Glossary of 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.
  • alizétrade 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.
  • babouk – large brown huntsman spider that is found in and around houses.
  • bibasse/bibas – Loquat or Japanese medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) – a small yellow fruit which mainly grows in the highlands.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
A batch of kaffir limes (Citrus × hystrix).

Kaffir limes (Photo: Wikipedia)

  • 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.

Fanjan

  • 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).
  • filaocasuarina tree.
  • GabierGuichet 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.

Goyavier

  • grains – the beans or lentils in sauce that traditionally accompany a carri.
  • gramoun – old person.
  • Grande IleMadagascar, 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 soeurMauritius (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).

Lambrequin

  • 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.
  • 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).
  • métropolemainland 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), a seabird easily identified by its long tail feathers.
  • papang – Reunion Harrier (Circus maillardi) is the last and only bird of prey on Réunion.
  • 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. Red Saint Expeditus shrines are 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.
  • 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)

Vacoa (Pandanus montanus) (Wikipedia)

  • varang – house verandah, typical of Creole architecture.
  • yab – a white Creole from the highlands.
  • zamal – local cannabis.
  • zarab – Muslim Creole of Indian origin (Gujarati region).
  • zoreil – person not from Réunion Island, in particular a European or someone from mainland France.
  • zourite – octopus, often eaten on Réunion in a civet (stew).

You might also like: 7 facts about Reunion Creole

House invasion

As night fell yesterday I absentmindedly heard the fluttering of tiny wings and thought a moth must have got in through an open window. As the fluttering became more insistent I looked up and realised the house had been invaded by dozens of karya, a species of flying termite that appears every year at the beginning of the warm season on Reunion Island. Attracted to the light they soon lose their wings, fall to the ground, and if you’re not careful they can create a colony and start attacking the woodwork in and around the house.

The word karya arrived in Reunion Creole from the Tamil word kareya via Indo-portuguese.  In Reunion Creole the noun has also given rise to the adjective karyaté which means (1) ‘attacked by termites’ or (2) ‘to be in a bad way’.

MauritianRodrigues and Seychelles Creoles also have the same word; interestingly in Mauritian Creole karya can also mean “concrete with little holes in it” – an obvious reference to the termite’s destructive power – and karyaté means any piece of wood or metal that is porous or spongy, while karyate means “to destroy slowly, to fade away to be eaten away.

Minor irritation aside, karya are an annual reminder of the arrival of the warm weather and the cycle of the seasons, and in that respect they are welcome.

Karya (Coptoterme havilandi)

To find out more about Reunion Creole you can read my post here.

Sources:

Adventures on a Faraway Island

Last week I was invited by the Endless Possibilities Talks (EPT) team (Al NavasGerda Prato-Espejo and Esther Navarro-Hall) to talk about my personal journey, that is say the story of how I came to end up living and working as a translator on this small island in the Indian Ocean that is Reunion Island. We also talked about my three years spent living in South Korea, and some of my travels. You can see the video here.

If you’re a translator or interpreter you may already have heard of the EPT initiative. Esther, Gerda and Al reside in the US and all work as Spanish interpreters, mainly in the courts; Esther also speaks French and is an Adjunct Professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a trainer and consultant. At the beginning of this year they started a series of talks about the profession of Interpreting and Translating, using the Google Hangout on Air format. Talks are broadcast on average once a week (sometimes more), and generally include guests from the four corners of the globe. They can be watched live on Google+, or afterwards on You Tube. Previous talks have covered localisation, blogging, and technology options for interpreting, to name just a few subjects.

To find out more about EPT and their talks you can visit their Google+ page and/or their blog. You can also follow them on Twitter.

With warm thanks to Gerda, Esther and Al for allowing me this wonderful opportunity to be part of their fascinating EPT adventure, and here’s looking forward to many more talks!

7 facts about Reunion Creole

I realise some readers might not know much about Reunion Creole, the language which is spoken as mother tongue by about 90% of the population* on the island where I live, La Réunion, in the Indian Ocean.

1) Until the late 17th century the island was uninhabited so there was no local population and thus no indigenous language. When the island started being inhabited it was initially by people from France and Madagascar, later by slaves from East Africa. When slavery was abolished in 1848 indentured labourers were brought in from India and China. All these factors led to a linguistic melting-pot, with French dominating but with input from Malagasy, Portuguese, Tamil, Gujarati and Hindi, and this led to the development of Réunion Creole.

1770 Bonne Map of East Africa, Madagascar, Isl...

1770 Map of East Africa, Madagascar, Reunion Island (Isle Bourbon) and Mauritius (Isle de France).

2) What is a Creole? Briefly, a Creole is a language which has developed from parent languages and which is spoken as the native language by those growing up where the Creole is spoken. The word itself comes from criollo (Spanish) and crioulo (Portuguese), words used in the 16th and 17th centuries in the colonies to describe those born and raised locally as opposed to those who immigrated as adults. A study carried out in 1977 by Ian Hancock counted 127 different Creoles world-wide, 15 of which are French-based.

3) Following are a few examples of  Reunion Creole words and their origin:

  • carri –  the name of the main type of dish in Reunion (from the Tamil kari)
  • papang – a bird of prey (from the Malagasy papango)
  • Le Tampon is a local place name which comes from the Malagasy tampona, meaning ‘summit’.
  • macatia - a type of sweet bread roll (from the Swahili mkate)
  • malbar – person of Indian origin (from the Portuguese malabar)
  • bringèle – aubergine (from the Portuguese berinjela)

Overview of Le Tampon

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Mauritian musings

I recently took a trip to Mauritius, a place I know fairly well as it’s Reunion’s neighbouring island, but where I hadn’t been back to since 2001.

Mauritius doesn’t have official languages, although English is the ‘unofficial’ official language, used for business and government, and French is used more in culture and education. However inhabitants’ native language is Mauritian Creole, which although still French-based, is sufficiently different from Reunion Creole for me to have trouble understanding it (although of course I’m not a native speaker of Reunion Creole; mother-tongue speakers of the latter have less trouble understanding Mauritian Creole than I do).

Mauritius has its own Google, available in Mauritian Creole.

Generally speaking Mauritians will spontaneously address a foreigner in French, but switch easily to English if that foreigner is non-French speaking. However the Mauritian bilingualism can sometimes lead to confusion, such as on the following sign which mixes the English “sale” with the French “chemise”, with amusing consequences if you understand both languages.

Another sign also made me smile, as the writer had obviously forgotten the English word ‘butt’ for a cigarette end while writing it!