Reaching the Nations

Mauritius

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area:  2,040 square km.  Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.  The tropical climate has wet summers and dry, warm winters.  Mountains dominate the interior and plains occupy coastal areas.  Cyclones and reefs are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include water pollution and coral reef degradation.  Mauritius is administratively divided into nine districts and three dependencies.

Population: 1,303,717 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: 0.729% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 1.79 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: 71.01 male, 78.12 female (2011)

Peoples

Indo-Mauritian: 68%

Creole: 27%

Sino-Mauritian: 3%

Franco-Mauritian: 2%

Mauritius had no indigenous inhabitants.  Current inhabitants arrived from the British and French relocating peoples in other colonies to work in plantations, particularly from India and China.  Few Europeans, mainly French, remain on the islands. 

Languages: Creole (80.5%), Bhojpuri (12.1%), French (3.4%), English (less than 1%), other (3.7%), unspecified (0.3%).  English is the official language.  No languages have over one million speakers.  Creole has the most speakers (800,000).

Literacy: 84.4% (2000)

History

Arab and Malay sailors first discovered Mauritius in the tenth century.  The Portuguese discovered the island in the sixteenth century.  Mauritius was settled by the Dutch in the seventeenth century.  The French took control in 1715, developing the island's resources and establishing a naval base.  The British conquered the island in 1810, developed the country's naval base, and established an air base. Mauritius remained part of the United Kingdom until independence in 1968.  Stability and democracy attracted investment.  The nation has one of the most develop economies in Africa, but the stability of the country depends on sugar prices, textile production and favorable weather. 

Culture 

A blend of ethnicities has resulted in a very heterogeneous culture influenced by Indian, Chinese and European influences.  Cuisine draws upon a combination of these influences.  Rum production from sugar has occurred for hundreds of years.  Extinct for hundreds of years, the Dodo bird only lived on Mauritius and still has cultural significance.  Ethnic groups tend to live separately from one another due to differences in language, culture and religion.  Recreation continues to gain popularity.  Indians dominate government and politics.  Cigarette consumption rates compare to the worldwide average whereas alcohol consumption rates are low. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $14,000 (2010) [29.5% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.701

Corruption Index: 5.4

Originally dependent on agriculture, the economy of Mauritius has diversified to include industrial, financial and tourist sectors.  Stability since independence attracted foreign investment for sugar, tourism and banking.  The location of the island provides a cheaper alternative compared to more industrialized nations around the Indian Ocean like Singapore or the United Arab of Emirates.  Services generate 70.5% of the GDP.  Textile manufacturing is a major industry.  Sugar is the most important cash crop.  Immerging industries include fishing and technology.  Primary export partners include the United Kingdom, France and the United States.  Primary import partners include India, France and South Africa. 

Corruption levels rank among the lowest in Africa.  Bribe taking among politicians and government favoritism toward specific private companies are issues of concern.[1]

Faiths

Hindu: 48%

Christian: 32.2%

Muslim: 16.6%

Other: 2.5%

Unspecified: 0.3%

None: 0.4%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  303,086

Seventh-Day Adventists  4,409  30

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,683  26

Latter-Day Saints  406  2

Religion

Many of the Indians taken to Mauritius by the British retained their Hindu or Muslim beliefs.  The Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination as a result of French rule and claims 92% of the population of the small island of Rodrigues.  Northern areas of the main island are more Hindi and central areas are more Catholic.  Tensions exist between Hindus, the largest religious group, and the smaller Christian and Muslim populations.  Ethnic and religious groups tend to live separate from one another in close knit communities.[2]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 72nd

Religious freedom is protected by the constitution and generally upheld by the government.  Many Catholic and Hindu holidays are recognized by the government.  To register, religious groups must have at least seven members.  Tax-exemption status is granted by the Ministry of Finance.  No religious groups appear to have been denied registration.  Tensions exist between Hindus, Muslims and Christians but all groups were allowed to worship freely.  In March 2010, Christians and Hindus clashed resulting in numerous injuries and damaged property as a result of a 15 Hindu men harassing a Pentecostal group.  Foreign missionaries may proselyte, but must obtain both a visa and work permit.[3]

Major Cities

Urban: 42%

Port Louis, Beau Bassin-Rose Hill, Vascoas-Phoenix, Curepipe, Quatre Bornes, Triolet, Goodlands, Bel Air, Central Flacq, Le Hochet.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

Two of the 10 largest cities have a published Church presence.  48% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.

