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Seychelles: Seychelles Art / Culture Profile


Seychelles moutia
History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Country. The country was not inhabited at the same time as Europeans discovered and settled the islands. While the French originally settled in 1770, the British took control during the Napoleonic Wars, but without throwing out the French upper class. The settlers brought slaves, and the society featured white domination and black slavery.

Next the British prohibited slavery in 1835, the influx of African workers did not end because British warships captured Arab slavers and forced the liberated slaves to work on plantations as "apprentices" without pay.

The Gran'bla (\"large whites\") of French origin dominated the economy and political life, with a British colonial government that at times was supportive but was often hostile to them. The government did not permit the importation of Indian indentured laborers. Therefore, the Indian component of the people is small and, like a similar minority of Chinese, is confined to a merchant class.

The country became independent from Britain in 1976, with the exception of the islands retained as the British Indian Ocean Territory. This included Diego Garcia, which was developed as U.S. military base.

National Identity. Independence brought public debate about issues of national identity and allegiance. The winner of the initial election for the presidency, James Mancham, favored integration or close ties with Britain; his major opponent, France Albert René, saw this as a danger to the national identity, which he considered African.

He as well had strong socialist leanings. The Gran\'bla wanted to reestablish ties with France. René toppled the initial elected government in a coup in 1977 and established a one-party national that lasted until 1992. However, his party, the Seychelles People\'s Progressive Front (SPPF), remained in power next the election of 1992, and René won the presidential election of 1993 and has been president since.

Ethnic Relations.

The Indian and Chinese merchants form two distinct ethnic communities, as do the gran\'bla . Those that were evicted from Diego Garcia at the same time as the U.S. military base was established are called Illois. They are as well found in Mauritius and regard themselves as distinct from Seychellois although they historically and culturally belong to the mobile plantation worker class in Seychelles. Ethnic relations are mainly relations of class in Seychelles.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Traditional architecture had two distinct forms: plantations and town houses. The plantation was focused on a lakou (courtyard with an owner\'s or manager\'s home), the kalorife (drying oven for copra), and storage houses. Separate from the courtyard were the workers\' houses with thatched roofs, and on some plantations as well with walls made from coconut leaves. The workers\' houses often were divided into two parts: a sleeping room and a living room. The living room often was filled with furniture and seldom was used, as most social life took place outdoors. The kitchen was usually in a separate home. The typical town home had a general Victorian form, but both the roof and the walls may be made of corrugated iron sheets. With the decline of the plantation sector and agriculture in general the traditional lay out of the courtyards are disappearing. New houses are often constructed in an architecture common to a lot of former British colonies, such that there is often a flat roof with a slight slope and windows with a lot of horizontally arranged panes that can be tilted in order to allow easy circulation of air.
Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The staple is curry and rice, which may be eaten two or three times a day. The curry may be based on fish or meat. Coconut milk often is used in the curry. Upper-class Creoles eat meals that consist of both fish and meat. Alcoholism has been prevalent, half because the plantations used drinks as payments and incentives. Part the working classes drinking tended to be solitary. A typical drink is palm wine, fermented sap tapped from coconut palm fronds.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. There are no specific foods for ceremonial occasions, but meat is preferred.

Basic Economy. In a land-based plantation economy, copra and in some periods cinnamon and vanilla were the major exports. In 1960, about a third of the economically active people worked on plantations, and about 20 % in the public sector. Next the opening of the international airport in 1971, tourism became significant. Segmentation of the economy into the tourism and plantation sectors developed. Wages were much higher in the tourism sector. There was little scope for expansion of the plantation economy or for increases in wages, since the wage-paying potential was fixed by international prices of plantation crops. The plantation sector declined, and agriculture presently accounts for about 4 % of the gross domestic product (GDP) and less than 10 % of the workforce. Although Seychelles copra is of very high quality, it is likely that the plantation sector will disappear completely. Tourism presently employs 30 % of the labor force and accounts for 13 % of GDP and 60 % of foreign exchange earnings. Although the country is presently classified as an upper-middle-gain economy by the World Bank, it has retained an unequal gain distribution, and in 1992, about 7 % of the people was considered poor. The Seychelles Rupee (SRS) is the national currency. There is approximately 5 SRS to the USD.

