The Culture

Like its neighbours Mauritius and Réunion, the Seychelles is often cited as an example of racial and religious harmony, and compared with most countries it is. There’s not much anticolonial feeling evident – it has long been replaced with a sense of national pride that developed after independence. There’s even a lingering fondness for such British institutions as afternoon tea, while French cultural influence has waned somewhat, mainly because it is regarded as rather elitist.

Lifestyle

Thanks to the islands' close links with Europe, the contemporary face of the Seychelles is surprisingly modern. The main island of Mahé can be a rather sophisticated place, characterised as much by Western-style clothing, brand-new cars, mobile phones and modern houses as by any overt signs of traditional Creole culture. But beneath this strongly Westernised veneer, many aspects of traditional Creole culture survive. They live on in dance, music, hospitality, ancient beliefs, the language, the carefree attitude and in many other day-to-day ways of doing things.

Most Seychellois are Catholic, but marriage is a curiously unpopular institution. This is partly because marriage is considered to be a relic of slavery, when marriages simply didn't take place and the institution has never really taken hold in the centuries since. Getting married is also expensive and is beyond the means of poorer Seychellois. As a result, an estimated 75% of children are born out of wedlock. There's no taboo about illegitimacy, however.

Women in Seychelles

Seychellois society continues to be largely male-dominated, although the gap is closing, and women here enjoy the same legal rights as men. On average, female students stay at school longer (15 years) than male students (13 years). In 2011 the Seychelles ranked fifth in the world (ahead of all Western countries except Sweden and Andorra) when it came to female representation in parliament, with female parliamentary members making up 43.8% of the total number; that figure fell to 21.2% by 2018. Fortunately for women, the tourism industry is regarded as an equal-opportunity employer.

Population

The population of the Seychelles is more strongly African than in Mauritius or Réunion, but the Seychellois remain a mosaic of French, African, Indian, Chinese and Arab heritage. Creole culture, itself a melting pot of influences, reigns supreme, whereas distinct Indian and Chinese communities make up only a tiny proportion of the ethnic mix. As for the grands blancs (white landowners), most were dispossessed in the wake of the 1977 coup.

As in Mauritius and Réunion, it is the Creole language, cuisine and culture that helps bind the Seychelles' society. Nearly 90% of the population speaks Creole as their first language, though most also speak English – the language of government and business – and French.

About 90% of Seychellois live on Mahé and nearly a third of these are concentrated in and around the capital. Most of the remaining 10% live on Praslin and La Digue, while the other islands are either uninhabited or home to tiny communities.

Religion

About three-quarters of Seychellois are Roman Catholic, 6% are Anglican and around 4% belong to the rapidly expanding evangelical churches. The remainder belong to the tiny Hindu, Muslim and Chinese communities largely based in Victoria.

Most people are avid churchgoers. On a Sunday, Victoria's Catholic and Anglican cathedrals, as well as the smaller churches scattered around the main islands, are full to bursting.

There is also a widespread belief in the supernatural and in the old magic of spirits known as gris gris. Sorcery was outlawed in 1958, but a few bonhommes and bonnefemmes di bois (medicine men and women) still practise their cures and curses and concoct potions for love, luck and revenge.

Arts

Since these islands were originally uninhabited, the Creoles are the closest the country has to an indigenous population. Many aspects of their African origins survive, including the séga and moutia dances.

Literature

Among the most important local authors writing in Creole are the poet-playwright Christian Sevina, short-story author and playwright Marie-Thérèse Choppy, poet Antoine Abel and mystery writer Jean-Joseph Madeleine. Unfortunately their works are not yet available in English.

In fact, there is surprisingly little English-language fiction about these islands. Most authors go in for travelogues and autobiographies. The one exception is long-time resident Glynn Burridge, who mixes fact and fiction in his short stories. They are published locally in two volumes under the title Voices: Seychelles Short Stories (2014) and are available in bookshops in Victoria.

Music & Dance

The Indian, European, Chinese and Arabic backgrounds of the Seychellois are reflected in their music. Musicians from the Seychelles have their own take on musical genres from Africa and elsewhere – seggae is a fusion of Mauritian séga and reggae, while the African rhythms of moutia (a dance) have been blended with reggae to form mouggae. Local percussion music is known as kanmtole.

Patrick Victor and Jean-Marc Volcy are two of the Seychelles' best-known musicians, playing Creole pop and folk music. Victor is known for combining native folk beats with Kenyan benga to produce what's known as montea. Other local stars are Emmanuel Marie and the late Raymond Lebon, whose daughter Sheila Paul made it into the local charts with an updated rendering of her father's romantic ballads.

