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La Réunion
Overseas region & department of France
Flag of Réunion
Coat of arms of Réunion
Coat of arms
Motto: Florebo quocumque ferar
Département 974 in France (zoom).svg
Country  France
Prefecture Saint-Denis
Departments 1
 • President of Regional Council Didier Robert
 • Total 2,511 km2 (970 sq mi)
Population (Jan. 2013)[1]
 • Total 844,994
 • Density 340/km2 (870/sq mi)
Time zone RET (UTC+04)
ISO 3166 code RE
GDP (2013)[2] Ranked
Total €16.7 billion (US$22.2 bn)
Per capita €19,854 (US$26,369)
Website Prefecture
Regional Council
Departmental Council

Réunion[discuss spelling] (French: La Réunion, IPA: [la ʁeynjɔ̃]; previously Île Bourbon) is a French island located in the Indian Ocean. It is situated east of Madagascar and about 175 kilometres (109 mi) southwest of Mauritius, the nearest island. As of 2014, its population numbered 844,994 inhabitants.[1]

Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France. Like the other four overseas departments, it is also one of the 27 regions of France, with the modified status of overseas regions, and an integral part of the Republic with the same status as those situated on the European mainland. Réunion is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, a part of the Eurozone.[3]


1816 ten cent coin, Isle de Bourbon

Not much is known of Réunion's history prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century.[4] Arab traders were familiar with it by the name Dina Morgabin.[5] The island is possibly featured on a map from 1153 AD by Al Sharif el-Edrisi.[citation needed] The island might also have been visited by Swahili or Malay sailors.[4]

The first European discovery of the area was made around 1507 by Portuguese explorers, but the specifics are unclear. The uninhabited island might have been first sighted by the expedition led by Dom Pedro Mascarenhas, who gave his name to the island group around Réunion, the Mascarenes.[6] Réunion itself was dubbed Santa Apolónia after a favorite saint,[5] which suggests that the date of the Portuguese discovery could have been 9 February, her saint day. Diogo Lopes de Sequeira is said to have landed on the islands of Réunion and Rodrigues in 1509.[citation needed]

Over a century later, nominal Portuguese rule had left Santa Apolónia virtually untouched.[6] The island was then occupied by France and administered from Port Louis, Mauritius. Although the first French claims date from 1638, when François Cauche and Salomon Goubert visited in June 1638,[7] the island was officially claimed by Jacques Pronis of France in 1642, when he deported a dozen French mutineers to the island from Madagascar. The convicts were returned to France several years later, and in 1649, the island was named Île Bourbon after the French Royal House of Bourbon. Colonization started in 1665, when the French East India Company sent the first settlers.[6]

"Île de la Réunion" was the name given to the island in 1793 by a decree of the Convention nationale (elected revolutionary constituent assembly) with the fall of the House of Bourbon in France, and the name commemorates the union of revolutionaries from Marseille with the National Guard in Paris, which took place on 10 August 1792. In 1801, the island was renamed "Île Bonaparte", after First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. The island was invaded by a Royal Navy squadron led by Commodore Josias Rowley in 1810, who used the old name of "Bourbon". When it was restored to France by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the island retained the name of "Bourbon" until the fall of the restored Bourbons during the French Revolution of 1848, when the island was once again given the name "Île de la Réunion".[6]

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, French colonization, supplemented by importing Africans, Chinese and Indians as workers, contributed to ethnic diversity in the population. From 1690, most of the non-Europeans were enslaved. The colony abolished slavery on 20 December 1848. Afterward, many of the foreign workers came as indentured workers. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 reduced the importance of the island as a stopover on the East Indies trade route.[citation needed]

Hindu festival, nineteenth century

During the Second World War, Réunion was under the authority of the Vichy Regime until 30 November 1942, when Free French forces took over the island with the destroyer Léopard. Réunion became a département d'outre-mer (overseas départment) of France on 19 March 1946. Its département code is 974.[citation needed]

Over about two decades in the late twentieth century (1963–1982), 1,630 children from Réunion were relocated to rural areas of metropolitan France, particularly to Creuse, ostensibly for education and work opportunities. That program was led by influential Gaullist politician Michel Debré, who was an MP for Réunion at the time. Many of these children were abused or disadvantaged by the families with whom they were placed. Known as Children of Creuse, they and their fate came to light in 2002 when one of them, Jean-Jacques Martial, filed suit against the French state for kidnapping and deportation of a minor.[8] Other similar lawsuits were filed over the following years, but all were dismissed by French courts and finally by the European Court of Human Rights in 2011.[9]

