In reunion and Mayotte various oral expressions are important. Most common in Reunion are tales, which were traditionally transmitted in the creole language but are nowadays translated, written, and published (Honore 2003).
As the Roland Garros International Airports and the department's main city, St-Denis, are located on the north coast, it is the start (and end) point of most Reunion holidays. The far north of Reunion is generally defined as the area around St-Denis, extending inland to St-Francois, Plaine d'Affouches and the wonderful hiking area of Roche Ecrite, on the northern edge of the Cirque de Salazie.
The economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, but services now dominate. Sugarcane has been the primary crop for more than a century, and in some years it accounts for 85% of exports. The government has been pushing the development of a tourist industry to relieve high unemployment, which amounts to one-third of the labor force. The gap in Reunion between the well-off and the poor is extraordinary and accounts for the persistent social tensions. The white and Indian communities are substantially better off than other segments of the population, often approaching European standards, whereas minority groups suffer the poverty and unemployment typical of the poorer nations of the African continent. The outbreak of severe rioting in February 1991 illustrates the seriousness of socioeconomic tensions. The economic well-being of Reunion depends heavily on continued financial assistance from France.
In 1999, the population was over 717,000. It is difficult to categorize the population by ethnic background, but estimates indicate that approximately twenty percent of the population is of Indian ancestry, and around five percent is born in mainland France.
The two World Wars drained Reunion significantly. In World War I, about 15,000 Reunionnais left to fight in Europe. During World War II, Nazi Germany blocked the French island colonies. Consequently, nothing left or arrived in Reunion for two years and the island declined into a state of famine. By the end of 1942, the abominable blockade was broken. On 9 March 1946, the French Government officially declared Reunion a Department d'Outre-Mer. Today Reunion remains a department of France and thereby a member of the European Union.
As a result of poor management and the rivalry between France and Britain during the 18th century, as well as the collapse of the French East India Company, the government of the island passed directly to the French crown in 1764. After the French Revolution, it came under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Assembly. In the late 18th century, there were a number of slave revolts and those who managed to escape made their way to the interior. They organised themselves into villages run by democratically elected chiefs and fought to preserve their independence from colonial authorities.
There was no great rush to populate and develop the island and, from around 1685, Indian Ocean pirates began using Ile Bourbon as a trading base. Until 1715, the French East India Company was content to provide only for its own needs and those of passing ships, but then coffee was introduced, and between 1715 and 1730 it became the island's main cash crop and as a result the economy changed dramatically. The French enslaved Africans to do the intensive labour required for coffee cultivation. During this period, grains, spices and cotton were also brought in as cash crops.
There was no native population on Reunion Island when the first French settlers arrived with their Malagasy slaves. The founding primal scene was one of violence, the violence of slavery, of transforming human beings into disposable matter. In the population's imaginary the island territory is still inhabited by the ghosts and specters of slaves and indentured workers, of men whose bodies and souls were not given a proper burial, were not properly honored.
Reunion is usually said to have been first discovered in April 1513 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas, and his name, or that of Mascarene Islands, 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 the 9th of February 1507. It was visited by the Dutch towards the close of the 16th century, and by the English early in the 17th century.
Discovered at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the island was reached by the French in 1643. Reunion (then called Mascarin ) was devoid of inhabitants. The French sent twelve convicts into exile there. In 1649 they officially claimed the island in the name of the king and named it Bourbon . Colonization started in 1665, when the French East India Company sent the first twenty settlers. After 1715, settlers produced coffee and spices, which ultimately were replaced by sugarcane. In 1792, France renamed the island La Reunion.