For a window on modern Seychelles music, pick up Seychelles – Nouvelle Tendances (2018), which includes tracks by Patrick Victor and Jean-Marc Volcy, among others.

Visual Arts

Over recent decades, more and more artists have settled in the Seychelles and spawned a local industry catering to souvenir-hungry tourists. While shops are full of stereotypical scenes of palm trees and sunsets, there are also some innovative and talented artists around.

Michael Adams is the best-known and most distinctive contemporary artist. George Camille is another highly regarded artist who takes his inspiration from nature. Other notable artists are Barbara Jenson on La Digue and Gerard Devoud at Baie Lazare on Mahé's west coast.

Look out, too, for works by Leon Radegonde, who produces innovative abstract collages; Andrew Gee, who specialises in silk paintings and watercolours of fish; and Christine Harter, who creates sun-drenched paintings. The painter and sculptor Egbert Marday produces powerful sketches of fisherfolk and plantation workers, but is perhaps best known for the statue of a man with a walking cane, situated outside the courthouse on Victoria's Independence Ave. Lorenzo Appiani produced the sculptures on the roundabouts at each end of 5th June Ave in Victoria.

Environment

The Seychelles is an archipelago that lies about 1600km off the east coast of Africa and just south of the equator. For such a small country it supports a large variety of flora and fauna. Because of the islands' isolation and the comparatively late arrival of humans, many species here are endemic to the Seychelles. The country is a haven for wildlife, particularly birds and tropical fish.

The Land

The Seychelles is made up of 115 islands, of which the central islands (including Mahé, Praslin and La Digue) are granite; the outlying islands are coral atolls. The granite islands, which do not share the volcanic nature of Réunion and Mauritius, appear to be peaks of a huge submerged plateau that was torn away from Africa when the continental plates shifted about 65 million years ago.

Animals

Common mammals and reptiles include fruit bats or flying foxes, geckos, skinks and tenrecs (a hedgehog-like mammal imported from Madagascar). There are also some small snakes, but they are not dangerous.

More noteworthy is the fact that giant tortoises, which feature on the Seychelles' coat of arms, are now found only in the Seychelles and the Galápagos Islands (off Ecuador). The French and English wiped out the giant tortoises from all the Seychelles islands except Aldabra, where happily more than 100,000 still survive. Many have been brought to the central islands, where they munch their way around hotel gardens, and there is a free-roaming colony on Curieuse Island.

Almost every island seems to have some rare species of bird: on Frégate, Cousin, Cousine and Aride there are magpie robins (known as pie chanteuse in Creole); on Cousin, Cousine and Aride you'll find Seychelles warblers; La Digue, Denis and Curieuse have the veuve (paradise flycatcher); and Praslin has black parrots. The bare-legged scops owl and the Seychelles kestrel live on Mahé, and Bird Island is home to millions of sooty terns.

Feature: Top 10 Animals & Birds to Watch For

  • Whale sharks – Mahé
  • Magpie robins – Cousin Island, Cousine Island, Aride Island, Denis Island
  • Giant tortoises – All islands
  • Flycatchers – La Digue
  • Sooglossus sardineri frogs – Morne Seychellois National Park, Mahé
  • Black parrots – Vallée de Mai, Praslin
  • Seychelles blue pigeon – Vallée de Mai, Praslin
  • Fruit bats – Mahé, Praslin, La Digue
  • Sooty terns – Bird Island
  • Sea turtles – Bird Island, Cousin Island, Frégate Island, North Island, Aldabra Atoll

Plants

The coconut palm and the casuarina are the Seychelles' most common trees. There are a few banyans and you're also likely to see screw pines, bamboo and tortoise trees (so named because the fruit looks like the tortoises that eat it).

There are about 80 endemic plant species. Virgin forest now exists only on the higher parts of Silhouette Island and Mahé, and in the Vallée de Mai on Praslin, which is one of only two places in the world where the giant coco de mer palm grows wild. The other is nearby Curieuse Island.

In the high, remote parts of Mahé and Silhouette Island, you may come across the insect-eating pitcher plant, which either clings to trees and bushes or sprawls along the ground.

Feature: Sexy Coconuts

The coco fesse (the fruit of the coco de mer palm) is often described as the sexiest fruit on earth. Given the peculiar buttocks-like shape of these strange, sensual fruits, they have been the source of many legends and erotic lore, and greatly excited the 17th-century sailors who first stumbled upon them after months at sea. Before 1768 the coconuts, which were occasionally found floating in the Indian Ocean, were believed to grow in a magic garden at the bottom of the sea. This rare palm grows naturally only in the Seychelles.

Only female trees produce the erotically shaped nuts, which can weigh over 30kg. The male tree possesses a decidedly phallic flower stem of 1m or longer, adding to the coco de mer's steamy reputation.