In 2005 and 2006, Réunion was hit by a crippling epidemic of chikungunya, a disease spread by mosquitoes. According to the BBC News, 255,000 people on Réunion had contracted the disease as of 26 April 2006.[10] The neighboring islands of Mauritius and Madagascar also suffered epidemics of this disease during the same year.[11][12] A few cases also appeared in mainland France, carried by people traveling by airline. The French government of Dominique de Villepin sent an emergency aid package worth 36 million Euro (US$57.6M) and deployed approximately five hundred French troops in an effort to eradicate mosquitoes on the island.[citation needed]

In July 2015, a flaperon from a Boeing 777 aircraft washed up on the shore of the island. The piece of debris was initially confirmed by Malaysian authorities to be part of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March 2014.[13]


Main article: Politics of Réunion
Map of the European Union in the world with overseas countries and territories and outermost regions

Réunion sends seven deputies to the French National Assembly and three senators to the Senate.

Administrative divisions[edit]

Administratively, Réunion is divided into four arrondissements, 49 cantons and 24 communes (municipalities).[14] It is a French overseas département and hence a French overseas region. The low number of communes, compared with French metropolitan departments of similar size and population, is unique: most Réunionnaises communes encompass several localities, sometimes separated by significant distances.

Foreign relations[edit]

Although diplomacy and military and French government matters handled by Paris, Réunion is a member of the Francophone Indian Ocean Commission, ITUC, UPU and WFTU.


Map of Réunion


Main article: Geography of Réunion

The island is 63 kilometres (39 mi) long; 45 kilometres (28 mi) wide; and covers 2,512 square kilometres (970 sq mi). It is located above a hotspot in the Earth's crust. The Piton de la Fournaise, a shield volcano on the eastern end of Réunion Island, rises more than 2,631 metres (8,632 ft) above sea level and is sometimes called a sister to Hawaiian volcanoes because of the similarity of climate and volcanic nature. It has erupted more than 100 times since 1640 and is under constant monitoring, most recently erupting on 31 July 2015.[15] During another eruption in April 2007, the lava flow was estimated at 3,000,000 cubic metres (3,900,000 cu yd) per day.[16] The Piton de la Fournaise is created by a hotspot volcano, which also created the Piton des Neiges and the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues.

The Piton des Neiges volcano, the highest point on the island at 3,070 metres (10,070 ft) above sea level, is north west of the Piton de la Fournaise. Collapsed calderas and canyons are south west of the mountain. Like Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Piton des Neiges is extinct. Despite its name, snow (French: neige) practically never falls on the summit. The slopes of both volcanoes are heavily forested. Cultivated land and cities like the capital city of Saint-Denis are concentrated on the surrounding coastal lowlands. Offshore, part of the west coast is characterised by a coral reef system. Réunion also has three calderas: the Cirque de Salazie, the Cirque de Cilaos and the Cirque de Mafate. The last is accessible only on foot or by helicopter.


The climate in Réunion is tropical, but temperature moderates with elevation. The weather is cool and dry from May to November, but hot and rainy from November to April. Precipitation levels vary greatly within the island, with the east being much wetter than the west. There is more than 6 m of rain a year on some parts of the east and less than 1 m a year on the west coast.[17] Réunion holds the world records for the most rainfall in 12-, 72- and 96-hour periods.[18]


Since 2010, Réunion is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers about 40% of the island's area and coincides with the central zone of the Réunion National Park.[19]


Main article: Wildlife of Réunion

Réunion is home to a variety of birds such as the white-tailed tropicbird (French: paille en queue).[20] Its largest land animal is the panther chameleon, Furcifer pardalis. Much of the West coast is ringed by coral reef which harbours, among other animals, sea urchins, conger eels and parrot fish. Sea turtles and dolphins also inhabit the coastal waters. Humpback whales migrate north to the island from the Antarctic waters annually during the Southern Hemisphere winter (June–September) to breed and feed, and can be routinely observed from the shores of Réunion during this season. At least 19 species formerly endemic to Réunion have become extinct following human colonization.

