Up Close … with Marston St Ange, one of La Digue’s most colourful characters-‘I welcome everybody earning their living in an honest way’


06-September-2011

Marston St AngeIt is often said that Marston St Ange is one of La Digue’s most colourful characters. This bearded 66-year-old man often walks around La Passe dressed only in a wrap.

If you do not know Marston you could be excused for thinking him eccentric. The greying beard and stern demeanour however hides an affable and jovial nature.

Marston has a great sense of wit and humour. He never seems to run short of jokes to fit any occasion.
After the Carnaval International de Victoria, after his younger brother Alain, head of the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) had wound up his speech with “Sa Sesel Sa”, Marston was going around proclaiming that he intended to use that for his presidential bid.

“Sesel sa; St Ange sa; Vot Marston”
On a more serious note, I got acquainted with Marston St Ange when he as a Diguois and myself, a Praslinois, travelled on the crowded schooners Jeanette and Paulette  to Mahe from our school holidays.

I got to know Marston -- the tall balding boy -- way back in the early 60s and little did I realise I was to suffer a similar fate past my thirties.

He was the son of Karl St Ange, then chairman of the La Digue district council (an early attempt at local government), and also one of the top vanilla growers on the island.

He is the second in a family of five boys and one girl - from ‘Ton Karl’ and their mother Germaine Lablache. But they also had several dozens half-brothers and sisters, their dad, ‘Ton Karl’ as he is better known, having been very much a ladies’ man.

After leaving Seychelles College in 1961, Marston emigrated to Australia, as so many young Seychellois did in those days, given that tourism was not even in its infancy.

He remained in Melbourne for 15 years and did a “bit of everything”, until he had his own business as a trucking contractor -- transporting furniture, lemonade and newspapers.

Marston returned home in 1978, by which time his dad had built Cabane des Anges, the first hotel on La Digue and little brother Alain was manager.

He invested his savings in an import-wholesale business which failed, later rented and ran the Fish Trap, a small guesthouse and restaurant at Baie Ste Anne, of which his elder brother, Kersley, was one of the owners.

Marston recalls that he returned to La Digue in 1981 to help ‘Ton Karl’ -- who at that time was a minister in the Second Republic -- to run the family estate and Chateau St Cloud.

One of his main tasks was rising up early in the morning to pollinate the vanilla flowers -- precise, painstaking work -- and it is important that this is done before the hot sun is beating down and Marston remembers getting through 2,000 in one morning.

But it was always Marston’s ambition to have a tourism establishment of his own.

It is about 15 years now since he built Chez Marston, a five-room hotel at La Passe, on land he inherited from ‘Ton Karl’, who made sure before he passed away in 2009 that all six children have a little property to develop. 

Marston now spends most of his time swimming or on his boat Antoine (photo courtesy C. Berlouis)

The only daughter, Myriam, was bequeathed Chateau St Cloud and with her son, also called Karl, have done a superb job of renovating and extending this unique feature or monument of La Digue.  
 
These days about three dozen guesthouses have mushroomed all over La Digue, as many islands vie for a share of the tourism cake.

Marston is very philosophical about it.  “As long as they are Seychellois, I welcome everybody earning their living in an honest way. So long as we are all gainfully occupied, we have no time to entertain negative thoughts.”

Chez Marston also has a mini-market, “Cabanon de Lorra”, selling groceries, electrical appliances and also newspapers, including Seychelles Nation.

All that is now managed by his wife Lorra, by whom he has two daughters -- Sophie and Lucie.
Marston is also father of three other children by a previous wife, in Australia, one of whom, Karen, has made him a grandfather to a 17-year-old boy and a girl of 16.

After his years of labour, Marston is “as happy as can be”, though he hopes to double the size of his guesthouse soon.

Looking back, Marston has happy memories of his role in the film Robinson Crusoe, which was shot in 1985 at Petite Anse and Anse Kerlan.  He recalls that he and many other Seychellois were paid good money. 

Marston relives happy memories of his role in the film Robinson Crusoe (photo courtesy C. Berlouis)

He believes that more films could be produced on the beaches of Seychelles but has learnt from Paul Turcott, a Canadian photographer long settled here, that Seychelles is too expensive over competing destinations such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Another happy memory was in 1998, when he contested the legislative election for La Digue as an independent candidate and polled just over the 5% required to secure his R1500 deposit. This is an achievement few independents can hope for.

Marston had hoped to repeat the performance at national level in the May presidential election. But after giving the issue serious consideration and even campaigning a bit on La Digue as well as on Mahé, Marston balked at the idea, disgusted by the fact that many people believe politics is all about money.

“I could not walk a hundred metres without someone stopping me and asking for R100 to buy some beers,” he said. 
Contesting a presidential poll also involves heavy logistics, such as putting billboards all over the islands -- which swayed Marston’s decision against taking part.

It is to be noted that little brother Alain also served as MNA for Bel Air between 2002 and 2007, something which might lead one to think that, somehow, politics and tourism have never been far from the St Ange family.


Marston considers himself to be semi-retired and spends a lot of time swimming or on his boat Antoine, fitted with two 60hp engines. He goes fishing and occasionally travels to Mahe, the crossing taking just an hour. But not during the present south-east monsoon, when Marston has recourse to Cat Rose and Cat Cocos.

Marston also spends some time entertaining the parish priest, Father Francis, a Kenyan, with whom he occasionally discusses a planned trip to the Vatican together.
 

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