LDS History

The first member arrived in 1856 as a missionary named Elder George Kershaw.  During the two months of his stay, around ten people joined the Church.  Few to no members lived in Mauritius and no Church presence existed between the late 1850s and 1979.  The Church was reestablished in 1979 through the International Mission and in 1986, the South Africa Johannesburg Mission began administering Mauritius.  Two years later the Mascarene Islands Mission was created in Reunion which also included Mauritius and Madagascar.[4]  Elder Marvin J. Ashton dedicated Mauritius and Reunion for missionary work in November 1988.[5]  In 1991, the mission's headquarters were transferred to Durban, South Africa.  Mauritius has pertained to the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission since the creation of the mission in 1998.[6]  Seminary and institute began in 1993.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 406 (2010)

By 1988 there were 400 members living in Mauritius and Reunion.[7]  By 2000 there were 295 members on Mauritius.  Membership increased to 361 in 2004 and 363 in 2008.  The most rapid annual membership growth rate occurred in 2001 at 12.9%.  Annual membership growth rates declined in 2005 and 2008 by around 1%, but in most years range from 0% to 3%. 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 2

The first branch was created by missionaries in 1982 and likely belonged to the St. Denis Reunion District, which was created the same year.  By 1988 two branches functioned.

Both of the branches were combined into one branch in the 1990s.  A second branch was recreated in 2004.  In late 2009 there were two branches: The Rose Hill and Phoenix Branches.  Both branches report directly to the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission.

Activity and Retention

23 were enrolled in seminary and institute during the 2008-2009 school year.  Active membership for each branch is likely between 50 and 100, indicating there are likely 100-150 active members in Mauritius, or 40% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, French, Tamil, Urdu

All LDS scriptures and most Church materials are translated in French.  Translations of LDS materials into  Mauritian Creole are limited to Gospel Principles.  The Church translated the Book of Mormon and some audiovisual materials in Tamil.  The Book of Mormon, The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony, and a few audiovisual materials are available in Urdu.

Meetinghouses

The Rose Hill and Phoenix Branch met in separate meetinghouses, both of which are likely rented spaces or renovated buildings.

Health and Safety

HIV/AIDS infects 1.7% of the population.  Cyclones are a risk from November through May.  Good private health care is available in Mauritius.

Humanitarian and Development Work

Missionaries supervised local members making 250 bags for school children in Rose Hill, le Morne, and Flaq.[8]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

No legal obstacles prohibit proselytism.  The Church has yet to take greater advantage of religious freedom in missionary work, especially with the significant Hindu and Muslim populations.

Cultural Issues

The racial diversity found in Mauritian society challenges the Church in integrating multiple ethnic groups into the same congregations.  Most ethnic groups have little interaction with one another.  Tensions between religious groups challenge Church outreach by the diverse religious background of the population.  Lack of interest in religion as greater economic prosperity continues may be partly responsible for slow membership growth since the mid-2000s.

National Outreach

Despite most of the population living on the main island that is only 30 miles across, most of the inhabitants do not live near established Church centers.  The inhabitants of Rose Hill and Phoenix account for only 17% of the national population and many of these individuals likely have little awareness of the Church and its beliefs.  Only one of the nine districts and none of the island dependencies has a congregation.  The Church has had the opportunity to conduct missionary work for 30 years, yet only a fraction of the population has a congregation nearby in two of the three largest cities.  Only one or two sets of missionaries served in the country in late 2009.

