Follow us on:

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn YouTube


A small boy’s memories of the Seychelles   |25 April 2023

A small boy’s memories of the Seychelles   

Photo of Eddy and his wife (who is from Iceland) 70 years later

By Eddy Johnson based in Sydney, Australia


(Some of the Mauritian Creole words are translated for those readers who may not know the local vernacular)


To the readers of Seychelles NATION newspaper, especially the over seventy.

On Sunday May 3, 1953, Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Lewis Johnson and his family left the Seychelles to return to Mauritius, their home country after a stay of three-and-a-half years. This coming May 3 will be seventy years since that day. I was eleven at the time, the older brother of Allen, Karl, and sister May.

It all began when sometime in 1949 my dad was invited to take the direction of the church in Victoria located on the road (Royal Street) that went from town to Saint Louis. At the time, we were in Pondicherry, South India, because that part of India was a French Protectorate and the church had employed my father as minister for a French-speaking congregation. 

We travelled by train to Bombay (Mumbai today) and from there to Mahé on a British India steam ship, the SS Kandala.  Back then, the harbour in Mahé could not handle large steam ships.  The passengers and their luggage were ferried to the Long Pier in small motor boats.

My first memory of Mahé was a white cross located on a hill in the background of the town.  I would later find out that the cross was on a shoulder of the hill overlooking the town.  The place was Bel Air on the road that climbed the hill to Sans Soucis and further.

On the pier we were welcomed by the local leaders of the church: Hans Salzmann, the Swiss president of the church, Joseph Stravens and his brother Esaïe Stravens, Denis Rosette and Irene Sabadin, whose first names I do not remember.


Memories of Victoria

After spending a few days at the president’s house, we moved to our first home located on Avenue de Quincy. Across the street was the home of a magistrate whose son René would later befriend us.  Our house was a duplex, our apartment was in front looking onto the street.  Behind lived the Durup family whose four sons Michael, Jimmy, Christian and Cyril became our first friends.

Looking at the map of Victoria today clearly shows how much the town has changed both in area and in structure.  De Quincy Street branched off Saint Louis Street and led to the street where the local market was located.  In the corner was a small Indian store whose owner Mr Rasa, sold coconut nougat and “ounde” an Indian short cake, among other things. Across was a Chinese grocery store and next to it, the workshop of a hairdresser/barber named Georges Lucas who would be our barber for the next three-and-a-half years.

In 2010, I met a Seychelloise in Sydney who, in the conversation, told me that she was the daughter of Georges Lucas who obviously got married after we left.  Talk about a coincidence.

Going down market road, one reached the main road. Turning left, the main road passed by the Catholic Church of Immaculée Conception, the girls’ school Sainte Claire and continued north to Rivière Anglaise.

Turning right led down town and south to Anse Royale passing through Mont Fleuri. Along that section of the street was ‘La boutique of Mr Richard Mancham’ that sold the best loaves of bread on the island, the primary school, and the soccer ground and along the edge of the ground was a muddy stream.  Fishermen returning at the end of the day berthed there and emptied their catch attracting all the sea-gulls of the area who fought over the smaller fish that the men threw at them.  People bargained and haggled over the prices. Eventually everyone went home happy, some carrying large fish with their tails dragging in the dirt.

There were a dozen ‘Sang Dragon’ trees bordering the street and that was the place where the rickshaws were stationed waiting for travellers who preferred to be under the canvas roof of the man-drawn vehicle rather than walk in the scorching sun.  Taxis were rare.

At the junction of Main Street and Saint Louis Street was the quaint clock tower that somewhat looked like a miniature Big Ben. Off Main Street was the avenue that led to the Long Pier and to the one and only prestigious hotel of the island ‒ ‘The Pirate’s Arms’.

Following the ‘Royal Road’ led to the shopping area of the town to the right, and to the left was the “Esplanade” that bordered the sea all the way to the Short Pier from which small diesel smelling steamers ferried people to the islands of Praslin, La Digue, and Silhouette.

The store had names that linked them to their owners: The Indian Jivan Jetha, the Muslim Adam Moosa, the Parsis Temooljee, the Khambatta, and if my memory serves me right, a store or hotel that belonged to the Parcou.

