Friday, 23 November 2012

Some useful words in Réunion Island

Here's a (non-exhaustive!) list of some words and terms that will be helpful to you if you visit Réunion Island. Some are Reunion Creole words, others are French words with a different meaning from that in mainland France, and some are straightforward French but with a particularly local meaning. Many of the Creole words in this list are widely used in Reunion even in spoken French. This little glossary has no intention of replacing a dictionary or phrase-book however - there are other resources for that.

Note that Reunion Creole has no fixed spelling, so written variations are possible. (All further references to Creole here suppose Reunion Creole).
  • achard - picked vegetable salad, rather like a spicy coleslaw but without the mayonnaise.
  • alizé - trade winds from the south-east.
  • baba figue/baba-fig - blossom of the banana tree, which is chopped with boucané (smoked pork) and made into a carri.

a baba figue in my garden

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) – Habit :Bonifaci...
Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) (Wikipedia)

  • bichique/bishik - the fry of red-tailed goby (Sicyopterus lagocephalus) or Cotylopus acutipinnis which, at certain times of the year, are captured at river mouths as they swim upstream. They are caught using traditional techniques such as trap nets known as vouves. The bichique are then sold for about €45/kg to be made into a carri.
  • bonbon piment - small savoury treats made from finely ground lentils or lima beans mixed with spices (piment).

Bonbons piment

  • boug - man.
  • Bourbon - former name for Réunion Island 1649-1793 and 1810-1848; sometimes still used by companies as part of their trade name.
  • brède - the leafy greens of various vegetables (there are ≈30 varieties) that are cooked and served with rice and carri, or made into a broth.
  • cabri - an old French word for a kid; in Réunion the term covers all kinds of goats.
  • cafre/kaf - a black Creole (feminine: cafrine/kafrine).
  • cagnard - in the South of France this means a place where the sun beats down; in Réunion it means a thug or a delinquent.
  • camaron - large freshwater shrimps, eaten in a carri.
  • canal bichique - literally this is a channel of stones that's been built to help fish bichique, but it now has a second meaning. When the Route du Littoral (coast road between St Denis and La Possession) has to be reduced to three lanes (instead of the normal four) after heavy rain, the resulting narrow roadway is unofficially known as the canal bichique.

Route du Littoral (source)

  • carri/cari - general name for Réunion's national dish, normally consisting of meat or fish cooked with onions, garlic, turmeric (safran), thyme, salt, pepper and sometimes tomatoes. Normally served with white rice, rougail, lentils and occasionally brèdes.
  • case/kaz - house.
  • Cilaos - this is one of Réunion's cirques, but it has also given its name to a good brand of sparkling water, bottled in the cirque. If you want to order locally bottled still water ask for 'Australine' or 'Edena'.
  • chouchou - a green, pear-shaped vegetable, known variously as christophine, chayote or choko in other parts of the world. Its green leaves can be used as brèdes.

CHUCHU - Chayote
 Chayotes (source)

  • combava - a small, round, dark green citrus fruit with a rough, bumpy skin, known as kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) in English. Its rind is used in Reunionese cuisine and has a very distinctive taste.
  • cyclone - 'hurricanes', 'typhoons' and 'cyclones' are all different words for the same thing. As Réunion is in the southern hemisphere the official cyclone season runs from November 15th-April 15th, although out-of-season cyclones are occasionally possible. Reunion has a Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre, one of only six in the world, which keeps a close eye on things. Cyclone names are given by Mauritius or Madagascar.
  • dalon - friend.
  • dodo - unofficial, but widely-used name for a popular locally-brewed beer.
  • faham - an orchid (jumellea fragans), increasingly rare and endemic to the Mascarene islands, that is used in rhum arrangé and some medicinal herbal teas (tisanes).
  • fanjan - literally a tree fern, but more often used to refer to the mass of entangled tree fern roots that can be cut and used as a natural plant pot.


  • fénoir - darkness, night. When the Pope came to Réunion in 1989 he said "sort dann fénoir" ('Don't stay in the darkness').
  • fet kaf - abolition of slavery which is celebrated every year by a public holiday on December 20th (20 desamb).
  • filao - casuarina tree.
  • Gabier - Guichet Automatique de Banque = ATM.
  • gato - a sweet, confectionery. In Creole gato doesn't have the wider French meaning of 'cake'.
  • goyavier - strawberry guava (Psidium cattleyanum), much-appreciated small red fruit that are ripe in May-July, and which grow in the highlands up to 1200m altitude.


  • grains - the beans or lentils in sauce that traditionally accompany a carri.
  • gramoun - old person.
  • Grande Ile - Madagascar, the 'Big Island'.
  • guetali - a small gazebo-like structure typical of 19th century Creole architecture which could be found at the corner of the garden walls of large houses. From it the women of the household could watch people passing in the street without being noticed by them. Guetali are covered by a roof, and were often decorated with lambrequin. The name comes from "guette a li", which means 'watch him' in Creole.

