Society, Culture, Religion & Traditions

The photographer and artist cannot remain unmoved by the scenic splendour of the islands and the people of Seychelles, whose origins lie in Europe, Africa, India and China. The island way of life and the adaption taking place is an interesting focal point for most visitors, particularly the anthropologist. Seychellois exhibit a true melting pot of different races. The women are said to be French enough to have beautiful curves, Asian enough to be exotic, English enough to have impeccable manners and African enough to have rhythm and black magic in them!

Seychellois people, in general, are characterized by their laid-back, easy-go-lucky, or I would say, #chill attitude.

Society

The original French colonists came to establish a colony on Mahé, in August 1770. First settlers arrived on board French ship “Thélemaque”. The party consisted of 15 white colonists, seven slaves and five Indians. Asians from China, India, and Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia) arrived later in smaller numbers. Widespread intermarriage has resulted in a population of mixed descent.

About 90% of people live on the island of Mahé while the rest live on Praslin and La Digue, and the remaining islands are either sparsely populated or uninhabited.

The women are said to be French enough to have beautiful curves, Asian to be exotic, English to have impeccable manners and African to have rhythm and black magic in them!

Creole, also called Seselwa, is the native language of most Seychellois. Under the constitution, Creole, English, and French are recognized as national languages and are widely understood.

Culture

Seychellois exhibit a true melting pot of different races, cultures & religions, all brought by people of European (recognized in Seselwa (Creole language)), African (in local music and dance) and Asian origin (cuisine and particularly business & trade).

All of those is visible throughout the domains of local art, food, music and general lifestyle, best observed by attending local events. The great Creole festival is a week-long event which celebrates Creole culture and its elements of dance and music. The sounds of Contombley and Sega mingle with the festive atmosphere of dance, cuisine and art.

Religion

St. Pauls Cathedral Victoria, Mahe

More than 80 percent of the Seychellois population is Roman Catholic and nearly 6% are Anglican, so Sunday masses are well attended. 

Apart from these two main Christian faith groups, other denominations of Christians such as the Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Nazarites, the Pentecostal Church, Pentecostal Assembly, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Orthodox Church, also have a steady following.

A minor portion of the local population also belongs to the Hindu, Islam and Bahá’í faith.

Traditions

Seychelles is a country rich in religious and social tradition born from a confluence of cultures that echo origins in Africa, Asia and even South America, with a love for harmony in society.

Stories of the family’s history and great deeds are remembered and passed down by word of mouth.

It is believed that if a baby is held over a grave of the deceased, the baby will suffer no ill health. These and other traditions are firmly rooted in the social fabric of the country.

An interesting belief in the Seychelles is that if a broom passes over a person’s feet, they will never be married. As can be imagined, people follow this tradition to a point that when a room is being swept, everyone leaves.

Once it was traditional to present a baby tortoise to a new born girl and raise the animal as a family pet until the girl grew up and married. The tortoise would then be slaughtered at the wedding feast. With a view to conservation of the Seychelles ecosystem, this tradition has now all but died out.

baby tortoise

Supernatural Spirits, Magic, Witchcraft and Sorcery

bonhomme de bois seychelles black magic
bonhomme de bois

Like other Africans, many Seychellois Christians believe in supernatural spirits, magic, witchcraft, and sorcery. It is common to consult a local fortune-teller known as a bonhomme de bois (Man of the woods) who is believed to exert magic and concoct potions that are used to bring good fortune or love to many Seychellois. Charles Zialor, who died at the ripe old age of 92, was one of the most well known Bonhommes in Seychellois history. In fact, the British government was so ruffled by his rituals, that they banned him from practicing them. However a botanist, who studied some of Zialor’s herbal concoctions, proved that they did have some valid healing characteristics. Even today, quite apart from the belief in Bonhommes, the people of Seychelles maintain a healthy respect for medicinal plants. For example, many homes have a shrub of Madagascar periwinkle, growing in their yards. This plant is useful for treating minor illnesses.

Charms known as gris-gris, are used to harm one’s enemies. Gris gris is actually an amalgamation of herbalism and black magic, which were brought into the country by slaves from Africa and Madagascar. The power of gris gris was greatly feared by the roman catholic church and by colonial administrators who tried to stamp it out.

Though the government outlawed “sorcery,” possession of charms and amulets and fortune-telling nearly fifty years ago in 1958, these beliefs remain strong, as the presence of these spirit practitioners (bonhomme de bois) will attest. There are many people in Seychelles who claim to be experts in the black magic arts. These people are known as Ti-Albert or Grand-Albert (or, a black magician). Although the influence of these magic-minded people has diminished over the years, some related superstitions live on in the corners and crevices of these exquisite islands. For example, when a death occurs in a family, it is a custom to keep watch over the open coffin the entire night before the funeral, in order to prevent a Ti-Albert from carrying off the body and turning it into a dandotia or zombie.