We are offering a word from Kreol Morisien, or Mauritian Creole, which is the most widely-spoken language on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius – where English and French are also spoken. While Kreol Morisien is the most widely spoken language, it is also the language which has the least official value, despite significant upward social movement in the past years. Kreol Morisien remains a largely oral language, with people having emotional or attitudinal connections, and still suffers from being the language of low prestige.
To understand the links between Kreol Morisien and the relationship to nature, let’s take a little journey through Mauritian history. Mauritius had no indigenous population when discovered by the Portuguese in the early 16th Century. Unlike many other colonised nations with indigenous peoples who have strong historical and ancestral bonds to the land and environment, we wonder whether the non-existence of an indigenous human population in Mauritius could account for the lack of strong heritage and ancestral ties to the island and its ecosystem.
France, Britain and others brought waves of settlement, slavery and bonded labour to Mauritius. All settlers, whether intentionally or forced, came to the country solely for the exploitation of the land and use of the ecosystem as ‘resources’ to be marketed and sold. This historical legacy, of capitalist ideology, continues to impact on the environment in Mauritius and, despite conservationist interventions and campaigns, the island continues to face significant ecological damage as a direct result of human activities. Despite its small size, the Mauritian environment is being rapidly degraded – including water pollution, degradation of coral reefs, extinction of endemic flora, and near-extinction of the Rodrigues fruit bat or golden bat. Only 9 out of 25 known species of indigenous birds remain in existence on the island, and less than 2% of the native forest remains.
Danbwa is a word that is literally translated into ‘in (dan) wood (bwa)’ and would be a synonym for ‘bwa’ (wood). Subtle variations of the word bring nuanced meanings, such as, separating it into two ‘dan bwa’ to describe ‘in the woods’ or the motion of going into the woods. Danbwa is a word used to represent the woods or wilderness. For some it brings to mind the forest and trees. For others, the latter could also mean the wild nature or the notion of savagery – as applied to humans too. ‘Danbwa’ can also mean ‘unexploited’ and ‘undeveloped’ land, where the forest and natural ecosystems are perceived as ‘empty land’ which is meant for human intervention, construction, and exploitation. It links to the phrase ‘zet sa dan bwa’ (throw that in the woods) as a metaphor to mean get rid of something or someone who is unnecessary or considered a waste of time. Unfortunately, it also has very literal implications too.Here we share a vision of how a relationship with the woods might one day be different from what we see today – where the forests of Mauritius are often a place of dumping and pollution. We bring ‘danbwa’ to life in all its wild growth and wildish nature through a poem performed as an incantation – a chant for the woods and for the earth, an invocation for humans to connect with their bodies as made of earth to connect with spirit of the woods too. It is a summoning of the ancient life force that aches for healing, that moves inside each and every living being, and remembrance to protect and nourish the soil from which we came, on which we live, and to which we will return.
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