Reasons why little outreach has occurred despite a long, continual Church presence are plentiful.  Current Church congregations function in the more Catholic areas of Mauritius, indicating that the greatest success in proselytism initially occurred among Catholics or that the Church's first missionary efforts began in this region and did not expand elsewhere.  Lack of receptivity in Mauritius and Reunion may be one of the reasons which led to the relocation of the Mascarene Islands Mission to Durban, South Africa.  Distance between Durban, South Africa and Mauritius likely limited mission presidency visits which may have lessened local membership training and support during the 1990s.  Few missionaries were likely assigned during this period due to distance and greater receptivity in South Africa, Madagascar, and Reunion.  Besides the late 1980s and early 1990s, the greatest outreach may have occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s before more rapid growth occurred in Madagascar.  The recent rapid increase in convert baptisms and congregations in Madagascar has required greater mission resources, which have likely put prospects for greater outreach in Reunion and Mauritius on hold. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member activity appears to have remained unchanged over the past decade, but is perhaps higher than other African nations with small memberships.  Many African nations with little outreach and few members can have only one congregation for 500 or 600 members.  The increase in membership in the early 2000s may have contributed to the creation of a second branch.  Emigration problems in addition to few convert baptisms likely contribute to nearly no change in membership since 2005.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Ethnic issues in congregations likely do not pose significant challenges for the Church at present.  Rather, the segregated living conditions of most due to differences in religion and language appear difficult for finding those interested in the Church and integrating them into LDS congregations.

Language Issues

Due to the small Mauritian membership, only one Church resource is translated into Mauritian Creole.  The lack of any LDS scriptures and other materials in the most widely spoken language challenge greater outreach among the population.  Bhojpuri is the second most widely spoken language, yet does not have any Church materials translated due to a lack of a Church presence in areas of India where Bhojpuri is spoken.  

Missionary Service

Mauritius has had few if any members serve full-time missions and relies on foreign full-time missionaries to staff its missionary force.  Missionaries who serve in Mauritius first serve in Reunion to develop greater fluency in French.  Only a couple missionary companionships were serving in the country in 2009.  Inadequate numbers of full-time missionaries assigned to the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission have contributed to few full-time missionaries working on the island.

Leadership

Both branches were led by local Mauritian members in late 2009.  The Church has benefited from local leadership mature enough to lead two branches in a country with a membership of less than 400.  Detachment from mission headquarters may have contributed to the resilience of local leadership which has learned better self reliance in managing Church affairs compared to other African countries with small LDS populations.  Developed local leadership provides the opportunity for greater accommodation of new converts.

Temple

Mauritius belongs to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple District, nearly 2,000 miles away.  The small membership likely has few temple visits due to distance and expenses.  A closer, potential temple in Madagascar in the future would significantly lessen demands on time and finances to visit the temple.

Comparative Growth

Mauritius has experienced the slowest membership growth in Africa.  The only other countries in Africa with smaller membership either have not had a continuous Church presence or had the Church first established after 2000.  The small Church membership appears more resilient than other comparable African nations with small memberships as manifest by two congregations functioning. 

Most Christian denominations experience more limited growth in Mauritius compared to other African nations.  Outreach for other churches is also limited due to the islands' remote location and greater receptivity in other African nations.  Pentecostals have seen the greatest growth.  Despite similar challenges with the LDS Church, other Christian groups have memberships in the thousands or tens of thousands.  This likely demonstrates that most Christian groups have more active membership in sharing their beliefs with those around them and that these groups have been more efficient with limited missionary resources. 

Future Prospects

Due to limited missionary resources and a lack of member involvement in missionary work, little membership growth will likely occur in the medium term future.  Additional cities in predominantly Hindu and Muslim areas are challenging to open with full-time missionaries, but are key to greater country outreach.  In order to accommodate the unique challenges in Mauritius and Reunion, a mission for the two islands may one day be reorganized and based in Reunion.  A district may be organized one day for Mauritius if additional congregations are created and staffed by local members.


[1]  "No to corruption, yes to integrity," Transparency Mauritius, retrieved 3 January 2011.  http://transparencymauritius.intnet.mu/introeng.htm

[2]  "Mauritius," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148707.htm

[3]  "Mauritius," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148707.htm

[4]  "Mauritius," Country Profile, retrieved 3 January 2011.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/mauritius

[5]  "News of the Church", Ensign, Mar. 1989, 74-80.  http://lds.org/ensign/1989/03/news-of-the-church?lang=eng

[6]  "Mauritius," Country Profile, retrieved 3 January 2011.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/mauritius

[7]  "Mauritius," Country Profile, retrieved 3 January 2011.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/mauritius

[8]  "School bags for children," LDS Church News, 3 February 2007.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/50090/School-bags-for-children.html