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Reunion (Overseas Department and Region, France)


Last modified: 2009-03-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: reunion | france | regional council | general council |
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[Flag of France]

French national flag - Image by Željko Heimer, 22 September 2001

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Administrative data

Code: 974
Area: 2,511 km2.
The former dependencies of Reunion, known as Outlying Islands (Iles éparses) were placed under the authority of the Ministry of the Overseas (Ministère de l'Outremer) on 1 April 1960. Since the Decree of 19 September 1960, the Outlying Islands were administrated by the Prefet of Reunion. A Decree signed on 3 January 2005 has transfered the administration of the Outlying Islands to the Prefet, Higher Administrator of the Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (TAAF).

Population (2003): 753,812 inhabitants
Around 95,000 natives of the island live in European France. Every year the island is visited by more than 420,000 tourists.

Préfecture: Saint-Denis
Sous-préfectures: Saint-Benoît, Saint-Paul, Saint-Pierre
Subdivisions: 4 arrondissements, 39 cantons, 185 municipalities.

The ethnical composition of Reunion is very diverse. There is no native population since the island was uninhabited before the French colonization.
The Malbars (or Malabars) represent 25% of the population. They are descended from the Indian workers imported to Reunion after the abolition of slavery. Most of these workers came from Calcutta and the Coast of Coromandel, where the former French counters Madras, Pondichéry, Karikal and Mahé are located. About 85,000 Indians were brought to Reunion and 25,000 of them eventually stayed on the island.
The Zarabes (a local form of the French les Arabes) represent 2% of the population. They are descended from the Muslim Indians imported in the XIXth century.
The Chinois (Chinese) represent 3% of the population. Most of them came at the end of the 19th century from Canton and specialized in food trade. The Chinese immigration increased in the 1930s with the Chinese-Japanese war and the introduction of Communism in China.
The Zoreilles (a local form of the French les oreilles, the ears) represent 6% of the population. They are the people of French European origin. It seems they got the name of Zoreilles because they had to listen very carefully (in French, tendre les oreilles) when the Creoles spoke their own language.
The Caffres are descended of the African slaves who were imported for sugarcane cultivation.
The Creoles represent 40% of the population. They are defined in reference to the other categories.

Main source: Mi-aime-a-ou website

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2004

History of Reunion

Like its neighbour Mauritius, Reunion was probably visited but not colonized by Arab, Malay, Chinese and European sailors in the XIIth century. The formal discovery of the island (1507-1512) is credited to the Portuguese Admiral Pedro de Mascarenhas. The group of islands made of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues is called Mascarene, after the Admiral's name. Reunion was firstly called Santa Apolónia.

In 1638, the ship Saint-Alexis landed on the island and its captain took possession of the island in the name of Louis XIII, King of France. The island was called Mascarin. The King officially claimed his rights on the island in 1649, and the island received the new name of Bourbon. The first settlers were abandoned on the island in 1654; they were 14 mutineers expelled from Fort-Dauphin (today, Faradofay), the French counter in Madagascar. They stayed in a cave located near Saint-Paul for three years and left the island with the ship Thomas-Guillaume on 28 May 1658.
The adventurer Louis Payen, from Vitry-le-François (Champagne), was the first voluntary settler on the Bourbon island. He settled near Saint-Paul in November 1663 with a French friend and ten Madagascan servants, including three women. The Madagascan fled to the mountains where they were the root of the first native population.

On 5 August 1665, Étienne Regnault was sent to Bourbon by the Compagnie Française des Indes Orientales, which had a royal monopole on French trade in the Indian Ocean since 1664. Regnault was appointed Governor of Bourbon by Colbert. The twenty men who came with him were the first official colons in Bourbon. In March 1667, a fleet commanded by de Mondevergues called at Bourbon on its way to Fort-Dauphin. Five women were disembarked and Regnault was given Colbert's instructions for colonisation of the island.
A French military squadron, commanded by Lieutenant-General de la Haye, reached the island on 7 April 1671. De la Haye issued on 1 December 1674 a decree prescribing the organisation of the colony. Hunting was forbidden ("because it would made the colons lazy") and every colon had to rear two oxen, 400 poultries and twelve pigs and to grow rice, grains and vegetables. In 1685, the Compagnie Française des Indes Orientales took the control of Bourbon, then settled by 260 colons, and expelled the pirates who overran the coasts of the island.