Harvesting the nuts is strictly controlled by the Seychelles Island Foundation, an NGO that manages the Vallée de Mai on behalf of the government.

National Parks

The Seychelles currently boasts two national parks and seven marine national parks, as well as several other protected areas under government and NGO management. In all, about 46% of the country's total land mass is now protected as well as some 45 sq km of ocean, with the latter figure expected to rise over the coming years.

The Seychelles' National Parks

Aldabra Marine Reserve

Features

raised coral atoll, tidal lagoon, bird life, marine turtles, giant tortoises

Activities

diving, snorkelling, scientific study

Best Time to Visit

Nov, Dec & mid-Mar–mid-May

Aride Island Marine Nature Reserve

Features

granite island, coral reef, seabirds, fish life, marine turtles

Activities

birdwatching, snorkelling

Best Time to Visit

Sep-May

Baie Ternay Marine National Park

Features

mangrove swamps, fish life, coral reefs

Activities

diving, snorkelling

Best Time to Visit

year-round

Cousin Island Special Reserve

Features

granite island, natural vegetation, hawksbill turtles, seabirds, lizards

Activities

birdwatching

Best Time to Visit

year-round

Curieuse Marine National Park

Features

granite island, coral reefs, coco de mer palms, giant tortoises, mangrove swamps, marine turtles, fish life

Activities

diving, snorkelling, walking

Best Time to Visit

year-round

Morne Seychellois National Park

Features

forested peaks, mangroves, glacis habitats

Activities

hiking, botany, birdwatching

Best Time to Visit

May-Sep

Port Launay Marine National Park

Features

mangrove swamps, fish life, coral reefs

Activities

diving, snorkelling

Best Time to Visit

year-round

Praslin National Park (Vallée de Mai)

Features

native forest, coco de mer palms, other endemic palms, black parrots

Activities

botany, birdwatching, walking

Best Time to Visit

year-round

Ste Anne Marine National Park

Features

marine ecosystems, marine turtles

Activities

glass-bottom boat trips, snorkelling, diving

Best Time to Visit

year-round

Environmental Issues

The Seychelles has a generally good record for protecting its natural environment. As early as 1968, Birdlife International got the ball rolling when it bought Cousin Island and began studying some of the country's critically endangered species. This was followed in the 1970s with legislation to establish national parks and marine reserves.

Tourism Developments

Despite a largely positive record on environmental protection, the government has made some controversial choices, In 1998 it authorised a vast land-reclamation project on Mahé's northeast coast to provide much-needed space for housing. More recently, the construction of Eden Island, an artificial island with luxury properties off Mahé's east coast, has also raised concerns. Both projects have caused widespread silting, marring the natural beauty of this coast indefinitely, though the alternative was to clear large tracts of forest. A difficult choice.

Tourism has had a similarly mixed effect. Every year, more resort hotels and lodges pop up, most notably on formerly pristine beaches or secluded islands. Sure, they have nothing on the concrete-and-glass horrors of, say, Hawaii or Cancun, but they still necessitate additional support systems, including roads and numerous vehicle trips, not to mention cutting down vegetation and making demands on precious resources such as water. On the other hand, tourist dollars provide much-needed revenue for funding conservation projects. Local attitudes have also changed as people have learned to value their environment through public education campaigns.

Island Restoration

Impetus for environmental protection is coming from NGOs operating at both community and government levels. They have notched up some spectacular successes, such as the Magpie Robin Recovery Program, funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International. From just 23 magpie robins languishing on Frégate Island in 1990, there are now nearly 250 living on Frégate, Cousin, Denis and Cousine Islands. Similar results have been achieved with the Seychelles warbler on Cousin, Cousine and Aride Islands.

As part of these projects, a number of islands have been painstakingly restored to their original habitat by replacing alien plant and animal species with native varieties. Several islands have also been developed for ecotourism, notably Frégate, Bird, Denis, North, Silhouette and Alphonse Islands. The visitors not only help fund conservation work, but it is also easier to protect the islands from poachers and predators if they are inhabited. With any luck, this marriage of conservation and tourism will point the way to the future

Coral Reefs

The coral reefs that encircle many of the Seychelles' islands are seen as barometers of the health of the local marine environment, and the news is worrying. Increasing sea-surface temperatures, caused by the phenomenon known as El Niño, can have devastating effects; an El Niño event in 2016 caused widespread coral bleaching and a massive reduction in coral coverage. A similar event in 1998 saw the bleaching of 90% of reefs in the Seychelles. While the reefs are of great significance for their own sakes, in the Seychelles the flow-on effects for tourism and fisheries, both major income earners for the Seychellois, don't bear thinking about.