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SEYCHELLES: Partying in Paradise

3 minute read

Every morning for the past three months, Seychelles islanders tuning in the country’s only radio station have heard an imposing roll of kettledrums and the recitation of a proud though singularly infelicitous piece of doggerel: “Independence is a sheet of virgin snow/ On which our footsteps will surely show.”

This is most unlikely, since the average yearly temperature of the Seychelles is 84° F. Still, the 60,000 inhabitants of this 92-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean were surely entitled to a bit of joyous befuddlement as their independence festivities began last week. Celebrating their break from Britain, the Seychellois danced nonstop in the flag-bedecked streets, flocked to free plays, movies, bicycle races, soccer, basketball and hockey matches, and elected a Miss Seychelles. When the Union Jack is hauled down from a mast in Victoria Stadium this week and replaced by the new red, white and blue flag of the Seychelles Republic, the celebrants will chant the new national anthem in French and in English: “Seychellois both staunch and true/ the nation now has need of you.”

The curious lines about snow in the Seychelles were written by the former crown colony’s new President, James R. Mancham, 36. A handsome, black-bearded lawyer who revels in his reputation as a playboy, Mancham is also a shrewd politician. He helped negotiate a $20 million loan from Britain. which also granted the new micro-nation title to Aldabra, a world-renowned tropical bird sanctuary, and to two other islands. The Seychelles are halfway between Africa and Asia, and Mancham is adamant about keeping the Indian Ocean “a peaceful lake.” He has assured United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim that “we will do everything we can to avoid getting involved in big-power confrontations.” Mancham adds: “We may not have much of a role to play in major global issues,” referring to the fact the Seychelles Republic has no army, navy or air force. But, he vows, “we’ll do our part on the international cocktail party circuit.”

No Serpents. The partying spirit comes naturally to the Seychellois, who regard themselves as the happy heirs of paradise lost. One early visitor, British General Charles Gordon, solemnly asserted a century ago that the Garden of Eden was located in the Seychelles, though there are no serpents there. Gordon argued that Eve’s gift to Adam was no apple but a coco de mer, an indigenous, double-barreled 40-lb. nut, reputed to have aphrodisiac powers.

The islands’ paradisiac features —notably its unspoiled beaches—have attracted a growing number of tourists. Last year 35,000 flew into the $14 million jetport on the island of Mahe. Although tourism has already replaced copra and cinnamon as the islands’ source of foreign exchange, the President is determined that the Seychelles will not become “a nation of waiters.” Says Mancham: “We have learned our lesson from the overcommercialization and human pollution that have spoiled much of Tahiti and the Caribbean. Here, no hotel will be built higher than a coconut palm.” Viewed from such modest heights, the future of the independent Seychellois may indeed be cause for rejoicing.

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