Fluid Iron: State Formation in Southeast Asia

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The abolition of slavery in led white landowners to recruit indentured laborers for their plantations, particularly Tamils. Most Tamils stayed at the end of their five-year contracts and continued to work for the white landowners. At the turn of the century, some Chinese and Muslim Gujaratis arrived Reunion to sell food and textiles. In , Reunion became one of the four overseas department of France, and it became an administrative region in Having lost their cultural links with their societies of origin, African and Maslagasy slaves were subject to deculturation and pauperization.

By contrast, whites, Chinese, Muslim Gujaratis, Tamils, and French from the mainland have been able to maintain most of their original systems of value while adapting it to the local context. National Identity. Since the beginning of immigration, the French government has stressed assimilation of the populations under its control, exploiting the resources of the island while pressuring immigrants to become "French. Although Chinese residents were also converted to Christianity, they are less westernized than are residents of south Indian ancestry.

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Most still speak Chinese and have kept links with relatives in China. Gujaratis Muslims also have been able to preserve their culture and religion. Ethnic Relations. Whites and people of African, Tamil, and mixed ancestry consider themselves the original inhabitants of the island, in contrast to Gujaratis and Chinese. However, all native residents feel a strong difference between themselves and people from mainland France. The French, who generally do not stay more than three or four years on the island, are rarely considered full members of the society.

Both populations live close to each other but inhabit different cultural worlds.

Reunion | Definition of Reunion by Merriam-Webster

Basic Economy. The economy was traditionally based on agriculture. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the most important crops were coffee and cloves and then sugarcane. Major Industries. The labor force consists of workers in services seventy-three percent , industry nineteen percent , and agriculture eight percent.

Major industries include sugar, rum, handicrafts, and flower oil extraction. The major exports are sugar, rum vanilla, and perfume essences. Imported commodities include manufactured goods, food, beverages, tobacco, raw materials, machinery and transportation equipment, and petroleum products. The economy depends on financial assistance from mainland France, which is also the principal trading partner.

Around , people born in Reunion work and live in mainland France. Massive importation of goods has led to a large deficit in the balance of trade. The government has promoted tourism to reduce unemployment, which affects more than a third of the labor force. Classes and Castes. The transformation of Reunion into a French department slowly substituted a pseudo-industrial and consumer society for a colonial and rural society.

There are large disparities in wages and deep social inequalities between workers. The minimum wage is around ten percent lower than it is in mainland France, while the wages of those in the public sector are approximately forty percent higher. The gap between rich and poor accounts for the current social tensions. The white and Indian communities are substantially better off than are other segments of the population. Immigrants from France hold the key positions in administration, A sugar factory in Saint Louis.

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Sugar is one of Reunion Island's major exports. People of African descent are still at the bottom of the social scale. The outbreak of rioting in February reflected the seriousness of socioeconomic tensions. Symbols of Social Stratification. Use of the French language characterizes social stratification. As most of the population learns Creole at home and French at school, the ability to speak French is a sign of education and high status. The political system is French. The representative of the French state is the prefect, who is appointed by the French president.

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There are one general council and one regional council, whose presidents are elected by their members, that finance development projects. City mayors are popularly elected, along with five deputies to the French National Assembly. Social Problems and Control. The legal system is French. Homicide and rape are relatively numerous and are committed mostly by men under the influence of alcohol. Court judgments take into account the social background of criminals. Military Activity. Defense is the responsibility of France.

The military is absent in Reunion, and men serve their military terms in France. Because unemployment is a major problem, state programs of social welfare are important. More than sixty percent of the population receives welfare benefits. Infant Care. The care of infants varies with the family's ethnic and cultural background.

Regarding sleep practices, for instance, among families from the mainland France, a child is put in a separate room very early and may have stories, toys, and a night lamp to accompany him or her in the sleep. On the other side, among families of Indian origin, children consider sleep a positive and auspicious event, and children go to bed without reluctance. Most of these children share bedrooms with siblings of the same sex.

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Child Rearing and Education. Children of Tamil ancestry learn to separate the world into two basic spheres of action: that of the family and the community, in which the Indian value system predominates, Fishermen haul a boat onto one of Reunion's rocky beach heads. Higher Education. In , fifty-seven percent of the population was illiterate, but today the rate is less than 10 percent. Education is valued in families of Tamil, Gujarati, and Chinese ancestry.


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For the lower and middle classes, school is a democratic institution that allows one to achieve a better future. Pupils with African and mixed origin who frequently grow up in a family with a single mother, often experience failure at school.

In contrast, education is particularly valued in families of Tamil, Gujarati, and Chinese ancestry. Religious Beliefs.

The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism, totaling eighty-six percent of the population. Christianity was established by the first settlers. Although indentured contracts specified that a laborer's religion be respected, the Catholic Church and the authoritarian administration attempted to convert newcomers. Contract workers had to express Christian attitudes and practice Christian rites to be accepted by their employers and the larger society. In the eighteenth century, Catholic priests attempted to prevent the construction of Hindu temples and the public practice of Hinduism.

When it was finally authorized, the priests continued to spread a negative perception of the Hindu religion as "pagan. Religious Practitioners. Although they have been largely christianized, people of Indian origin refer to Hindu Gods in important matters.

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While it has been adapted to a new social context, folk Hinduism has been maintained almost as it was in India at the time of emigration more than one century ago. Among the expressions of this religion are fire walking, animal sacrifices, and rituals of possession by a deity or ancestor. This Hinduism is strongly connected with the idea of protection against bad luck, the evil eye, and the negative forces of the visible and invisible world. In rural areas, modern medicine is complemented by traditional local practices based on a mixture of different beliefs Hindus, Christian, and Malagasy.

A worker at a sugar processing factory. Many people consult devineurs who can predict the future and give advice about their problems. The major holidays are the same as those in France National Day, Bastille Day, Christmas, New Year's Eve , supplemented by local celebrations such as the anniversary of the abolition of slavery on 21 December and the Tamil and Chinese new years. A local literature that has existed for the last twenty years celebrates the culture of Reunion.

In the s a local university was created, and French scholars received funding to conduct research on the island. Numerous studies, focused primarily on the Creole language and culture, have since been published. Undertaken by researchers or students from mainland France or natives of the island, they mostly see the society as an integrated unit or a place of culturally distinct subcultures.