Did you know that a single stalk of sugarcane can produce up to 20 litres of juice from which 2 kgs of sugar can be extracted? Or that the sugar that is used to make Tiramisu is not suitable for making vanilla custard? Before I stepped into L’Aventure du Sucre (the sugar museum) in Mauritius, I only thought there were two kinds of sugar —white and brown. So, pardon me if I mistook Muscovado Dark for an enticing men’s perfume.
When, after 177 years of sugar production, the Beau Plan Sugar Estate in Mauritius shut shop in 1999, the factory building was converted into a museum —L’Aventure du Sucre. The museum is part of the Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage launched by Unesco in 1994 to break the silence surrounding the slave trade and its history around the world. L’Aventure de Sucre tells the complex story of sugar which is entwined with the history of Mauritius for four centuries.
Before Mauritius became known as a tourist hotspot in the world, sugar was the primary economic driver of the island. The first sugarcane plant was brought to the island by the Dutch in 1635 from Java Indonesia. The technology to make sugar crystals had not been invented yet, so the sugarcane was crushed with the help of hand mill to obtain sugar syrup from which came arrack.
Arrack was the first thing to be produced in Mauritius, which was formed eight million years ago, but took only 400 years to be the nation that it is today.
Under the French rule (1710-1810), the history of Mauritius was shaped by sugar. The settlers were encouraged to grow sugarcane to produce sugar and arrack to be supplied to the East India Company’s fleet that used to dock in Port Louis en route to the East. The French established 60-80 sugar factories in the island, and African slaves were brought in to work in the sugarcane fields. During this period the ‘plantation lifestyle’ and colonial architecture took root in the island.
However, it was under the British rule that more than 280 sugar factories were established and sugar exportation began. When slavery was abolished in 1835, the British brought indentured or contract labourers from India to work in the plantations leading to one of the biggest migrations of people (around 2 million) in the world. Sugarcane and the plantation life laid the foundation for the diverse Mauritius that we see now. In the shadow of the chimneys of the sugar factories, the foundation of a diverse Mauritian society was laid.
At the end of a pathway hedged by sugarcane is the Beau Plan Sugar factory which was founded in 1797. It looks gritty, edgy and mysterious. Looming large is the old factory chimney — a 108 feet tall circular-shaped chimney, made of magnificent cut stones. It is unlike the regular rectangular-shaped chimneys, which once dotted the Mauritian landscape.
The museum has some of the original machinery —pipes, vats, vessels and also two locomotives— from the factory that explains the process of sugar making. However, it is the large wooden barge, which was used to transport sugar from Mauritius to Madagascar that occupies centre stage. The eco-museum is exhaustive in its telling of the story of sugar and its early cultivation, the role of slavery and the export of sugar to the world. In the authentically recreated ambience, there are exhibits, interactive aids, videos, photos and so on. Apparently, sugar was first discovered in 1000 BC in Melanesia. In the Middle Ages it was used as a medicine but in the early modern period (1492-1789) sugar became a luxury product. It was during this time that Nostradamus wrote his ‘Treaty of Jams’ (1555) and around 1700 drinking coffee and hot chocolate became a fad.
In the Middle Ages it was used as a medicine but in the early modern period (1492-1789) sugar became a luxury product. It was during this time that Nostradamus wrote his ‘Treaty of Jams’ (1555) and around 1700 drinking coffee and hot chocolate became a fad.
The museum’s two mascots, Floryse the mongoose and Raj the Indian mynah, guide children regaling them with stories and quizzes. (Interestingly, the French brought the Indian mynah to Mauritius to control the locusts and the mongoose to kill the rats and snakes in the sugarcane fields). Former factory workers act as guides and are readily available to answer questions. One can also tour the museum using the freely downloadable audio guide app. A complete tour of the museum takes three hours.
At the end of the tour, one can dine in the award-winning on-site restaurant called LeFangourin overlooking the mountains and plateaus. There’s also a Village Boutik where one can taste over 30 products including 12 varieties of unrefined sugar, local rums, jams and honey. At the end of the museum tour, the sugar-ignoramus in me learnt that the Dark Muscovado is not a men’s perfume but sugar that is used for flavoursome meat marinades.
Coffee crystals Large, golden, dry brown sugar with a crunchy texture and best used in coffee, toppings and yoghurt.
Golden caster Crispy in texture and is used in cheesecake, apple pie, tea and coffee.
Golden granulated sugar Has a free-flowing texture and is best used in cakes, jams, fresh juice, tiramisu and cereals.
Where: The Museum is near the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens.
Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket office closes at 4.15 pm
Open: Open seven days a week including public holidays. However, the museum will be closed on 24-26 and 31 December and 1-2 January
Duration of the visit: Detailed tour: 3h; truncated tour: 1h 30 mins
Tickets: Adults: Rs 425. Children (6 to 13): Rs 200. Students (13 to 26): Rs 200 (student ID required). In Mauritian currency.
Guided tours: with no extra charge are scheduled from Monday to Thursday at 10.30 am and 2.30 pm and on Friday at 2.30 pm for a maximum group of 10 people. This is not available on public holidays
Nearly all sections of the site are accessible to wheelchair users.