The Outstanding Universal Value of the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Property

 

1) Brief synthesis

 

​i. Summary of factual information

 

The Aapravasi Ghat Immigration Depot is the site from where the modern indentured labour diaspora emerged. The Immigration Depot was built in 1849 to receive indentured labourers who arrived from India, Eastern Africa, Madagascar, China and Southeast Asia to work on the island’s sugar estates. The architectural ensemble stands for this 'Great Experiment', an attempt initiated by the British Government after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834 to demonstrate the superiority of ‘free’ over slave labour in its plantation colonies.

The success of the 'Great Experiment' in Mauritius led to its adoption by other colonial powers as from 1840s resulting in a world-wide migration of more than two million indentured labourers. Mauritius received the greatest number of indentured labourers thus preceding Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad, Cuba, Peru and Reunion Island. The property is unique because it is one of the only surviving examples of an Immigration Depot dating from this 19th century global labour migration. It stands for the symbol of the Great Experiment that led to the use of indenture throughout the world.

​ii. Summary of qualities (values, attributes)

The Aapravasi Ghat site stands as a major historic testimony of indenture in the 19th century and embodies the success of the 'Great Experiment' that led the British Government to replicate this system in its colonies around the world. From 1840s, other colonial powers such as Holland, France, Portugal and Spain began to resort to the use of foreign contract labour for their colonies. The Mauritian experiment succeeded in demonstrating the viability of ‘free’ or contractual labour in plantation economies and led to the migration of more than 2 million indentured labourers from India, Eastern Africa, Madagascar, China and Southeast Asia to the Indian Ocean and other parts of the world.


The Aapravasi Ghat represents not only the development of the modern system of contractual labour, but also the memories, traditions and values that these men, women and children carried with them when they left their homes to work in foreign lands and subsequently bequeathed to their millions of descendants.

Indenture entailed a mass migration that resulted in the creation of multicultural societies in the Indian Ocean, in the Caribbean, in the Pacific and in Latin America. The ‘experiment’ was one of the first explicit manifestations of the new global economic system that had come into existence by the mid-19th century and that still exists today. The Aapravasi Ghat site holds great symbolic meaning for the descendants of those who entered Mauritius through its steps.

 

Chronology

The Immigration Depot evolved in three distinct phases that mark the major evolutions in the history of indentured immigration in Mauritius.
 
Phase 1: pre-establishment
 
The period 1834 to 1849 marked the creation of the depot and the establishment of the indenture system on the island.
 
Phase 2: Creation and the first phase of extension
 
The period from 1849 to 1866 corresponds to the peak years of indentured immigration.
 
Phase 3: Second extension phase and final phase of occupation
 
The period from 1867 to 1938 marked the decline in indentured immigration to Mauritius and the progressive shift in use from immigration depot to other government offices (1938-1960).

 

The Great Experiment

Mauritius was the crucial test case in the use of indentured labour and was the first country to received indentured labourers during the nineteenth century. This modern system of indentured labour was introduced after the abolition of slavery in 1834 in the British Empire.

 

Site history 

The Aapravasi Ghat, originally known as the Immigration Depot, was constructed in 1849 to receive newly arrived immigrants under indenture, register them and allocate them to sugar estates. In addition, the Depot also housed the office of the Protector of Immigrants which was responsible for the supervision of return migrants, recording of land purchases by immigrants and delivering of immigrants’ marriage certificates.

The buildings that existed originally on the site of the Aapravasi Ghat were the Protector of Immigrants’ and Immigration officers’ offices, sheds for immigrants, kitchens, lavatories, etc. The layout that we see today is the culmination of a construction sequence that began in 1849. Although less than half of the Immigration Depot as it was in 1865 still exists, the Depot’s key components still remain. These components reveal much about the history of the indenture immigrant system.

 
The Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site is composed of :
 
  • Entrance Gateway
  • Hospital Block
    • Gate Keeper’s Room
    • Stable
    • Cart House
    • Kitchen
    • Surgery and Ward Room
    • Staff Privies
  • Immigrants’ Sheds
  • Immigrants’Kitchen
  • Sirdars’ Quarters
  • Immigrant Privies
  • Bathing Area
  • Steps
  • Outer Wall at Wharf Level