A Local View on Global Climate and Migration Patterns: The Impact of Cyclones and Drought on the Routier Family and Their Slaves in Île Bourbon (Réunion), 1770–1820
This multi-generational history of a family of planters and slaves in Île Bourbon (Réunion) and Île de France (Mauritius) explores the role of the physical environment on strategies of slave ownership and both masters’ and slaves’ vulnerability to cyclones and drought. Human settlement in the 1700s rapidly transformed the islands’ ecology through the introduction of alien species and the replacement of indigenous forest with less robust agriculture. Severe weather patterns periodically created famine conditions in the Indian Ocean rim, subjecting the vulnerable to debt peonage and enslavement. Torrential rains and severe droughts also affected the productivity of the islands’ arable land, which affected the capacity to feed the growing population of slaves and the success of Réunion’s experiments in export commodities.