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(rāünyôN`), island and overseas department of France (2015 est. pop. 863,000), c.970 sq mi (2,510 sq km), one of the Mascarene IslandsMascarene Islands
, in the Indian Ocean, E of Madagascar. They include Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodriguez. Apparently known to the Arabs, they were rediscovered by the Portuguese at the beginning of the 16th cent. The islands are named for Pedro Mascarenhas, who visited them c.1512.
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, in the Indian Ocean c.430 mi (690 km) E of Madagascar. Saint-DenisSaint-Denis,
city (1990 pop. 122,875), capital of the French overseas department of Réunion. It is a port on the Indian Ocean at the mouth of the St.-Denis River and exports sugar and rum. St.
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 (the capital) and Le Port (the leading port) are the chief cities.

Land, People, and Economy

The island is composed mainly of one active and several extinct volcanoes; its highest point is Le Piton des Neiges (10,069 ft/3,069 m). Le Piton de la Fournaise in S Réunion is one of the earth's most active volcanoes. Settlement and cultivation are concentrated in the coastal lowlands. Most of the inhabitants are Roman Catholic and speak a creole patois. Since the 19th cent. sugar has been by far the island's chief product and export. Molasses, vanilla, tobacco, tropical fruits, and rum are also produced.


Réunion was known to the Arabs and was visited by the Portuguese in the early 16th cent. The island was uninhabited until settled by the French c.1642; its present mixed population is descended from the French settlers and their East African, South Asian, and Indochinese slaves (after 1848, when slavery was abolished, indentured laborers). At first a penal colony, Réunion became a post of the French East India Company in 1665. In the 18th cent. the island was an exporter of coffee. From 1810 to 1814 Réunion was held by Great Britain. After 1815, when coffee no longer could be produced competitively, sugarcane became the main crop. In 1947 the status of Réunion was changed from a colony to an overseas department. In the 1980s and 90s, the citizens of Réunion sought greater political autonomy and better wages and working conditions.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a country in the Indian Ocean, situated on Réunion Island, one of the Mascarene Islands. It is an overseas department of France. Area, 2,500 sq km. Population, 473,000 (1974). The capital is St. Denis. Réunion is governed by a prefect appointed by the French government. An elected General Council has limited jurisdiction. Réunion sends three representatives to the French National Assembly and two to the Senate.

Natural features. The island is of volcanic origin; the highest peak is Piton des Neiges (3,069 m). In the southeast, an area of recent eruptions, is the active volcano Fournaise (2,631 m). Réunion has a tropical trade-wind climate. The windward eastern part, receiving more than 4,000 mm of precipitation annually, was once covered with a tropical forest to elevations of 2,000 m; much of the forest has now been cut down. Coniferous forests and meadows are found at higher elevations. The western part of the island and the interior plateaus are occupied by savannas.

Population. The majority of the inhabitants are mestizos, descendants of French settlers who intermarried with Arabs, Bantus, Malagasy, and Indians. Mestizos and French constitute 95 percent of the population. The official language is French, and the predominant religion is Catholicism. Between 1963 and 1972 the population increased at an average rate of 2.6 percent annually. The country has a work force of 114,000, of whom 36 percent are engaged in agriculture.

Historical survey. The island was discovered by Portuguese navigators in the early 16th century. Uninhabited until the mid-nth century, Réunion became a French colonial possession in the 1640’s and was named Bourbon Island in 1649. In 1664 it was given to the French East India Company, which embarked on a systematic colonization of the island. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the development of a plantation economy based on the labor of African slaves. The main crops were coffee, spices, and, from the early 19th century, sugarcane.

After the breakup of the East India Company, the island was administered by representatives of the crown from 1767. The island was named Réunion in 1793, but the name did not become official until 1848. It was occupied by the British from 1810 to 1815. Slavery was abolished in Réunion in 1848. During World War II, Réunion joined Fighting France in November 1942. In March 1946 the island was granted the status of an overseas department. The Réunion Communist Party was founded in 1959. The country’s democratic forces are fighting for radical economic reforms and for self-determination.

Economy. Controlled by French monopolies, Réunion specializes in growing sugarcane and producing sugar. Three large monopolies own about 40 percent of the land planted to sugarcane, as well as the sugar mills on the land. One-fourth of the country’s territory is under cultivation (11 percent of this area is irrigated), and meadows and pastures cover less than 10 percent. Roughly 60 percent of the cultivated land is owned by large landowners who constitute about 1 percent of the population. Most of the sugarcane is grown on small peasant farms that sell it to the mills at prices set by the French monopolies. Also produced are vanilla, geranium oil, tobacco, tea, corn, and potatoes. Cattle, sheep, and hogs are raised.

The island’s industrial enterprises include sugar mills, producing about 228,000 tons of sugar in 1974; rum distilleries; enterprises processing essential oils, vanilla, and tobacco; and canneries. The country’s electric power plants have a rated capacity of 27,000 kW (1972); 122 million kW-hr were generated in 1972. Motor vehicles are the main type of transport. There are 1,949 km of highways, of which 1,508 km are paved (1972). The main seaport is Pointe des Galets. Réunion exports sugar (accounting for about 90 percent of the value of exports in 1973), rum, essential oils, and vanilla, and it imports machinery and equipment, cement, food, and fabrics. France purchases almost all of the country’s exports and supplies most of its imports. The monetary unit is the African franc.

Education and cultural affairs. The education system is modeled on the French system. Children enter primary school at the age of six. The full cycle of the secondary school (lycée) lasts six or seven years. There are also lower secondary schools, called collèges, offering a four-year general curriculum. In the 1972–73 school year 108,600 pupils were enrolled in primary schools (10,800 of them in private schools), and 29,500 students were attending the various types of secondary schools.

The Institute of Juridical, Economic, and Political Studies, founded in St. Denis in 1950, had an enrollment of about 700 students in the 1972–73 academic year. Also in St. Denis are the Central Library (founded in 1956; 60,000 volumes), the Museum of Natural History (1854), and the Museum of Art (1912).


Trofimov, V., and V. Tarasov. Rein’ion. Moscow, 1969.
Scherer, A. Histoire de la Réunion. Paris, 1965.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Arafat, Mt
. Adam and Eve met here after 200 years. [Muslim Legend: Berra, 44]
flower symbolizing a rejoining. [Flower Symbolism: Jobes, 322]
Esau and Jacob
after many years, they are reconciled. [O.T.: Genesis 33:1–4]
Eurydice and Orpheus
reunited despite his backward look. [Ger. Opera: Gluck, Orpheus and Eurydice, Westerman, 72]
Joachim and Anna
separated spouses joyfully meet at Jerusalem gate on news of her pregnancy. [Ital. Lit.: Golden Legend]
Mary and Elizabeth
the two pregnant women meet after many years and rejoice. [N.T.: Luke 1:39–56]
prodigal son and his father
repentant son returns home to a joyous welcome. [N.T.: Luke 15:11–32]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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