Tucked away in the Indian Ocean about 350 miles east of Mauritius lies the tiny, isolated island of Rodrigues. Despite its obscurity, this autonomous outer island of the Republic of Mauritius has a fascinating history and vibrant local culture waiting to be discovered.
Rodrigues Island has a past marked by volcanic formation, colonial occupation, and isolation. Geologically, the island emerged from volcanic activity millions of years ago. Uninhabited for most of its existence, Rodrigues saw brief visits from Arab sailors and Portuguese explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries before France eventually claimed it in 1691.
France used Rodrigues as an outpost for food production to support Mauritius. In the 18th century, colonial occupation resulted in the tragic loss of the island’s endemic giant tortoises. Isolation continued even after Britain took over both islands in the early 1800s, with an economy dependent on fishing and subsistence farming. Only in 1968 did Rodrigues gain representation in the Mauritius legislative assembly, beginning its autonomy.
Culture and People
Today, Rodrigues has a population of about 40,000 full-time residents. The local culture reflects a blend of African, French, British, Indian, and Chinese influences. The island’s people exhibit a strong sense of community and hospitality. Social life revolves around popular sports like football and volleyball. Traditional folk music and sega dancing are also mainstays.
The primary local language is a French-based Creole similar to Mauritian Creole. Many Rodriguans also speak English and French. The majority religion is Roman Catholicism, though Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism are also present. Rodrigues culture prizes both its diversity and autonomy while still maintaining close ties to Mauritius.
Due to its isolation, Rodrigues cuisine relies heavily on locally sourced ingredients like fish, octopus, lobster, chicken and produce. Staples include fried or stewed fish, octopus curry, lentils, and rice. Meat dishes feature chicken, goat, and on special occasions, porcupine.
Popular local delicacies include rougaille, a spicy tomato and meat stew, and piment—chili peppers sautéed with garlic, oil and fish. Tropical fruits like mangoes feature in juices, chutneys and desserts like banana fritters. Chinese fried noodles like mamin and chop suey reflect Chinese cultural influences. The cuisine combines simplicity with rich flavors to create comfort food unique to the island.
While small, Rodrigues Island rewards visitors with incredible natural landscapes, friendly people, and cultural traditions forged by its remoteness. The island remains relatively untouched by mass tourism, offering an authentic Indian Ocean getaway for the intrepid traveler. The simplicity, Creole flavors, and community spirit offer insights into this tiny island’s outsized soul.