[For its launch at the Town Hall of Beau Bassin-Rose Hill on Friday 4 April 2008, the Organisation for Diaspora Initiatives (ODI), Mauritius, has organised a public conference by Cader Kalla on the great Mauritian genius that was Major Atchia. His effigy will shortly appear, out of gratitude, in the country?s bank notes]
Amode Ibrahim Atchia (AIA), called "Major" at first by his employees and later thus referred to generally, was born at Belle Rose. He was the son of the Indian, Ibrahim Sulleman Atchia, who had arrived from Barbodhan, a village 15 km from Surat, in Gujarat, in 1861 at the age of 20 years. Ibrahim Sulleman Atchia had come in the company of his maternal uncle, Hassenjee Atchia (44 years), and the latter?s son, Dawjee Hassenjee (14 years). Having later wedded a Mauritian girl, Major?s father at first settled at Belle Rose.
With restricted means, without formal education and unaided, AIA soon became a prosperous entrepreneur. He proved to be a genius, shining as an innovator. No doubt, his contribution paving the way for Mauritius towards technological progress remains unprecedented. He later built himself a 24-room mansion at corner of Sir Virgil Naz and Vandermeersch Streets, in Rose Hill. Ibrahim Sulleman Atchia was one of the foremost proprietors of the town.
AIA made structural and mechanical inventions. Together with his three brothers, he set up the Société Atchia Frères, of which he was the leader. Major first reconstructed, in concrete, the mosque of Rose Hill which had been destroyed by the 1892 cyclone. He then devised a method to make pre-fabricated concrete slabs. These were used in building houses, stair cases, market stalls and railway sleepers, among other constructions, besides columns or pillars to support the roof. He even used his own invented paint derived from castor oil. By 1900, the Société Atchia Frères acquired a sugar estate at the Industrie, situated in the North, between Long Mountain and Crève Coeur. It also owned the New Mill Fibre Factory processing aloes. Erected in 1907, the first concrete building in the town of Beau Bassin-Rose Hill was found at the Corner of Dr Maurice Curé Street and Royal Road. Designed by Major, it consisted of prefabricated slabs housed in grooved concrete columns.
The country?s first cinema house
Major attracted general attention, if not admired, when he set up at Réduit his hydro-electric plant. It supplied energy to the inhabitants of Rose Hill, Beau Bassin, Quatre Bornes and Moka, besides installing a telepheric for crossing the river. He then created, along with his brothers, the Mauritius Hydro Electric Company of which he became the engineer. The government subsequently took over its control. The Atchia family set up a central hydro-electric plant, for the benefit of the inhabitants of Mahebourg, Rose Belle and other neighbouring villages. It also ran an ice factory, the first in Mauritius, and a saw mill, since the early 1920s, near its residence in Rose Hill. Major connected this mansion with his electricity headquarters at Réduit by a private telephone. At that time, the public telephone service was not yet available.
Thanks to Major?s ingeniosity, the family owned and operated an intinerary cinema, projecting commercial films under a mobile roof across the country. It also ran its intinerary merry-go-round, also designed by Major, for public entertainment throughout Mauritius. In 1915, he constructed the Cinema Hall in Rose Hill. It was the country?s first cinema house, serving as the centre for film and theatre. In part of the large space between it and the adjoining main road several merry-go-rounds used to be run. Taking advantage of his own electric supply, Major also arranged for wrestling and football matches to take place not only during the day but also at night in the remaining vacant space. After building in, or around, 1930 in Port-Louis the Cinéma des Familles, which was operational until recently, he erected not only La Salle Mon Bijou at Rose Belle in the early 1930s and the Salle des Fêtes at Mahebourg but also the Cinema Coronation at Flacq in 1939 for the Toorawa Family.
In or about1940, Major founded a salt pan at Tombeau Bay. For this purpose, he used an eolienne (windmill) to harness the required energy for pumping sea water and then having it channelled to the pan. In case there was inadequate sun for evaporation, recourse was made to the installations already made to boil sea water. He travelled daily by rail from his home town of Rose Hill to Tombeau Bay via Port-Louis. To reach the salt pan, at Tombeau Bay, he used a tricycle converted into an auto-rickshaw or cyclo-pousse (cyclo-vehicle). One of his apprentices used to drive it.
It was whilst returning from the salt pan, Tombeau Bay, on 17 September 1947, in a train compartment bound for Rose Hill that Hajee Amode Ibrahim Atchia (Major) suddenly passed away following a heart attack. His son-in-law, Goolam Mohamed Dawjee Atchia (1990-1966), the eldest son of his close cousin, Hajee Hassenjee Dawjee Atchia, was the Indo-Mauritian pioneer in the socio-religious field as well as local and national politics.
Major?s brother, Ibrahim Sulleiman Atchia, a member of the Board of Commissioners of Beau Bassin-Rose Hill from 1901 to 1906, an appointment much decried by the elite Christians, was instrumental in opening in 1905 the Mohammedan Aide School.
(Chairman, ODI Mauritius)