LA REUNION & SOUTH AFRICA
La Reunion Island is a marvel of a gem in the Indian Ocean. This island was originally uninhabited and was colonised by the French Empire in 1642. This island is a land of immigrants, multi-ethnic and very much multicultural. It was populated by slaves brought from East Africa, Madagascar, India, Middle East, and China. While this is a dark history of the origin of this island’s people, it resulted in a haven of multiculturalism, tolerance and a creole culture, ‘To be Reunionais is not to be one colour, to be reunionaiss is not to be one religion’, this is what they would sing in their Musique Maloya. I worked as an assistant for the Alliance Francais from 2012-2013 in Saint- Denis, the nation’s capital. I witnessed the celebration of their culture on a daily basis. There are mosques, Hindu temples, churches and Buddhist temples all over the island, standing side by side with no animosity, only respect. They also all celebrate a saint of the island whose shrine is in red all over the island.
Their Creole language is the youngest recorded language to date. As the first slaves on this island originated from many different parts of the Indian Ocean, communication was limited. While working on the plantations together, they developed a pigeon language, a mixture of their native languages in India, Madagascar, China etc. with french and later generations developed the language further to Creole. This is a particularly interesting topic for those studying the philosophy of language as creole was not a written language and naturally developed a grammatical structure. Apart from their language, the Reunionais people celebrate every spiritual holiday, from Diwali to Chinese New Year, they have their own form of Capoeira, their own cuisine, their own unique, colourful bright and beautiful way of being.
Two-thirds of the island is protected by World UNESCO. In the mountain regions of the island there are villages scattered around the cirques between each mountain peak. It’s a remarkable sight to behold while walking down into Mafate. These villages are only accessible by foot and run 100% on solar energy. These are the settlements made by the slaves who escaped their plantations. There are routes that cross through each mountain top and forest and serve as a popular trail for hikers and extreme mountain runners (there are many in Reunion). Camping is free and I had never seen a night sky more glittery in my life since.
Looking back it’s almost hard to believe that I had the opportunity to call this island my home. There are so many waterfalls to discover, abundant, dense tropical forests to wander through, forests full of lychee trees on the route up to a waterfall with emperor dragonflies dancing around the water basin in the sun. The surf, the mango trees, the coral reefs, flying fish, whales, volcanic beaches, street parades, african dance and statues of shiva and ganesh… I still cant quite believe such a place exists. I am forever grateful that such an opportunity was given to me.
During my stay, I spent 4 weeks travelling across South Africa, a strangely familiar landscape which made me fall in love quite rapidly with the country. It’s an incredible place, vibrant, alive, young powerful intelligent minds building a more unified country. It was an eye opener too, apartheid was never truly taught to us in schools, and we in the West have no idea just how awful, cruel, institutionalized this racism was and still is. Thankfully, today’s young adults are also part of a global culture and those differences are dissolving and more people have the ability to have their voice heard.