A Provincial Council was created on 7 March 1711. In 1715, six Moka coffee trees were imported from Yemen. Coffee became the main production of the island and each colon had to grow 100 coffee trees. This cultivation was extremely time and labour consuming, which caused the introduction of slavery on Bourbon.
The regulation from 29 January 1727 stated that the Governor should stay alternatively six months in Île-de-France (Mauritius) and six months in Bourbon. On 27 December 1730, a decree appointed the first permanent Governor of Bourbon, Dumas. However, Ile-de-France was favoured, especially during the rule of its governor Mahé de la Bourdonnais (1735-1746). Most maritime activity was located on Île-de-France whereas Bourbon was used for staple food production.

In 1764, the King of France bought the Mascarene from the Compagnie Française des Indes Orientales, which was sold off in 1765. The colons supported the French Revolution and set up a Colonial Assembly to administrate the island. In 1793, the island was renamed Reunion, to remember the union of the Marseillais volunteers and the National Guards during the seizure of the palace of Tuileries in Paris on 10 August 1792.

In 1806, the island was renamed Bonaparte and became a hot spot in the struggle against England for the control of the Indian Ocean. England seized the island in 1810 and introduced the cultivation of sugar cane. Not really interested in the island, England retroceded it to France in 1815. The island was renamed Bourbon during the Restauration. The name of Reunion was reestablished in 1848.
On 20 December 1848, General Commissioner of the Republic Sarda-Garriga proclaimed the abolition of slavery, freeing 62,000. Several Indian workers were imported to replace the former slaves and avoid an economical crisis.

The end of the 19th century was marked by the sugar crisis (1865), a slaughter on 2 December 1868 and a severe economical crisis caused by the opening of the canal of Suez in 1869.
The railway was inaugurated in 1882. The port of Pointe-des-Galets, whose building required 15,000 workers, was inaugurated in 1886.
On 26 November 1929, a Farman piloted by Marcel Goulette, René Marchesseau and Jean-Michel Bourgeois was the first plane to land on the island.
In June 1940, governor Pierre-Émile Aubert rallied the French State, the puppet state under German control. A commando of the Free French Forces took the control of the island in 1942.
Reunion became a DOM (Département d'Outre-Mer) in 1946, a Region in 1982, and a European Region in 1993.

Several famous people were born in Reunion or spent a significant part of their life of the islands. Among them are:

  • the politician Henri Hubert-Delisle (1811-1881), who was appointed Governor of the island in 1862. He was the first native of the island to be appointed Governor and promoted the economical development of the island.
  • the poet Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894), who was a member of the Parnassian group and succeded Victor Hugo in 1886 in the Académie Française.
  • the slave Edmond Albius (1828-1880), who found in 1841 a convenient method for pollinisation of vanilla. Vanilla is an orchid native from the Antilles, where it is pollinated by a specific insect not present in Reunion. Vanilla was introduced in Reunion in 1819, and Albius' finding allowed the industrial development of the cultivation of vanille Bourbon.
  • the physician Félix Guyon (1831-1920), who is considered as the founder of modern urology.
  • the poet Léon Dierx (1838-1912), who was another member of the Parnassian group. He was elected "prince of the poets" after the death of Stéphane Mallarmé and was among the poets allowed to watch Victor Hugo's coffin under the Arc de Triomphe on 22 May 1885.
  • the actress Blanche Pierson (1842-1919), who was selected by Alexandre Dumas Jr. to play Marguerite Gauthier in the first night of La Dame aux Camélias and was appointed member of the Comédie-Française in 1886.
  • the politician and writer Jules Hermann (1845-1924), who founded the first syndicates of coffee and geranium growers.
  • Admiral Lucien Lacaze (1860-1955), who was Minister of War in 1915-1917 and reorganized the French Navy after the First World War.
  • the art merchant Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), who organized in 1895 the first exhibition of Paul Cézanne's paintings and was one of the first customer of Renoir, Gauguin and Picasso. His personal collection of paintings, engravings and prints was given by his brother to the Léon Dierx museum in Saint-Denis in 1947.
  • the musician and writer Georges Fourcade (1884-1962), who wrote the song P'tite fleur aimée. The song was popularized by Graëme Allwright in 1978 and is a kind of unofficial anthem of Reunion.
  • the airman Roland Garros (1888-1918), who was the first to cross the Mediterranean Sea on 23 September 1913. He invented a device allowing to shoot through the propeller of an airplane and died on 30 October 1918 during an airplane fight. He was also a great sportsman and his name was given in 1927 by Émile Lesieur to a stadium located porte d'Auteuil in Paris. Due to the fame of the tennis championship played there and nicknamed "Roland-Garros", several people believe that Roland Garros was a famous tennisman.
  • the poet and painter Jean Albany (1917-1984), who founded the Creolist Movement in Reunion.
  • the economist and politician Raymond Barre (1924-2007), Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finances in 1976-1981.
  • the novelist, essayist, poet and translator Jean-François Samlong (1949-), who founded in 1978 the Union pour la Défense de l'Identité Réunionaise.

