Till recently, the washerwomen used to go to the river or washrooms to do their laundry. It was there that the ladies could take time to chat or meet with their peers. Laundry itself was a very physical activity with threshing, brushing, rinsing and spinning, using only the strength of their arms. The clothes were placed to dry out near the river, often directly on the grass or on the branches of trees or hedges in the area.
Soon after, the backyards were equipped with a “ros laver” (literally rock used for washing up). This was a flat rectangular basaltic stone that served as a support for everyday laundry. Our grandmothers made use of authentic locally produced soap, rubbing the household linen on the stone to ensure the cleanliness. To whiten the laundry, it had to be soaked in water in which was added a square-shape blue compact powder, coloured with indigo.
The washed laundry was then displayed in a small tin tub, before letting it to dry out, pinched between 2 “cord coco” – 2 twisted coconut ropes (strings made from braided coconut fibers) in the garden. There was no need for clothespins. Nowadays, there are still some “dhobis” (washerwomen) whose lifelong job is to wash the clothes of some families at the river. These are often large pieces of linen, such as sheets, bedspreads or khaki uniforms.
By the way, if you happen to see large sheets drying in the open air, near a river in Mauritius, please have a thought for our local “dhobis”, who have kept the traditional ways of washing up!