In August 2020, Seychelles celebrated a huge milestone—250 years as a Nation. Our nation came into existence with 15 white colonists, seven slaves, five Indians and one black woman as its first known inhabitants. This was the start of us—a nation.
Photo credit: Michel Daniel Denousse
My great-grandmother was born Caroline Rideau in Foret Noire. She was one of ten children born to Philogene and Jeanne Rideau. Like many other young girls of the time, she was married when she was a teenager. Her husband’s name was Jacob Vel. He died, leaving her widowed at 24 with two young boys. 12 years later, after a brief affair with an Indian merchant who had set up shop in Market Street, she fell pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, my grandmother, Elina. I am named after her. The father, who was allegedly married, didn’t stay in Seychelles for too long after that. There are rumours that he would send her jewellery from India, but I don’t know for sure.
Elina was a somewhat troubled individual – or is it just the way the stories have been told? She was a force to be reckoned with. She even gave a catholic priest a piece of her mind once after an incident of ill-treatment involving my mother (we are Anglican). Of course, this, at the time, was not how one was expected to behave with a man of the church. Still, putting all the stories and bits and pieces together, I get a sense of terror. But she was also an alcoholic, so I guess that makes it a bit complicated.
She never married. In her late thirties, along with the participation of a fellow alcoholic, my mother came into the picture. Her father didn’t stay in that picture for too long either. His name was Moris, and I have no picture of him at all. The few times I would ask about him as a child and queried as to what he looked like, the neighbours would tell me ‘I ti en nwanr later rouz’. English translation: red-earthed black man. To this day, I have no clue what that means. My mother has a handful of times, spoken of the call she got when he died and how she had to go to the funeral. When I think of the closeness I had with my father, who died in my arms, I struggle to comprehend the indifference to one.
As our country marks its 250th anniversary, I cannot help but ponder a little bit of our heritage, in particular, my own. I do not have a single picture of them, which could maybe create some form of connection. Despite this, though, I feel like I know them. The short Indian man in a sarong roaming market streets, Elina’s long Cinderella hair, Moris’ temper – I have paid enough attention to know a tiny bit of the puzzle that they were. I will never have the missing pieces, but that’s OK, because, in many ways, I am them.
Elina Rideau. The name which fills up my maternal grandmother slot in my family tree.
Shortly after I shared this piece, my brother came across this photo of her amongst buried and forgotten treasures. For the past few months, I have taken a few minutes each day to look at her face. I told myself I would share it if only I ever reached a point that I would know her completely, so much so, that if our paths crossed and despite knowing she had passed decades ago, I would recognize her.
I think I’m there now.
If we had lived in the same lifetime, I cannot think of anything we would have agreed upon. It would have been a very complicated relationship. But, I would have certainly reciprocated her love. I’d like to think she would have made me laugh, and I would have helped her heal.
I carry her name. I have always carried her. Now, I know her face.