An emblematic place for some, the Souillac marine cemetery, which is actually located in Suriname, is among the oldest in the country. Various personalities rest there, including sailors and the first builders of the Savanne.

The Souillac Marine Cemetery, more than just a place of eternal rest, is a portal to the past, nestled not far from the waves in Suriname. Here, each tombstone, each inscription, is a window open to lives once lived, to bygone eras. As you wander among the graves, you can almost hear the echo of voices from days gone by, telling stories of French and English colonization. The oldest epitaphs, worn by salt and wind, are stories engraved in stone, testimonies of Mauritian history.

Marie Claude Antoine Marrier, Baron d'Unienville.

A silent sanctuary, the Souillac marine cemetery stands like a guardian of memories on the shores of the island. Here, the country's tumultuous past is revealed through the tombs of those who were drawn by its exotic charm, coming from distant and diverse lands, to finally find eternal rest under its azure skies.

By exploring the place, we discover the indelible mark of the first men who set foot on Mauritian soil, the builders of the island, who contributed to shaping Mauritian history and culture. In addition to Robert Edward Hart, a Mauritian writer and poet born in 1891 and died in 1954, other dignitaries rest in this cemetery, such as Marie Claude Antoine Marrier Baron d'Unienville, better known as Baron d'Unienville. He was a captain of ships in the royal navy of France, born in Sarrebourg in 1766, and died in Mauritius in July 1851.

It was Baron d'Unienville who created the first archives in the country, according to the writer Philippe La Hausse de La Louvière. His invaluable contribution is a legacy that allows us to delve into the depths of our identity and the history of our island. His tomb is classified as a national monument and his memory will be honored during Archives Day, observed this Sunday, June 9 (see below).

Perched on a dune, the Souillac marine cemetery is distinguished by its gentle proximity to the ocean, whose waves extend to infinity, giving the place a serene rather than dark atmosphere. The sea, often rough, tirelessly nibbles away at the shore, despite the rocks and gabions which struggle to contain its ardor. But these natural forces do not disturb the tranquility of the souls who rest there, lulled eternally by the soothing rhythm of the waves.

Gada Shaub-Condrac opposes the rehabilitation project of the Ministry of the Environment.

In this haven of peace, time seems to stand still, and serenity envelops the cemetery at every moment. Only funeral ceremonies and the discreet work of gravediggers occasionally bring this place of memory to life.

Jogging track

However, the Ministry of the Environment's project, which plans to launch rehabilitation work at the Souillac marine cemetery, raises questions and concerns. An application for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) permit was recently submitted. History and heritage enthusiasts quickly mobilized to protect the authenticity of the site in the face of its potential “distortion”, with the installation of fences, a jogging track and street lamps proposed by the Ministry of Defense. 'Environment. They fear that these changes will alter the very essence of the marine cemetery.

Gada Shaub-Condrac, instigator of a letter of protest sent to the authorities concerned, opposes this project. It benefits from the support of many historians, writers and nature lovers, who share a common respect for nature and heritage.

If Gada Shaub-Condrac recognizes the importance and necessity of the restoration of the gabions for the protection of the coastal zone which runs along the cemetery, she contests all the other developments proposed by the Ministry of the Environment. “This cemetery is very 'wild' and picturesque. It is special due to its layout on dunes facing the sea and its numerous trees and flowers. Anything we add will weaken the dune. A fence will cut off direct access to the beach and the sea, and will certainly spoil the view,” she says.

Several personalities who have marked the country's history rest in the Souillac cemetery.

Furthermore, for her, setting up a jogging route along a cemetery, accessible at night, is a crazy idea. “With all the superstitions that exist in Mauritius, I don’t see who will go jogging along the cemetery in the evening,” she quips.

Gada Shaub-Condrac is in favor of tourism that promotes Mauritian heritage. The marine cemetery dates from the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries, where the first builders of the village of Souillac rest, as well as many sailors, she recalls. The cemetery is thus part of the history of this picturesque village, with the Telfair Garden, the Batelage and the other infrastructures which make it so authentic. A story that could be found in school textbooks and that the entire population would benefit from knowing, according to her. “History can be rich if it is told and illustrated,” says Gada Shaub-Condrac, emphasizing that the cemetery has inspired many painters.

