From India to Reunion Island:From indenture to emancipation

Morgan Fache

2013 - 2014

Just as colonization has been characteristic of the XIXth century, decolonization has been characteristic of the XXth. France is remembered in History as the country of secularism and the cradle of the Age of Enlightment, which led to the Revolution and the birth of the Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen. But for centuries France has also been a colonial power, supporting slavery and oppression policies towards natives.

In the XIXth century, coffee and sugar cane crops provided most of the Island economy. Both of them required an important workforce, hired by rich landowners, first through slavery, then through indenture.

Slavery was officially abolished in Réunion on December 20th 1848, and replaced by indenture. In this kind of servant status, the indentured worker signed a contract with the landowner, committing him for five years. He had to receive a wage, kept his freedom of religion, and was allowed to return in his homeland once the contract had expired.

For most of the indentured workers, though, reality completely differed, and as early as 1859, this engagement was denounced as a new form of slavery. Like slaves, indentured workers were recruited on markets, and their labor conditions were similar to the slaves ones.

Between 1860 and 1936, hundreds of thousands of these workers arrived on the Réunion from several countries, such as India (for most of them), Madagascar, the Comoros, Mozambique, China, or Europe. It is only in the middle of the XXth century that self-willed immigration started to take precedence over indenture.

During this period, more than 120 000 Indians have been “imported” from the East coast of the peninsula. These have originated the Tamil community in the Réunion. Three or four generations later, what have they become? How did they rebuild themselves on this little piece of land lost in the Indian Ocean? Has the son or grandson of these immigrates been able to reconstruct his self, to climb the social ladder, and to reach his freedom?

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  • Ruins Domain Panon Desbassayns-Villèle, Saint-Gilles-les-Hauts. The ancestors of the family were involved Mardenalom from the region of Calcutta in India. Recruited in their countries with an employment contract, they arrived on the island of Reunion after a difficult journey by boat. They worked at Domaine Panon Desbassayns Villèle-Saint Paul for many years before managing to acquire land where they planted chili. The family made ​​a fortune and has initiated the construction of the temple of St. Paul.

  • Ashram Gol, St. Louis. His name is Swami Premananda Puri. In his previous life he was a Ramassamy . Son of a couple of descendants of Indian indentured , he grew up in Saint- Denis . His unusual destiny led the banks of the Sorbonne to Kerala where , he lived as a recluse in a cave, he met Amma . Considered a living goddess in India, it has made him one of his few disciples , a spiritual son . It opened in 1987 at its request, this ashram dedicated to Gol Reunion sick or in trouble. Hundreds of women and men lost their bearings or searching for meaning and have since stayed . The disciple of Amma continued his educational work around spirituality. " Here, everyone can come to pray and meditate. I also organize conferences every Saturday night with external stakeholders ." Even if it is already named India House , Puri Swami Premananda Ashram would make Gol a sanctuary of Indian culture . He worked with the current Consul of India.

  • The home of the family Valeama, St. Louis. Engaged have replaced slaves in the cane fields and sugar mills. Mestrys charge of recruiting committed to Madagascar first, but also in Asia (China, Indonesia), Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Gorée) and South India were sent. Recruited mainly in Tamil Nadu (Pondicherry, Yanam, Madras ..) and secondarily in Bengal (Calcutta), Indian committed was part of the lower castes. They were crammed around 300-500 by boat in confined spaces and poorly ventilated. They were victims of a blatant lack of hygiene and violence upon boarding.

  • Two members of the community Malbar pay homage to their ancestors where they landed with prayers and offerings. After a long journey that often lasted a month, the committed were grouped Lazaretto Great Rowboat for sanitary isolation. In 1860, the colony decided to build a broader set of buildings to cope with the upsurge of entries. These were confined in these places quarantine until 30 days before being transferred to the Garden of Morinière and Floris Garden in Saint-Denis, where the settlers came to recruit.

  • Big Wood, Saint-Pierre. Amrita Sarnon is a young girl from a family Malbar south of the island. Amrita as many members of his family are very involved in their culture of origin. In particular it teaches Indian music, as well as practical steps on fire. Religion and culture are highly respected by the community Malbar. The ancients, as young people, and perpetuate traditions are mostly proud of their identity.

