Walking along the beach of Flic-en-Flac in Mauritius, I can’t help but stop to caress these rectangular basaltic rocks of the lime kiln. This same gesture was most probably repeated hundreds of times by the lime manufacturers long ago. Today, these surprising ovens, a symbol of our past remind us that our heritage and environment must be preserved at all costs.
Similar to the lime kiln in Flic en Flac on the western coast, there are some more situated in Belle Mare, Trou d’eau Douce, Mahebourg, La Prairie… all found in villages with exotic names. These kilns were made to turn limestone into lime under the action of fire. Inside were vertical structures, in masonry, opened at the top (called the ‘guelard’).
The furnaces alternated stone and coal beds and were filled to a maximum, and ‘filaos’ wood (Casuarina) most of the time, was brought to the foot of the building to ensure the firing. The task of the lime manufacturer looking after the furnace was to always keep it at a temperature between 800-and 1000-degrees Centigrades. This was done by keeping the oven filled and restocking it with limestone while watching closely over the fire.
Once the lime was cooked, it was recovered through a low opening of the oven, then cooled and barreled. Today in Mauritius, we can still find these old buildings painted with white lime that was produced locally. Lime has been replaced today by white paint fortunately for the planet, as the fringing reefs and coral barriers are now protected, it is no longer allowed to extract corals from the sea to produce lime.
The lime kilns, remnants of the past, are there to show us that man used what he had on hand. Around lime kilns, which have become playgrounds for children, elders give explanations about their use and the hard work to achieve excellent results. It is our duty to safeguard our heritage to transmit to humanity… Lime kilns are surprising and are all authentic. May we preserve them for the generations to come!
Lza M Natur