Guetali, Hellbourg, Salazie cirque

  • (les) hauts - the highlands of Réunion; places that are not on the coast.
  • Ile soeur - Mauritius (together with Rodrigues the three islands form the Mascarene Islands).
  • îlet- a hamlet, particularly in one of the three cirques. (The final 'T' is pronounced).
  • kabar - a more or less impromptu concert, with local music, dancing, singing and sometimes moringue.
  • la-di-la-fé - gossip; also the name given to the machine that moves the concrete barriers on the Route du Littoral to make it into a canal bichique.
  • lambrequin/lanbrokin - useful and ornamental patterned window and door borders made out of metal or wood. Design themes often reflect plant life. Originally a feature of naval architecture, they were used in Reunion to deflect and channel rain water at a time when gutters did not yet exist. Known in Creole as dantèl-lakaz - literally 'house lace' (see pictures here).


  • letchis & mangues - lychees and mangoes are a national obsession from November to January when they are ripe. Prices start high but quickly come down as more and more fruit becomes available.
  • lontan - in the past.
  • macatia - a small slightly sweet bun, typical of Réunion.

Français : macatias préparés par TatiZaza
macatias (Wikipedia)

  • malbar - a Creole of Tamil origin.
  • maloya - a traditional musical genre of Reunion, which has its origins in slaves' music. Songs are sometimes politically oriented, and themes are often slavery and poverty. The most well-known maloya artists are Danyel Waro, Ziskakan, Baster  or Firmin Viry. In 2009 Maloya was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO for France.
  • marmaille/marmay - children.
  • marron - a slave who escaped from their owner. By extension has come to refer to things that have gone wild or are illegal or 'underground'.
  • massalé - an Indian spice mix commonly used in cooking (chili, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds).
  • métropole - mainland France; the part of France in Europe. Don't forget that in Réunion you are already in France!
  • moringue - a local, highly codified combat sport similar to Capoeira .
  • paille en queue/payankë - white-tailed tropicbird (Phaeton lepturus) or occasionally red-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda), easily identified by its long tail feathers.

Red-tailed tropicbird (photo by Laure Dherbécourt)

  • papang - Reunion Harrier (Circus maillardi) is the last and only bird of prey on Réunion.

    Drawing of a female Réunion Harrier (circus ma...
    Drawing of a female Réunion Harrier (Circus maillardi) (Wikipedia)

  • peï - anything that is local.
  • pistash - peanuts (not pistachios!).
  • radier - a masonry structure in a road, built over the low point of a river, enabling the waterway to be crossed except during a period of heavy rain. (Never ever cross a radier when there's been heavy rain!).
  • rhum arrangé - literally means 'arranged rum' but is better translated by 'macerated flavoured rum'. One or several ingredients such as vanilla, bananas, cinnamon, geranium, lychees, ginger or faham are added to a bottle of white rum and left to macerate for several weeks or months (the actual length of time depends on the ingredient(s)). It's mostly drunk as an after-dinner drink.

Shelf of 'rhum arrangé'

  • rougail - two meanings: (1) a cooked, main dish similar to a carri, generally with sausages, smoked pork (boucané) or dried, salted codfish (morue); (2) a spicy condiment similar to a chutney which accompanies every main meal in Réunion, composed of diced or crushed raw ingredients: ginger, chilli peppers, salt, onions and a main ingredient - most often tomato, but can be lemon or green mango.
  • safran - not to be confused with saffron, this is the local name for turmeric, which is mainly grown at La Plaine des Grègues in the south of Réunion.
  • samousa - triangular-shaped and similar to Indian samosas, local samousa are generally small with a spicy meat, fish or vegetable filling.
  • séga - a traditional music genre from the Mascarene islands, with an associated dance form. It originated among slave populations, and is danced without the feet ever leaving the ground.
  • St Expedit - a Roman soldier saint who is particularly venerated on Réunion. There are about 340 Saint Expeditus shrines in 263 locations around Réunion, often found by roadsides.

St Expedit shrine, Entre-Deux

  • tang - tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus), a mammal which looks rather like a hedgehog, with a long pointed snout. It can be hunted from February to April, and can be eaten in a carri.
  • ti'jaque - jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), a very large green fruit with an uneven skin. In Reunion it is finely chopped and cooked with smoked bacon to make the dish ti'jaque boucané.

    Artocarpus heterophyllus
    Artocarpus heterophyllus (Wikipedia)

  • vacoas - the pandanus or screwpine tree, which can be found on the coast (Pandanus utilis) or in the highlands (Pandanus montanus). It produces an edible fruit called a pinpin, and its leaves can be woven to make objects such as a bertèl, a flat bag worn on the back.

