Seychelles History

The history of Seychelles is very much a young one, at least in terms of human intervention. Though early Arab seafarers are thought to be the first individuals to visit the Seychelles, no recording of the islands' sighting occurred until the year 1502, when the Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama, made his first pass through what are today the Amirantes. Da Gama would name these Seychelles islands after himself, with the title of Admiral as the root for the appellation. It wouldn't be until more than one-hundred years later, however, until Seychelles history sees its first recorded landing. In 1609, an English trading ship traveling between Asia and Africa stopped in what are now the Seychelles, though no official claim was made. Not long after this historical landfall, pirates began to move into the Seychelles, using them as points of refuge from which to plan subsequent attacks.

By the year 1742, then governor of French-held Mauritius, Mahe de La Bourdonnais, decided to send a vessel out to investigate the present-day Seychelles islands. Captain Picault, who was the man in charge of this initial voyage, would name the island of Mahe after his governor, which was a common sort of practice back in those days. It would take more than a decade for the French to officially lay their claim on the Seychelles islands, but when they finally did, they were then named for Louis XV's Minister of Finance, Jean Moreau de Sechelles. The first official settlement in Seychelles islands history was founded by French settlers in 1770, and they brought slaves with them to work on their plantations. Besides cultivating various spices, the early French settlers also tried their hand at growing coffee, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and maize. As comfortable as the French were getting in this new world, it wouldn't take long for the British to come back knocking.

British interest, or re-interest, in the Seychelles began to build up around the end of the 18th century, and certainly the actions of the French governor were among the most curious in all the history of Seychelles. As British ships would pass the burgeoning French settlement, the French would respond by lowering their flag, apparently fearing an attack on many an occasion. Eventually, some of the British voyagers decided to land on the island, and perhaps to their surprise, they enjoyed a rather unfettered existence. After the Napoleonic Wars and the 1814 Treaty of Paris, the Seychelles Islands would be turned over to the English. More slaves were brought in, and by 1825, the British had amassed a population of around 7,000 people. Plantation estates were rising up around the sugar cane, coconut, and cotton industries, and soon Victoria would be named as the Seychellois capital. Those wishing to visit a vestige of Seychelles islands history might head to the island of La Digue, where the L'Union Estate is found. Once a significant plantation house, the L'Union Estate is also where visitors can see the graves of the first La Digue settlers. Another building of interest for those interested in Seychelles history is the Kenwyn House, which is found on the island of Mahe. A national monument, it is an excellent surviving example of French colonial architecture.

Although England would overtake the Seychelles from the French, French culture managed to persist, and to this day, a French influence is still very much reflected in Seychelles culture. In fact, some 70% of the country's population has a French sounding name, and islands like La Digue and Desroches certainly exhibit French names themselves. Both English and French are official Seychelles languages, as is Seychellois Creole, so modern-day Seychelles culture certainly shows its roots. Over time, the Seychelles would move to break from English control, and in 1964, the country formed its first political parties. 1976 would be a most significant year in the history of Seychelles, as this was when the country finally declared independence. One year later, a coup would see the removal of the country's first President, James Mancham, who was then replaced by France Albert Rene. Seychelles history sees Rene maintaining his office until June of 2004, upon which he turned the reigns over to James Alix Michel. The Seychelles People's Progressive Front and the Seychelles National Party are the main political parties in Seychelles, and political opinions certainly differ between supporters of the two groups, though these rarely, if ever, boil over into especially chaotic affairs.

To learn more about Seychelles culture and the history of Seychelles during your actual trip, it's a good idea to drop in on the capital city of Victoria, which is found on the main island of Mahe. Besides seeing old Anglican and Catholic churches in Victoria, visitors can also visit the National Museum of History. Also of interest in Victoria is the Seychelles Natural History Museum, which documents Seychelles islands history in terms of the islands' geological makeup and formation.

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