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Reunion (France, Overseas Department and Region)

Réunion et dépendances

Last modified: 2005-02-26 by
Keywords: reunion | france | bassas de india | europa | glorieuses | juan de nova | tromelin |
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[Flag of France]by Željko Heimer

See also:

Administrative data

Code: 974
Area: 2,511 km2, excluding the dependencies (Bassas de India, Europa, Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Tromelin)
Population (2003): 753,812 inhabitants

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

Around 95,000 natives of the island live in European France. Every year the island is visited by more than 420,000 tourists.

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 XIXth 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, Etienne 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 Ile-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 Ile-de-France whereas Bourbon was used for staple food production.

In 1764, the King of France bought the Mascarene to 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 XIXth 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 Emile 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:

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]by Ivan Sache, modified after the Mi-aime-a-ou website

The coat of arms of Reunion was designed in 1925 by former Governor Merwart for the Colonial Exhibition, which took place in Petite-Ile 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:

Source: Mi-aime-a-ou website

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2004