Pandanus montanus fruit (Réunion island)
Pandanus montanus with pinpin fruit ( Wikipedia)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Hiking app for Réunion

If you read/understand French and are interested in hiking in Réunion you might like a new smartphone app: Decat'Rando.

Created by a well-known brand of sportswear shops the free app has more than a hundred hikes ranging from very easy to very difficult, less than two hours to more than eight hours, and tells you the weather forecast, the duration, distance, elevation, difficulty, trail description and even shows you a preview image. 

Au dessus du ciel (Piton de la Fournaise, Ile ...
Piton de la Fournaise, Réunion (Wikipedia)

You can also share locations and performances on social networks directly from the app, and view your location in real time, which reduces your risk of getting lost!

Currently only available for iPhones, an Android version is planned for 2013.

P.S. Note that while iTunes' Appstore shows the app as being made available in French AND English, this is an error - it's currently only in French.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Books about Reunion & worldwide literature

[Updated February 2018]

A recent exchange with Ann Morgan, who's currently reading her way round the world, got me thinking about Reunion Island books in English. As far as I'm aware, with the exception of 'Bourbon Island 1730', the list I came up with contains only books that I have been written directly in English and not translated. In fact as far as I know there are no English translations of books by well-known Reunionese authors like Daniel Vaxelaire or Axel Gauvin, although the latter's books have been translated into German.

Books about Reunion I haven't read myself (but which are all on my Bookmooch wish list!):
  • Reunion: An Island in Search of an Identity by Laurent Medea
  • Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Metissage by Françoise Verges
  • Island Born Of Fire: Volcano Piton de la Fournaise by Dr Robert B. Trembly

Books I've read myself:
I've written reviews of all of the above books.

Also: Bonnes Vacances!: A Crazy Family Adventure in the French Territories by Rosie Millard is about a 4 month tour of the DOM-TOMs Rosie made with her husband and four young children to make a documentary series for the Travel Channel ("Croissants in the Jungle"). Its final chapter covers Réunion (briefly); see my review of the book here.

In the introduction I mentioned Ann Morgan who is currently reading her way around as many of the globe’s 196 independent countries as she can, sampling one book from every nation. (She's also recently included a Rest of The World wildcard section, hence our exchange about Reunion Island). However as she asked herself: what counts as a story? Is it by a person born in that place? Is it written in the country? Can it be about another nation state? While in some respects she's still answering that question she had to lay down her terms and so decided to limit herself to all narratives that could be read to full effect by one reader on their own e.g. memoirs, novels, short stories, novellas, biographies, narrative poems and reportage, but not non-narrative poetry and plays.

It got me wondering about which countries I'd already read literature from, and after a quick tour of my bookshelves (and my memory!) this is the (non-exhaustive) list I came up with, in English and French:

  • Canada - Where White Horses Gallop - Beatrice McNeil [Author/Setting]
  • Central African Republic - Princesse aux Pieds Nu - Evelyne Durieux [Author/Setting]
  • Burma - The Piano Tuner - Daniel Mason [Setting; Author is British]
  • China - Leaving Mother Lake: A Childhood at the Edge of the World - Yang Erche Namu [Author/Setting]
  • Czech Republic - L'Insoutenable légèreté de l'être [The Unbearable Lightness of Being] - Milan Kundera [Author/Setting]
  • Cuba - Our Man In Havana - Graham Greene [Setting; Author was British]
  • Democratic Republic of Congo - The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver [Setting; Author is American]
  • Denmark (& Greenland) - Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow - Peter Høeg [Author/Setting]
  • Egypt - Woman at Point Zero - Nawal El Saadawi (translated by Sherif Hetata) [Author/Setting]
  • French Polynesia (Tahiti) - Breadfruit: A Novel - Célestine Hitiura Vaite [Author/Setting] [August 2014 - I read the French translation L'Arbre à Pain by Henri Theureau]
  • Germany - The Book Thief - Markus Zusak [Setting; Author is Australian]
  • Haiti - Island Beneath the Sea - Isabel Allende (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) [Setting; Author is Chilean American]