Between 2011 and 2015, there were 17 shark attacks in the waters of Réunion of which seven were fatal.[21] In July 2013 the Prefect of Réunion Michel Lalande announced a ban on swimming, surfing and bodyboarding off more than half of the coast. Lalande also said 45 bull sharks and 45 tiger sharks would be culled, in addition to the 20 already killed as part of scientific research into the illness ciguatera.[22]

Gardening - Bourbon roses[edit]

The first members of the "Bourbon" group of garden roses originated on this island (then still Isle Bourbon, hence the name) from a spontaneous hybridisation between Damask roses and Rosa chinensis,[23] which had been brought there by the colonists. The first Bourbon roses were discovered on the island in 1817.[24]


Ethnic groups present include people of African, Indian, European, Malagasy and Chinese origin. Local names for these are Yabs, Cafres, Malbars (ethnic groups of Indian origin), and Chinois. All of the ethnic groups comprising the island are immigrant populations that have come to Réunion from Europe, Asia, and Africa over the centuries. There are no indigenous people on the island, as it was originally deserted.[25] These populations have mixed from the earliest days of the island's colonial history (indeed, the first settlers married women from Madagascar and of Indo-Portuguese heritage) resulting in a majority population of mixed race and of "Creole" culture.

It is not known exactly how many people there are of each ethnicity since the French census does not ask questions there about ethnic origin,[26] which applies in Réunion because it is a part of the 1958 constitution, and also because of the extent of racial mixing on the island. According to estimates, whites (petits blancs and gros blancs) make up approximately one-quarter of the population,[27] ethnic Indians make up more than 25% of the population and people of Chinese ancestry form roughly 3%. The percentages for mixed race people and those of Afro-Malagasy origins vary widely in estimates. There are also some people of Vietnamese ancestry on the island, though they are very few in number.[28][29][30]

People of South Indian origin make up the majority of the Réunionnais of Indian origin with Tamils constituting the largest group among the Indian community; Gujarati, Bihari and other origins form the remainder of the population.[31] The island's community of Muslims from North Western India, particularly Gujarat, and elsewhere is commonly referred to as Zarabes.

Creoles (a name given to those born on the island, regardless of ethnic origins), make up the majority of the population. Groups that are not creole include people recently arrived from Metropolitan France (known as zoreils) and those from Mayotte and the Comoros.

Historical demographics[edit]

Year Population Year Population Year Population
1671 90 1830 101,300 1961 349,282
1696 269 1848 110,300 1967 416,525
1704 734 1849 120,900 1974 476,675
1713 1,171 1860 200,000 1982 515,814
1717 2,000 1870 212,000 1990 597,823
1724 12,550 1887 163,881 1999 706,300
1764 25,000 1897 173,192 2006 781,962
1777 35,100 1926 182,637 2011 828,581
1789 61,300 1946 241,708 2013 840,974
1826 87,100 1954 274,370
Official data from INSEE by census or estimate; estimates shown in italics.


Catholic church of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Cilaos

The predominant religion is Christianity, notably Roman Catholicism, with a single (Latin Rite) jurisdiction, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint-Denis-de-La Réunion. Religious Intelligence estimates Christians to be 84.9% of the population (GCatholics has 86% Catholics), Hindus 6.7% and Muslims 2.15%.[30]

Chinese folk religion and Buddhism are also represented, among others. Most large towns have a Hindu temple and a mosque.[32]


Réunionese culture is a blend (métissage) of European, African, Indian, Chinese and insular traditions. The most widely spoken language, Réunion Creole, derives from French.


French is the only official language of Réunion. Although not official, Réunion Creole is the native language of a large part of the population and is spoken alongside French. Creole is used informally whereas the official language of any administration office as well as education is French.[33] Because of the diverse population, other languages such as Mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese are also spoken by members of the Chinese community, but fewer people speak these languages as younger generations start to converse in French and Réunion Creole. There are significant number of speakers of Indian languages mostly Tamil, Gujarati and Urdu. Arabic is taught in mosques and spoken by a small community of Muslims. English is a compulsory second language as part of the French school curriculum[citation needed], but as in mainland France, English fluency is rare. German and Spanish are offered as a third language. Tamil is also taught as optional language in some schools.[31]





Main article: Economy of Réunion
Man sorting Bourbon vanilla.

In 2013, the GDP of Réunion was estimated at 16.7 billion euros (US$22.2 bn) and the GDP per capita was 19,854 euros (US$26,369).[2] Sugar was traditionally the chief agricultural product and export. Tourism is now an important source of income.[34] Unemployment is a major problem on Réunion; the rate stood at 30 percent in 2014 and 60 percent among young people. According to Le Monde, 42 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2010.[35]

Public services[edit]


There are no public health threats. In 2005–2006, Réunion experienced an epidemic of chikungunya, a viral disease similar to dengue fever brought in from East Africa, which infected almost a third of the population because of its transmission through mosquitoes. The epidemic has since been eradicated. See the History section for more details.


