Réunion (La Réunion), previously called Île Bourbon is an island and region of France in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and 109 miles (175 kilometers) southwest of Mauritius. As of 2016, it had a population of 850,996. It is the most prosperous island in the Indian Ocean, having the highest GDP per capita in the region. The island is 39 miles (63 km) long, 28 miles (45 km) wide and covers 970 square miles (2,512 km²).
Réunion is situated above a hotspot in the Earth’s crust. The Piton de la Fournaise, a shield volcano on the eastern end of the island, rises more than 8,632 feet (2,631 meters) 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 September 11, 2016. During an eruption in April 2007, the lava flow was estimated at 3,900,000 cubic yards (3,000,000 cubic meters) per day. 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 10,070 feet (3,070 meters) above sea level, is northwest 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 (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 characterized 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 island has been inhabited since the 17th century, when people from France, Madagascar and Africa settled there. Slavery was abolished on December 20, 1848 (a date celebrated yearly on the island), after which indentured workers were brought from Tamil Nadu, Southern India, among other places. The island became an overseas department of France in 1946. As elsewhere in France, the official language is French. In addition, the majority of the region’s population speaks Réunion Creole.
Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France. Like the other four overseas departments, it is also one of the 18 regions of France, with the modified status of overseas region, and an integral part of the Republic with the same status as Metropolitan France. Réunion is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, part of the Eurozone.
Not much is known of Réunion’s history prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century. Arab traders were familiar with it by the name Dina Morgabin. The island is possibly featured on a map from 1153 AD by Al Sharif el-Edrisi. The island might also have been visited by Swahili or Austronesian (Ancient Indonesian-Malaysian) sailors on their journey to the west from the Malay Archipelago to Madagascar.
The first European discovery of the area was made around 1507 by Portuguese explorer Diogo Fernandes Pereira, 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. Réunion itself was dubbed Santa Apolónia after a favorite saint, which suggests that the date of the Portuguese discovery could have been February 9, her saint day. Diogo Lopes de Sequeira is said to have landed on the islands of Réunion and Rodrigues in 1509.
Over a century later, nominal Portuguese rule had left Santa Apolónia virtually untouched. 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, 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.
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 August 10, 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.
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 December 20, 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.
The first stamps for Réunion were released in 1851. Two stamps were issued: one for domestic use and one for the additional franking of international mail (Scott #1-2). These were typographed in black on bluish paper, imperforate and unwatermarked. From 1859 until 1885, the general issues for use in the French colonies were used. In 1885, stamps of the French colonies were surcharged or overprinted for Réunion (Scott #3-10). In 1892, the first definitives were issued, the common Navigation & Commerce design with the name of the colony inscribed in blue or carmine (Scott #34-52).
During the Second World War, Réunion was under the authority of the Vichy Regime until November 30, 1942, when Free French forces took over the island with the destroyer Léopard. Stamps were prepared by the Vichy regime in France in 1941 and 1942 but were never put on sale on Réunion (Scott #176-177 and #177B-177G). In 1943, issues reflect the take over of Réunion by the Free French with overprints and inscription reading France Libre. From 1949, stamps of metropolitan France are used — all overprinted with the Réunion denomination of the CFA franc — a denomination widely used in the former French colonies. From 1975, the stamps of metropolitan France have been used without overprints.
Réunion became a département d’outre-mer (overseas départment) of France on March 19, 1946. INSEE assigned to Réunion the department code 974, and the region code 04 when regional councils were created in 1982 in France, including in existing overseas departments which also became overseas regions.
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. 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.
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 April 26, 2006. The neighboring islands of Mauritius and Madagascar also suffered epidemics of this disease during the same year. A few cases also appeared in mainland France, carried by people travelling by airline. The French government of Dominique de Villepin sent an emergency aid package worth 36 million Euros and deployed approximately five hundred troops in an effort to eradicate mosquitoes on the island.
Scott #133 was issued in 1933, a 20-centime indigo stamp engraved and perforated 12½. It portrays one of the waterfalls of the Bras de Caverne River in the Trou de Fer (“Iron Hole”), a canyon in Salazie. Salazie. The commune of Salazie lies in the middle of island, north-east of Piton des Neiges in the Cirque de Salazie (actually a volcanic caldera).
The primary river flowing through the gorge, which is up to 1,000 feet (300 m) deep, is the Bras de Caverne River, a tributary of the Rivière du Mât. The canyon has two distinct parts: a large crater, which is fed by six prominent waterfalls, and a narrow slot canyon at its outlet, which constitutes most of the canyon’s length. The canyon starts at the waterfall of the Bras Mazerine stream and after some 1.4 to 1.8 kilometers from the left side joins the main Bras de Caverne stream. The Bras de Caverne River enters the canyon with a waterfall about 600 feet (200 m) high. This drop is usually dry or has very little water, but between that and the next, 590-foot (18 m) drop, springs feed the river, which drops over this then drops over a final 1,000-foot (300 m) undercut cliff into the Trou de Fer in a narrow plume of water.
Directly to the left of this waterfall, another stream drops over the cliff, which is undercut to an extent that its lip has over 660 feet (200 m) of empty space between it and the canyon floor, of approximately the same height in two channels, and slams onto a ledge before emptying into the same pool as the Bras de Caverne waterfall. This waterfall is not as high, and has a smaller water flow. It is fed by several other falls streaming off the cliffs above it. Further to the left, at about twice the distance from the first falls to the second, another large stream plunges into the canyon. In total, there are at least six waterfalls feeding the canyon. At the base of the canyon, a separate slot canyon, or “The Narrows”, begins. The water from the Bras de Caverne waterfall and the waterfall to its left drain into the slot canyon at a 90-degree angle, through a waterfall known informally as the “Washing Machine”. The name stems from the mist it generates, which drenches people who stand near the base of the falls.
The slot canyon, or “The Corridor”, extends for about 1.9 miles (3 km), and is said to be commonly dammed up by debris jams to form lakes, including the “Lake of the Eel”. Many springs flow through the porous volcanic rock of the walls, creating countless waterfalls. This canyon was first climbed down/walked/swum by Pascale Lapoule, Laurent Broisin and Pascal Colas on September 19-21, 1989.
The first settlement of the area took place in 1829 after a cyclone had devastated the nearby coast, and the municipality of Salazie was formed in 1889. The name of the commune is potentially derived from the Malagasy word salazy, meaning ‘good encampment’.