Sunday, 14 June 2015

Réunion - The Final Word

Proposed flag for Réunion
I've found Réunion a fascinating place to blog about - as I've been researching for this blog and learning more about the interesting mix of cultures that Réunion has inherited, I've been mentally planning a trip to the island, at some unspecified time in the future!

As it happens, I have visited a few of the places I've blogged about, having become really interested in these places as a result of my 'armchair learning' experience.  The places I've visited so far as a result of this blog are: Hong Kong, Iceland, Jersey, Quebec and Barbados and I'm hoping to visit Korea and Mongolia later this year!

Of course, there are quite a few places I've blogged about that I may never get the chance to visit (I'm thinking of places like Kiribati, Liberia and Yemen), but a visit to Réunion is a distinct possibility and, as with any of the places I've blogged about, I'd love to visit sooner, rather than later, before Réunion changes too much!

The Themes

During my time blogging about Réunion, I've learned about the history of the island and how Réunion is part of France, although it lies thousands of miles south of Paris, in the Indian Ocean. I've learned about the role that Réunion has played in the cultivation of vanilla, a notoriously expensive plant that originates in Mexico and is incredibly difficult to grow.  I also learned how to make Canard a la Vanille, a typical Réunionnais dish and this was my first time to physically handle vanilla and cook with it.


I read the following books, as part of my research:

Some of the books I read as part of my research on Réunion
Insight Guides: Mauritius, Réunion and Seychelles (2009) - the second edition that Insight guides have published about the Mascarene islands - very informative, as Insight guides usually are.

Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid (2004) by Tim Ecott - which has chapters on Réunion, but also covers Mexico, Tahiti and Madagascar.

La Grand-Mere Kalle (2006) by local writer Yves Manglou - which brings to life the mythology of Réunion.  You can read my blog post about this book for more information.

Island Born of Fire (2006) by R.B. Trombley - a scientific book about the geological make-up of the island - a little bit over my head and difficult to read, but interesting all the same.

The Age of Kali (1998) - a collection of travel essays by William Dalrymple - I'd never read Dalrymple before, but I definitely want to read more! His essays are mostly about India and Pakistan, but he does include a couple of interesting essays on Sri Lanka and an essay on Réunion called The Sorcerer's Grave.


I could only find one movie which was set on Réunion, Francois Truffaud's La sirène du Mississippi (1969), which I also blogged about.


I also had a wonderful time listening to the music of Réunion and I created a play list, which includes songs by artists such as Firmin Viry, Granmoun Lélé and Faham.

Other themes

As usual, I came across other themes that were interesting, but I didn't have time to research into further - if you want to continue your own learning about Réunion, I would suggest the following 'other' topics:

Edward's Dodo by Roelant Savery (1626)
The Euro and how Réunion was the first place to adopt this new currency
The pirate La Buse and his hidden treasure, which people believe is still buried somewhere on the island
Les enfants de la Creuse - Réunion's own stolen generation of children who were removed from their parents and brought up in France
The Dodo and how it became extinct
The French code noir which sought to prevent the intermarrying of races
Réunion during World War 2
The Kerveguen sugar empire

The Final Word on Métissage

One thing that came through strongly during my research on Réunion was the importance of métissage in the identity of this far-flung French outpost. Métissage is the French word for mixing and it's a good way of describing the development of culture on Réunion, which has mixed elements of Africa, Asia and Europe to produce a new culture, totally unique to the island.

Expeditus, photo by Jean Poussin
An interesting manifestation of métissage is the cult of St Expédit, the island's unofficial patron saint. According to William Dalrymple, in his book The Age of Kali, the cult of  St Expédit on Réunion started in 1931, when a mysterious package, supposedly containing relics of a Christian saint, arrived on the island from the Vatican and bore a stamp saying spedito, which is the Italian word for expedited or  'sent quickly'.

The cult of St Expédit took such a hold on the island that the Catholic Church was forced to create a 'back story' for the saint and aligned St Expédit with the Roman soldier, Expeditus who became an early Christian martyr in 4th century Armenia.  Whether it's true or not, Dalrymple's theory is an interesting one and I do love a good mystery!

In modern times, shrines to St Expédit on Réunion are usually painted blood red and people pray to the saint for all kinds of things - the cult of St Expédit lends itself to Réunion's métissage culture, mixing African ancestor worship, Hindu reincarnation's of Vishnu and Tamil interpretations of Christianity.  Statues of St Expédit are sometimes mysteriously beheaded and there is something distinctly un-Christian about the magical powers and ability to answer prayers, that St Expédit has been credited with.

The cult of Expeditus is also really popular in Chile, for some reason and I find the whole thing fascinating but also slightly bizarre!

Image credits:

Although I've been using a coat of arms to represent Réunion during my blog posts, I have since discovered a proposed flag for the island, so I wanted to represent this in my final blog post.

The image of Edward's Dodo, the 1626 painting by the Flemish painter, Roland Savery is in the public domain.

The photo of the Expeditus statue has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Jean Poussin and you can see more information on this image here.