Arts and culture review | 31 December 2020
Birth of our nation’s 250th anniversary ceremony scaled down
This year the department of culture had planned a series of activities to commemorate several cultural milestone events, most notably Seychelles’ 250th anniversary since our forefathers set foot on Ste Anne Island leading to the birth of the Seychellois nation. However, in view of the economic situation and the drastic reduction of its budget, few activities were organised and others were either cancelled or deferred to 2021.
One of the most important cultural events on the Seychelles calendar for 2020 was the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of our nation which had to be scaled down also as a result of the pandemic. The first activity in relation to this anniversary was a trip down memory lane, tracing the routes of Lazare Picault in 1742 which was held on the beach at Baie Lazare on August 7 and organised by the district community in collaboration with the culture department and the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB).
This activity was followed by the main celebration held on Ste Anne Island on August 27, 2020, the precise day in 1770 when a ship named Thélemaque under the command of Captain Leblanc Lecore landed the 15 white colonists, eight slaves, including one woman named Marie and five Indians, on the island to begin the first settlement, giving rise to the birth of our Seychellois nation.
Preserving our intangible cultural heritage
While the year saw few gains, the department of culture’s focus remained on the preservation of our heritage as one of its key objectives and emphasised these initiatives by embarking on a series of renovation projects related to its historical buildings, as well as the dissemination of intangible cultural heritage that celebrates the achievements of our recent past.
This was the year that the department of culture resubmitted its Moutia dossier for consideration for inscription on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) representative list of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of humanity.
Other highlights include the participation for the first time of the national choir in the virtual chorus festival in China. The choir won first prize in the adult mixed voice category of the 15th edition of the China International Chorus Festival, a bi-annual festival founded in 1992 bringing together choirs from China and abroad to sing. It is the largest-scale and highest-level international chorus festival in China. The festival took place from September 28 to October 31 in Beijing with a total of 13 categories of choirs of different age groups and genders.
This year, the Seychelles National Herbarium, through a study led by Tarah Padayachy, successfully published two new species for the Seychelles and to Science. The two new species are designated as ‘Craterispermum praslinense’ (Bwa dou Pralen found only on Praslin Island) and ‘Craterispermum silhouettense’ (Bwa dou Silwet found on Silhouette Island).
The Seychelles National Museum of History closed its doors to the general public on March 17, but reopened on June 1 after a series of safety measures were implemented to minimise the potential spread of Covid-19.
Among its first activities was a workshop for school children who are registered club members with the Natural Museum, where they learned about the impact of marine debris on Aldabra from Emeline Lafortune of the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF). Prior to this workshop, the museum staff had worked on this new programme for the two-week August school holidays to ensure proper physical distance among participants and other procedures requested by the health department. To note, the Natural History Museum still remains closed since 2019 for renovation.
During the two weeks, a total of 30 participants aged 7-15 years divided into 3 groups ‒ 7-9, 10-12 and 13-15 ‒ followed presentations on sea turtle preservations in the Seychelles and the work being done to preserve them, to differentiate between sea grasses and seaweeds, learn about Seychelles biodiversity and also learn about the importance of museums including designing of jigsaw puzzles and mounting of own exhibitions among other practical works.
The museum also held a history talk to mark the 250th anniversary of the first settlement in Seychelles and launched its first ever website to celebrate its 55 years in existence on November 18, 2020. The history talk entitled ‘The Landing of Lazare Picault on November 21, 1742’ was conducted for three days on November 18, 19 and 20 by historians Tony Mathiot and Karl Asba.
Work on the website started last year (2019) with the aim of bringing the Seychelles National Museum closer to the community and visitors. The principal secretary for culture, Cecile Kalebi, had the honour to launch the website which was followed by the Lazare Picault history talk which addressed the fierce debate on where Lazare Picault actually disembarked ‒ in Baie Lazare or Anse Boileau ‒ in 1742.
The talk also saw the participation of primary 5 and 6 students from Mont Fleuri, La Rosière and Bel Eau schools and secondary students from English River, Independent and International schools. It was only after several questions were raised by the audience as well as historical proof of the landing was shown through a PowerPoint presentation that the children, among whom could be one or two future historians, were able to understand that Lazare Picault actually landed at Anse Boileau and not Baie Lazare as original thought.
