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Reunion (Overseas Department and Region, France)


Last modified: 2023-05-13 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: reunion |
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French national flag - Image by Željko Heimer, 22 September 2001

See also:

Administrative data

Code: 974
Area: 2,511 km2.
The former dependencies of Reunion, known as Outlying Islands (Îles éparses) were placed under the authority of the Ministry of the Overseas 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 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.

There is no native population in Reunion since the island was uninhabited before the French colonization. Accordingly, the ethnical composition of Reunion is very diverse, with the following groups:
- Malbars (or Malabars) represent 25% of the population. They are descended from the 85,000 Indian workers brought to Reunion after the abolition of slavery, mostly from Calcutta and the Coromandel Coast, where the former French counters of Madras, Pondichéry, Karikal and Mahé are located. About 25,000 of them eventually stayed on the island.
- Zarabes (a local form of French "les Arabes") represent 2% of the population. They are descended from the Muslim Indians brought in the 19th century.
- 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 due to the Second Sino-Japanese War and the triumph of Communism in China.
-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 Creoles spoke their own language.
- Caffres (Kaffirs, non pejorative here) are descended of the African slaves who were brought for sugarcane cultivation.
- Creoles represent 40% of the population. They are defined in reference to the other categories.
[Mi-aime-a-ou website]

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2004

History of Reunion

Reunion, like Mauritius, was probably visited but not colonized by Arab, Malay, Chinese and European sailors in the 12th century. The formal discovery of the island (1507-1512) is credited to the Portuguese Admiral Pedro de Mascarenhas, the namesake of the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues). Reunion was firstly called Santa Apolónia.
In 1638, the ship Saint-Alexis landed on the island and its captain took possession of "Mascrain Island" in the name of Louis XIII, King of France (1610-1643). The King officially claimed his rights on the island in 1649, whose name was changed to Bourbon. The first settlers, abandoned on the island in 1654, 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 until recovered by the ship Thomas-Guillaume on 28 May 1658.
Louis Payen, an adventurer from Vitry-le-François, 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, three women included. 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 been granted a royal monopoly on French trade in the Indian Ocean in 1664. Regnault was appointed Governor of Bourbon by Colbert. The twenty men who came with him were the first official colonists in Bourbon. In March 1667, a fleet commanded by Marquis François Lopès de Mondevergues called at Bourbon on its way to Fort-Dauphin. Five women were disembarked whilst Regnault was forwarded 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 colonists 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 colonists, 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. Extremely time and labour consuming, coffee cultivation caused the introduction of slavery on Bourbon.
The Regulation issued on 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, Île-de-France was favoured, especially during the rule of 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. Supporting the French Revolution, the colonists 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 storming of Tuileries Palace in Paris on 10 August 1792.

In 1806, the island, renamed Bonaparte, became a strategic place in the struggle against England for the control of the Indian Ocean. England seized the island in 1810, introducing sugar cane cultivation. 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, the General Commissioner of the Republic Sarda-Garriga proclaimed the abolition of slavery, freeing 62,000. Several Indian workers were brought 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 Suez Canal 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. The first native of the island to be appointed Governor, he promoted its economical development;
- the poet Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894), who was a member of the Parnassian group and succeded Victor Hugo in 1886 at the Académie Française;
- the slave Edmond Albius (1828-1880), who found in 1841 a convenient method for hand pollinisation of vanilla. An orchid native from the New World, vanilla is pollinated there 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 Bourbon vanilla;
- 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. Elected "prince of the poets" after the death of Stéphane Mallarmé, Dierx was among the poets allowed to guard 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. Popularized by Graëme Allwright in 1978, the song 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 and home of the tennis French open.
- 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.

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2004

Status of the flag

The only official flag in Reunion 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:
- in the first quarter, the mountain stands for the virgin island. 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);
- in the second quarter, the ship is the Saint-Alexis, which landed on the island in 1638;
- in the third quarter, the three yellow fleurs-de-lis on a blue background recalls that the island was a royal possession and its former name of Bourbon;
- in the fourth quarter, the yellow bees on a red background recall the First Empire;
- the escutcheon shows the French tricolor flag with the white stripe charged with "RF", for "République Française";
- 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.
[Mi-aime-a-ou website]

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2004

Region Reunion


Flag of Region Reunion - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 30 March 2023

The current variant of the flag of Reunion regional council has a version of the logo with the URL of its website below, the icons of three social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and the logo of its web-tv "O'TV" (photo, photo in official use in the regional assembly i, december 2022).

Olivier Touzeau, 30 March 2023


Previous flag of Region Reunion - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 15 May 2017

Since at least 2015, the Regional Council has been flying a flag (photo, photo) with a a slightly modified logo. The motto under the main part of the logo has been replaced by five colored squares to show the equality and cultural diversity of the population of the island.

Olivier Touzeau, 24 February 2018

[Flag]         [Flag]

Former flag of Region Reunion
Left, as seen in 2009 - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 11 January 2009;
Right, as seen in 2004 and 2005 - Image by Ivan Sache, 13 March 2008

The website of the Regional Council once showed the previous logo of the Region as white with a blue (island) and yellow (sun) emblem surmounting "REGION REUNION (in black) / VALORISONS NOUS ATOUTS" (in light blue; lit., "let us develop our trumps").
A photo (30 July 2004) shows, however, the flag without the "VALORISONS NOS ATOUTS" motto.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 11 January 2009

Departmental Council of Reunion


Flag of the Departmental Council of Reunion - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 10 May 2023.

[Flag]        [Flag]

Former flags of the General Council of Reunion - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 10 May 2023;
Left, former version before 2015;
Right, older variant.

The building of the General Council displays a white flag with the logo of the institution, often without URL (photo, photo, photo), sometimes with an URL (photo).
Before 2015, several versions of the logo (in the current style or an older drawing with "shivering" lines) existed with the word "Département" (re-cg2.gif) or the words "Conseil général" (re-cg1.gif), and included the URL

Olivier Touzeau, 11 January 2009