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Seychelles Pictures.

In spite of his distinctive name, Olivier le Vasseur was not a cultivated gentleman. Rather, he was a French outlaw known as "La Buze", the buzzard, and considered to be one of the most unscrupulous and dangerous pirates sailing the Indian Ocean of the 18th century. Before finally being caught after a long pursuit and hanged in public on July 17, 1730, he is said to have buried his incredible booty with an alleged value of 100 million British pounds (at today's value) at a cleverly disguised secret location on the island of Mane, his favourite haunt and the largest of the Seychelles islands.

If there has ever been a paradise on earth, the Seychelles in the times of le Vasseur and his hoard of pirates must have come very close. An archipelago of 115 islands strewn over an area of more than 1,340,000 square kilometres of ocean, 1,600 km off the African coast.

Sumptuous flora, mangrove swamps and primitive jungles full of unique trees and plants. Endless numbers of birds, gigantic turtles and tiny frogs, all manner of different animals such as bats or blind moles, the seas teeming with whales and walruses. True, this Garden of Eden was also home to poisonous snakes, scorpions and spiders. But there were no humans - the few pirates who hid from their pursuers, repairing their ships, gathering new supplies of fresh water and turtle meat or burying their treasures did little damage to the islands.

It wasn't until 1742 that a certain Bertrand Francois Mahe de Labourdon-nais, the French governor of Mauritius, became interested in the unnamed islands. Sailing on board the "Elizabeth", Captain Lazare Picault set off, landing on the beach near Anse Boileau on the island which was later to be named after his superior, Mahe. After exploring it, he returned to Mauritius. His assessment was that Mahe, Fregate, St. Anne and the palm island of Praslin were suitable for plantations: ideal climate, good-quality wood, plenty of fish and turtles.

Yet, it was only on August 12, 1770 that the first 15 white settlers with seven slaves, five Indians and one black woman arrived at the islands to grow coffee plants and crops. However, their determination evidently wilted under the heat of the tropical climate as it seems that they mainly ate wild fruit, fish and turtles. In any case, the captains of French ships complained that they did not gain any provisions on the Seychelles as the colonialists neither grew crops nor reared cattle. From 1794 onwards, theSeychelles became a profitable colony under the command of Chevalier Jean-Baptiste de Quincy. By this time, 80 families of settlers with 2,000 slaves were growing rice and maize, bananas and pineapples, sweet potatoes and manioc, while trade in spices and cotton flourished. Pirates also returned to the scene, with the difference that they were now authorised by the government to raid English merchant ships. The English occasionally retaliated, but were too preoccupied with the Napoleonic wars to worry too much about taking possession of the unimportant Seychelles. In fact, de Quincy found a way of dealing with the English: whenever one of their ships approached, he would hoist the Union Jack. In this way, there were no problems when the English occupied the Seychelles.

The Seychelles were largely oblivious to the troubles of the 19th and 20th centuries. The natives only began to worry when the price of copra, their most important export article, collapsed. Otherwise, life on this remote archipelago was peaceful and quiet. Even the celebrations in honour of the islands' independence on June 29, 1976 were relatively subdued.

The fact that to this very day the Seychelles have remained a piece of paradise, is not least of all due to the prudence of their inhabitants. As early as at the end of the 18th century, the French geographer and agricultural expert, Jean Baptiste Philogene de Malavois, foresaw the dangers of uncontrolled plundering of the natural resources of the islands. Thus, he wanted to place restrictions on turtle hunting and coconut harvesting and turn the coasts into natural reserves. Trees were to be felled solely for the islanders' own use. Thus it is that to this very day the Seychelles appear to be a rampant Garden of Eden, even though many of the original, over 20 metre high trees have since turned into crippled dwarves. Even international tourism, which has irreparably destroyed so much of the world, is channelled by means of clear, albeit unconventional, restrictions: new buildings are not permitted to exceed the height of the surrounding palms. Mass tourism capable of placing the island infrastructure on its head hasn't a chance here as it is incompatible with the Seychellese character and life-style. Europeans, Africans, Indians and Chinese have developed a unique culture on these islands. In fact, it is so polyglot that it is not capable of expressing itself in a single language. Since 1981, the official language has been Creole, a type of simplified French with African, Arab and even English elements, and with a highly phonetic spelling. The islands' business community speaks English, while most of the natives understand French and many even Italian or German. And needless to say, the times of strict separation between the white and coloured peoples of the island have long since passed. Not even conservative Catholicism has been able to suppress the happy-go-lucky islanders' fondness of care-free promiscuity. A woman whose five children have five different fathers is not frowned upon.

Church on Sunday is also more of a social event than a religious duty. In any case, the Seychellese prefer to rely on ancient magic - known as "gri-gri" -rather than the strict rules of the pope. A "dondois", a zombie, arouses more fear in them than, say, Beelzebub. "Civilised" traits, such as industriousness, ambition and greed, are entirely unknown to them. A popular saying expresses their casual attitude towards life: "money is good - but too expensive". One thing that all the Seychellese attach great importance to is good food. At breakfast, they get by on coffee, tea, sugared milk and a slice of bread. But, in the evening, there are no holes barred: fish in every conceivable variation, unbearably hot chilies and curries, occasionally also chicken or goat meat at the weekend. Bats are also considered to be a great delicacy. The only food which the islands are forced to do without these days is turtle meat. Now a protected species, turtles are not permitted to be used as a source of food.

None of the roughly 70,000 Seychellese are plagued by existential problems. Some 100,000 tourists bring about 50 % of the Seychelles' foreign currency reserves to these "Islands under the Sun". Unemployment is negligible, while the percapita income is just on 5,000 US dollars a year. The government is now increasingly wooing foreign investors by exempting them from withholding tax on dividends for the first ten years and allowing them to import and export foreign currency free of any restrictions. Even the 10 % trade tax may be abolished. This is enough to make you want to say good-bye to so-called "civilisation" and its inevitable winters once and for all and to retreat to what is perhaps the last remnant of paradise on earth.

Seychelles

Seychelles

Seychelles

Seychelles

Seychelles

Seychelles

Seychelles

Seychelles

Seychelles







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