Culture

Turtle Talk

A few weeks ago I had a very dear friend visit from Australia. He had actually just spent the last few months working on a marine conservation project in a small Malagasy fishing village. So upon his arrival in Reunion, I knew just the place to take him! The wonderful Kélonia, in Saint Leu. Naturally, one would think that English is widely spoken in such a popular tourist haunt. Well, I decided to put this assumption to the test!

Now apart from basically pleasantries, my friend doesn’t speak a word of French. I thus pretended to do the same. So off we set to one of Reunion’s most well known tourist attractions to see how two undiscerning English speaking tourists were to be welcomed, and of course, to brush up on our knowledge of the island’s marine life.

We approached the front desk and enquired about entrance costs and closing times. We were somewhat taken aback to be greeted by a receptionist whose English was limited to, “Me, English, no possible”. She then proceeded to make a large ‘X’ with both arms in front of her face to make sure she had got her point across. Flabbergasted, we pointed desperately to an audio guide to hire. “Pièce d’identité” was repeated several times. My friend had no idea what she was asking for, so I followed suit. “Passport” was then the next word uttered, (albeit with a very thick French accent) but my friend cottoned on to the fact that she was after proof of ID. Unfortunately for our friendly receptionist, my friend didn’t think to take his passport with him to the turtle museum. Eventually she gave up and waved us through, shaking her head almost as if it was OUR fault for not speaking French!

After the initial debacle, we continued out visit which was as informative and rewarding as ever. We were however very tempted to jump in the big basin to have a swim with the turtles as we thought to ourselves that nobody would be able to scream at us in English to get out!

Vocabulary

Upon his arrival – à son arrivée
Haunt – lieu de prédilection
Assumption – supposition / hypothèse
Pleasantries – civilités
Thus – donc / ainsi

To set off – partir / s’en aller
Undiscerning – sans discernement
To brush up on – se remettre à niveau
Front desk – l’accueil
To be taken aback – être surpris / choqué 

To get a point across – passer un message
Flabbergasted – étonné
To follow suit – suivre / en faire autant
To utter – dire
Albeit – quoique

To cotton on to the fact – piger
To give up – laisser tomber
Rewarding – gratifiant 

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

Reunion’s First Ever Novel

Last week, the winner of the Oscar for Best Film was ‘12 Years a Slave’, the terrible true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who was captured and sold as a slave in the USA.

Slavery was just as present on our island, then called Bourbon. Published four years after the abolition of slavery in 1848, ‘Les Marrons’ was considered Reunion Island’s first novel. Its two main themes were slaveryand mixed marriages, which at the time made the book ‘a danger for the established order.’

The story follows a slave called Le Câpre, who escapes his master and flees into the mountains. Starving and hunted down by his pursuers, Le Câpre approaches the edge of a precipice, threatened by dogs. But as he battles with them, he is forced further back, and suddenly disappears into the void..!

But he grabs onto a liana and takes refuge in a cave cut into the cliff-face. There he meets Marie, a young white woman accompanied by a black man called Frême and their mulatto child.

Accompanied by Frême, Le Câpre continues his journey towards the Salazes. Alas! The bounty-hunters have caught them up. Following a terrible battle, Frême is left for dead. Le Câpre is brought back to his master’s estate.

Locked up in a darkened cell, Le Câpre dreams of his wounded friend Frême, Marie and their child. The future of Bourbon Island appears to him in a vision.

“It will become a rich and fertile country, a land where there will be no difference in people’s colour or conditions, who will all be free; a place where, far from seeking to make war, to enslave and destroy each other, they will be content to live together, and happy to be equals, to love each other, to form unions and to help one another.”

At the end of the story, Le Câpre escapes and is reunited with Frême. Together they call upon a crowd of slaves to rise up and revolt…

Vocabulary

slavery – esclavage
novel – roman
to flee – fuir
starving – affamé
hunted down – chassé

threatened – menacé
void – vide
bounty hunter – chasseur de primes
locked up – enfermé
wounded – blessé 

to rise up – se revolter

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

Maloya

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to sit down and have a chat with Christine Salem, a famous Réunionese musician. After exchanging pleasantries, we chatted about maloya; one of Reunion’s local music styles, and I learned a lot.

For example, I learned that maloya was bought here from Africa during the time of slavery. Despite slavery being abolished in 1848, maloya was banned by the government until 1981.

Christine explained that it was outlawed because maloya music is trance music, it calls upon the singer’s ancestral spirits. At the time, Reunion was under strict Christian laws, and maloya was considered devil music! Anyone caught playing or singing maloya would face physical abuse, jail-time, and even having their instruments burned.

I found this shocking at first, then Christine reminded me that the European and African cultures at the time were very different. Namely, the African religions were heavily animistic, whereas the European religions were more monotheistic.

So, maloya was banned for more than one-hundred and thirty years. I asked Christine how a genre under so much pressure, could stay alive for so long. She told me that maloya was played during secret ceremonies during this time. Songs and instruments would be passed from parent to child. Thankfully, all of this is behind us, as maloya was classed by UNESCO as Réunionese intangible heritage on October the first, 2009.