Another activity to mark the 250th anniversary of the first settlement in Seychelles was an exhibition on ‘History of Slavery in Seychelles’ held at the museum in December 2, 2020 in collaboration with the National Archives to commemorate United Nation’s International Day of the Abolition of Slavery in 1835.
As for Christmas activities, staff of the history museum made two Christmas trees ‒ one with woven coconut leaves and another with re-cycled pet bottles ‒ and in collaboration with the Office of the Mayor of Victoria organised the Christmas lighting of the country’s capital, Victoria, which was followed by Christmas carol performances on selected days up to December 23, 2020. The museum also remained open for night visits during some week days and Saturdays during the festive month.
The department of culture also commemorated the second year anniversary of the repeal of the drums regulation by organising ‘Leko Tanbour’ in every district on Mahé, including Praslin and La Digue on Sunday August 30, 2020. A coordination committee consisting of the culture, local government and youth departments was set up to oversee the organisation of the first ‘Moutya Hour’.
On the occasion of Children’s day, the department donated several cultural materials and publications to the Ministry of Education for all public and private schools. The materials were mostly books and a DVD produced by the department during the previous years to enhance their knowledge of the intrinsic value of our culture and hopefully drive them to embrace their cultural identity, especially now in the difficult times.
‘The Million Petalled Flower of Being Here’ is a book launched by Martin Kennedy depicting his work of arts in various media such as paintings, photography and sculpture during his time in Seychelles. The book has been partly sponsored by the National Arts and Culture Fund which is administered by the department of culture.
With the help of the National Arts Council (NAC), artists were shown, through workshops which were done amid the outbreak of Covid-19, how to sell music online. NAC also successfully formulated its Youtube channel in May 2020 and assisted artists to fill in their application forms for financial assistance under the FA4JR programme as requested by the government in line with Covid-19. As of October 2020, the total number of artists registered with NAC had reached 140. NAC has predicted that by the beginning of 2021 at least 50% of all relevant artists in Seychelles will have registered with the council.
As a result of the pandemic, NAC was also unable to fulfill milestone events locally and internationally such as the Biennale of Contemporary Arts, World Poetry Day, World Drama Day, International Dance Day and community arts activities which all had to be cancelled.
On the other hand, the council was able to successfully hold six holiday programmes ‒ moutya, lardon, skilptir, romans, crochet and visual arts ‒ for children.
This year, the council also proudly announced that Seychelles had been selected to be the focal point for the African Chapter in the International Federation of Arts Council and Culture Agencies (IFACCA). The position as focal point will allow Seychelles to be key in decision-making processes in the region and be included in forums with the aim of improving the status of artists and providing more possibilities for interested artists in the country.
It was after more than 10 years since the start of construction that the R22 million Music Stadium at English River, with a capacity to accommodate 6,500 people, was finally handed over to the Seychelles’ community of artists through the Creative Industries and National Events Agency (Cinea) in September. The Seychellois artists have been for years asking for a music stadium for expression of all forms of arts. To date the stadium, which still awaits to accommodate its first official client, lies dormant due to the restrictions on performances put in place by the health authorities in relation to the Covid-19, but PCR tests are being done there now.
In spite of the pandemic causing loss of revenue to the visual and musical entertainment industry, some artists have been able to launch their musical albums while others conducted musical shows and entertainment at certain venues for the public.
In an effort to promote wind instruments, the School of Music at the National Conservatoire of Performing Arts introduced these instruments to the students of Mont Fleuri secondary school. The Praslin and La Digue students from the school of Dance within the conservatoire were also able to sit for their practical exams in ballet and modern dance.
Well-known singer Stephen Eliza, known to many by his stage name Elijah, captured the Best Island Artist ‒ Seychelles award of the Mauritius Music Awards 2020 in recognition for his outstanding creativity, talent and achievement in the music industry.
Speaking to Seychelles NATION, Elijah said: “This award means the power of determination. Patience is the key and you reap what you sow.”
Compiled by Patrick Joubert