Reunion Island






Culture Name

Reunion Islander

Orientation

Identification. Reunion Island (in French, La Reunion ) is a multicultural society composed of people originally from France, Mozambique, India, China, Madagascar, and the Comores. Islanders use their ethnic origins to define themselves as Cafres (African ancestry) Z'oreilles (born in mainland France), malabars or Tamouls (from Tamil Nadu southern India), Z'arabes (from Gujarat in northern India), Chinois (from China), Malgaches (from Madagascar), Comores (from Comores), Petits blancs (poor rural whites living in the highlands), or Creoles blancs (white landowners). The term Creole today also applies to people with a mixed ethnic background. All the residents of the island are administratively French citizens.

Location and Geography. Reunion Island lies in the Indian Ocean, off the eastern coast of Madagascar. At 970 square miles, (2,512 square kilometers), it is the largest of the Mascarene islands. High plains separate two volcanic systems. Climatic variations range from humid to dry tropical to Mediterranean. More than half the land is not suitable for cultivation. Periodic cyclones can be devastating. The capital is Saint Denis.

Demography. In 1999, the population was over 717,000. It is difficult to categorize the population by ethnic background, but estimates indicate that approximately twenty percent of the population is of Indian ancestry, and around five percent is born in mainland France.

Linguistic Affiliation. Although French is the official language, Creole is the language of everyday life. Based on French, with a mixture of Malagasy and Tamil words, it is used with relatives and for informal interactions. French is generally used in formal situations. Although everybody understands it, many people cannot speak it; therefore, its use is a marker of educational achievement and social status.

Symbolism. Economic and cultural ties are almost exclusively with mainland France; Reunion is officially called "the France of the Indian Ocean." Since the development of tourism in the 1970s, the image the island tries to project to the outside world is that of a multicolored society where people with different ethnic backgrounds live together peacefully.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Discovered at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the island was reached by the French in 1643. Reunion (then called Mascarin ) was devoid of inhabitants. The French sent twelve convicts into exile there. In 1649 they officially claimed the island in the name of the king and named it Bourbon . Colonization started in 1665, when the French East India Company sent the first twenty settlers. After 1715, settlers produced coffee and spices, which ultimately were replaced by sugarcane. In 1792, France renamed the island La Reunion.

The labor force needed on the sugarcane plantations was supplied by slaves from Mozambique and Madagascar. At the end of the seventeenth century, the population could be divided into white French landowners and African and Malagasy slaves. A great number of white settlers arrived too late to gain access to the land and, excluded from the plantation system, retired in the highlands, where they constituted a poor white population ( Petits blancs ).

The abolition of slavery in 1848 led white landowners to recruit indentured laborers for their plantations, particularly Tamils. Most Tamils stayed at the end of their five-year contracts and continued to work for the white landowners. At the turn of the century, some Chinese and Muslim Gujaratis arrived

Reunion
Reunion
to sell food and textiles. In 1946, Reunion became one of the four overseas department of France, and it became an administrative region in 1974.

Having lost their cultural links with their societies of origin, African and Maslagasy slaves were subject to deculturation and pauperization. By contrast, whites, Chinese, Muslim Gujaratis, Tamils, and French from the mainland have been able to maintain most of their original systems of value while adapting it to the local context.

National Identity. Since the beginning of immigration, the French government has stressed assimilation of the populations under its control, exploiting the resources of the island while pressuring immigrants to become "French." As a result, all members of this multicultural society are officially "French citizens." However, many descendants of Tamil immigrants have maintained their ancestral beliefs and patterns of behavior. Although Chinese residents were also converted to Christianity, they are less westernized than are residents of south Indian ancestry. Most still speak Chinese and have kept links with relatives in China. Gujaratis Muslims also have been able to preserve their culture and religion.

Ethnic Relations. Whites and people of African, Tamil, and mixed ancestry consider themselves the original inhabitants of the island, in contrast to Gujaratis and Chinese. However, all native residents feel a strong difference between themselves and people from mainland France. The French, who generally do not stay more than three or four years on the island, are rarely considered full members of the society. Both populations live close to each other but inhabit different cultural worlds.