As for musical instruments, Christine’s band play the usual maloya instruments like the kayamb, the rouler and the sati, as well as some African ones: The djembe the kinkeni and the sambang.

Christine plays the kayamb in her band, she told me that the kayamb is made of sugar cane flower stalk. Before being sealed, jequirity seedsare added inside. This gives the kayamb a very distinctive sound. The rouler is a drum made from a wine barrel with cowhide stretched over the top. The sati, is simply a small sheet of steel that is hit with sticks.

Christine started to become interested in Réunionese history at a young age. At school, she was told that her ancestors were Celtic, not African! Since then she has been researching her family tree, and discovering her roots through her real ancestors.

Vocabulary

The chance – L’occasion
Slavery – L’esclavage
Banned / Outlawed – Interdit
Caught – Attrapé
Thankfully – Heureusement

Heritage – Patrimoine
Stalk – Tige
Sealed – Rebouché
Jequirity seeds – Grains du pois rouge
Wine barrel – Fût de vin

Cowhide – Cuir
Sheet of steel – De la tôle
Family tree – Arbe généalogique

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

Mermaid School

My favourite thing to do in the world is to act. Acting has been my passion ever since I can remember and I even studied theatre arts in college. I didn’t know any actors or theatres in Reunion, so as soon as I heard there was an audition for an indie film called Sirana, I knew I just had to go. At least, you know, to meet, I don’t know, people involved with film and theatre on the island.

I ended up getting the role for the mermaid Sirana. I was thrilled but also kind of nervous because I knew I would have to do some really complicated things in the water. I am a certified scuba diver but for this role I would be diving without a mask, without air, without fins, and wearing a dress that weighed 20 pounds when wet (9 kgs). Kind of a challenge!

So I called Stefaan Dewulf from Wulfy Diving. He’s a professional scuba diver and a good friend. I told him what I was doing and asked for some tips on freediving. He said it would be even better if we could meet up in person because telling someone and showing them how to freedive are two very different things. So that how I started my training as a mermaid.

It helped a lot that I dive regularly with Wulfy so I know that he’s very knowledgeable. When it comes to the ocean honestly, Wulfy is someone you know you can trust. He’s the only person who made me feel at ease when I first arrived in Reunion about going in the ocean despite all the stories about sharks.

So Wulfy and I met as often as possible for my mermaid training at Cap La Houssaye. He lent me a mono-fin to practice with – a mono-fin is like a giant fin for both your feet, and it just kind of looks like a mermaid tail. And we did lots of exercises for breath control so I could hold my breath longer and longer under the water.

It was really an incredible experience because we were practicing alongside giant schools of sardines, a friendly turtle, and, you know, fish of every colour. I really loved going to Mermaid school – it introduced me to the world of freediving and I’m even planning on continuing to learn more about this beautiful and challenging sport.

Vocabulary

to act – jouer (la comédie)
college – la fac
at least – au moins
mermaid – sirène
thrilled – ravi

fins – palmes
dress – robe
to weigh – peser
wet – mouillé
tips – astuces

freediving – plongée en apnée
training – formation
knowledgeable – bien informé
despite – malgré
sharks – requins

to lend – preter
tail – queue
turtle – tortue

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

A Tunnel to Mafate?

Can you imagine driving your car up to the hills of St Paul, and then into a mysterious tunnel? A tunnel cutting deep into the mountain, running in a straight line for 8 kilometres and going all the way into Mafate?

You can’t? Well, this might surprise some people, but this tunnel actually exists! As part of Reunion’s water transfer project, the objective was to transfer water from the rainy east coast of Reunion to the dry and arid west coast, mainly to help agriculture. So, back in 1989, work started to dig three massive tunnels through the volcanic rock, at a total cost of more than one billion euros.

One tunnel runs from Salazie to La Riviere des Pluies, a second into Mafate and the third goes from the dam in La Riviere des Galets to Bois-de-Nefles St Paul. The next time you visit Mafate, and you see the face of Bob Marley graffiti’d onto the wall, that is where the tunnel opens.

As one of the lucky people who have visited, I can say it really was a magical experience. The gates opened, and the tunnel was just big enough for a small car. 20 minutes of claustrophobic darkness followed! When we reached the end of the tunnel, there was a service door. The technician who took us unlocked the door, and blazing sunshine hit us. Walking outside, we were overlooking the dam, surrounded by mountains and lush vegetation.

Unfortunately, it’s not for tourists. But the next time you hear someone say that you can’t drive to Mafate, you can tell them that they’re wrong!

Vocabulary

the hills – les hauts
deep – profond
a straight line – ligne droite
actually – réellement
water transfer – basculement des eaux

mainly – principalement
to dig – creuser
billion – milliard
dam – barrage
gates – portails

to unlock – déverouiller
unfortunately – malheureusement

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text