Carnival and national monuments: A place for both in Seychelles

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Two months ago, the Seychelles’ capital of Victoria, aka the Kreol Capital of the World, was a beehive of activity as the 2016’s carnival main activity, the grand parade, was being prepared to beg

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Two months ago, the Seychelles’ capital of Victoria, aka the Kreol Capital of the World, was a beehive of activity as the 2016’s carnival main activity, the grand parade, was being prepared to begin its waltz through the city.

No doubt, looking back, it was the best prepared and best organized Carnival since its launch in 2011, and having seen them all, I think I am qualified to offer an opinion on that score.

Seychelles Tourism even took sections of the carnivalistas to the archipelago’s second largest island of Praslin to give the people there a glimpse of what had happened the afternoon before on the main island of Mahe.

It came as no surprise, that the people of Praslin swiftly asked for their own mini parade for the 2017 carnival, not with a full complement of course but at least showcasing the key performers like Notting Hill, Brazil, Germany, and a few others, dancing through the streets of Praslin’s main settlement.

Given the undeniable success the Seychelles’ carnival has generated over the years and the media attention it has created, with the buzz reverberating around the world and then some more, there are, however, now also thoughts emerging to add yet more value to the event.

This correspondent, having talked with colleagues and locals, has come to believe that the Seychelles, arguably the world’s most tolerant and peaceful rainbow nation, is the ideal place to add some extra spice to the three-day event.

Being friends with all and enemies of none – going by the eloquent description of his country by Tourism and Culture Minister Alain St. Ange, it seems the perfect location for a tourism peace award scheme to be launched in 2017, perhaps in conjunction with the International Institute for Peace through Tourism of my friend Louis D’ Amore. Such an award could invite for nominations from around the world for countries, companies, and individuals to be put forward for their verifiable efforts to promote peace through tourism, be invited to be part of the carnival celebrations, and be showcased on their own float, a reminder for the spectators and the media present that without peace, tourism is not possible but that with tourism, peace can be within reach.

Am I overreaching? Some no doubt will say yes, but I know that many will enthusiastically embrace the concept and advocate and lobby for its implementation.

Maybe on the day when the main press conference is taking place – this year supplemented and greatly enhanced by the world premiere of the Aldabra Atoll documentary “Once Upon an Island” – the evening could be used to hold the award ceremony and so honor promoters of peace while giving the Seychelles yet another platform to shine and lead in the world of tourism.

At the very least, the powers that be in the Seychelles tourism industry now have something to think about, ponder, and discuss and time will tell how far the idea will go.

Meanwhile though, the archipelago has shown its own internal commitment to celebrate its upcoming 40th independence anniversary on June 29, with the unveiling of a new national monument. It will no doubt swiftly find its way into the regular tours of Mahe which tourists take, organized or by public transport, and still available for locals and visitors alike at 5 Seychelles rupees per boarding.

Here, tourism and culture, history and heritage merge into a perfect blend of what the Seychelles’ tourism establishment today believes is the right mix to market the islands.

Two of the many institutions that can claim to have contributed to the islands successes are Seychelles College and Regina Mundi which produced the many professionals both in the private and public sector who helped shape the destiny of the nation. Many teachers, doctors, engineers, architects, and politicians – among others – are all products of these two great schools. Presidents James Mancham and Albert René as well as the Catholic and Anglican Bishops, Monseigneur Felix Paul and Archbishop French Chang-Him, and Chief Justices Georges Souyave and Mathilda Twomey number among the graduates of these schools.

The initiative of a monument was first mooted with the formation of the Regina Mundi Convent and Seychelles College (RMSC) Alumni following a get-together of former students of these institutions at Le Meridien Barbarons in 2010. Since then the project gathered momentum and the monument, now under construction at the entrance to the former Seychelles College, has been conceived, designed, built, and funded by the ex-students.

Seychelles College, which opened its doors in January 1950 and closed in 1982, was run for the most part by the Plöermel Brothers of Christian Instruction with the first Seychellois Headmaster, Mr. Zotique Pragassen, taking up the post in 1976. The Regina Mundi Convent School opened in January 1957 and closed in December 1980. It was run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph de Cluny.