Food and Economy

Basic Economy. The economy was traditionally based on agriculture. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the most important crops were coffee and cloves and then sugarcane.

Major Industries. The labor force consists of workers in services (seventy-three percent), industry (nineteen percent), and agriculture (eight percent). Major industries include sugar, rum, handicrafts, and flower oil extraction.

Trade. The major exports are sugar, rum vanilla, and perfume essences. Imported commodities include manufactured goods, food, beverages, tobacco, raw materials, machinery and transportation equipment, and petroleum products. The economy depends on financial assistance from mainland France, which is also the principal trading partner. Around 100,000 people born in Reunion work and live in mainland France. Massive importation of goods has led to a large deficit in the balance of trade. The government has promoted tourism to reduce unemployment, which affects more than a third of the labor force.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The transformation of Reunion into a French department slowly substituted a pseudo-industrial and consumer society for a colonial and rural society. There are large disparities in wages and deep social inequalities between workers. The minimum wage is around ten percent lower than it is in mainland France, while the wages of those in the public sector are approximately forty percent higher. The gap between rich and poor accounts for the current social tensions. The white and Indian communities are substantially better off than are other segments of the population. Immigrants from France hold the key positions in administration,

A sugar factory in Saint Louis. Sugar is one of Reunion Island's major exports.
A sugar factory in Saint Louis. Sugar is one of Reunion Island's major exports.
and in the private sector, their wages are higher than are those of other groups. People of African descent are still at the bottom of the social scale. The outbreak of rioting in February 1991 reflected the seriousness of socioeconomic tensions.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Use of the French language characterizes social stratification. As most of the population learns Creole at home and French at school, the ability to speak French is a sign of education and high status.

Political Life

Government. The political system is French. The representative of the French state is the prefect, who is appointed by the French president. There are one general council and one regional council, whose presidents are elected by their members, that finance development projects. City mayors are popularly elected, along with five deputies to the French National Assembly.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system is French. Homicide and rape are relatively numerous and are committed mostly by men under the influence of alcohol. Court judgments take into account the social background of criminals.

Military Activity. Defense is the responsibility of France. The military is absent in Reunion, and men serve their military terms in France.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Because unemployment is a major problem, state programs of social welfare are important. More than sixty percent of the population receives welfare benefits.

Socialization

Infant Care. The care of infants varies with the family's ethnic and cultural background. Regarding sleep practices, for instance, among families from the mainland France, a child is put in a separate room very early and may have stories, toys, and a night lamp to accompany him or her in the sleep. On the other side, among families of Indian origin, children consider sleep a positive and auspicious event, and children go to bed without reluctance. Most of these children share bedrooms with siblings of the same sex.

Child Rearing and Education. Children of Tamil ancestry learn to separate the world into two basic spheres of action: that of the family and the community, in which the Indian value system predominates,

Fishermen haul a boat onto one of Reunion's rocky beach heads.
Fishermen haul a boat onto one of Reunion's rocky beach heads.
and that where the cultural models of the larger society are dominant.

Higher Education. In 1954, fifty-seven percent of the population was illiterate, but today the rate is less than 10 percent. Education is valued in families of Tamil, Gujarati, and Chinese ancestry. For the lower and middle classes, school is a democratic institution that allows one to achieve a better future. Pupils with African and mixed origin who frequently grow up in a family with a single mother, often experience failure at school. In contrast, education is particularly valued in families of Tamil, Gujarati, and Chinese ancestry. For the lower and middle classes, school is a democratic institution that allows one to achieve a better future. There are seven thousand students at the ever-expanding University of La Réunion.

Religion

Religious Beliefs. The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism, totaling eighty-six percent of the population. Christianity was established by the first settlers. Although indentured contracts specified that a laborer's religion be respected, the Catholic Church and the authoritarian administration attempted to convert newcomers. Tamils were obliged

Hikers gaze on the beauty of Cirque de Malfate from the peak of Piton Meido on Reunion Island.
Hikers gaze on the beauty of Cirque de Malfate from the peak of Piton Meido on Reunion Island.
to go to church, wear French clothes, and give Christian names to their children. Contract workers had to express Christian attitudes and practice Christian rites to be accepted by their employers and the larger society. In the eighteenth century, Catholic priests attempted to prevent the construction of Hindu temples and the public practice of Hinduism. When it was finally authorized, the priests continued to spread a negative perception of the Hindu religion as "pagan."