  • Hawaii - Comfort Woman - Nora Okja Keller [Author/Setting]
  • Hungary - The White King - György Dragomán (translated by Paul Olchváry) [Author/Setting]
  • Iceland - L'homme du Lac [The Draining Lake] - Arnaldur Indridason (translated by Eric Boury) [Author/Setting]
  • India - A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry [Author/Setting]
  • Indonesia - Krakatoa - Simon Winchester [Setting; Author is British]
  • (Inner) Mongolia - Wolf Totem - Jiang Rong (translated by Howard Goldblatt) [Author/Setting]
  • Iran - Jamais Sans Ma Fille [Not Without My Daughter] - Betty Mahmoody [Author/Setting]
  • Ireland - Angela's Ashes - Franck McCourt [Author/Setting]
  • Israel - The Red Tent - Anita Diamant [Setting; Author is American]
  • Italy - The Baron in the Trees - Italo Calvino (translated by Archibald Colquhoun) [Author/Setting]
  • Jamaica (& Dominica) - Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys [Author/Setting]
  • Japan - Out - Natsuo Kirino [Author/Setting]
  • Kiribati - Paradis [avant liquidation] - Julien Blanc-Gras [Setting; Author is French] (June 2014)
  • Lebanon - The Fifth Mountain - Paulo Coelho [Setting; Author is Brazilian]
  • Madagascar - Muddling Through In Madagascar - Dervla Murphy [Setting; Author is Irish]
  • Malaysia (Borneo) - My Life in Sarawak - Margaret Brooke [Author/Setting]
  • Mauritania - Le Tambour des Larmes - Beyrouk [Author/Setting]
  • Mauritius - Paul & Virginie - Bernardin de St Pierre [Setting; Author was French]
  • Mayotte - Mon Mari Est Plus Qu'un Fou : C'est Un Homme - Nassur Attoumani [Author/Setting] 
  • Netherlands - Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier [Setting; Author is American]
  • New Zealand - Behind Closed Doors - Ngaire Thomas [Author/Setting]
  • Nigeria - Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe [Author/Setting]
  • North Korea - The Aquariums of Pyongyang - Kang Chol-Hwan [Author/Setting]
  • Norway - Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder (translated by Paulette Møller) [Author/Setting]
  • Pakistan - The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid [Author/Setting]
  • Peru - The Bad Girl - Mario Vargas Llosa (translated by Edith Grossman) [Author/Setting (two out of seven chapters take place in Peru)] [added January 2018]
  • Rodrigues - Voyage à Rodrigues - JMG Le Clezio [Setting; Author is French]
  • Russia - Dans Les Forets de Sibérie - Sylvain Tesson [Setting; Author is French]
  • Seychelles - Travelling Hopefully - Maggie Makepeace [Setting; Author is British]
  • South Africa - Disgrace - JM Coetzee [Author/Setting]
  • South Korea - Who Ate Up All The Shinga? - Park Wan-Suh (translated by Yu Young-nan) [Author/Setting]
  • Spain - The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafón [Author/Setting]
  • Sweden - Millennium Trilogy - Steig Larsson (translated by 'Reg Kreeland') [Author/Setting]
  • Tibet - Voyage d'une Parisienne à Lhassa [My Journey to Lhasa] - Alexandra David-Néel [Setting; Author was French]
  • Trinidad  - A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul [Author/Setting]
  • Tromelin - Les Naufrages de l'ïle Tromelin - Irène Frain [Setting; Author is French]
  • Turkey - My Name Is Red - Orhan Pamuk (translated by Erdağ Göknar) [Author/Setting]
  • United Arab Emirates - The Wink of the Mona Lisa and other stories from the Gulf - Mohammad Al Murr (translated from the Arabic by Jack Briggs) [Author/Setting] [October 2015]
  • Uzbekistan (& Iran) - Samarcande [Samarkand] - Amin Maalouf [Setting; Author is from Lebanon]
  • Vietnam - L'Amant [The Lover] - Marguerite Duras [Author/Setting]
  • Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) - The Grass is Singing - Doris Lessing [Author/Setting]  [August 2014]


  • I've arbitrarily excluded the UK, France and the USA as I've read so many books from these countries I'd have trouble choosing just one!
  • If I've read several books from a country I've generally just listed my favourite.
  • I've also taken liberties by listing some non-independent regions (e.g. Rodrigues, Hawaii, Tibet, Tromelin).
  • I excluded some books (such as Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, or William Boyd's African novels) that take place in unidentified countries.
  • I also excluded books (such as Elie Wiesel's Night) whose action takes place in several countries.
  • If I've read a book in French but an English translation exists I've added the English title in brackets [].
  • I've included books not written by natives of the country in question.

My conclusions:

I have vast swathes of the planet where I haven't read any literature from, for example South America or the Pacific! Places like South East Asia or Central Asia are patchy too. Although I list Paul Coelho and Isabel Allende the books of theirs that I read were not set in their native countries. And despite living and travelling for three years in Asia I've mainly read Korean books (North and South) but very little from the many other countries we travelled to in the region. I need to broaden my horizons even more.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading books from other countries? Do you have any books to recommend? Is literature from your native (or adopted) country easy to find in English?

P.S. Here's the link to Ann Morgan's site: A Year Of Reading The World. Other reading around the world blogs I've come across are: Reading the WorldThe Rushlight List and World Lit Up.

This post originally appeared on A Smart Translator's Reunion.