Reunion Island and Mauritius both share a similar 17th and 18th century history of colonisation, slavery, and pirates, but today the two societies are very different indeed. Reunion is French-speaking, a part of Europe and a place where if you are underprivileged, or can’t find work, you won’t be left to die in abject poverty. Which is nice. You won’t be able to speak English very well, but you can’t have your cake and eat it, can you? As for Mauritius, the island is totally independent, offers very little help for the poor or unemployed and, according to the statistics, there are as many Mauritians living in poverty as there are RMIstes in Reunion. But if you’re a rich golfer, you will love it there… So the big question is: what happened? Where did it all go wrong? Or right, depending on the island you’re on.
Well, back in 1810 there was a key moment which changed the two island’s destinies. Following the French Revolution, the nasty old English thought they would attack the unprotected French colonies and steal all their goodies. They decided to attack Reunion, then known as Isle Bourbon, and on July 8th the French signed their surrender at La Redoute – that’s the stadium in St Denis, not the online fashion catalogue.
The island remained under English control until 1814, when Napoleon was defeated and a treaty was signed bringing France’s borders back to what they had been in 1792 – their colonies were returned, including Reunion Island, but there were three exceptions which were given to the English instead: Saint Lucia, Tobago and Mauritius. But the question is why? Why did the English prefer to keep Mauritius and not insist on keeping Reunion as well?
There are two big theories: one suggests that the Reunionese population, made up of ferociously belligerent warrior slaves from Madagascar, were simply too difficult to manage. Many slaves at that time thought they would be enfranchised by the English – apparently slavery was no longer their cup of tea by then – so the Reunionese did their best to rise up against their French slave-owners, resulting in the famous rebellion of St Leu in 1811. Several slaves were sentenced to death for their part in this. Strangely enough, their trial took place in the cathedral of St Denis, which was struck by lightning, killing the magistrate’s wife. Divine intervention? Maybe. Anyway, that’s one theory. The other theory is that the English soldiers just couldn’t stand the local food. French cuisine? Awful! No Baked Beans? No steak and kidney pie? No Christmas pudding? ‘We cannot stay here!’ they cried. And so, they went off to Mauritius instead. And the rest, as they say, is history.
And what of the English people still here in Reunion? Why have we not left? First of all, it’s important to point out that you can now buy Baked Beans in LeClerc Le Portail, so that’s one BIG problem solved. If you ask me why I’m still here, I could say it’s because of the amazing people, stunning scenery and sublime climate. But to be honest, it’s all about the food and drink, and this one simple truth: I couldn’t live anywhere without COT Citron.
to share = partager
have your cake and eat it = avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre
unemployed = chomeur
nasty = méchant
goodies = sucreries, bonbons
to keep = garder
to manage = gérer
enfranchised = affranchi, libéré, delivré
their cup of tea = leur tasse de thé
to rise up = se révolter
lightning = foudre
to stand = supporter
left = parti