Religious Practitioners. Although they have been largely christianized, people of Indian origin refer to Hindu Gods in important matters. While it has been adapted to a new social context, folk Hinduism has been maintained almost as it was in India at the time of emigration more than one century ago. Among the expressions of this religion are fire walking, animal sacrifices, and rituals of possession by a deity or ancestor. This Hinduism is strongly connected with the idea of protection against bad luck, the evil eye, and the negative forces of the visible and invisible world.

Medicine and Health Care

In rural areas, modern medicine is complemented by traditional local practices based on a mixture of different beliefs (Hindus, Christian, and Malagasy).

A worker at a sugar processing factory.
A worker at a sugar processing factory.
Many people consult devineurs who can predict the future and give advice about their problems.

Secular Celebrations

The major holidays are the same as those in France (National Day, Bastille Day, Christmas, New Year's Eve), supplemented by local celebrations such as the anniversary of the abolition of slavery on 21 December and the Tamil and Chinese new years.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. A local literature that has existed for the last twenty years celebrates the culture of Reunion. Most writers who use the Creole language emphasize a global identity (that of being réunionnais and neglect the cultural heterogeneity of the population.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

In the 1970s a local university was created, and French scholars received funding to conduct research on the island. Numerous studies, focused primarily on the Creole language and culture, have since been published. Undertaken by researchers or students from mainland France or natives of the island, they mostly see the society as an integrated unit or a place of culturally distinct subcultures. An outward perspective—still awaited—should allow a better analytic distanciation.

Bibliography

Ghasarian, Christian. Honneur, Chance et Destin: La Culture Indienne à LaRéunion, 1991.

——. "Interpreting a Hindu Rite: A Critique of a Psychoanalytic Reading." Berkeley Journal of Asian Studies 7: 79–, 1996.

——. "We Have the Best Gods! The Encounter between Hinduism and Christianity in La Réunion." Journal of Asian and African Studies 23 (3–4): 286–295, 1996.

——. "Language Strategies in La Réunion." Cahiers 4(3): 7–18, University of Hull, England, 1998.

——. "Patrimoine et Ethnicité à LaRéunion: Dynamiques et Dialogismes." Ethnologie Francaise , 3: 365–374, 1999.

Leguen, M. Histoire de l'île de La Réunion, L'Hartmattan , 1979.

Scherer, André. La Réunion, "Que sais-je?," 1980.

—C HRISTIAN G HASARIAN



User Contributions:

awal abdi
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Oct 17, 2006 @ 6:06 am
I am very glad to read about the history and the people of reunion island i have never hade before what is called reunion or if there is aplace called reunion island where people live ,but now i rade all of the categories of reunion including economy people religion and thy hisotry adn i wish i will visint one in that beutifull island .
thanx
awal
Loser
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Mar 4, 2007 @ 1:13 pm
in my opinion I think that this was a great article. I learned very many things about this island. with many things to see and do this will be one place i'll vist, w/ many relgions and history this island seems interesting.
~unKown~
David
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May 7, 2007 @ 10:10 am
I don't know why the people of Reunion don't become independent or (better) join the Republic of Mauritius. Does France stop them? Does Mauritius reject them? Mauritius has a similar cultural and linguistic mix but has ~5-6% economic growth, ~7.5% unemployment, low crime, a stable democracy, a Westminster justice system, is a regional financial and tourism hub and is proudly independent. Reunionnais may loose the right to migrate to France if they join, but they would benefit in many other ways. France has a bad habit of resisting colonial independence and maintaining Parisian control and privilege. This keeps colonial people weak and poor. England gave up this arrogant, old-fashioned system decades ago! Reunion independence or a Mauritius State now!!
bob
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Jun 28, 2007 @ 4:04 am
la reunion is very cool, it is a very pretty place to live! :)
Kitty Wynola
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Sep 25, 2007 @ 10:22 pm
The website is soo cool
i love reading about special islands that i hope to visit soon!!!
Jéjé
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Nov 13, 2007 @ 7:19 pm
This site is very interesting and we can learn a lot about any culture, even from a little island like Reunion Island. However I wanted to say that the abolition of slavery was on 20th of December not on 21st as written in Secular celebration part.
Thank you for your job.
nikki
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Jan 21, 2008 @ 8:08 am
hi i have just found out that my great,great,great grandma was born in st denis , she married a french man francois dragon and had a son fransis in isle of bourbon. i cant find much on my grandma she was born in 1830 (elizabeth mau)i woundered if she was indian or creol or french ?
George Fernandez
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Jun 6, 2008 @ 8:08 am
Highly informative article on Reunion Islands.Thanks to the Author.
Sebastien
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Aug 12, 2008 @ 2:02 am
This a good article. I come from this Island and I learned a lot of stuff that i didn't know cheers mate.

