Exclusive interview with the Seychelles’ head of state, President James Michel on the development and preservation of the Seychellois culture
‘The future of the Seychellois culture is on a solid foundation,’
News Bureau: Mr President, when we talk about the Seychellois culture, what does this represent to you?
President Michel: It represents the values we share as a united nation coming from different backgrounds; the values that identify us as a unique nation. In our culture we find our roots, common soul and our huge Seychellois heart. The Seychellois nation, which started forming with the arrival of the first settlers in 1770, is young and vibrant.
Amazingly, as soon as the first arrivals from Africa, Asia and Europe began to build the foundation of their new home, we spontaneously started the fusion of the different characteristics of people from many origins. Out of this variety of features we have shaped a common Creole culture, but at the same time we have succeeded in creating one harmonious nation, influenced also by the greenery of our land, the blue of our rich ocean, the vivacity of our joie de vivre, the indomitable island spirit.
We have our own Creole language, music, dances, Creole cuisine, social habits, tropical island charm, music and arts. Our culture represents the art of making unity out from diversity, living together in peace and tolerance. The characteristics of our culture today represents, perhaps, the most powerful nation-building tool. A nation that values democracy, tolerance and unity, hard work, and the positive expressions of life.
News Bureau: Why is the preservation of culture important to you and your government?
President Michel: It is thanks to our culture that we are what we are today. In our culture there are the things we cherish in our daily life, in our national life. The preservation of culture is also about the safeguarding of our national identify as Seychellois. Our location as islanders in the tropics, the history, the varied backgrounds of our people, the language that unites us, our music and cuisine, our love for the green environment, the beckoning of the sea that surrounds us, make us a distinct and great people.
Without these qualities there would be no Seychellois! The preservation of our culture is also a form of education in and appreciation of what we are proudly made. We are the ones who know ourselves best. No Seychellois individual is an island. We are Seychellois because we are part of a tapestry, woven on the evolution of our people. When we preserve our culture we maintain the bonds that keep us together. The fibres are finely interlaced, giving us the greater strength to move ahead as a determined and united people.
When we preserve the things that are dear to us it is not only about the past, it is also about survival, striving for a better tomorrow. We inherit and learn from experiences. Most importantly our culture is our source of life and happiness.
News Bureau: We have seen that our culture has not remained static over the past decades. How do you feel and what are your views on the evolution of our culture over the past years?
President Michel: We are a nation that is open to the world. Like all cultures in fast developing countries it is unavoidable that certain influences creep into our way of life. It is happening all over the world. Globalisation is here. And we keep talking about it. Modern development brings its own challenges.
That is why we are always promoting the values and characteristics that unite us, make our life more pleasant and preserve our identity. We derive pride from our trilingualism, for example, but we have to be able to promote the speaking and writing of all three national languages.
It requires a big effort to preserve what is dear to us. We are equally proud of the fact that we are continually strengthening our democratic values. A big positive from our Seychellois democracy is the tolerance, unity-in-diversity characteristic and social harmony, which are important features of our modern culture. We continue to nurture these in the face of global adversity.
Although we are a very small nation open to the world, we are succeeding in ensuring the preservation of our cultural heritage and the values of our nation, as stipulated in the Constitution of our country. The Creole Institute, for example, is overseeing the national use of our main language.
The Creole Festival is an annual national event that celebrates our culture. We are firmly attached to our heritage and values, which we are sharing with the world, mainly through tourism and international diplomacy.
At the same time we are witnessing the enrichment of our cultural landscape by groups that are now big enough to manifest their diversities in our united nation. We realise that our culture is a great national asset.
News Bureau: In your own view what is the link between our culture and our country’s development? Please explain.
President Michel: There are many links, which are historical, environmental, sustainable, social and artistic, moral and spiritual. All these make up the fabric of our national psyche, our common ideology and Seychellois way of life.
Our culture holds so much potential for our economic development. Tourism remains the main driver of our development. And tourism thrives on the many aspects of our culture. For instance, I do not consider it a mere coincidence that France has been one of our main markets for visitors. France is the country that started the settlement of our islands.
The historical ties and heritage from France feed the affinity between a major tourist market and a unique destination. Environmental protection and nature preservation have always been part of our evolving national culture.
All Seychellois are today readily aware that environment protection plays an important role in our tourism and fishing industries. Which takes us to sustainable development, a matter that is close to our heart, for wealth creation as well as lasting progress.
Our way of life, of peoples of different races, religions and political backgrounds living peacefully together, is a model of social harmony to the world. It is one of the prized aspects of the culture we have to preserve, and to entice visitors and investors.
Without history for good reference, the protection of our environment, sustainability and social harmony, we would not have made the great strides in our development that we have achieved following our independence in 1976. There are so many other aspects of our traditions, such as the Creole cuisine, eco-tourism prospects, and also the music and other artistic expressions that are yet to be fully exploited for our development. These also include the spices of the traditional plantations, and craft, for small business start-ups.
News Bureau: How can our Seychellois people be involved with the preservation or development of our culture?
President Michel: Our culture is the product of our Seychellois people. We own the culture which keeps us together as a people. With the national policy of empowering our people to take ownership of our development, more and more Seychellois, particularly the young, are turning to the local assets for their livelihood. We are talking about the sustainable exploitation of the sea, the woods, history, the music, for small business start-ups. There are niche markets here in Seychelles and overseas for services and products derived from the cultural heritage. We also have our eco-tourism potentials.
We can breathe new life into the many eco-tourism assets, such as architecture, essential oil distilleries and the creative industries. We do it for business purposes, for cultural preservation, and economic development.
More people get involved when they see the benefits from the preservation and harvesting of our culture. One just has to attend one of the SEYMAS moutia events on Mahé for one to realise how much our people appreciate our culture and are involved in its preservation.
News Bureau: What is your vision for the Seychellois culture in the next five years? Or what is your way forward for our culture?
President Michel: The future of the Seychellois culture is on a solid foundation. The government has set up the Creole Institute, the National Heritage Foundation, the National Arts Council, the Kreol Village, the Coconut Museum, and the National Conservatoire of Performing Arts, to support the preservation and development of our culture.
We now want the culture sector to become a strong driver of our economy. This involves the design of a creative industries policy and music strategy industry.
There is the need to continually build our entrepreneurial skills, to enable the people in the sector to adopt practices suitable for the global market. We preserve, we harvest, we preserve.
Government will always provide, as much as possible, the development support for the creative industries. An agency dedicated to the creative industries will serve our culture well. As we breathe and live our culture, we also want to derive wealth from it. It is another way of promoting our values, of preserving our national culture.