée may have lived “a very hard life”, or ignore his courage in taking on a ruthless system, this like many other similar stories, must be told in its entirety if it’s to be a true lesson in history and if every Seychellois is to fully understand and appreciate its significance. The Colony of Seychelles in 1810 was part of Napoleon’s First Empire – a time when protest was met by repression. History recalls that Pompée was not burned because he was a black slave but because the small colonial outpost had no executioner to behead him. And besides, his death had to serve as an example to all who dared challenge the authority of the day in a colony of only 317 whites, 135 free blacks and 3,015 slaves.

Since 1810, our liberated country has seen many more Pompées and their stories too are waiting to be told. The post-revolutionary period after the 1977 coup d’état provided the backdrop for many other tragedies and their heroes that remain part of the living memory of many citizens to this day. Stories abound of those who lived, were persecuted and died for their sustained loyalty to the party politics of our pre-independence era. And if they may not have suffered the same fate of Pompée, history does recall Simon Denousse and his friend Mike Asher who died in the inferno of a vehicle on a deserted beach in the South of Mahé in 1982 and Gérard Hoarau gunned down on his front porch in a London suburb in 1985.

Pompée may be an essential part of our young history. But so are the likes of Simon and Gérard, Davidson Chang Him, Bérard Jeannie, Alton Ah-Time, Gilbert Morgan, Hassan Ali and many others who disappeared or were killed in circumstances that have never been elucidated and whose stories have never been told.

That’s why we must also make the same space for their stories in that place where “wonderful art can be placed” and where students, residents and tourists alike can “appreciate the history of Seychelles” and the barbaric acts of a liberator.

N. Tirant

Source:Today in Seychelles