As a trading post of the East India company from 1642, and the site of pirates landmarks, this volcanic mountain was brought to life as it rose up out of the Indian Ocean, which had up to that point been uninhabited. From that point on the sugar cane plantations shaped the face of Ile Bourbon. At Piton Saint Leu, Stella Matutina, a former sugar refinery, tells the story of the farm production which was the basis of the fortune of the great colo- nial families and a home of widespread slave labour. At Saint Gilles-les-Hauts, the Panon-Debassayns estate recalls the destiny of a dynasty and the horrors of slavery. The Prefect Sarda-Garriga, who was later appointed director of the Cayenne penal colony, announced the end of slavery in 1848, setting two thirds of the population free.
Even before this, a large number of slaves had fled into the inaccessible mountains, setting up small farming villages that clung to the steep slopes.
… and traditions
Despite being in the most part Catholic, the customs of the Hindu community are very present. At Saint- André in November, the celebration of Divali, the festival of light, serves as a reminder of the presence of a Tamil and Indian community, only recently arrived from India and Sri Lanka. Musically, maloya is a blues music born from the beliefs of slaves, and Séga is a blend of musical traditions from Europe and Africa.