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Title: Malbars  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tamil Seychellois, Indian diaspora in Southeast Africa, Non-resident Indian and person of Indian origin, Ethnic groups in Réunion, Geography of Réunion
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Total population
Regions with significant populations
Saint-André, Saint-Denis
French, Réunion Creole, Tamil.
Christianity (principally Catholicism), Hinduism, syncretic religion
Related ethnic groups
Indo-Réunionnais, Non-resident Indian and Person of Indian Origin, Tamils, Sri Lankan Tamils

Malbars are an ethnic group of South Indian origin in Réunion, a French island in the Southwest Indian Ocean, estimated to number 180,000. There are no official figures because the French government does not collect census data on ethnic groups.

There have been people of South Indian origin on the island since the 17th century, and those were mostly from Pondicherry.[2] Most were originally brought in as indentured laborers in the second half of the 19th century and were mostly South Indian Tamils and Telugus.[3] Since then, Malbars have developed some patterns of behavior that are not quite those of their ancestors from Tamil Nadu nor those of the other inhabitants of Réunion.


Malbars is derived from Malabars, a word used by the French and the Dutch in the colonial era that was eventually used by Westerners to refer to all the people of South India (Tamils, Telugus, Malayalees and Kannadigas included). The term is based on the Malabar region of the present state of Kerala in India.[4] This term, applied by the French to Tamil laborers coming to Réunion, has been kept by the latter and others on the island to label their own identity.


Indian workers came to Réunion from South India, mostly from French settlements in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, and Karaikal. Most of these immigrants were ritually low in the caste system.[5] Hard living conditions at home were the main reason behind their departure to La Réunion. The immigration of indentured workers from South India started in 1827 but it was only after 1848 that indentured immigration began on a big scale.[6]


The French government in Réunion made the first Malbars become Christian.[5] However, many Malbars were only nominally Christian.[5] The Tamil language was lost to language shift.[7]

Recent developments

The Malbars desire to learn their ancestors' culture, and started studying their language and religions especially from Tamil Nadu.[1] Recently many Malbars, particularly those of upper and middle classes, have started to become completely Hindu rather than nominally Christian.[8]

They also now wanted to translate their newly acquired civic and political rights into a gradual and increasing participation in local and other elections. A sit-in protest was organized to support Sri Lanka Tamils.[9]


A genetic study has shown that the majority of the Indian origins of Malbars lie in the South-east of India. Contrary to expectations, however, a significantly larger proportion comes from Andhra Pradesh than Tamil Nadu.[10] The study also showed that 15-20% of the origins of Malbars come from Africa and Madagascar. Less than 1% comes from Europe.[10]

Notable Malbars

  • Jean-Paul Virapoullé is currently Mayor of Saint Andre and first Vice President of the General Council of Réunion.

Tamil temples

A Tamil temple in Réunion.
  • Chinmaya Mission temple, Quartier Francais, Sainte-Suzanne
  • Siva Soupramanien temple, Saint-Paul
  • Siva-Vishnou-Karli temple, Saint-Paul
  • Siva Soupramanien temple, Petit-Bazar on Avenue Ile-of-France, Saint-Andre
  • Sri Bala Subramanya temple, Saint Paul
  • Thiru Kalimata Temple, Sainte-Marie

See also


  1. ^ a b [1] (page 8)
  2. ^  
  3. ^
  4. ^ Tamil accommodation in La Réunion
  5. ^ a b c Ghasarian, Christian (1997). "We Have the Best Gods! The Encounter Between Hinduism and Christianity in La Réunion". African and Asian Studies 32: 286–295.  
  6. ^ Ghasarian, Christian. 1990. "Indianit La Réunion: gestion d'une double identit", Vibre au pluriel. Production sociale des identits l'le Maurice et l'le de La Réunion, J.L. Albert (ed.), Universit de La Réunion/URA 1041 du CNRS.
  7. ^ N. Nandhivarman (2009), "The Tamils of Réunion and their hybrid culture", New Indian Express : "Réunion is a typical example of outsourcing by the French East India Company, and its history reveals how an hybrid culture emanated amidst Tamil settlers there, who are Tamils but could not speak Tamil, their mother tongue lost in the interregnum of 5 generations of separation from their homeland ..."
  8. ^ Medea, Laurent (2002). "Creolisation and Globalisation in a Neo-Colonial Context: the Case of Réunion". Social Identities 8 (1): 125–141.  
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b Dubut V, Murail P, Pech N, Thionville MD, Cartault F. (May 2009). "Inter- and extra-Indian admixture and genetic diversity in Réunion island revealed by analysis of mitochondrial DNA." 73 (Pt 3). pp. 314–34.  

External links

  • Indian Diaspora in Réunion
  • Réunion Tamils Cavadee
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