Reunion Island has been under French rule since 1638. Initially called Mascarehnas, it was baptized Bourbon Island in 1649, in honour of King Louis XIV. The island was not truly settled until 1663. A second wave of settlement, led by Etienne Régnault, brought around twenty people to Bourbon, including 7 Madagascans and some Europeans.
The administration of the colony was entrusted to the French East Indies Company, created by Colbert in 1664. The first inhabitants lived mainly from fishing and hunting, but quickly had to yield to the requirements of the Company and started farming the land.

In 1717, coffee was introduced into Bourbon as the main crop: this was the beginning of the economic development of the island and helped to structure the Bourbon society. It also justified the authorization and intensification of the slave trade. At the same time, waves of immigrants from France arrived. However, the white population remained a minority compared to the number of slave workers.

In 1765, when the French East Indies Company was liquidated, the island was reassigned to the King, but continued to enjoy a comfortable economic situation, thanks to the coffee and spice crops.

In spite of its distance from the French mainland, the island was affected by the French revolution. Thus, in 1789, the colonial assembly seized power and sent away the royal administration. In 1793, to mark the union between the Marseillais and the national guards when storming of the Tuileries Palace, the island was renamed Reunion Island.

In 1806, it changed name once again to Bonaparte Island. In 1806 and 1807, it suffered some particularly intense and devastating cyclones, which signalled the end of the coffee and clove era. The island fell into the hands of the English in 1810. It was at the front line of the conflict between Bonaparte and the English in the Indian Ocean, but was surrendered to the French in 1815, since it was considered as not very strategically placed for commercial and military purposes.

It was then renamed Bourbon Island, and production of sugar cane was started. This was an era of great prosperity for the island: the plantation companies experienced success, and the slave trade reached its peak. When slavery was abolished on December 20th 1848, there were more than 60.000 slaves on Bourbon Island. The abolition, officially announced by Sarda Garriga, came at the same time as the Republic being proclaimed, and was the occasion of an ultimate change of name : the island became once again - for good this time - Reunion Island.

More than a simple colony, Reunion Island remained strongly attached to Metropolitan France: at the time of the Second World War, many of the island’s inhabitants fought on the front line to defend France.

In 1940, the Governor of the island Pierre Emile Aubert formed an allegiance with the Vichy government. However, in 1942, the island was freed by a commando of the Free French Forces. Like other French colonies, it sided with General de Gaulle.

It was rewarded for this in 1946 by being made a French overseas department. The Reunion Region was created and, with the French decentralization law in 1982, acquired the same status as the other French regions. However, it has the distinctive feature of being a mono-departmental region. Thanks to its status, Reunion Island has experienced decades of accelerated development in the last few years, causing certain people to be left behind: today, more than 30% of the Reunionnese working population is unemployed !



Three topics are proposed for the next European Rural University, which will take place on 7th, 8th and 9th September 2010 in Saint-Joseph :

- Europe at the service of the rural community and its inhabitants,
- Rural professions for women,
- Culture : between heritage and innovation.

16 November 2009