Land Tenure and Property. While historically the gran\'bla owned nearly the all land, the postindependence period saw the sale of land being to outsiders. In 1960, fifty-six landowners held two-thirds of the agricultural land. In 1976, 56 % was held by foreigners.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Social stratification is symbolized largely by skin color and ethnic origin. There is hierarchy of color terms, from ble (\"blue\") to bla-rose (\"white-pink\") that coincides with the historical continuum of status from plantation worker to landowner. Seychellois use the color terms to identify the people they are talking about. The degree to which color and class determine the social order is a contested issue.

Symbols of Social Stratification. There are no particular symbols of social stratification apart from skin color and complexion.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. There are no strict norms for the division of labor by gender, but several statistical tendencies. In particular, women rarely fish. In the plantation economy, both men and women worked as wage laborers. The tourism industry as well employs women, although the labor force participation of women relative to men has been reduced by the decline of the plantation economy. Female employment is about 40 % of that of males in government and 14 % in clerical and professional jobs.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women generally have a high status in the working class, but not in other social strata. Women control economic resources within the family and often pursue economic careers. Traditionally, violence between spouses has been a problem, usually with women as the victims.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Consensual unions are common but less so part the gran\'bla and the Indian and Chinese communities. Polygamy is not practiced, but unions are unstable and divorce or breakup is common. Fifty to 60 % of births are to women who are not married and often are not acknowledged by the child\'s father. The partners generally arrange the marriage. There is a strong contractual aspect to marriage, with a clear division of responsibilities between men and women. Part working-class people, the man gives his spouse his wages, which are used for daily expenditures for food, clothes, and the children. Women use their own gain for durables, which they keep if the union dissolves. To a large extent, marriages occur within the same social and color strata.

Domestic Unit. The form of the domestic unit varies with class. The ideal gran\'bla family is nuclear. Part plantation workers, serial monogamy is prevalent, with the woman as the stable center of a domestic unit that consists of herself, her husband (married or in a consensual union), her children regardless of their father, and fostered children. Plantation workers developed a highly regulated system of fosterage in which firstborn children were given to the maternal grandmother or an aunt. A young women who gave away a child early would receive children later from her daughters or younger sisters. This fostering occurred in all classes. The nature of the system differed with the relative social class of the child giver and the child recipient: with large asymmetry in favor of the recipient, this became a system of domestic child work. With the sharp reduction in fertility rates in recent years, the system has been impossible to maintain. Each member of a household is assigned his or her own tasks.

Inheritance. Inheritance is bilateral, with men and women having equal rights.

Kin Groups. Descent is generally bilateral and no descent groups are formed. However, descent has a strong matrilateral bias, particularly in the working class. That and the practice of fostering children create networks of women that resemble kin groups. Gran\'bla families were formed in the same manner as European families, with an emphasis on patrilineal succession to a name and attempts to keep property within the family.

Infant Care. Infants sleep with their parents, particularly the mother. Toddlers have freedom to roam but often are watched by older siblings. They are given small tasks from an early age in accordance with the precise assignment of tasks within the household.

Child Rearing and Education. Early initiation to an active sexual life has been considered a problem by health authorities. The number of children born to women below age twenty is high. Enrollment in primary education is universal but drops off at the secondary stage. Girls enroll as often as boys. The post-1997 revolutionary regime established a National Youth Service (NYS) along socialist lines. The NYS was restored in 1999 with the fifth grade of secondary school.

Higher Education. Those who want higher education attend schools and universities overseas. No higher education is available domestically except for polytechnic training, inclunding teacher training, nursing, tourism, and arts.