The History of Halloween

It’s that time of year again, the 31st of October, Halloween! What is it and why is it so popular in North America, the UK and anglophone countries? Well it originally started as Samhain, (pronounced ‘Saa’’wen’) an old Celtic Pagan festival. The Celts believed it was a day when the fairies and spirits could walk among the living, and disguised their faces so as not to be recognised by these creatures. The name was changed several times over the centuries and as its religious roots developed towards Christianity, from All Saints Day to All Hallows Eve and finally Hallowe’en.

It is probably most widely celebrated in America and this all started in the 19th century when the Irish and Celts exported their traditions over there as they emigrated. The tradition has also continued in the UK and today it is still a popular event there, although now it has been commercialised on both sides of the Atlantic and has largely forgotten its religious roots. Adults and children get involved, participating in games, dressing up, wearing masks and decorating their houses and gardens with witches, ghosts, monsters and other scary figures, with orange, black and green being the predominant colours for the festival.

One of the most iconic and popular symbols of Halloween is the pumpkin. This was first introduced in America, as they substituted the vegetable of choice in the UK which was the turnip, as it was far more accessible in those parts of the world. Pumpkin carving, apple-bobbing and trick-or-treating are some of the popular Halloween activities nowadays. I remember my first night trick-or-treating with my cousins when I was young, I think I modified one of my mums old dresses so I looked like a bat (or more likely a young ‘Prince’ tribute act), and off we went to knock on the neighbours doors, asking for sweets (the ‘treat’) or threatening them with a ‘trick’ (like a squirt with a water pistol) if they didn’t provide! We followed that up with some apple-bobbing where the aim is to lift apples out of a bucket of water using only your mouth or teeth, no hands – which was a great way to wash off that mascara I had on for my bat eyes!

Although not originally very widely celebrated in France, Halloween is slowly becoming more popular, with more and more children dressing up in their favourite costumes and not wanting to miss an opportunity to receive sweets! It remains one of the biggest excuses to dress-up every year for adults too, with the market for fancy dress growing year on year as people tend to go out to party for Halloween in North America, the UK and Ireland. My home city of Derry in Northern Ireland has one of Europe’s biggest Halloween celebrations every year, with a huge carnival and fireworks display. I’ll be spending it in Mafate myself though….so maybe I will hold back on the mascara and bat costume this year!

Vocabulary

fairies – fées
disguised – déguisé
largely – principalement
to dress up – se déguiser
witches – sorcières

pumpkin – citrouille
turnip – navet
carving – sculpture
bat – chauve-souris
knock – frapper

trick – astuce/ruse
bucket – seau
costumes – déguisements
sweets – bon-bons
tend – avoir tendance

fireworks – feu d’artifice

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Music in Culture

What gives a country its identity? What defines culture? Is it food? People? Fashion? Art? Tradition? Religion?…..I guess all of those to some extent, and many more. But one of the most important and central aspects to any culture has to be music.

Whether it’s Brazilian Samba, British Rock ’N’ Roll, or Jamaican Reggae, each country has its own sound. Of course there are the generic sounds which you can find anywhere, Pop music for example – listening to NRJ here is not so different to listening to any UK popular Radio station, it’s music for the masses. But dig a little deeper and normally you will find a sound which represents the people and their story. 

Here in Reunion, we have a very diverse population and as a result the culture has influences from all over the world. The music we most often associate with Reunion is Maloya and Sega. They have their roots in Africa, and the slaves who were so important in the island’s history created these 2 sounds with a mix of traditional African beats and added European influences and instruments. At a time when the slaves didn’t necessarily have a common language, they communicated with music. That is the beauty, it’s a language that everybody can communicate in, it breaks down barriers, brings people together with song and dance. 

The island continues to have a huge music culture. You can find almost any style here and the ‘Fete de la Musique’ on the 21st of June is one of the biggest events of the year in many towns, where free concerts are organised, and temporary stages are setup for concerts that often continue into the early hours. Music continues to bring people together, as it historically did. 

I have a pretty broad taste in music and have been to many different events on the island. I’ve heard styles as varied as ska, techno, & gospel and even experienced a ‘kabar’. The kabar was a fantastic event, around 1,000 people of all ages and backgrounds descended into Mafate, danced under the full moon in front of a makeshift stage to maloya, rock and electronic music for an entire weekend. It was a real festival atmosphere, friendly and welcoming. At the other end of the scale, we have bigger festivals and events such as Sakifo, Les Electropicales, KabarDock, Manapany and Tempo to name a few. Often they combine a mix of local talent and international acts to great effect. This allows the people on the island to enjoy world music, but also helps to retain and even promote the styles which were born and evolved here. 

So whether you want to try your hand at the kayamb, dance along to some Tango, or enjoy a sunset cocktail with an Ibiza style soundtrack, you can find it all here on our wonderful island.

Vocabulary

to some extent – dans une certaine mesure
dig – creuser / aller un peu plus loin
roots – racines
breaks down barriers – briser les barrières
huge – très grande

stages – scènes
broad taste – un gout varié
makeshift – improvisé
at the other end of the scale – dans l’autre coté
retain – retenir

soundtrack – un fond sonore

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Whale Hunting. The Good Kind

Today I want to talk about Whales – no, not the obscure country attached to the side of England, but the gigantic sea creatures which come to Reunion each year on their migration route. We are very lucky here in Reunion with the magnificent landscapes, the immense mountain ranges and the spectacular volcano, but it is not just on land that we are treated to such delights. There is also the deep blue sea, and although we have had some unfortunate headlines with the sharks recently, the whales have started arriving to lighten the mood.

Each year from June to October, in our cooler winter season, around 4,000 whales migrate North from Antarctica, some following the South African coastline towards Mozambique and some preferring to come all the way over here. Once here in Reunion, some breed and some give birth to their young, before preparing to make the journey South, back to their feeding grounds.

We can see them all around the island but they usually spend their time in the West and the North. They are even visible from the coastline – I have seen them as far south as Manapany & Grand Anse and as far north as Cap de la Houssaye, but the best way to see them is on a boat trip out on open waters. We usually take boats out of St Gilles and spend an afternoon searching the horizon for splashes, or carefully looking for a dorsal fin to appear, as a spray of water emerges from the whale when it comes up for air.

The most common species here in Reunion is the humpback whale, recognisable with its lumpy and textured skin. Once you are out on the water and a whale appears next to your boat, it’s at that moment that you really start to understand the size and power of these fantastic mammals. You need to respect the whales and the rules however – don’t chase them or their calves around the water as this can disturb them, but sometimes they will appear close to your boat voluntarily, come up to breathe, and then disappear back under the water, showing us a quick view of their white tails as they wave goodbye.

The real spectacle however, is when you see the whales jump, although this is maybe safer viewed from the shore! I will never forget the day I was enjoying a sunset cocktail at L’Ermitage when a whale decided to put on a show for us in front of the bar, jumping continuously for around 15 minutes as the sun set behind.

Now that the season has begun, I will soon be booking my boat trips from St Gilles, and I often take the longer, more coastal road around the island when driving, in the hope that I catch a glimpse of a whale in the water – whilst keeping an eye on the road of course!

Vocabulary

landscapes – paysages
delights – plaisirs
headlines – la une des journaux
lighten the mood – détendre l’atmosphère
all the way – tout le chemin

breed – se reproduire
feeding grounds – zones d’alimentation
splashes – éclaboussures
dorsal fin – nageoire dorsale
humpback whale – baleine à bosse

lumpy – bosselé
calves – baleineaux
shore – rivage
put on a show – faire une spectacle
catch a glimpse – apercevoir

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