Following the road southward took people from town of Mont Fleuri, which I would get to know quite well when my parents registered me at the boys’ school located there.  The institution was run by the Catholic Marist Brothers.  The Botanical Garden and the hospital were also located in that part of Mahé.


School days

My parents registered me at the boys’ school of Mont Fleuri.  I was eight years old in Standard Three.  I can still recall most of the names of my class mates. (Apologies if some names are misspelled).

Evans Hoareau, “Ti Tom” Delpeche, Charles Eulentin, Maxime Fayon; Julius and André Beaufond, Jacques Lefèvre, Jimmy Mancham, Albert Durand, Robert de Laurier, Gerard and Max Morel, Michel Tennant (all three from Mauritius), Désiré Mathiot, Nigel Jean Louis, Hassan Mohammed, Yunas Suleman, Dolphus Delorie, Jules Hiquet, one Jivan boy whose first name escapes me, Robin Crawford (the son of the British governor of the island), Kevin Parcou, Michel Carrère and Norshi Bajore.

I may be wrong, but I remember a boy named Philippe Boullé, another one by the name of Bernard Jorre de Saint Jorre, and a red-haired boy named Lewis Payet. Together, over the years, we moved from Standard three to Standard four, five and six.

The teachers I remember were Miss Collie, Miss Mathiot, Miss Maude Durup, Miss Hermence Calais, Mister Hoareau, Brother Camille and Brother Norbert, and a Seychellois Brother of Chinese root who was disliked by all because of his ruthless use of the rod.  He taught ‘La classe de catéchisme’.  There was also a cute young woman just back from England who, intriguing to us boys, was always accompanied by Azize, the son of one of the local Muslim merchants.

As far as I can recall, the boys from town walked to school along the Esplanade in the morning and back home in the afternoon. We met at different points along the way, and by the time we reached the school the groups numbered anything from five to ten or more. A silly game that we played along the way was a kind of tag game. Someone would suddenly shout “Tout ça qui derrière femme” (the last one is a woman) and we would scramble forward in a mad rush. Then suddenly “Tout ça qui divant Jacot” (the one in the lead is a monkey) and we would stop dead.

At some point during the journey we would meet the girls of the Regina Mundi Catholic school walking in the other direction. Sly looks, secret smiles, and half muttered word of endearment were exchanged. All in an innocent way so far removed from the lack of respect of today’s culture.

On reaching school in the morning, all the boys went to the dressing room where we left our shoes, remaining barefoot all day. After school we quickly washed our feet and put the shoes back on.  That went for all including the wealthy and even the son of the governor. No school canteen at the time.  The boys brought lunch in paper bags that we sometimes shared. 

The noon recess was about playing with tops, playing tag, “la moque délivré” a Seychelles version of hide and seek, or just walking and chatting.  And of course marbles, which at the time were not the lovely multi-coloured glass ones but simple hardened small clay ball dipped in paint.

The school curriculum listed English, French, Arithmetic, Geography, Hygiene, Singing and physical training under the watchful eyes of Mr Hoareau.

Once a year was the school concert and prize-giving celebration. Brother Andrew, an accomplished musician, had put a choir together that practiced all year for that occasion.

I remember with some pride a particularly haunting melody about the sun set in which Albert Durand and I sang a duet while the rest of the choir hummed in the background.

Boys always teased one another.  The Mauritians were called “Mauricien manzeur zacot” (Mauritian monkey eaters) to which we responded “Seychellois manzeur tangue” (Seychellois eaters of hedgehogs).  Whether these were facts was neither here nor there.  Teasing was the thing.  Over the years I have wondered if the teasing was due to the reality that in our class the Mauritian boys most of the time came at the top, collecting the prizes at the end of the year (no offence to my old time friends).  One of the rewards was to be chosen to visit the war ships (British, French, and Indian) that periodically anchored in the harbour.

Not too far from the school was the Botanical Gardens.  In season we would, unobserved, go there during recess for the exotic fruits.  Longanne, centol, mangosteen, prune de France, pomme coloniale, jamalac were available for the picking.  One boy would keep watch in case the garden watchmen showed up and if and when they did the boys scattered in all directions.  We also gathered “tiboko”, a strange looking fruit that grew at the end of a long stem and which we used to swing and knock the hard nut on someone’s skull. 

The boys were sometimes referred to one another as ‘ti blanc’, ‘mazambic’, or ‘rouzon’.

