Bernard Appassamy



Let's play Sirandann (work in progress)

According to the 2022 Mauritius census, 90% of Mauritians identify Kreol Morisien (KM) or Mauritian Creole as their home language. KM is born out of the slaves and indentured labour who were trafficked from Madagascar, the East African coast and India into Mauritius, by successively the Dutch, French and English colonial powers. Primarily rooted in French, Hindi, Bhojpuri, Tamil, English and Malagasy, KM has evolved into a unique aggregation.

In my lifetime, I have watched the definition and usage of KM shift from carrying layers of stigma, prejudice and social indicators, to gaining recognition and status through efforts to standardise its structure, meaning and functionality. While French and English remain predominant in formal government and business settings, KM is commonly used as the lingua franca fostering cohesion in various domains of social and online communications, daily life, media, formal education and the arts. KM has grown into a marker of national identity in Mauritius and amongst the diaspora.

One unifying example of KM is Sirandann, a riddle game that traces its origin to the slaves, and embodies their resilience. In Wiehe, G (2009), ‘Sirandann; Petites Devinettes’, Editions Vivazi, Mauritian-French author Nathacha Appanah prefaces (translated by me), ‘Sirandann are not just riddles. This oral jousting in Creole, made of enigmas, is an 'eye-opener' about our surroundings. It's a way of expressing the world, of removing its everyday mask, and surprising it. The Sirandann reveal to us a strange, fantastical, comical, and always poetic universe.’

By introducing an Australian audience to Sirandann, I aim to also explore a conversation between the past and present of Mauritius — within the genesis of KM and a backdrop of the 1723 French Code Noir, that policed the slave trade in the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues). I am also looking at the various currencies used during the slave trade.

The game starts with a repeated question, like a bait, from the host to the players, ‘Sirandann? Sirandann? Sirandann?’ to which the players reply in unison, ‘Sanpek!’ as their agreement to start…