Go there its really a good place with good people (also bad) but good spot to live
paokholal Haokip
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Nov 1, 2008 @ 12:00 am
Well, Professor Ghassarian I know is a good person who even sent me all the materials he had and written regarding the island and it help me a lot during my field study in the islans march-april 2008. It a wonderful island.God bless People of Indiann Origin in the island
Ian
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Jan 2, 2009 @ 5:05 am
As a South African resident Englishman, that has visited the island 5 times, may I say what a well written article this is.

As for the comments of 'Dave' on May 7th 2007, he obviously has no idea what he is talking about. The 'colonial people' of Reunion are not being used in any way, in fact the reverse is true and they are benefiting from vast subsidies from being members of the EU. Look at the wonderful roads and 'European' infrastructure.

As for joining Mauritius, only an idiot or Mauritius politician would want that. I've been there! It is a far smaller island, with a far greater population, much more poverty and no 'European' infrastructure and their roads are in a typically 'African' condition.
Libu
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Feb 13, 2009 @ 3:03 am
Simply, a great article! It's hard to find a complete and correct information about Reunion. Would you have some more info or useful links about its local Creole architecture?
Many thanks
kim
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Apr 27, 2009 @ 4:16 pm
wow. very interesting. i have been reading all day and viewing photo's. such an amazing location on this planet. wish i could afford to go there someday,although the trip is extremly long from texas. ugh.
Kesslen Shay
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May 6, 2009 @ 3:15 pm
Thank you so much, this was a lot of help! :)
~kess
dog
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Jun 14, 2009 @ 9:09 am
I will gladly kill you everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
as you kills dogs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ASSSHHOOLLLEEESSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
MOTHERFUCKERS DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DIE YOU'RE NO FUCKI*N HUMANS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
muzakir
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Aug 1, 2009 @ 4:04 am
very intresting hope 2 visit da place and would love 2 know abt any new article on it.just missing myloon.
Frederic
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Aug 18, 2009 @ 8:08 am
@Ian and @Dave

La Reunion is not only a region of France but also a region of Europe. And citizen of La Reunion are french citizen, which means that they have opportunities to work and live in any region of Europe. By the way, being a region of Europe gave us more economical autonomy in regards to France.

For these simple reasons, it is unlikely that Reunionese will choose independence.

Another important point: we will never join Mauritius, in regards to the different political cultures of our countries.
Typically, the political and social lives are not driven by ethnic classification in La Reunion, while this is more or less the case in Mauritius.

M. GHASARIAN underlined the correlation between economic inequalities and ethnic origin. That's still true; but at the same time, blending is increasing. As a result, we are at a transition: some decade ago, people were clearly inhabiting "different cultural worlds", but now, they increasingly feel that they shares a common reunionese cultural world and future.

