Déjà vu or jamais vu? How memory shapes responses to tropical cyclones in the longue durée in Mauritius

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Tropical cyclones have had a considerable impact on the people, environment and economy of Mauritius. Large cyclones are relatively rare, and in popular imagination are thought to hit Mauritius approximately every 15 years. Yet Mauritius has not been hit for a comparatively long time; over 25 years since the last cyclone popularly considered as ‘significant’. Critically, details regarding the impact of and response to past cyclones in Mauritian history are relatively scant and there is little known about the role of memory in responses to cyclones, either from a current or historical standpoint. This research examines past experiences and impacts of cyclones in Mauritius, as well as memories of historical cyclones and contemporary perceptions of cyclone vulnerability. The research deploys three methods to do this: community interviews, expert and policy stakeholder interviews, and archive historical research. These methods are framed around a longue durée approach, combining elements of event and process with an analysis of historical discourses in an effort to uncover the long-standing and slowly changing relationships between people and extreme events. The results deliver a chronology of cyclones across Mauritian history and uncover several repetitive patterns of responses, indicating that disaster impact and recovery is strongly conditioned by memory (or forgetting). Uncovering historical patterns in responses also reveals that cultural factors such as superstitions regarding cyclones and local knowledge-based warning signs play a considerable role in shaping the experience and creation of disasters in memory. Furthermore, institutional decisions made in the distant past (themselves shown to be shaped by memory) have determined the experience of cyclones and vulnerability in Mauritius over the long term and are connected to vulnerability today. The data therefore reflects the slowly changing patterns of responses and the role of cultural memory in disasters, both for communities and decision-making institutions, all of which act out over the long term. This research is part of a growing literature arguing for the need to account for the historical processes fundamental to understanding contemporary vulnerability. This has implications for disaster risk reduction (including climate change adaptation) both in Mauritius and for other small islands.
Date of Award1 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorGeorge Adamson (Supervisor) & Ilan Kelman (Supervisor)

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