1902 Encyclopedia > Reunion


REUNION, formerly ROUERON, an island in the Indian Ocean, belonging to France and considered one of her more important colonies. St Denis, the capital, stands on the north side in 20° 51' S. lat. and 53° 9' E. long. Physically it may be described as the southmost subaerial summit of the great submarine ridge which, running north-east by Mauritius, Albatross Island, &c, and curving round by the Seychelles, connects with the platform of Madagascar at its north-eastern extremity. The great submarine valley which is thus enclosed between Madagascar and the Mascarene-Seychelles ridge has a depth of from 2000 to 2400 fathoms. In a straight line Reunion lies 115 miles from the east coast of Madagascar; and Mauritius, with which it communicates by optic signalling since 1882, is 115 miles to the north-east. The island has an area of 721,314 acres or 1127 square miles. It is usual to regard it as divided into a windward and a leeward district by a bine, practically the watershed, running in the direction of the greater axis. The whole island is the result of a double volcanic action. First there arose from the sea a mountain whose summit is approximately represented by Piton des Neiges (10,069 feet), and at a later date another crater opened towards the east, which, piling up the mountain mass of Le Volcan, turned what was till then a circle into an ellipse 44 miles by 31. In the older upheaval the most striking features are now three areas of subsidence—the cirques of Salazie, Riviere des Galets, and Cilaos—which lie north-west and south of the Piton des Neiges and form the gathering grounds respectively of the Riviere du Mat, the Riviere des Galets, and the Riviere de St Etienne. The first, which may be taken as typical, is surrounded by high almost perpendicular walls of basaltic lava, and its surface is rendered irregular by hills and hillocks of debris fallen from the heights. Towards the south lies the vast stratum of rocks (150 to 200 feet deep) which, on the 26th November 1875, suddenly sweeping down from the Piton des Neiges and the Gros Morne, buried the little village of Grand Sable and nearly a hundred of its in-habitants. A considerable piece of ground, with its trees, crops, and houses practically intact, along with the proprietor, who was seated at his own door, was carried a distance of nearly 1|- miles. Along the whole eastern side of the cirque between the village of Salazie and Hellbourg is a series of waterfalls issuing at a great height from above a vast bank of lava. They are probably the overflow of a subterranean basin connected, it may be, with the sources, on the other side of the wall, of the Riviere du Bras de Caverne. At the source of the Riviere du Mat, which escapes from the cirque by a narrow and precipitous gorge, is a magnificent sheaf of basaltic columns boldly curving out over the bed of the torrent. Having climbed up the eastern side of the cirque, the traveller reaches the well-wooded plain of the Salazes; farther east, and separated from it by ridges of rock is the Plaine des Caffres at a height of 5250 feet above the sea, and by a descent of 1500 feet this dips north-eastward into the Blaine des Palmistes. The eastern summit or Biton de Fournaise is cut off from the rest of the island by two curious enclosures, each about 500 or 600 feet deep. The traveller approaching the present craters from the v/est has consequently to descend upwards of 1000 feet by two abrupt stages before he begins the ascent of the cones. The outer " enclosure " runs across the island in a north and south direction; but the inner forms a rude kind of parabola with its arms (Rempart du Tremblet on lhe south and Rempart du Bois Blanc on the north) s tretching eastwards to the sea and embracing not only the volcano proper but also the great eastward slope known as the Grand Brule. There are two principal craters, each on an elevated cone,—the more westerly, now extinct, known as the Bory Crater after Bory de St Vincent, the eminent geologist, and the more easterly, simply called the Burning Crater or Fournaise. The latter is partially surrounded by an " enclosure" on a small scale with I recipices 200 feet high. Eruptions, though not infrequent (thirty were registered between 1735 and 1860) are seldom serious; the more noteworthy are those of 1745, 1778, 1791, 1812, 1860, 1870, 1881. Basaltic or vitreous lavas rich in chrysolite are the usual products, and it is hardly possible to conceive of a discharge sufficient in volume to overflow the " ramparts " and carry destruction to the rest of the island.1 Besides the Piton des Neiges (10,069 feet high), the Bory Peak (8612 feet), and the Burning Peak (8294), the principal summits in Reunion are the Grand Benard (9490), Morne L'Angevin (7845), and Cim-andef (7300). The streams which radiate out in all direc-t ions from the central highlands are for the most part comparatively small except during the rainy season, when they become impetuous and destructive torrents. Hot mineral springs are found in various parts of the island: the Source de Salazie (discovered in 1831) lies 2860 feet above sea-bvel, has a temperature of 90°, and discharges 200 to 220 ;;allons per hour of water impregnated with bicarbonate of soda, and carbonates of magnesium and lime, iron, &c.; that of Cilaos (discovered in 1826) is 3650 feet above the sea with a temperature of 100°; and that of Mafate 2238 feet and 87°. At the first there are a military hospital an.l a group of dwelling houses and villas.

