History and Culture of Reunion Island

  • © Bruno Tandrya / IRT

    © Bruno Tandrya / IRT

  • © Emmanuel Virin / IRT

    © Emmanuel Virin / IRT

  • © Emmanuel Virin / IRT

    © Emmanuel Virin / IRT

  • © Stépahne Fournet / IRT

    © Stépahne Fournet / IRT

  • © Yabalex / IRT

    © Yabalex / IRT

  • © Emmanuel Virin / IRT

    © Emmanuel Virin / IRT

  • © Emmanuel Virin / IRT

    © Emmanuel Virin / IRT

History and Culture of Reunion Island Saint Denis re

Few countries can boast of a multicultural heritage as vast and as old as that of the Island of Reunion. It is this ethnic richness, presenting itself as it does in the form of a kaleidoscope of cultures and religions, which has earned its 800 000 inhabitants the perfectly apt title of "the rainbow nation".

A little history...It was in the middle of the 17th century that settlement on the virgin island of Reunion Island began. The first colonists, from France, quickly surrounded themselves with slaves from Africa, the "Kafirs", or from Madagascar. They were later joined by Indian, Tamil and other labourers originating from the Coromandel coast. Their descendants are known collectively as "Malbars".The immigration of Indian, Moslem (known as "Zarabs") or Chinese craftsmen and tradesmen dates from the 19th century.And then more recently, a large number of immigrants from Mayotte and the Comoros have come to live in Réunion.

A cross-roads of religions and customs from Asia, Africa, India and Europe.

Despite their attachment to France, people from Reunion Isalnd are at pains not to forget their roots. Moslems, Catholics and Hindus mix with one another on a daily basis and religious practices are very present in the life of most people. In town centres the call of the muezzin often answers the peel of the church bell, while incense burns under the impassive gaze of the Buddha. Some descendants of the slaves still practice the "Malagasy service", the ritual homage paid to the ancestors. Although the Catholic faith is very dominant, it is the Hindu community which gives the island its most striking customs. Hinduism displays its myriad of colours on the facades of the many temples which flourish throughout the island. In October-November, Diwali, "the festival of lights", brings together thousands of the faithful; processions and spectacular "walking on fire" events are organised according to an ancestral calendar.

The Maloya, moving "blues" inspired music, is one of the rare legacies handed down by the slaves. Séga music on the other hand evokes the coming together of two worlds -  Europe and Africa - in this small Indian Ocean island. Maloya is one of the two major music genres of Reunion Island, usually sung in Reunion Creole with a purely percussion accompaniment. It has origins in the music of slaves on the island, as has the other folk music of Reunion, sega. It is compared to the American music, the blues. Compared to sega, maloya is slow and reflective. Like the blues, maloya is based on a chant-response structure.

Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

On the island of Reunion, cultural expression is in the image of its inhabitants: diverse and multifaceted, a bit from here, a bit from there. Everyone, through his beliefs as well as through his cuisine, safeguards the memory of his origins. Five religious circuits reveal to the visitor the many secrets and the richness of age-old traditions:

1. From Saint-Leu to Saint-Louis

2. From Saint-Pierre to Saint-Joseph

3. From Saint-Denis to Sainte-Marie

4. From Saint-André to Sainte-Rose

5. From Saint-Paul to La Possession

Saga du Rhum... Night at the museum

Set in the heart of the oldest family-run distillery on the island, which still operates today, Saga du Rhum is in Saint-Pierre, the gateway to the volcano and the unspoilt south. The only museum dedicated to the rums of Reunion Island, Saga du Rhum takes visitors on a historic, cultural and sensory journey combining the history of an island with that of its people and this traditional production process. This new facility was created to enable visitors to share something special and bring to life in an exciting way these "different perspectives on an island, its people and a production process".

Guided tour of the museum starting at 6pm followed by a tasting of Reunion Island rums, and an outdoor dinner on the terrace. 

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