For as long as human civilization has existed, there have been those who have fought against the mainstream views of society. Sometimes these people were in the right, fighting back against intolerance, injustice, and political abuse. On other occasions, those who fought back were in the wrong. Regardless of their stance though, countless individuals over the course of human history have been exiled from their home lands for daring to speak up in opposition. One of the most famous exile destinations has been the island nation of Seychelles.
The Republic of Seychelles, as the island nation is now known, consists of an archipelago of some 115 islands. The nation is located roughly 932 miles off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The island chain was first discovered by Vasco de Gama in 1502, but was not settled by Europeans until the French and British traded interest in them during the 18th and 19th centuries. The French were initially responsible for colonizing Seychelles, but the British would later take control as a result of treaties settling the Seven Years’ War, most notably.
During the French and British colonial periods Seychelles became a popular destination for both empires to exile those who stood against them, at home and in colonies around the globe. The remote location of Seychelles, as well as its relative isolation from the global community, both empires saw the usefulness of Seychelles in being treated as an exile destination for political opponents, effectively removing them from the political scene and rendering their voice mute through isolation.
The French pioneered the idea of turning Seychelles into an “island of exiles” on 11 July 1801 when the French ship Chiffone arrived on the nation’s shores with a cargo of French prisoners sent into exile by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The British Empire would take the tactic of exiling political dissidents to Seychelles in the late 19th century however, eventually earning the nation the official nickname “Island of Exiles” by the mid-20th century.
Britain was responsible for sending the first high profile political figure into exile on Seychelles. Raja Muda Abdullah, later known as Sultan Abdullah of Perak, was exiled to Seychelles after a disastrous turn of events in his homeland. Perak today is one of the 13 states that comprise Malaysia. The region was under the control of the British Empire starting in 1820 when Britain reluctantly stepped in to prevent Siam from annexing Perak. Oddly enough, it would be Sultan Abdullah’s own actions that turned against him in the end.
Sultan Abdullah invited the British to come to Perak and place the region under British protection. In a letter to Governor Sir Andrew Clarke, Sultan Abdullah requested British protection and for an individual of knowledge to be sent along to help him determine and establish a good form of government. Sultan Abdullah was installed by the British as the Sultan of Perak, over his rival Sultan Ismail. The British installed a Resident, a positions with wide administrative powers to assist the Sultan, who was assassinated by rival political groups in 1875. For his lack of ability to maintain control over Perak, the British exiled the man who had asked for their presence in the first place. Sultan Abdullah was sent to Seychelles in 1875.
British policies regarding ascension to the throne in their colonies during the 19th century led many former political leaders to exile in Seychelles. Sayyid Khalid bin Barghash Al-Busaid was another famous resident of Seychelles at the hand of the British crown. Sayyid ascended to the throne as the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1896 after the death of his cousin who was the ruling Sultan of Zanzibar. Although Khalid was thought by many to have poisoned his cousin, it was his ascension to the throne without British permission that resulted in his exile to Seychelles. Khalid held the thrown for three days before having his palace and harem shelled by British warships. After fleeing from the British for 20 years, Khalid was eventually captured in 1916 in Dar es Salaam and exiled.
Khalid’s existence in exile on Seychelles was a difficult one. Although he was pleased with the presence of other Muslims and mosques on the island, Khalid’s finances were difficult. The outbreak of World War I caused a great deal of stagnation in the local economy, and it was difficult to appropriate land for Khalid’s entourage. His group of 17 followers was forced to share a compound with another set of exiles, something Khalid constantly complained about. Zanzibar was slow to pass along funds for Khalid’s subsistence and increasingly felt the former Sultan should sell his properties in Dar es Salaam to finance his exile.
The most famous individual to ever have been exiled to Seychelles was Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus. The Archbishop was the spiritual and national leader of Cyprus, and in 1956 he became the most famous in a long line of political activists to run afoul of the British government. Makarios was struggling to free his country from British rule, but found himself exiled on another island under British control.
Even in 1956, Seychelles was very much an isolated nation that served as the perfect location to place a political dissident. Located a thousand miles from anything civilized, Seychelles was only accessible by water and didn’t have media outlets to provide Makarios with an audience for his message. More is known about the everyday movements of Makarios than any other individual exiled to Seychelles even though the island nation was isolated.
A typical day for Makarios included a 6 A.M. wake up followed by breakfast, a walk around his estate, and reading until lunch time. After lunch he would rest until the mid-afternoon and again return to reading or other studies. After another walk and some conversation with other exiles in his compound, Makarios would enjoy a late dinner before retiring for a quiet evening of discussion or reading. He was routinely in bed by 11 P.M.
Many of the individuals who found themselves exiled on Seychelles arrived as strangers to the island but left with a special place in their hearts for this place. Despite its uses by the British, Seychelles is a wonderful place full of natural beauty that was not lost on many of those exiled to its shores. Archbishop Makarios was one of those who became particularly fond of Seychelles. During his exile he set up a fund for local students to attend college, and even returned to the island in 1972 for a visit.