The marine cemetery is distinguished by its family vaults surrounded by low Breton walls, witnesses of an architectural tradition that spans the ages. Although the erosion of time and the incessant onslaught of waves have faded the inscriptions on many graves, Gada Shaub-Condrac considers that the patina of time gives the place its unique character. According to her, restoring these remains would not be essential, because it is in their naturally altered state that they tell the story of the marine cemetery. Preserving their current state means preserving the soul of the place; any modification risks altering its very essence.

Historic place to discover

The book “Souillac, historic village and marine cemetery” evokes the rich history of this region.

“The first families who developed the Savanne district are buried in the Souillac marine cemetery,” explains writer Philippe La Hausse de La Louvière. Co-author of the book “Souillac, historic village, marine cemetery”, he considers that it is imperative to preserve the site as national heritage because of its undeniable historical value.

The cemetery is an integral part of the coast, and the families who built this part of the country are buried there, he adds. “It is important not to distort the cemetery by installing a fence. It’s a place that must be preserved,” he insists.

The writer thus considers that the place is suitable for visits and walks, whether along the coast or inside the cemetery. “With the sea and the river nearby, it’s a place for everyone to discover,” he adds.

It is a historical heritage which risks being endangered if the authorities go ahead with the project, warns Arrmaan Shamachurn, president of SOS Patrimoine en Péril. Their reservations and concerns regarding the planned works have been sent to the authorities concerned.

In accordance with the new environmental law, the NGO asked the Ministry of the Environment to carry out a “Visual Impact Assessment” and a “Heritage Impact Assessment” in order to determine whether the work will have a positive or negative impact on the historical value of the site. This is not included in the EIA application that was submitted recently, he notes.

What bothers him, however, is that the Ministry of the Environment finds itself both judge and party, because it is this ministry which proposed the project. “The exercise should be carried out by an independent body,” he emphasizes. He also wonders if a jogging track will be appropriate there. “Will the structures we are proposing to install solve the problem of coastal erosion? » he asks again. However, he is in favor of restoring and raising the stone wall between the cemetery and the beach to better protect the graves.

“Jogging Track”: aberration for some, beneficial for others

Opinions differ regarding the work proposed by the Ministry of the Environment. Some are against it, while others believe it will be a good thing for residents.

“It's absurd that we thought of making a 'jogging track' along the cemetery. Is there not enough space in the region for such a project? » protests Rosy Gounden. A resident of Souillac since her childhood, she is outraged that someone could have thought of such a project. “It’s true that the dead are no more, but we cannot disturb them in their eternal rest. It’s a place of contemplation for those who come to visit their deceased loved ones,” she says.

Rosy Gounden believes that there should have been consultations with residents before applying for an EIA. “When we go to the cemetery, it is not only to see deceased loved ones, but also to enjoy the silence and let ourselves be lulled by the song of birds and the sound of the waves to mourn. »

For her, the proposed fitness trail is not essential, especially along the cemetery. “There are other sites nearby for such activities,” she notes. She affirms that, like her, many people do not agree with this project, according to the informal survey she conducted among those around her.

Patrick Perne, another local resident, adds that we must respect the dead. He believes that the tranquility of the place will no longer be if there is a health trail there. Those who are grieving need peace and quiet, he insists.

“It is good to have health trails so that people can practice physical activity to be in shape. But doing it along the cemetery is not appropriate,” he says.

Other residents met near the Souillac marine cemetery preferred, for their part, not to comment. Some are nevertheless in favor of such a project and believe that the street lights that will be installed will provide more safety at night. “This will be a plus for residents, because it will be a place where they can practice physical activities,” says a man in his sixties who did not wish to identify himself.

The work that will be carried out should make it possible to better protect the cemetery, he says. Many seaside tombs have already been damaged, he notes. “There will be no problem walking on the dam afterwards. »

The cemetery is well maintained, according to our various interlocutors. Devdass Konaherkanaide adds that it is also up to the families of the deceased to take care of the restoration of the graves. He believes that this “waterfront” cemetery is one of the best maintained. According to our various interlocutors, cemetery employees cannot touch the tombs without the approval of relatives.

As for the oldest burials, they have been “left abandoned” or the relatives are no longer in Mauritius.

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