Vertically Beunion may be divided into five zones. The first or maritime zone contains all the towns and most of the villages, built on the limited areas of level alluvium occurring at intervals round the coast (128 miles). In the second, which lies between 2600 and 4000 feet, the sugar plantations make a green belt round the island and country houses abound. The third zone is that of the forests ; the fourth that of the plateaus, where European vegetables can be cultivated; and above this extends the region of the mountains, which occupies more space than any of the others.

Climate. The following statements in regard to climate refer more particularly to the lower zones. The year divides into two seasons—that of heat and rain from November to April, that of dry and more bracing weather from May to October.

According to observations taken at St Denis between 1863 and 1870, and reduced to sea-level, the mean monthly temperature varies as follows:—January, 80°'36 ; February, 80°'36 ; March, 80°-12; April, 7S°'62; May, 75°-30 ; June, 72°'53; July, 7l°'22 ; August, 70°-59 ; September, 71°'6 ; October, 73°'43 ; November, 76°'62 ; December, 78°'92 ; and the rainfall was distributed thus : — January, 8'2 inches; February, 10'9; March, 5'17 ; April, 4'78 ; May 2-9 ; June, 61; July, 0'27 ; August, 17 ; September, 0'80 ; October, 1'67 ; November, 3'09 ; December, 5'25; making an annual average of 45 '57 inches, falling in 79 '7 clays. The prevailing winds are from the south-east, sometimes veering round to the south, and more frequently to the north-east; the west winds are not so steady (three hundred and seven days of east to fifty-eight of west in the course of the year). It is seldom calm during the day, but there is usually a period of complete repose before the land wind begins in the evening. Several years sometimes pass without a cyclone visiting the island; at other times they occur more than once in a single " winter." From April till October there is little fear of them. That of March 1879 was particularly destructive. The raz de maree occasionally does great damage. On the leeward side of the island the temperature is higher than at St Denis. The winds are generally from the west and south-west, and bring little rain. Mist hangs almost all day on the tops of the mountains, but usually clears off at night. The mean annual temperature at Salazie is 66° and at the Plaine des Palmistes 61°'7.

Animals. The fauna of Reunion is not very rich in variety of species ; it lies midway between the Indian and the African type. The mam-mals are a brown maki (Lemur mongoz, Linn.) from Madagascar, Pteropus edwardsii now nearly extinct, several bats, a wild cat, the tang or tamcc (Centetes setosus, Denn.), several rats, the hare, and the goat. Among the more familiar birds are the " oiseau de la vierge" (Mtiscipeta borbónica), the tec-tec (Pratíncola sybilla), Certhia borbónica, the cardinal (Foudia madagascariensis), various swallows, ducks, &c. The visitants from Madagascar, Mauritius, and even India, are very numerous. Lizards and frogs of more than one species are common, but there is only one snake known in the island. Various species of Gobius, a native species of mullet, Nestis cyprinoides, Osphronamus olfax, and Louies rupestris are among the freshwater fishes.

Vegetation. In the forest region of the island there is a belt, 4500-5000 feet above the sea, characterized by the prevalence of Bambusa alpina and above that is a similar belt of Acacia heterophylla. Besides this last the best timber-trees are Casuarina laterifolia, Feetida mauritiana, Imbricaría petiolaris, Elseodendron oriéntale, Calo-phyllum spurium (red tacamahac), Terminalia borbónica, Parkia speciosa. The gardens of the coast districts display a marvellous wealth of flowers and shrubs, partly indigenous and largely gathered from all parts of the world. Fruits grown in the island are—the banana, the cocoa-nut, bread-fruit, and jack-fruit, the bilimbi, the carambola, the guava, the litchi, the Japanese medlar, the mango-steen, the tamarind, the Abelmoschus esculentus, the chirimoya, the papaya, &c.

Industries. Sugar, introduced in 1711 by Pierre Parat, is now the staple crop in Reunion, a greater proportion of the soil being devoted to it than to all other objects of cultivation. The methods employed in growing and manufacturing are not up to the Mauritius standard, and since 1878 the ravages of the phylloxera have ruined many of the plantations. In the 18th century the first place belonged to coffee (introduced from Arabia in 1715) and to the clove tree, brought from the Dutch Indies by Poivre at the risk of his life. Both are now cultivated on a very limited scale. Vanilla, intro-! duced in 1818, though it occupies only about 1500 acres, some-times produces a crop worth from £40,000 to £65,000. The average produce of the sugar crop in the five years 1873-77 was 35,493 tons of sugar with 777,710 gallons of syrup and treacle ; from 1S78 to 1883 the averages were 35,580 tons (40,176 in 1883) and 816,455 gallons. Rum is largely distilled, and is the favourite drink of all classes.

Imports. "While potatoes, beans, manioc, sweet potatoes, and yams of local growth furnish a considerable amount of food, the far more important article rice has to be imported from India and Madagascar. India also sends castor-oil, wheat, and lard ; Australia, flour and wheat; England, coals; the Cape and Muscat, salt fish ; Buenos Ayres and Montevideo, mules and horses ; the United States petroleum (largely used throughout the island), lard, pork, and pitch-pine.

