Seychelles Religion + Culture | So Seychelles

Seychelles Religion + Culture

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The rich culture of the Seychelles is a melting pot of the many different types of people who settled the islands, each of whom have left their mark. From the 17th century pirates and corsairs who used the Seychelles as a sanctuary to the French settlers and their dependents who established the archipelago's spice and coconut plantations, from the Tamil and Chinese merchants who set up the region's first small businesses to the British colonials who transformed the Seychelles economically, each wave of new residents contributed something unique to the remarkable blend of language, music, arts and religion that characterizes the Seychelles.

Religion in the Seychelles

Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in the Seychelles Islands, practiced by well over 90 percent of the population or 70,000 islanders in total. Members of other Christian denominations can be found there as well, including Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, the Orthodox Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses. There are also a smattering of Hindis, Moslems and adherents of the Bahá'í Faith.

Catholicism in the Seychelles

The first European settlers in the Seychelles were French, and carried their Catholic faith with them to their new home. Since 1890, the Seychelles has been a bisopric. Officially, the diocese is called the Roman Catholic Diocese of Port Victoria of Seychelles.

Hinduism in the Seychelles

There are a little over 1,500 people of Tamil descent living in the Seychelles who practice Hinduism. Tamils have a long and proud history in the Seychelles as businessmen and advisors to the government. In May 1992, a Hindu temple, the Navasakti Vinayagar Temple, was consecrated on the island of Mahé. The deity presiding over the temple is the elephant god Ganesh.

Islam in the Seychelles

Although Moslem mariners were among the first people to step foot on the Seychelles, they established no permanent settlements. Consequently, they did not establish their religion there to any large degree. Today, approximately 900 people in the Seychelles, or 1.1 percent of the population, practice Islam.

Magic in the Seychelles

Despite their adherence to organized religions, many Seychellois continue to believe in witchcraft, magic and sorcery. Shamans known bonom di bwa (from the French "bonhomme de bois" or "man of the woods") are regularly consulted to provide supernatural guidance for solving everyday problems. African slaves brought over their traditions of gris-gris or black magic. In some ways, this Seychellois folk tradition is very similar to Haitian culture. The Seychellois believe in ghosts, and when someone in their families dies they routinely keep watch over the coffin lest the departed's body be spirited away and turned into a "dandotia" or zombie.

Culture In the Seychelles Islands

Seychellois culture reflects the traditions of all the different races and nationalities that settled the archipelago, including the Islamic mariners, the French settlers, the British colonials, the Tamil and Chinese traders, and the African slaves.

Social Structure

The Seychellois family unit is female-dominated, as is the case in many parts of Western Africa, which is where many of the slaves who were brought to the Seychelles originally came from. Institutional marriage is not widely practiced, and unwed mothers are the societal norm, although Seychellois law requires fathers to provide financial support to their children. Nearly 75percent of all Seychellois children are born outside of legal wedlock. This informal family structure is known in the Seychelles as "en ménage," and it carries no social stigma.

Under the provisions of the Seychellois constitution, women enjoy the same legal status as men and at 45.8 percent of the total delegates, the Seychelles has the highest percentage of women in its parliament of any country in the world.

As is typical in many post-colonial societies, skin color is a determinant of social status to some degree. Nevertheless, people of all colors and races mingle freely in the Seychelles, and racial tensions are almost unknown.

Music in the Seychelles

The Seychelles has evolved very distinctive musical traditions, which have made fans all over the world. African influences dominate, particularly in the moutia and sega music that is often accompanied by dance.

The moutia dance dates back to the times of slavery. It is a slow, achingly erotic dance that is usually performed to the beat of a single drum. Moutia songs are actually prayers that the early slaves adapted into work chants. Moutia was once seen as so subversive that the British colonial authorities banned it.

In contrast, sega is a musical dance with a more Calypso-like rhythm. Sega is popular in many of the West Indian islands, including Mauritius and Réunion. The one rule of sega dancing is that the feet must never leave the ground. Much swaying of the hips, and movements of the arms and hands, characterize this dance.

Contredanse has its origins in the 18th century French court. It uses fiddles, banjos, accordions and drums, and many musicologists find it similar to North American Arcadian musical traditions.

Visual Arts in the Seychelles

The towns of Mahé and Praslin have a thriving art scene. Many artists own their own galleries. Among the Seychelles' best known artists are:

Michael Adams: Michael Adams was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001 for his stunning watercolors and silkscreens juxtaposing typical Seychellois subjects with the Garden of Eden.

Tom Bowers: Tom Bowers specializes in bronze sculptures that range in size from small to massive. His favorite subjects are the famous Seychellois sea turtles.

Nigel Henri: Nigel Henri's distinctive acrylic landscapes are on display in the welcome area of the Seychelles International Airport.

Architecture in the Seychelles

Seychelles architecture combines the influences of its colonial heritage with practical adaptations designed to adapt to the physical challenges of island life. Many buildings have steep roofs to stave off rain during monsoon seasons. Originally, these roofs were thatched with coconut palm, but today roofs are more likely to be made with corrugated iron. Structures also typically are built around courtyards and verandas to make the most of the temperate climate. The typical Seychellois home housed the kitchen in an outbuilding so that cooking smells did not infiltrate living spaces.

Literature in the Seychelles

The Seychellois government is heavily invested in protecting the integrity of Seychellois Creole as a distinct language. Although English and French are also widely spoken, Seychelles Creole is the official written language and the islands' sole newspaper, "The Nation," publishes in English and Creole.