  • Combuston neighborhood, Saint-André. Mr. River celebrates its 80th anniversary. His whole family is gathered for the event. Mr. Riviere is a descendant of entries. Today, descendants engaged as other communities of the island are mixed and the people of Meeting forms a large mixing.

  • Ravine of goats, Saint-Pierre. On one wall of his court, Ms. Amouny hung many family photos. Pictures which, for some, have more than 50 years. Ms. Amouny comes from a family involved. One of his son and two of his grandchildren are Tamil priests.

  • Deepavali Festival at Colossus, Saint-André. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit and means "row of lamps". The Diwali is a national holiday in India. In the Tamil calendar, this festival is set in the 14th before Amavasti moon (new moon), it is celebrated during the period described in India as Kartic maas, the oil spill, also known as Krishna paash. Deepavali symbolizes the return of Lord Rama after 14 years of exile during which he fought Rawana that symbolizes evil. On the occasion of this festival of Deepavali, the associations Malbars Reunion parade with decorated floats and dance.

  • Mayor of Saline of Rajesh and her husband. Traditional day for mayor of Saline where two married wanted to say yes to the French Republic marriage.

  • Ravines of Cabris, Saint-Pierre. The priest and sorcerer Rapha goes into a trance during a ceremony in the temple. Rapha is one of the most respected wizards of the island. Believers do not hesitate to come from far away to ask him to act in their favor. It may be a question of communicating with the dead or cast a spell on someone. These ceremonies are a cost that can be very high.

  • Parking Candy Bois Rouge, Saint-André. Factory Bois Rouge is one of two treatment plants sugar cane on the island with that of Gol in St. Louis. The nineteenth century saw the rise of sugar, cane sugar becomes dominant on the island. In 1805, Xavier Montrose Bellier creates this plant in Bois Rouge. His son Adrien extend the area over several towns in the East, employing up to 300 slaves and engaged in plantation and factory.

  • Neighborhood "Tintan" The Port. Logan and his friends make their sport in the morning. They live in one of the most sensitive areas of the island. Unemployed at the moment, they live odd jobs and "enjoy life" as they say. Poverty is not here too color: Logan, left, is original Malbar, his friends, for a Comorian and the other Malagasy and African origins.

  • Day in memory of committed Lazaret, Great Rowboat. On this day, many persons are invited. Including Mr. Gilbert Canabady the center, which is one of the great fortunes of the Malbar island community. It is one of the few to have Malbars able to buy the domain on which his ancestors were slaves and engaged. Today, he is owner of Domaine de Mon Caprice that spans hundreds of hectares of sugar cane cultivation and has invested heavily in real estate. Mr. Canabady is also a man of influence and created numerous exchanges with the Indian government. It is a model of social ascension and evolution of identity in malbar island community.

  • Domaine de " My Caprice " , line of bamboo, Saint- Pierre . Mr. Canabady has fields of sugar cane and employs many laborers. When the expansion of sugarcane , local workers freed , small white and mulatto are not interested in hard work in the fields and sugar factories, are the descendants of Indian indentured who have invested in this production. The first involved arrive at the meeting in 1829 . Immigration intensifies from the abolition of slavery in 1848 , to increase after the Franco-British agreement of 1860. After the loss of Santo Domingo, the Bourbonnais Colony ( La Réunion) is the largest supplier of sugar in France . In 1859, the prohibition of recruitment occurs on the eastern coast of Africa , Comoros and Madagascar . English authorities then provide a " development of land by the sugar abundant Anglo- Indian labor recruitment" deemed docile, skilled and cheap. Despite their Anglo-Indian status, these involved are not considered as employees of its own. Herded into camps bordering farms , they rub the freedmen and the descendants of slaves , whom they share the difficult working conditions: the days of more than 16 hours , sanctions, penalties , late payments and often illusory their wages. Although they are aware of the new recruitment conditions, attitudes settlers struggling to evolve. Gradually aware of such abuse , the British public pushes authorities to close countertops Madras and Yanam and requires that Indian immigration is controlled by an English officer , that the French refuse.

  • Field Panon Desbassayns-Villèle, Saint-Gilles-les-Hauts. It is in this type of field that engaged reached the end of their journey. The site Villèle is established in a large house where lived Mrs. Desbassayns, the largest landowner on the island, and therefore slavery and engagiste. The sugar estate carries the memory of the economic and social organization where slavery and indentured held a major role. We can see today the ruins of factories, a mansion and outbuildings.