La Digue History & Culture
La Digue Island is the fourth largest island in Seychelles and lies forty kilometres (25 miles) from Mahé and 7 km (3.5 miles) from Praslin. The island was named after one of the two vessels in Marion Dufresne’s small fleet of exploration which was sent by the French administration of Mauritius to explore the granitic islands in 1768.
The first settlers of La Digue can be traced back to 1789, and were French colonists accompanied by their African slaves. Many returned to France, but certain of the present population carry their names and they were followed by a number of French nationals and a number of liberated slaves and Asian immigrants. The names of the early settlers can still be found on headstones in the old cemetery.
In 1854, the first Catholic chapel was built on La Digue by Father Theophile and in line with the population of Seychelles most inhabitants of the island are of the Catholic faith. The early settlers were fishermen, boat makers, made copra, the dried flesh of the coconut, and also planted vanilla alongside the vegetables and fruits they needed for everyday consumption.
It was undoubtedly they also who bequeathed to the island its strong sense of tradition that persists down to the present day in the form of sleepy island ways and the uniquely languid pace of life here which unfolds at a snail’s pace along tree-lined pathways upon which the bicycle and ox-cart are still the chief modes of transport, past the half-hidden villages of another time.
It is they who gave La Digue much of its wonderful French, colonial-style architecture which is a feature of the island where they stand in quaint gardens literally ablaze with such flowering shrubs as hibiscus and nepenthes, blending perfectly into a background of verdant forests and ancient coconut groves.
The slow pace of island life probably takes its tone from the fact that the island still receives the vast majority of its visitors by sea, at the charming little port at La Passe, around which the greatest concentration of buildings is to be found. Only a little further afield, there is a distinct ‘countryside’ feel to the island with long, meandering paths only occasionally interrupted by the solitary or scattered residences of the 3000-strong population.
At L’Union Estate you will be given the chance to travel back in time to the age of the coconut plantation when copra, the dried flesh of the coconut and a valued export, was harvested in the calorifer or kiln before being bagged for shipment in jute sacks and where coconut oil was once ground from the nut using a giant pestle driven by a slowly turning ox. Giant Land tortoises that once roamed the forests can be found here too; relics of a time long gone.
Even today, an air of antiquity reigns over the place as if it had found a way to cheat Time and stay much as it always was, to the great delight of visitors who arrive to share in the olde worlde atmosphere that is everywhere present and which seems to hold the entire island in its thrall.
It may be argued that La Digue retains the essence of the early character of Seychelles: a tiny population surrounded by a universe of water pursuing their livelihoods in dreamy island-style fashion, all but oblivious to the outside world which, for all its relevance to them, might as well be a million miles away.
It is this that makes La Digue special, together with the host of authentic experiences it offers to the visitor in search of something truly different.
There is also the opportunity to explore its surrounding waters or neighbouring islands for yet another taste of heaven.
Steeped as it is in the traditions of yesteryear, La Digue is just the place to savour the delights of Seychellois Creole cuisine with its enticing fusion of foreign influences: Indian, Chinese and European. This is the ultimate culinary extravaganza and feast for the senses: grilled fish straight from the ocean, basted with a mix of garlic, ginger and chillis; octopus curry prepared in coconut milk; Creole chicken curry accompanied by fresh mango salad and juicy fruit satini.
All this and more can be enjoyed from your very own cocoon of Creole comforts available through an ever-widening choice of accommodation options ranging from the pampering environment of top-end hotels to the rustic charms of small Creole hotels, guesthouses and self-caterings which will introduce you to the serenity, intimacy and authenticity of La Digue’s particular way of life.
La Digue Festival
Every 15th August the residents of La Digue Island celebrate the religious holiday of the Feast Of the Assumption, an event that inevitably draws people with roots in Seychelles fourth largest island, back to the island of their birth for a very special ‘homecoming.’
Steeped in tradition, its very own particular customs and sleepy island ways, La Digue’s celebration of 15th August has always been a special event that attracts people from all across the archipelago like a magnet.
The celebrations start with an open-air mass at ‘La Grotto’ attended by the Bishop of La Digue and his flock on the occasion of the Assumption of Mary or the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her life. Traditionally, this grand gathering of worshippers becomes a procession through the lanes of La Digue to mass at the picturesque St. Mary’s Church.
After the celebration of mass, residents and visitors from home and abroad join in the animated, colourful atmosphere that traditionally lasts for the entire day and well into the night and which takes the form of impromptu street parties and live music shows, with food and beverages of all kinds available from vendors.
La Fete La Digue, gives visitors a chance, not only to celebrate a significant moment in the religious calendar, but also to taste the unique, timeless atmosphere of one of Seychelles’ most traditional islands.