Réunion is a tropical volcanic island at the southern end of the Mascarene Ridge in the Indian Ocean. Slightly larger than neighbouring Mauritius, 100miles farther east, it is oval in shape and around 30 miles from NE to SW, 45 miles from NW to SE. The island is situated at about 21°S, and its therefore at the same latitude as south central Madagascar, 400 miles to its west.
As befits its comparatively recent volcanic origin, much of the topography is precipitous, notably in the north central parts, where there are three large calderas formed when the volcano three times blew its top in what must have been spectacular explosions producing global effects. Three peaks around the edges of the calderas exceed 9,000ft, of which the Piton des Neiges (10,069ft) is the highest. Volcanic activity in recent years has been confined to occasional lava flows, the most recent to my knowledge being in 1986.
The island, previously uninhabited, was discovered by the Portuguese (it is believed by Pedro de Mascarenhas) in the early 16th Century, claimed by France in 1638, and the first small colony set up in 1665 by the French East India Company. The motivation for colonization of what was originally called the Ile de Bourbon was initially to grow coffee – and then sugar cane – by the use of East African slave labour. After the abolition of slavery in 1848, indentured labourers were brought in from countries all round the Indian Ocean. In 1946 Réunion ceased to be a colony and became an overseas department of France.
The multi-racial population near the end of the Twentieth Century comprises well over 500,000 people who all call themselves créoles but still tend to stick together in the broad ethnic groupings of Créoles Blancs, Cafres, Malabars, Zarabs and Chinois. After more than 300 years, though, it is not surprising that these groupings are somewhat frayed at the edges. Créole, a very chewed up version of French, is the universal language, although French is also widely spoken.
Judging by the local telephone directory, by far the largest family in Réunion is that with the surname Hoarau, and I take this to indicate that the Hoaraus were probably one of the earliest French families to establish themselves on the island. In 1856 was born Hermence Hoarau, the grandmother of Lucette. She was an attractive looking young lady (we have a photograph) who unfortunately was to live only to the age of 37. In her short life she had time, however, to marry a Claude Marie Perciot, born in 1847 (believed to be a customs official) and to produce eight children. Unlike his wife, Claude Marie Perciot must have been a 1st generation Réunionais, since in his case the only Perciots in the telephone directory are two of his known descendents.
Amelie Florencia Perciot (the mother of Lucette), the youngest of the eight children, was born in St Pierre, on the west coast of Réunion, on 7th January 1890. In 1893 the Perciot family moved to Diego Suarez as part of the French colonization of…