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Politics on La Réunion

La Réunion is since 1946 French overseas department (Départ d’outre-mer/D.O.M.) and at the same time also a French overseas region (Territoire d’outre-mer). The Parliament with its 47 members sends five deputies to the French National Assembly and three to the Senate. A so-called prefect represents the French government and two elected assemblies represent regional interests.

Economy on La Réunion

La Réunion lives mainly from agriculture and tourism. The main crops are cane sugar, rum, bananas, pineapple and vanilla, but imports exceed exports by a factor of 15 and dependence on mainland France and EU funds remains very high. Gross domestic product in 2006 was 61% of the EU average. At 30%, the unemployment rate is the highest in France.

Tourism as an economic activity is still lagging behind La Réunion’s neighbouring islands, as Mauritius has more and more extensive sandy beaches and the national language is English. Holidaymakers coming to La Réunion are mainly interested in hiking, diving, sports and especially trekking holidays. The mountainous volcanic landscape inland (about 40% of La Réunion) offers varied, panoramic trekking routes for leisurely and demanding hikers.

The first mention of the island of La Réunion dates back to the 10th century. Arab sailors named the island dina maghrabin – “West Island”, which was probably uninhabited until the 16th century. Mauritius was called diva harab – “deserted island” or “desert island” – and Rodrigues diva mashriq – “east island”. These three islands first appeared on a European nautical chart in 1503, based on a copy of an Arabic map.

Origin of the name Maskarenen Island

In February 1512, the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas was the first European to discover the “Maskarenen” archipelago, later named after him, which included La Réunion, Madagascar and the island of Rodrigues. The day of his landing on La Réunion was the name day of Saint Apollonia of Alexandria. He gave the island the name Santa Apolonia and it is recorded on the Portuguese maps of the time. Around 1520, La Réunion and the neighbouring islands Mauritius and Rodrigues finally became the archipelago of the Mascarenes in memory of their discoverer Pedro Mascarenhas.

Population of La Réunions

The island of La Réunion had no inhabitants of its own until its discovery in the second half of the 17th century. All the current inhabitants of the island come exclusively from earlier immigrants: white European settlers, African and Madagascan slaves, Indian workers, Chinese and Indian Muslims.

There are the so-called “Petits blancs”, descendants of rich French landowners who settled here. Descendants of former slaves from Black Africa are the “Cafres”. “Malbars” and “Tamils” are Indians of Hindu faith. They come from former plantation workers. “Z’arabes”, on the other hand, are the descendants of Indians of Muslim faith who once came to the island as traders.

Another group are the Chinese, who hired themselves out as agricultural workers. But also Frenchmen who settled here for a certain time, also called “Z’oreils”, like the immigrants from the neighbouring archipelago of the Comoros and from the also French overseas department Mayotte complete the diversity of the population group.

As different as their origin and way of life were, they were all united by their common Creole identity. Being born on La Réunion means speaking Creole, eating Creole, living Creole. In short, being Creole means being Creole.

Language on La Réunion

Creole, also called “Réunionnais”, has the status of a regional language and is also taught in schools after a period of prohibition until the 1960s. Every reunionese speaks it, no matter what their origin. It is not used as a written language and was only recently codified. Spoken French is only partially similar to today’s French.

Grammatical and syntactic relations often differ from mainland French and one often finds borrowed expressions and vocabulary from previous centuries and highly simplified phrases. Here is an example: “mi di a ou”, literally “moi dis à toi” : for “I tell you”.