The remarkable thing is that I never witnessed a fight between the boys over the time that I attended the school.  It was all done in good spirit.

Two sad events that I still remember.  The first was when one of the Jivan’s older boys nicknamed “Poopoon”, while hunting for crabs in the sea along the Esplanade, walked on a “laffe laboue” (stone fish) and died of blood poisoning.  The other event was when one of the Canadian Marist brothers was defrocked and sent back to Canada because he had fallen in love with a local girl.  Such a thing was unacceptable back then and the Catholic Church made sure that the incident was hushed down.

Today, seventy years later, I remember with some yearnings the fun days of school. Like me, the boys if still alive, are in their late seventies or early eighties. I wonder how many will recognise themselves if and when they read this article.



In the early fifties there was no such thing as a cinema hall in Mahé. Some organisations owned vans that were used as ‘cinemas mobile’.  British News and Cinema Gaumont showed clips of what was going on in England and France. Once in a while movies, mainly Disney films, cowboys films, Laurel and Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin were projected from 16mm projector on a large screen erected on the football ground. Adults and kids would gather excitedly waiting for the programme to start. The favourite of the boys were Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, and Hop Along Cassidy. Also exciting were the clips of British soccer games. Of course, all the films were in black and white.

Speaking of soccer, the two best teams of the island were the Mont Fleuri Seychelles College team and the Blue Star team. There was always a jubilant crowd whenever these two met. The best players of the teams were selected for the island team A or B to play against the teams from the British war ships that regularly visited the island.

The jubilant and partisan crowds at these games were entertainment on their own. The games were strongly contested, and defeating a Royal Navy team was like winning the World Cup. The only time I watched a British navy team win was when the team from the cruiser (a huge battle ship) whose name is lost, defeated the island team badly. The rumour was that some of the English players had formerly played for British first division teams after the war.

People owned gramophones on which they played 78 rpm discs. A local artist recorded a song that was soon very much on everybody’s lips. The line that caught the boys’ imagination was: “Touche pas tété Manini quand so mari y a vini y a conné” {Do not touch Manini’s breast for her husband will find out).  The question in the small boys’ mind was why in the world would anyone want to “touche tété Manini” and who in the world was Manini. I remember the frowns on the faces of the adults when the kids hummed the tune. Ours was the age of innocence.

Another favourite was:            

                Hier au soir nous ti danse ensem, gran matin ou guette moi lor coté.

                 Hier au soir ou dire moi chéri, gran matin ou traite moi mazambic.

                 La misère pa enna l’odeur; malhonnête qui enna l’odeur….”

Sometimes, late in the evening, the rhythmic and hypnotic beat of drums could be heard.  Somewhere in the neighbourhood a “danse moutia” party was going on.  The rumour among the boys was that these were wild parties where huge amounts of “calou”, the potent coconut palm alcoholic beverage, was consumed.

The whole population of Victoria lined the shoreline of the town the day a Royal Air Force flying boat visited.  The event had been announced by the British governor days before and the excitement was palpable.  The plane was one of the famous ‘Sunderland model’ that had played its part in World War 2.  The British had a base in Aden from which their war ships and planes controlled the Indian Ocean.  The sound of the twin engines was heard way before the plane was sighted.   Suddenly a dazzling flash as the wings caught the sunlight. A roar went out as the beautiful bird came into view, flew a couple of times over the crowd and then glided over the sea and landed scattering large sprays of water around.  It floated to its mooring very close to the shore. A door opened and a couple of men appeared and waved drawing a tremendous welcoming shout from the people, most of who had never seen a plane before.


The Seychelles merchant navy

The name sounds grandiose.  The merchant vessels that assured the trade between the many islands of the archipelago numbered four.  Four schooners named, Jolinda, Wanetta, Charles Edouard, and Arne.  The Jolinda and Wanetta were superb three-mast and two-mast vessels that carried passengers to the islands some of which were quite a distance from Mahé.

They travelled as far as Mombasa in East Africa, Diego Suarez in Madagascar and Port-Louis in Mauritius.

The Arne and the Charles Edouard transported goods for the people who worked on the coconut plantations of the smaller islands. They returned to Mahé loaded with copra, salted fish and salted sea birds, guano, and sometimes crates of sea bird eggs.

