SI Vault
George Plimpton
February 05, 1979
Majestic beaches, such as this one on La Digue; cloud forests; rare, astonishing birds; a predilection for dominoes and amour; and no radio playing on the buses—these are the Seychelles
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February 05, 1979

The Islands Of Paradise

Majestic beaches, such as this one on La Digue; cloud forests; rare, astonishing birds; a predilection for dominoes and amour; and no radio playing on the buses—these are the Seychelles

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"Quite short," my friend said. "He put it together while waiting to be deported on a British cruiser. His creative powers might not have been at their best."

Almost everyone in the Seychelles feels that the islands are the better for the coup and that the present government's concern is less flibbertigibbety than that of its predecessor. As soon as it was installed, the new government clamped down on excessive and irresponsible behavior. Drinking hours were regulated. Swearing was not allowed. The playing of radio music in buses was banned—to the evident relief of passengers, one of whom told me that in the old days a certain bus driver was famous for swinging the steering wheel back and forth to the beat of ragas.

Actually, the population of the Seychelles has always had a reputation somewhat in line with Mancham's sybaritic nature. "The Promiscuous Islands," the Seychelles have been called—"Les �les d'Amour." To my question of how the Seychellois spent their time, a British expatriate replied succinctly, "Dominoes and sex."

It was easy enough to see that he was right about the dominoes. Driving around Mah�, I noticed off the side of the road a number of open-air pavilions with signs that proclaimed them DOMINO CLUB, always with the notice PRIVATE—which was odd, considering how unprivate they were, being open on all sides, often with a chicken or two searching among chair legs for scraps. Exclusivity is apparently a holdover from British colonial times that the Seychellois have not got quite right: one sign hanging over the main street in Victoria announces, SEASHELL NIGHT CLUB—PRIVATE—GUESTS WELCOME.

As for sex, there seemed to be a difference of opinion as to how much it concerned the Seychellois. A taxi driver in Victoria told me that one of the common evening diversions was for someone in the neighborhood to hire (for 350 rupees, some $50) a kind of television set; it came with four cassettes of movies. Friends are invited; the guests play dominoes and watch. He didn't say anything about sex.

My expatriate friend was scornful. "They might watch for a while. But not for long. It's all quite simple. Linguistic foreplay," he told me rather pompously, "is not at all necessary. There's quite a lot of nipping and biting." He went on to say that the level of promiscuity was such that incest was a common occurrence. "Many of the Seychellois are bonkers as a result," he told me, "elderly people playing hide-and-seek out in the back. Perfectly all right. There's no stigma attached. Families keep the bonkers people around the house like pets."

The expatriate's opinions about promiscuity would appear to be borne out by the islands' illegitimacy rate, which is startlingly high—more than 50%! The Seychelles guidebook mentions in its forthright manner that the Catholic Church baptizes illegitimate children on Friday and legitimate children on Sunday. No stigma is attached to illegitimacy, either, the children bearing their mothers' surnames.

The result of all this is such an amalgam of nationalities (European, African, Indian and Chinese) that since 1911 the government has given up trying to classify people by ethnic origin. The Seychellois designate each other by color—never with racial overtones, but as Westerners differentiate one another by hair color. "See that red over there," a Seychellois will say, the way we would point out a redhead.

The people are handsome whatever the gradation of color, and friendly. Very rarely can one walk by a Seychellois without being greeted by a smile and a "Bonjour, comment �a va?" They are strongly nationalistic, having no more interest in the turbulent affairs in Africa than a Bermudan might have. Indeed, the average Seychellois disassociates himself from the mainland to the west to such an extent that it would be an insult to refer to him as an African.

Around the islands one hears three languages spoken—English, French and Creole—with almost everyone being at home in all three tongues, especially Creole, which is the daily language. I was surprised to hear that the Creole of Haiti, literally on the other side of the world, is quite similar, though the Seychelles Creole has underpinnings of both Hindi and Bantu. It only takes two or three days for a resident of one country to become fluent in the patois of the other. The Creole of the Seychelles is not the official language because it lacks an orthography. The president makes speeches in Creole; his written notes to aides are in English or French. One of the principal secretaries of the government, Mme. Danielle d'Offay, is working on an official orthography. She showed me examples of the three languages juxtaposed and what Creole looks like as she writes it:

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