Main article: Transport in Réunion

Roland Garros Airport serves the island, handling flights to India, Madagascar, Mauritius, South Africa and France. Pierrefonds Airport, a smaller airport, has some flights to Mauritius and Madagascar.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b INSEE. "Estimation de population par région, sexe et grande classe d'âge - Années 1975 à 2014" (in French). Retrieved 2015-07-11. 
  2. ^ a b "GDP per capita in the EU in 2013: seven capital regions among the ten most prosperous" (PDF). Eurostat. Retrieved 30 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Réunion is pictured on all Euro banknotes, on the back at the bottom of each note, right of the Greek ΕΥΡΩ (EURO) next to the denomination.
  4. ^ a b Slaves, freedmen and indentured laborers in colonial Mauritius By Richard Blair Allen. pg. 9
  5. ^ a b Tabuteau, Jacques (1987). Histoire de la justice dans les Mascareignes (in French). Paris: Océan éditions. p. 13. ISBN 2-907064-00-2. Retrieved 2011-06-11. 
  6. ^ a b c d Moriarty, Cpt. H.A. (1891). Islands in the southern Indian Ocean westward of Longitude 80 degrees east, including Madagascar. London: Great Britain Hydrographic Office. p. 269. OCLC 416495775. 
  7. ^ "| Journal de l'île de la Réunion". Clicanoo.re. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  8. ^ Jean-Jacques Martial (2003). Une enfance volée. Les Quatre Chemins. p. 113. ISBN 978-2-84784-110-7. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  9. ^ Géraldine Marcon: CHRONOLOGIE : L'histoire des enfants réunionnais déplacés en métropole on francebleu.fr.
  10. ^ "Island disease hits 50,000 people". BBC News. 2 February 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-18. 
  11. ^ wwwnc.cdc.gov
  12. ^ "Madagascar hit by mosquito virus". BBC News. 6 March 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-18. 
  13. ^ Innis, Michelle and Clark, Nicola, Malaysian Prime Minister Says Réunion Debris Is a Part of Flight 370, New York Times, August 5, 2015
  14. ^ "Insee - Code Officiel Géographique". Insee.fr. Retrieved 6 May 2009. 
  15. ^ Piton de la Fournaise on volcanodiscovery.com
  16. ^ Thomas Staudacher (7 April 2007). "Reunion sees 'colossal' volcano eruption, but population safe". AFP. Archived from the original on 9 April 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2007.  (Web archive)
  17. ^ Jacques Libert. "la pluviométrie". Pedagogie2.ac-reunion.fr. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  18. ^ "World Meteorological Organization: Global Weather & Climate Extremes". Arizona State University. 
  19. ^ "Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island". UNESCO. Retrieved 30 July 2015. 
  20. ^ (French) L'Île de la Réunion.com: Le paille en queue
  21. ^ http://www.lemonde.fr/biodiversite/article/2015/04/17/comment-la-reunion-lutte-contre-les-requins-bouledogue-apres-une-nouvelle-attaque-mortelle_4618200_1652692.html
  22. ^ "Big Read: Reunion Island beset by shark controversy". News Corp Australia. 2013-08-30. 
  23. ^ ADUMITRESEI, LIDIA; STĂNESCU, IRINA (2009). "Theoretical Considerations upon the origin and nomenclature of the present rose cultivars". Journal of Plant Development 16. 
  24. ^ "History of Roses: Bourbon Roses" (PDF). American Rose Society. 
  25. ^ Bollée, Annegret (2015). "French on the Island of Bourbon (Réunion)". Journal of Language Contact 8 (1): 91. doi:10.1163/19552629-00801005. 
  26. ^ "SSRN-Why France Needs to Collect Data on Racial Identity - In a French Way by David Oppenheimer". Papers.ssrn.com. SSRN 1236362. 
  27. ^ Holm, John A. (1989). Pidgins and Creoles: References survey. Cambridge University Press. p. 394. ISBN 0-521-35940-6. 
  28. ^ Clicanoo. "La Réunion Métisse". 
  29. ^ "Anthropometric evaluations of body composition of undergraduate students at the University of La Réunion". 2006. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  30. ^ a b Country Profile: Reunion (Department of Reunion) at the Wayback Machine (archived October 13, 2007)
  31. ^ a b "NRI" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  32. ^ "Réunion". newworldencyclopedia.org. 
  33. ^ "Ethnologue report (language code:rcf)". Ethnologue.com. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  34. ^ [1], 2012 Elefant Tours
  35. ^ "Hollande va " adapter " le pacte de responsabilité à la Réunion" (in French). Le Monde. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 


External links[edit]

General information

Coordinates: 21°06′52″S 55°31′57″E / 21.11444°S 55.53250°E / -21.11444; 55.53250