The locals were super sailors working on vessels that made full use of the prevailing trade winds.  I believe that the schooners also had small engines used only when the wind failed.  The worst fear of the sailors were the tropical storms during certain seasons of the year.

In late 1951, if my memory serves me right, the Wanetta encountered a cyclone which tore its sails to shreds and left it stuck on a sand bank.  She was hastily repaired and a few weeks later gingerly returned to Mahé to the cheers of the crowd gathered at the Long Pier to welcome her back.  I had no idea then that two years later my family would travel back to Mauritius on it. We also encountered some very bad weather that left us stranded on the island of Farquhar until the repairs were done.  But that is another story.


The regattas

After a year in the house on De Quincy Street we moved to “Sun Rise” the property that the church owned on the Bel Air road just behind the “Grande Croix”.  The view over the harbour and the surrounding islands of Sainte Anne, Ile aux Cerfs, Ile Ronde was magnificent.

On Sunday afternoon during the regatta season we had a splendid view of the sailing boats racing on the blue waters of the bay.  We knew the Calais family of Ile aux Cerfs and we always looked for the green sail of their boat, “Swift”.  Indeed, the boat proudly carried its name as witnessed by the many cups that stood on the mantel piece of the Calais’ home. 


Holidays on Ile aux Cerfs

The Calais family were members of the Seventh day Adventist Church.  They used to invite the church kids to spend the school vacation at their place on the island.  What a fun time that was. 

In the mornings, Mr Calais had us picked coconuts that had fallen during the night and piled them along the trail.  Later, he would collect them in his old rickety truck and take them to be cut and placed on elevated platforms to dry into copra. Every now and then, the copra was taken to a factory in Mont Fleuri to be processed into coconut oil, a white and blue coloured soap, and “poonac” used to feed the chicken.

We spent the rest of the day roaming over the large property, swimming in the lagoon, and fishing along the shoreline.  We also made toy “canotes” with dry coconuts cut in halves.  Dry coconut shell is very buoyant.  Insert a sharp “zig”, the slender stem of the coconut leaf into the shell.  Fix a broad leaf to the stick and you had a sail which caught the wind and pushed our “canote” along.  A short piece of shaved wood inserted along the bottom of the shell served as centre board and kept the toy “canote” on a straight course.  The sad bit is that when the wind blew away from the shore we lost the “canote’ for good.

The most exciting of all was when the Calais boys – Ronald, John and ‘Gaté’ – took us to sail on the ‘Swift’.  The prow sliced the waves sending sprays of salty waters that totally had us drenched, laughing, and scratching.  

Meals at the Calais were gargantuan. Mrs Calais and her daughter Hermence cooked for the family, the guests and the plantation workers.  Excellent Seychellois fares covered the table.  “Poisson ‘frire’, bécune grillé, bouillabaisse de bourgeois or karang, eaten with rice or madégone grillé (roasted bread fruit) with melted butter running down our fingers. Vegetables were rather scare and replaced with green like “brède paille à terre”, giraumond or chou chou. “Daube de banane, de patate douce, de manioc” were the usual deserts.  The whole meal was watered down with gallons of homemade citronade.

Holidays at Ile aux Cerfs lingered in my mind a long time after leaving the Seychelles.


Ending on a more personal note

I will close with a couple of stories about individuals that stand out in a small boy’s mind.

Father Jean de Dieu was the stern priest of the Immaculée Conception Catholic Church of Mahé.  Every day, around 6pm when the church bells tolled the “angelus” he would step out of the presbytery and walk along the street reading his “brévière (prayer book).  As he walked by, the people would bow down muttering “bonsoir mon père” receiving a nod in return.  Once in a while he visited the school for a talk to the pupils in assembly. 

All the boys attended but sometime a kid would look at me and the other non-catholic pupils as if to question us being there.  That may have been the only time where I felt that I did not belong.

Bakiki was a strange character that aimlessly roamed the street of Victoria. Nobody seemed to know who he was or where he came from.  He was not a threat to anyone as he entered a yard and in a loud voice cried “Bonzour missié, madame, mamzelle, pran gar li chien” (morning mister, madam, miss, watch the dog).  To anyone that opened the window or the door he would ask for a morsel of food that was readily given.  With a nod he took what was given and left.  It seemed that everyone knew about the time that he was caught one early morning picking “madégone” on a tree on the property of the Catholic Church.  Father Jean de Dieu called out “Bakiki, tu te prends pour un goéland”. (Bakiki do you think you’re a sea gull).