The establishment of the two schools was the initiative of the then Director of Education, Walter Giles, who made it one of his priority projects having identified improving the level of Education in the Colony as a key objective. At that time, the Catholic church was the body responsible for education, having built schools in its various parishes around the islands. Mr. Giles had to negotiate the construction of these 2 schools with the then Bishop of Seychelles, Monseigneur Olivier Maradan. The negotiation started in 1945.

The Bishop agreed to the construction of the schools as long as they were run by Catholic christian brothers and sisters. Mr, Giles consequently approached the Brothers of Christian Instruction in Quebec, Canada, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph de Cluny in Ireland to run the schools, but using English as opposed to French as the medium of instruction as had prevailed before.

After several years of toing and froing, the Seychelles College was finally opened in 1949, and the Brothers took charge in 1950. After a further 6 years of negotiations with the Bishop Maradan, the Regina Mundi Convent was finally constructed and opened its doors in 1957.

Seychelles College was by and large a boys’ school, although in the ‘70s it admitted girls to the Advanced Level Course ran only at the College. Regina Mundi was always a girls’ school, although in its early years admitted boys at the kindergarten level. Throughout their existence, both schools employed several expatriate (mostly from the UK) and Seychellois lay teachers.

The Second Republic, which came into being on June 5, 1977, ushered in its wake a comprehensive review of the country’s education system including “zoning” which required that all children attended schools in their districts. Education was made compulsory and free. The new scenario resulted in both college and convent being closed down. Regina Mundi shut its doors in 1980 and Seychelles College likewise in 1982.

Some moaned the closure of the two institutions while others saw them as “elitist” and incompatible with the agenda of the new socialist-oriented government which placed heavy emphasis on equality of opportunity in education where the ability to pay had no place in access to universal education.

Nearly 40 years on, the “elitist” label attached to college and convent at the time of their closure is seen in a different light by some – not least by their former students. Both schools were fee-paying, although a bursary program was in place for students from other schools who excelled at the national entrance examinations held yearly to admit students to the secondary sections of both schools. True, the majority who met the admission criteria came from the college and convent primary schools which had an advantage over other parish schools in terms of the quality and quantity of resources at their disposal. The defenders of the college and convent point to the social context of their existence as being responsible for the limited access to the schools. Both offered high-quality education and did not discriminate against new entrants from other schools who qualified, but some who gained admission contest this assertion.

Another significant element which has to be highlighted to put things in perspective is the existence for many years of the additional stream referred to as “Special Standard Six” which was run for those whose entrance exam results did not immediately qualify them for admission but who showed an aptitude for further academic studies with some extra tuition and coaching. Most of them, who were bursars even at the primary level for the extra year, met the admission criteria the following year. It has to be acknowledged here, however, that there are claims by some that although they met the academic threshold for admission to the college and convent, they were denied the opportunity of entry on grounds of a subsequent “means test” which determined that their parents could not afford the school fees.

It should also be noted that the college and convent did not always depend entirely on the income through school fees for their existence as they were heavily subsidized by the government. The fees paid by parents/guardians represented only a fraction of the cost of running the schools.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the crucial roles these institutions have played are today generally recognized and acknowledged. As was pointed out by the Tourism and Culture Minister, Alain St Ange, in a broadcast interview on the SBC last year, it is important that the Seychellois do not forget history and heritage. Minister St Ange – himself a product of the college – commended the committee that initiated the RMSC monument project and looked forward to the setting up of similar monuments to remember other institutions for their historical roles. Minister St Ange cited the National Youth Service (NYS) as deserving of a monument to honor its place in history.

The committee behind the RMSC project has also recommended to the National Monuments Board to declare some of the buildings in the college and convent compounds as national monuments. The idea has been well-received, but it may take a while before a formal declaration is made to this effect. There is already a conscious effort at preserving something of the past even in the reconstruction and renovation of buildings, the latest example being the new Glacis Primary where a block of the old school has been neatly incorporated into the new modern facilities Glacis pupils now enjoy.

The monument to honor the college and convent will be unveiled on Wednesday, June 29, 2016, by, it is hoped, a brother and sister who taught at these schools. All former students, teachers, and other staff, as well as friends of the Seychelles College and Regina Mundi Convent are warmly invited to attend the event scheduled to begin at 10:00 in the morning. The ceremony will end with a cocktail and an opportunity to reminisce and renew old acquaintances.

Seychelles, Truly Another World!

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.