Réunion Explained

For other uses see Réunion (disambiguation).

Réunion (French: Réunion or formally La Réunion; previously Île Bourbon) is an island located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, about 200 km (130 miles) south west of Mauritius, the nearest island.

Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas départements of France. Like the other overseas departments, Réunion is also one of the twenty-six regions of France (being an overseas region) 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, is part of the Eurozone. In fact, due to its location in a time zone to the east of Europe, Réunion was the first region in the world where the Euro became legal tender.[1]


Arab sailors formerly called the island Adna Al Maghribain (“The closest of the two western islands”). The Portuguese are thought to have been the first European visitors, finding it uninhabited in 1635, and naming it Santa Apollonia, after Saint Apollonia.

The island was then occupied by France and administered from Port Louis, Mauritius. Although the French flag was hoisted by François Cauche in 1638, Santa Apollonia 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 royal house.

“Réunion” was the name given to the island in 1793 by a decree of the Convention 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 August 10, 1792. In 1801, the island was renamed "Île Bonaparte," after Napoleon Bonaparte. The island was taken 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 renamed to “Réunion”.From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French immigration supplemented by influxes of Africans, Chinese, Malays, and Indians gave the island its ethnic mix. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cost the island its importance as a stopover on the East Indies trade route.

During the Second World War, Réunion was under the authority of the Vichy Regime until 30 November 1942, when the destroyer Léopard liberated the island.

Réunion became a département d'outre-mer (overseas department) of France on March 19, 1946. Its département code is 974.

Between 15 and 16 March 1952, Cilaos at the centre of Réunion received 1,869.9 mm (73.6 in) of rainfall. This is the greatest 24-hour precipitation total ever recorded on earth. The island also holds the record for most rainfall in 72 hours, 3,929 mm (154.7 in) at Commerson's Crater in March, 2007.

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.[2] The disease also spread to Madagascar[3] and to mainland France through airline travel. The disease led to more than 200 deaths on Réunion. The French government under Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin sent an emergency aid package worth 36 million euros ($57.6M U.S. dollars) and deployed approximately five hundred French troops in an effort to eradicate mosquitoes.


See main article: Politics of Réunion. Réunion sends five deputies to the French National Assembly and three senators to the French Senate.

Arrondissements, cantons, and communes

See main article: Arrondissements of the Réunion department. Administratively, Réunion is divided into 4 arrondissements, 24 cantons, and 24 communes[4] . It is a French overseas département as well as a French region. The low number of communes, compared to French metropolitan departments of similar size and population, is unique; most Réunionnaises communes encompass several localities, sometimes separated by significant distances. Réunion is part of the Indian Ocean Commission.

Major communities


See main article: Geography of Réunion. The island is 63 kilometres (39 miles) long; 45 kilometres (28 miles) wide; and covers 2512 square kilometres (970 square miles). It is similar to the island Hawaii insofar as both are located above hotspots in the Earth's crust.

The Piton de la Fournaise, a shield volcano on the eastern end of Réunion Island, rises more than 2631 metres (8632 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. It most recently erupted on 4 April 2007. The lava flow from this eruption has been estimated at 3 million m3 (about 4 million cubic yards) per day.[5] 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 3070 metres (10,069 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.

Réunion also has three calderas: the Cirque de Salazie, the Cirque de Cilaos and the Cirque de Mafate. The last is accessible only by foot or helicopter.


See main article: Economy of Réunion. Sugar was traditionally the chief agricultural product and export. Tourism is now an important source of income. In 2007 the GDP of Réunion was 18.8 billion US dollars at market exchange rates.[6] The GDP per capita was 23,501 US dollars in 2007 (at market exchange rates, not at PPP),[6] the highest in Africa.[7]


See main article: Demographics of Réunion.

See also: Franco-Réunionnaise, Réunionnaise Creole People, Sino-Réunionnaise and Indo-Réunionnaise.

Réunion contains most of the same ethnic populations as Mauritius: Indian, African, Malagasy, Chinese and ethnic French - but in different proportions. Creoles (a name given to those born on the island, of various ethnic origins), make up the majority of the population. Whites make up approximately one-quarter of the population, Indians make up 21%, and people of Chinese ancestry form most of the remainder. There are also some people of Vietnamese ancestry on the island, though they are very few in number.

Tamil and Gujarati people make up the majority of the Indo-Réunionnaise people, Bihari and other origins form the remainder of the population.

Réunion is very similar in culture, ethnic makeup, language and traditions to Mauritius and Seychelles.

Historical population

Historical population! 1671
estimate !! 1696
estimate !! 1704
estimate !! 1713
estimate !! 1717
estimate !! 1724
estimate !! 1764
estimate !! 1777
estimate !! 1789
estimate !! 1826
colspan=10 align=centerOfficial figures from past censuses and INSEE estimates.


See main article: Religion in Réunion. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism (86% of the population in 1995), with Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism also represented amongst others. Rastafarism is present, too, but is not officially recognized.


There is no offical language of Réunion but French and Réunionnaise Creole is also commonly spoken, as well as Mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese are spoken by the Chinese community, but their numbers are dropping as younger generations start to converse in French. Tamil is also spoken by considerable portion of population. The number of speakers of Indian languages is also dropping sharply. Arabic is taught in mosques and spoken by a small community of Arabs. The island's community of Muslims from North Western India and elsewhere are also commonly referred to as Arabs.

Public health

Réunion experienced in 2005/2006 an epidemic of Chikungunya, a viral disease that infected almost a third of the population. See the History section for more details.


See also: Music of Réunion. Réunionese culture is a blend (métissage) of European, African, Indian, Chinese and insular traditions.

The most widely spoken language, Réunion Creole, derives from French, with many idiosyncrasies. Réunion Creole is now taught in some schools. However, an official orthography has yet to be agreed upon.

Local food and music blend influences from Africa, India, China and Europe.


See also: List of extinct animals of Réunion.

Réunion is home to a variety of birds such as the paille en queue. Its largest native land animal is the Panther chameleon (furcifer pardalis). Much of the West coast is ringed by coral reef which harbours, amongst others, sea urchins, conga eels and parrot fish. Sea turtles also visit the coastal waters.


See main article: Transport in Réunion.

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


One of the largest newspapers in Réunion is the Clicanoo.

See also

External links

General information
Fauna and flora

Notes and References

  1. 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.
  2. News: Island disease hits 50,000 people. BBC News. 2 February 2006. 2007-08-18.
  3. News: Madagascar hit by mosquito virus. BBC News. 6 March 2006. 2007-08-18.
  4. http://www.insee.fr/fr/nom_def_met/nomenclatures/cog/CarteD.asp?numreg=04&numdep=974#res Insee - Code Officiel Géographique
  5. News: Thomas Staudacher. Reunion sees 'colossal' volcano eruption, but population safe. AFP. 7 April 2007. 2007-08-18. (Web archive)
  6. Web site: 8.1 - ÉCONOMIE GÉNÉRALES. PDF. INSEE Réunion. 2008-12-10.
  7. Web site: World Economic Outlook Database. IMF. 2008-12-10.