Méa was a tall, lanky woman that my mother employed as maid (nénène). She did all the house work including shopping and giving us our daily wash under the tap or sitting in a “baquet”.  The only thing that mum did not ask her to do was cooking.  That was because the only time she did, she prepared a strange tasting stuff that coloured our plates yellow and red: curried beetroot. Méa was at her best when she stayed with us when mum and dad went to some evening service at the church. At such time, Méa gathered the four of us around her and told us stories.

Invariably the stories were scary, at least scary to the small children that we were.

Stories about “dondotia” (witches) and about the bird “fouquet” which could cast “mofinne” (spells) on the people who lived in any house on which the bird landed. 

She described the marauding pirates that roamed the seas around Seychelles fighting and looting then looking for places to hide their treasures.  She referred to Olivier le Vasseur alias La Buse, Robert Surcouf, Nageon de l’Etang and even Black beard.  We stared at her totally entranced by her vivid descriptions.  It was only years later that I read about these pirates and found that most of them had rarely, if ever, stopped in the Seychelles.  Most had plundered along the coasts of Madagascar or the islands of the Caribbean.

One Sunday morning Méa took me along when mum sent her to the market.  As we walked between the stalls I gradually became aware of another woman stalking us, furiously looking at Méa.  People began to notice as the looks changed into words. “Ça fame fine coquin mo mari” (this woman has stolen my husband) she shouted again and again. I had no idea that husbands could be stolen. Méa grabbed my hand and quickly walked away but the woman ran after us. At one point, she got hold of Méa’s skirt which almost tore. Méa handed me over to a passer-by and attacked the woman. A mad scuffle followed, which quickly turned into a vicious fight: two snarling women swearing, spitting, biting and hitting each other.

No one intervened and I was as scared as any little boy would be in such a situation. Eventually, a police officer arrived and with some difficulty separated the opponents. We collected the scattered market produce and walked home. 

Méa offered her resignation, which mum turned down. However, Méa decided to leave and introduced a younger woman by the name of Marguerite who served as maid until we departed. 

Very few houses had flushing toilets.  In the back of every yard was a small hut called the “commun”, which served as latrine. That sounded funny to our ears as the latrine was called “privé” in Mauritius.  Under a small wooden platform with a large hole in the middle was a large green pail. People squatted above the platform to relieve themselves. Very early in the morning men (usually prisoners) came to remove the “bydoom” as the pails were called.  Sometimes, my brothers and I woke up early and as the men walked by under the window we would throw pebbles at the pail and quickly close the windows as silently as we could.  Stupid but funny until one day, one of the men came back and had a chat with dad.  I will leave what followed to your imagination.  Suffice to say that we never did it again.

I could also write stories involving my church friends.  People like Reginald, James and Mark Sabadin, David Ahwon, Rosa, Eunice, Dina, and David Chetty, Ketsia and Ina Celtel, Joe, Eri and Jourdan Stravens, and their cousin John, Eglantine and Geraldine Collie, Gillie Bronze… However the memories are linked to church activities….

I also have hazy memories of visiting Praslin and its famous ‘Jardin de Mai”, its beautiful pigeon hollandais, and black parrot.

Looking back, I can say that the three-and-a-half years went by too fast.

Back in Mauritius life took a different turn. I made new friends and new events became part of my memory.  But somewhere in some dark recess of my mind lingers the care-free years of my stay in the Seychelles.  I decided to share them hoping that some old timer like me might recognise themselves in the stories. 

I do have another reason for writing this piece. My school day friends are most certainly grandfathers today.  Like me, 3, they have grandchildren that may have lost the sense of wonder that we had, so entranced are they by their modern gadgets: iphones, Tik Tok, Face Book etc. that grab all their attention leaving no time for the activities that teach the values so important for long lasting relationships. 

May I suggest that grandparents gather their grandchildren around them and tell them about their own childhood, the time when kids did not have much of material things but learned the stuff that life is made of by engaging in enriching group activities.  Teach them to be aware that too much time with the modern gadgets turns them into zombies.




More news