Yours,

Frederic from Reunion.
laurence
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Sep 1, 2009 @ 3:15 pm
i am so happy to read about my ialand it is a pleasure to know that some people have heard of us i miss the sea and the humid air but most of all imiss eating LETCHIS and BICHIQUE with ROUGAIL MANGUES.Thank you for doing this what a blast
Arjunan
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Oct 16, 2009 @ 10:22 pm
Reunion Island is the ''Small miracle in the Indian Ocean''.

Reunion Island Independence should decided by the people of the Island, nor South African , nor Mauritian, nor Mainland French.

If people want freedom they 'll , if they want to live with France let them decide.
God saves Reunion Island....
Dominic
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Nov 27, 2009 @ 6:06 am
Monsieur Frederic failed to point out that 34% of Reunionnese are unemployed,
living off French money.
Thus, it is obvious that Reunion is an example of an island which has failed to be self-reliant (look at the recent food crisis in Guadeloupe and Reunion and ask yourselves why they went through this?) and capable economically but has prospered because of its relationship with France.
Would Reunion's people be worse off independent? Probably, but at least they can say that they've tried.
Find out how many Reunionnese went to France to find work and you'll see thousands, then look at how many Frenchmen are getting paid to come and work in Reunion.
Look at Seychelles and you can see an example of an ex-colonial Indian Ocean nation doing well so just because of Mauritius' problems don't say it can't work.
Celeste
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Nov 29, 2009 @ 2:14 pm
This is a pretty cool website. I have to do a project over this country but one of the main focal points my teacher wants me to talk about is traditional attire of Reunion. I've trying to research this but have found nothing helpful. So maybe that could be something to mention or add to this article.
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Jun 24, 2010 @ 3:03 am
i'd love to be in reunion for my entire future life.its a beautiful island i wish to die on.
elisa
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Jul 5, 2010 @ 7:07 am
beautifully integrated website!!! thanks! I look forward to exploring it in the future.
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Aug 18, 2010 @ 4:16 pm
I am only sorry i didn't read this article sooner.it is educative.God bless the net.
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Aug 28, 2010 @ 11:11 am
You guys should talk more about the national holidays in reunion i need this for school and we need alot more info then this.
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Sep 7, 2010 @ 10:10 am
I wish i could be a part of this beautiful la reunion island. I am an indian male 40 yrs old,any suggestions to make it possible.Thanks in advance.
xevan hunter
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Sep 16, 2010 @ 1:13 pm
lots of swearing in this i am only 11 years old and swearing is not me plese do somthing about this i hpoe you do i find it very inaproppriate . thank you for your time
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Dec 3, 2010 @ 1:13 pm
I would like to know if my partner and myself can come to Reunion to get married. She has an EU passport and I have a South African Passport. We have been together for 20 years and reside in South Africa.
Paulina
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Dec 6, 2010 @ 3:15 pm
Is this stuff true? Tell me because I really need it for a paper due on December 15 2010. Please, anyone especially the writer
Vincent Martinez
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Mar 3, 2011 @ 9:09 am
Great article, I spent around 10 years growing up in Reunion living in Le Tampon (I know) and my parents are still living there with the rest of my brothers and sisters to this day, its an incredible place that I wish I had not taken fore granted at the time. Just with regards to a Military presence, there are still 2 large..ish military bases in Reunion so i'm not sure if thats a mistake or if you are referring to some other kind of military.
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Mar 9, 2011 @ 2:14 pm
I would love to visit one day that beautifull island. Great story indeed.

Thanks for sharing

-FLETCHER-
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May 31, 2011 @ 12:00 am
I HAVE SEEN SOME REUNION PEOPLE WAY BACK IN VARANASI AND WAS INTERESTED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS NATION,YES, THIS NATION THOUGH HEARD OF JESUS AND FOLLOWING CHRISTIANITY HAS NOT SEEN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THERE ARE MANY WHO REALLY NEED THE TOUCH.WHEN JESUS TOCUH THE LAND IT WILL CHANGE AND people will see deliverence and happiness in jesus name
Racheal
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Jun 30, 2011 @ 9:09 am
This artical was so helpful. I needed to know about this Island for a project at Church. Thank you for writing it. I'm glad I could find out more about this amazing island. We are currently learning about missionaries preaching in Reunion. The pictures I have found are amazing and beautiful place. I would really like to go there one day.
Mike Hess
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Aug 1, 2011 @ 6:18 pm
I am a single male (69 years-old), retired, debt-free, college graduate, spent 2.5 years in France from 1962-1965. I'd love to come to Reunion Island to stay for awhile. I hope it's not too expensive.

