The Seychelles is home to a unique Creole culture. Acclaimed visual artist George Camille reveals how to best experience it – through art, food and the simple island lifestyle...
Art in the Seychelles is very much influenced by Creole culture and probably offers the easiest and quickest way to experience it.
There are two permanent galleries in Victoria: my place, Kaz Zanana (Pineapple House) and the Eden Art Space on Eden Island, a gallery I set up three years ago to showcase the work of other artists.
At the moment, I only display my own work at Kaz Zanana, but I have plans to extend and opening a gallery that will display work from all Seychellois artists. Kaz Zanana is also interesting in that it is only one of two traditional Creole houses left in Victoria.
It’s raised off the ground, built entirely from wood, all opened up with verandas to let the breezes through. It cost a fortune to restore and, sadly, there is no heritage fund. The money I earn from my art I put into the building to maintain it.
Elsewhere across the islands, you’ll find little galleries and studios run by other artists, usually set up in their homes. (I have one on La Digue, for example). Kenwyn House, another old Creole building in Victoria, also has the occasional exhibition.
One thing visitors must try is Creole food. It’s made from fresh local ingredients and has been influenced by India, Asia and France.
Marie Antoinette, set in an old Creole house in the hills above Victoria, specialise in creole food. They offer a set lunch menu showcasing the most famous dishes.
The Boathouse at Beau Vallon, the beachside town north of Victoria, does a nice buffet of Creole salads, curries, grilled fish. You can eat as much as you want and it’s real Creole food, not just for tourists. I live in Beau Vallon and I go there all the time, especially with guests.
For something cheap and cheerful in Beau Vallon, there’s a Creole food market every Wednesday. The roadside stalls and takeaways you see sell authentic dishes, too – grilled fish and coconut curry with chicken or fish or octopus or salted fish. Ask a local for advice on which ones are the best.
My recommendation would be to try the coconut curry with salted fish. I’m not allowed to cook it at home. My wife is English and hates the smell of boiled fish. But mix it with moringa, a wild plant that people cook like spinach. It's delicious.
To me, Creole culture is a way of life: the slow-paced village life that I idealise in my paintings and is slowly disappearing. The best way to find it is to head to the islands.
Change has been slower on the smaller islands and you can still find tiny villages where chickens run around the yard, young guys chop down bananas and the old men sit around drinking toddy (made with liquor, honey, spices, herbs and hot water). People go to the beach when the fishermen come in, to help pull in the nets and buy fresh fish.
You’ll find it most easily on La Digue, but it’s still there in the south of Mahe, especially around Takamaka and even in Beau Vallon, when the fishermen come in.
But my best tip is to stay in a family run guesthouse on somewhere like La Digue. The family will look after you and cook for you and you’ll be immediately accepted into the local community and into the rhythms of island life. To my mind, it’s the best way to feel Creole culture.
Music has always played an important part in Creole culture, but it is trickier to find. The annual Festival Kreol is a good showcase. Proper Creole bands play at the opening ceremony and throughout the festival itself.
The rest of the year, it’s more hit and miss. Bands often play in the big tourist hotels, but they’re expected to play covers mainly and only get the chance to play a few traditional sega songs. Some musicians put CDs out, but I don’t know of any musicians making a living from CD sales alone.
That will all change with the opening of the new music stadium down near English River and the Acoustic Cafe, just along from the yacht club. The stadium is a purpose-built hall for concerts. Acoustic Cafe is a small, open air stage where musicians can just turn up and perform.
At the moment, there’s no real cultural map where people can find out when these things are on. My son is working to create a website called What’s On Seychelles to address that.
The annual Festival Kreol, held every October, is a good time to visit because there are a lot of activities going on, not just on Mahe but on some of the smaller islands as well.
The program includes music concerts, traditional games, creole bazaar and poetry readings, culminating in a huge parade of colourful floats reflecting island life.
There are lots of little stalls around all the events selling Creole food and it is a great opportunity to listen to authentic Creole music. This year, there was also an exhibition of young artists at Carrefour des Arts on Mahe.
There are a few other things throughout the year, like the Seychelles Bienniale of Contemporary Arts, but the Creole Festival is the main event. Basically, it's the perfect place to find Creole art, culture, music and food, all in one spot.
George Camille is the Seychelles most famous visual artist, a self-taught polymath whose colourful textured works capture the vibrancy of local life in the Seychelles.
His work has been exhibited across Europe and Asia. His art was the centrepiece of the Seychelles Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and he is the first Seychellois to take part in the Beijing International Art Biennale.
For more information about travelling to the Seychelles, visit the country's official website, Seychelles Travel.
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