Réunion Slavery

Reunion slave trade
Figure 1.--Jean-Michel Moreau, also known as Moreau le Jeune, (1741-1814) did this engraving in 1772. It shows some slaves on the Bourbon Island which the French Revolutionary government renamed Reunion Island. Moreau seems to be illustrating ways of punishing slaves. Notice the mother's iron slave collar.

Réunion has a similar history to Mauritius. The island was an uninhabitd Indiab Ocean iskland. It wa visited, but not settled by a series of seafarers (Malay, Arab, and finally European mariners beginning with the Portuguese). The small archipelago, cononsists of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Réunion. Portuguese navigator Pedro de Mascarenhas christened the islands the Mascarenes (1512). The French began the settlement (1642). The French exiled twelve convicts there. La Compagnie des Indes Orientales (the French East India Company) sent the the St-Louis. The King of France offcially claimed the island and named it ile Bourbon. The French settlement created a poopulation of white French landowners and African and Malagasy (Madagascar) slaves (late-17th century). The population was vry small and only a few slaves were imported. The French did not show a great interest in Reunion. There was no great rush to populate and develop the island. Few wanted to invest capital or time in the enterprise. The French presence was so tenuous that pirates began using Ile Bourbon as a base for their operagtions and trade there (about 1685). Colonization began at about this time with the first 20 setlers. The French East India Company for decades was content to produce provisions only for its own needs and those of any passing ships. This changed when coffee was introduced (1715). Coffee quickly became the island's principlal cash crop which fundamentally changed the economy. The French enslaved more Africans to carry out the intensive labour required for growing and harvesting coffee. The French also introduced other cash crops (cereal grains, spices and cotton). Gradually sugar emerged as the major cash crop. And this meant more slaves were needed. The French enslaved more Africans to conduct sugar operations. Gradually sugar emerged as the major cash crop. And this meant more slaves were needed. Most of the slaves were imported from Portuguese Mozambique and French Madagascar. Réunion is a very small iskand. Many of the white settlers arrived too late to obtain land cincessions. They were thus excluded from the plantation system. They retreated to the highlands where a poor white population ( Petits blancs ) developed. The new French Government with the Revolution, renamed the ialand, La Reunion (1792). The British seized control of the island during the Napoleonic Wars. And the British began to end the Indian Ocean slave trade and eventually abolished slavery (1848). The labor force needed by the sugar planters led to the recruitment indentured laborers in India, particularly Tamils. Most of the Tamils stayed at the end of their 5-year contracts and continued to work for the white landowners. At the turn of the 20th century, plantes imported some Chinese and Muslim Gujaratis.


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Created: 6:00 AM 10/26/2013
Last updated: 11:55 PM 10/26/2013