The complete absence of natural harbours has all along been a great hindrance to the commercial development of Réunion. "Whenever a storm is observed to be brewing an alarm gun is fired, and the vessels in the roadsteads make off from the dangerous
Harbour, coast. Since 1848 an artificial harbour capable of containing forty vessels has been constructed at Pointe des Galets at the north-west corner of the island.

Railway. The port is connected by rail with La Possession on the one hand and with the Rivière des Galets on the other, and thus communicates with the railway which was completed in 1881 round the coast from St Pierre, by St Paul, St Denis, &c., to St Benoît, a distance of 83| miles. This line is carried through a tunnel nearly miles long between La Possession and St Denis.

Communes. The windward arrondissement or division of Réunion comprises the eight communes of St Denis, Ste Marie, Ste Suzanne, St André, St Benoît, Salazie, Ste Rose, and Plaine des Palmistes ; and the leeward division the six communes of St Paul, St Leu, St Louis, St Pierre, St Joseph, and St Philippe. St Denis, the capital of the island, lies on the north coast. It is built in the form of an amphitheatre and presents a most attractive appearance from the sea. Covering as a commune an area of 37,065 acres, it has a population of 30,835 according to the census of 1881, an increase of 18,000 since 1837. It has an abundant supply of pure water. Though the harbour is only an open roadstead, it has hitherto been the most frequented in the island. St Pierre, the chief town of the leeward arrondissement, has a communal area of 98,190 acres and a population of 27,748. Its artificial harbour, commenced in 1854 but afterwards interrupted, and resumed in 1881, has room for five or six vessels besides coasting craft.

Population. The population was 185,179 in 1872, 183,529 in 1878, and 170,734 in 1882. The males are largely in excess of the females (97,961 to 72,773 in 1882), owing to the number of agricultural labourers introduced from abroad for a term of years. Among the whites born on the island an infusion of alien blood is so common that in Mauritius the phrase Bourbon white is applied to linen of doubtful cleanness ; the original settlers frequently married Malagasy wives. The name Petits Blancs is in Réunion given to a class of small farmers who lead an independent kind of life in the upper districts, supporting themselves by their garden-plots and hunting. By the beginning of the 18th century the number of Negro slaves in the island was 64,000, four times that of their masters ; they were all (to the number of 20,000) emancipated in 1848, and have gradually acquired a large measure of social equality with the creóles. Various elements have been added to the population since the middle of the century—coolies from India in large numbers, Africans from the east coast, Chinese and Anamites, Malays, &c. The immigration of the Indian coolies is controlled by a convention between the British and French Governments of date July 1, 1881.

History. Réunion is usually said to have been first discovered in April 1513 by Mascarenhas, whose name is still applied to the archipelago of which it forms a part ; but it seems probable that it must be identified with the island of Santa Apollonia discovered by Diego Fernandes Pereira on February 9, 1507. "When in 1638 the island was taken possession of by Captain Gaubert or Gobert of Dieppe, it was still uninhabited ; a more formal annexation in the name of Louis XIII. was effected in 1643 by Pronis, agent of the "Compagnie des Indes" in Madagascar ; and in 1649 Flacourt, Pronis's more eminent successor, repeated the ceremony at La Possession, and changed the name from Mascarenhas to Bourbon. By decree of the Convention in 1793, Bourbon in turn gave place to Réunion, and, though during the empire this was discarded in favour of île Bonaparte, and at the Restoration people naturally went back to Bourbon, it has remained the official designation since 1848. Between July 8, 1810, and April 6, 1815, the island was in the possession of England. It is now practically almost a department of France, sends a representative to the chamber of deputies, is governed by means of laws and not of decrees, and possesses a council-general and municipal councils elected by universal suffrage. In the general budget for 1881 the expenditure amounted to 6,866,272 francs, including 1,916,143 contributed by the home Government; in 1883 the total was 7,468,426, upwards of 3,420,000 being for communal expenses.

[Further Reading] See, besides the works already mentioned, Demanet, Nouv. hist. de l'Afrique française, 1767; Thomas, Essai de statistique de l''île Bourbon, 182S; Dejean de la Bâtie, Notice sur l'île Bourbon, 1847 ; J. Mauran, Impressions dans un voy. de Paris à Bourbon, 1850 ; Maillard. Notes sur l''île de la Réunion, 1862; Azéma, Hist, de l'île Bourbon, 1862; Roussin, Album de l''île de la Réunion, 1867-69, and 1879 ; an elaborate article in Encyclopédie des Sciences Médicales ; Bionne, " La Réunion," in Exploration, 1879. Most maps are based on Maillard's; one by Paul Lepervanche in four sheets was published in 1885 by Dufrenoy. (H. A. W.)


1 The geology and volcanoes of Reunion were the object of elaborate study by Bory de St Vincent in 1801 and 1802 (Voyages clans les quatre principales îles des Mers d'Afrique, Paris, 1804), and have recently been examined by Dräsche (see Berieht K.-K. G'eol. Beieh-» onslalt, Vienna, 1875-76) and Velain (thesis presented to the Faculté des Sciences, Paris, 1878).

The above article was written by: H. A. Webster.

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