Cross-border island cousins: Seychellois, Reunion descendants discover ancestral links
La Digue, Seychelles' third most inhabited island, was home to many settlers from Reunion Island - a french overseas department in the Indian Ocean, in the 19th century. (Gerard Larose, Seychelles Tourism Board)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles’ Creole nation is today a mix of races and cultures due to the islands’ multi-ethnic roots. Throughout its history, the 115-island archipelago was inhabited by French and British settlers, African slaves, as well as Chinese and Indian traders.
Can the generation of today trace their lineage back to the island's early days? Can this parental link extend beyond the Seychelles' shores?
That is exactly what a group of Seychellois have come to discover, that they share the same ancestry with residents of the neighbouring Reunion Island.
Six residents of Reunion – a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean -- who have traced their family lineage to La Digue, Seychelles’ third most inhabited island, are presently visiting the archipelago to meet with their Seychellois cousins.
Savy, Payet, Mellon, Mussard, Choppy, Hoareau and Morel are among the family names that have been traced from Reunion Island to La Digue.
Jean-Paul Rivière from Reunion and René Morel from La Digue are two cousins who met for the first time this week thanks to this discovery.
Rivière, who said he is passionate about genealogy, told SNA that he has been able to trace his family eight generations back, dating to the early 1800s.
“Initially it was out of curiosity, and when I discovered there was a link I wanted to go more in depth, to establish when this connection started and where it leads to,” Rivière told SNA.
Morel, who only came to learn that he was related to Rivière about three weeks ago, said: “I spent three days at the archives to do my own research. It was like a trip down memory lane.”
Both cousins have said that they will remain in contact and their two families are already planning further visits to both Seychelles and Reunion.
|Jean-Paul Rivière (right) from Reunion and René Morel from La Digue are two cousins who met for the first time this week. (Joena Bonnelame, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
The group of six from Reunion Island are members of the “Cercle généalogique de Bourbon” CGB, [an association of genealogy studies].
Their discoveries of ancestral links to families from La Digue follows their participation in research on the subject initiated by the Seychelles’ Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
Two other cousins who have been able to establish their ancestral links through this initiative are Seychellois Marie-Reine Hoareau and Jean-Fred Lallemand from Reunion.
Both described the findings as “a great surprise.”
Hoareau said it was her late father’s wish for them look for their relatives from Reunion island.
“He left us the name of his grand-father and encouraged us to trace our lineage and I am happy that today we have been able to do establish this link in his memory. I have an aunt who is now 93 years old and I know she will be happy to learn about this connection,” Hoareau told SNA.
For his part, Lallemand said: “We will not be able to turn back the hands of time, but at least we can now build on this new-found relationship, get to know each other more, and hopefully meet more frequently.”
Hoareau and Lallemand’s ancestral roots date back to 1853 and they have been able to establish eight generations of the Hoareaus.
|Two other cousins who have been able to establish their ancestral links through this initiative are Seychellois Marie-Reine Hoareau (right) and Jean-Fred Lallemand from Reunion. (Joena Bonnelame, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
The meeting of the Reunion and Seychellois cousins forms part of activities to mark this year’s Festival Kreol – an annual weeklong celebration of the Seychelles’ Creole heritage.
The general public is also being invited to learn about information gathered through the research on parental links between the two sides. The materials including pictures and detailed write-ups are being showcased in an exhibition titled “Ile de la Reunion, Iles Seychelles, une histoire de frères et de mer” [Reunion Island, Seychelles Island, a history of brothers and the sea] which opened on Monday, at the International Conference Centre in the Seychelles capital, Victoria.
|An exhibition showing the ancestral links between Reunion and Seychelles is open to the general public during this week as part of festivities to mark the annual Festival Kreol. (Joena Bonnelame, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
Monday’s activity was also an opportunity for historian and author from Reunion Island, Jehanne Emmanuelle Monnier, to present her findings on the historical links between the two islands. Monnier’s findings have been documented in a book bearing the same name as the exhibition. According to Monnier who took part in a half-day conference to share her knowledge, by 1808, out of 35 settlers in Seychelles, thirteen came from Bourbon -- the former name of Reunion Island, seven were from Mauritius and fifteen came from France.
Other historians in Seychelles who have also developed an interest on the topic shared their own research. Richard Touboul talked about his studies of the historical context and the presence of the French in Seychelles, as the French were in fact the first settlers to Seychelles in 1770. Tony Mathiot on the other hand focused on the La Digue’s settlers – as the island was home to many settlers from Reunion in the 19th century.
At Monday's event, research done by “Cercle généalogique de Bourbon” CGB, [an association of genealogy studies in Reunion] were also presented to the Seychelles archives department, for the benefit of Seychellois nationals who may want to trace their ancestral links to Reunion island.
|Savy, Payet, Mellon, Mussard, Choppy, Hoareau and Morel are among the family names that have been traced from Reunion Island to La Digue. (Joena Bonnelame, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
The exhibition and all the interesting finds on the parental linkages that exist between two neighbouring Indian Ocean island nations will remain open to the general public throughout this week, as the Festival Kreol festivities unfold. The Festival which kicked off last Friday will end on October 31.