Thanks for all the information you provided.

Mike Hess
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Aug 23, 2011 @ 10:10 am
how is the education in reunion? thats the only thinh that im missing from here. maybe i miss read , i dont know.
oloyede
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Oct 22, 2011 @ 10:10 am
its a wonderful adventure all the way.am James,a nigerian and since am convinced about the origin of a great island,i shall opt in soon.i woul also like to become a face in testimony of being a beneficiary from the resource of a g reat island.pls send me hint on how i can begin to hook up blessed people of the island
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Nov 12, 2011 @ 5:05 am
love this article, la reunion is a very good and beautiful place to live. natural scenery i very very good.

Narendra Dobariya
Brittany
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Feb 7, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
Do any of you know about nutritional need/political, and/or economics afffecting France Foods?
yoe
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Jul 5, 2012 @ 7:07 am
this is the most amazing place ever...i have seen the most beautiful view in the world. i think people should visit this place
dan rhodes
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Aug 13, 2012 @ 1:01 am
please let me know what is the process of visit to reunion island.can you send me on my email
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Oct 28, 2012 @ 5:17 pm
Hi.

I am from Reunion Island. I wanted to say that information on this page about my island is quite correct. Few details are a bit outdated. So if anyone wants fresh update, you can email me.

I am a blend of "Créole blanc" (white creole) and South Asian. I have actually Indian, Gypsy, French Norman and Scottish ancestors. I speak creole as primary language and use french language in administration and work. I also speak urdu and gujarati. I was born Catholic but I am not Christian anymore (I'm 32). But I still practice folk syncretism (ancestor worship, Hindu gods and Christian saints).

So don't hesitate to ask me if you have questions: zscd@live.in
chris
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Nov 23, 2012 @ 9:09 am
I'm about to visit Reunion for the first time and really appreciate the opportunity to find out more than "best hotel" and other commercial junk. Thank you for giving me an overview, on which I will be able to build and make make the most of my tine on the island.
Iqbal Osman
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Apr 26, 2013 @ 3:03 am
Interesting place. I look forward to visiting the island for a day or two. Looks like a very beautiful island.
ubah
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May 20, 2013 @ 5:05 am
It is very very interesting reading about the Islands -Reunion . Everybody should be given freedom because , what is good for the geese is also good for the gander. But it is never an easy thing for multicultural society to live together peacefully. GOD grant "The Reunion" all it takes to maximize their life in this wonderful Island you (GOD) have given them, I guess they are peace loving people.
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Jul 26, 2013 @ 12:00 am
This is sreeny from india.

interesting place to visit.i want to know about agricultutr sector in reunion .types of crops suitble for reunion climate?

Hi reunions
hope that you are send a good reply.
tiffany
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Aug 25, 2013 @ 8:08 am
La Reunion is a really pretty island and i am doing a project on it and i am very much enjoying the different things about the little island. This is the right island to research because i love to learn about new things and i think that is have found what i am looking. Cant wait to learn more. Love this website though.
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Oct 6, 2013 @ 3:03 am
good article.i am from tamilnadu and want to know more about the tamil people if any tamil from reunion contact me i am glad to teach them about our religon,culture,worships,foodhabits etc.
Melanie
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Oct 18, 2013 @ 6:18 pm
This is very helpful because I have to make a presentation on the culture of this island. It's like I have found gold on this site!
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Dec 29, 2013 @ 10:22 pm
Very interesting blog.. congrats
I'm looking forward to visit the island
thanks for great information.
lindie
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Jun 25, 2014 @ 4:04 am
Bonjour!
I am so grateful to have read about this gorgeous island and very soon I'll be visiting.

thanks for the great information.

God bless!
Rina
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Nov 23, 2014 @ 2:14 pm
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