The name “Seychelles” locally called “Seychellois” derives from the 1756 French expedition that led to the annexation of the islands. The commander of the expedition named the islands Séchelles after the controller of finance, Vicomte Moreau des Séchelles. Located in the Indian Ocean south of the equator, with a land area of 118 square miles (455 square kilometers), the Seychelles is technically the smallest continent. The central islands have a continental shelf and are granitic, while the outlying ones are flat coral islands. The granitic islands are mountainous. The capital, Victoria, is on the main island, Mahé, at a spot where the island of Saint Anne creates natural harbor. The country has a large number of native species, especially birds and plants. As at 1999, the population was put at 79,164 and is growing slowly as a result of out-migration.
Linguistic Affiliation The official languages are Seychelles Creole, French, and English. Seychelles Creole has a strong resemblance to the Creoles of Mauritius and Reunion and those of the Caribbean. There has been disagreement about the use of French versus English and the extent to which Creole should be used. Most people speak Creole at home. The English-French divide occurs in debates about how new words should be integrated into Creole.
Architecture and Space use
Traditional architecture had two distinct forms: plantations and town houses. The plantation was focused on a lakou(courtyard with an owner’s or manager’s house), the kalorife (drying oven for copra), and storage houses. Separate from the courtyard were the workers’ houses with thatched roofs, and on some plantations also with walls made from coconut leaves. The workers’ houses often were divided into two parts: a sleeping room and a living room. The living room often was filled with furniture and seldom was used, as most social life took place outdoors. The kitchen was usually in a separate house. The typical town house had a general Victorian form, but both the roof and the walls might be made of corrugated iron sheets. With the decline of the plantation sector and agriculture in general the traditional lay out of the courtyards are disappearing. New houses are often constructed in an architecture common to many former British colonies, such that there is often a flat roof with a slight slope and windows with many horizontally arranged panes that can be tilted in order to allow easy circulation of air.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life The staple is curry and rice, which may be eaten two or three times a day. The curry may be based on fish or meat. Coconut milk often is used in the curry. Upper-class Creoles eat meals that consist of both fish and meat. Alcoholism has been prevalent, partly because the plantations used drinks as payments and incentives. Among the working classes drinking tended to be solitary. A typical drink is palm wine, fermented sap tapped from coconut palm fronds.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions There are no specific foods for ceremonial occasions, but meat is preferred.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender There are no strict norms for the division of labor by gender, but several statistical tendencies. In particular, women rarely fish. In the plantation economy, both men and women worked as wage laborers. The tourism industry also employs women, although the labor force participation of women relative to men has been reduced by the decline of the plantation economy. Female employment is about 40 percent of that of males in administration and 14 percent in clerical and professional jobs.
The Relative Status of Women and Men Women generally have a high status in the working class, but not in other social strata. Women control economic resources within the family and often pursue economic careers. Traditionally, violence between spouses has been a problem, usually with women as the victims.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage Consensual unions are common but less so among the gran’bla and the Indian and Chinese communities. Polygamy is not practiced, but unions are unstable and divorce or breakup is common. Fifty to 60 percent of births are to women who are not married and often are not acknowledged by the child’s father. The partners generally arrange the marriage. There is a strong contractual aspect to marriage, with a clear division of responsibilities between men and women. Among working-class people, the man gives his spouse his wages, which are used for daily expenditures for food, clothes, and the children. Women use their own income for durables, which they keep if the union dissolves. To a large extent, marriages occur within the same social and color strata.
Domestic Unit The form of the domestic unit varies with class. The ideal gran’bla family is nuclear. Among plantation workers, serial monogamy is prevalent, with the woman as the stable center of a domestic unit that consists of herself, her husband (married or in a consensual union), her children regardless of their father, and fostered children. Plantation workers developed a highly regulated system of fosterage in which firstborn children were given to the maternal grandmother or an aunt. A young women who gave away a child early would receive children later from her daughters or younger sisters. This fostering occurred in all classes. The nature of the system differed with the relative social class of the child giver and the child recipient: with large asymmetry in favor of the recipient, this became a system of domestic child work. With the sharp reduction in fertility rates in recent years, the system has been impossible to maintain. Each member of a household is assigned his or her own tasks.
Inheritance Inheritance is bilateral, with men and women having equal rights.
Kin Groups Descent is generally bilateral and no descent groups are formed. However, descent has a strong matrilateral bias, especially in the working class. That and the practice of fostering children create networks of women that resemble kin groups. Gran’bla families were formed in the same manner as European families, with an emphasis on patrilineal succession to a name and attempts to keep property within the family.
Infant Care Infants sleep with their parents, especially the mother. Toddlers have freedom to roam but often are watched by older siblings. They are given small tasks from an early age in accordance with the precise assignment of tasks within the household.
Child Rearing and Education Early initiation to an active sexual life has been considered a problem by health authorities. The number of children born to women below age twenty is high. Enrollment in primary education is universal but drops off at the secondary stage. Girls enroll as often as boys. The post-1997 revolutionary regime established a National Youth Service (NYS) along socialist lines. The NYS was replaced in 1999 with the fifth grade of secondary school.
Higher Education Those who want higher education attend schools and universities overseas. No higher education is available domestically except for polytechnic training, including teacher training, nursing, tourism, and arts.
Seychellois are usually described as laid-back and easygoing. Dress codes are relaxed, and formal clothing is seldom worn. Interpersonal distance is somewhat greater than it is in Europe. Complimentary statements to or about other persons, especially children, are avoided because they may bring misfortune. Greetings are simple.
Religious Beliefs Most of the people are Roman Catholic (90 percent) or Anglican (8 percent). What the priests teach is somewhat different from the beliefs and practices of the layperson. Seychellois traditionally had a strong belief in spirits (nam) and sorcery ( gri-gri ). Some sorcerers were very influential.
Religious Practitioners Religious practitioners are priests of the various churches as well as the healers/sorcerers.
Rituals and Holy Places There are no religious rituals specific to the Seychellois, and the Christian religious feasts are celebrated.
Death and the Afterlife In general, people follow Christian conceptions of death and the afterlife. Linked to ideas about sorcery was the belief that the spirit of a person prematurely killed by sorcery could be made to serve the sorcerer for the duration of that person’s natural life span.
Medicine and Health Care
Major tropical diseases such as malaria have never established in the islands. The primary health care system is well established. Advanced care is not available, but there is a hospital in the capital. The nature of current beliefs and practices involving traditional medicine is not documented. Sorcerers traditionally were involved in healing through the use of medicinal plants.
The national day is celebrated on 18 June to commemorate the adoption of the constitution in 1993. On 5 June Liberation Day is celebrated in remembrance of the 1977 coup, and on 29 June Independence Day is observed. Labor Day is on 1 May. New Year is celebrated on 1 and 2 January. Christian holidays that are also public holidays include All Saints Day (1 November), Immaculate Conception (8 December), and Christmas Day (25 December).
The Arts and Humanities
Literature Seychelles Creole is a written language and the only daily newspaper, the Nation publishes partly in Creole. Apart from folk tales which have been published in Creole there is no literature.
Graphic Arts There are few arts and crafts in Seychelles that derive from a Seychellois tradition. There is a small crafts industry in conjunction with tourism.