Main source: Mi-aime-a-ou website

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2004

Status of the flag

The only official flag on the Reunion island is the French national flag.

Ivan Sache, 18 February 2005

Coat of arms

[Coat of arms]

Coat of arms of Reunion - Image by Ivan Sache, modified after the Mi-aime-a-ou website, 18 July 2004

The coat of arms of Reunion was designed in 1925 by former Governor Merwart for the Colonial Exhibition, which took place in Petite-Île the same year.

Merwart attempted to give a global image of the history of the island on the coat of arms, with the following symbolics:

  • on first quarter, the mountain stands for the virgin islands. The Roman number MMM (3,000) recalls the elevation of the highest peaks of the island (Piton des Neiges, 3,069 m; Gros Morne, 2,992 m;
  • on second quarter, the ship is the Saint-Alexis, which landed on the island in 1638;
  • on third quarter, the three yellow fleurs-de-lis on a blue background recalls the island was a royal possession and its former name of Bourbon;
  • on fourth quarter, the yellow bees on a red background recall the First Empire;
  • the escutcheon shows the French Tricolore flag with the white stripe charged with a "RF" (for République Française) cypher;
  • the yellow scroll placed above the shield bears the island's Latin motto: Florebo quocumque ferar (I shall flower wherever I am planted), which was the motto of the Compagnie Française des Indes Orientales. A vanilla liana "grows" around the scroll. When the coat of arms was designed, vanilla was the main source of income for the island.

Source: Mi-aime-a-ou website

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2004

Regional Council of Reunion

[Flag of the Regional Council]         [Flag of the Regional Council]

Flag of the Regional Council of Reunion - logotype from the Regional Council website
Left, current version - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 11 January 2009;
Right, former version - Image by Ivan Sache, 13 March 2008

The building of the Regional Council displays a white flag with the logo of the institution.
The website of the Regional Council shows the logo of the Region as white with a blue (island) and yellow (sun) emblem surmonting "REGION REUNION (in black) / VALORISONS NOUS ATOUTS" (in light blue; lit., "let us develop our trumps").

Two photographies, taken on 30 July 2004 and 27 August 2005 inside meeting rooms, show, however, the flag hanging on the wall, without the "VALORISONS NOS ATOUTS" motto.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 11 January 2009

General Council of Reunion

[Flag of the General Council]         [Flag of the Regional Council]

Flag of the General Council of Reunion - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 11 January 2009;
Left, current version;
Right, possible former version.

The building of the General Council displays a white flag with the logo of the institution, including its Internet address.
It is quite likely that an earlier version of the flag had the logo in its first version, without the Internet address. The drawing of the previous logo was slightly different; several versions of the logo existed with the word "Département" or the words "Conseil général".

Olivier Touzeau, 11 January 2009