Why were the Mascarenes islands, La Réunion and Mauritius (and Rodrigues), uninhabited until Europeans arrived ?

Many islands off the coast of Africa remained uninhabited until the arrival of Europeans, because, as I understand it, they weren't close enough to be seen from the mainland and the people on the mainland weren't good navigators.

However, the closest land to La Réunion and Mauritius was Madagascar, which was settled by Austronesians, that is, perhaps the best seafarers of their time.

It seems a little strange that they haven't colonized these islands as well, especially since, unlike the desolate islands of Mozambique channel, they have freshwater, and, at the time, abundant game. Indeed, they are far less desolate than the Chathams, that are at about the same distance from New Zealand as La Réunion from Madagascar, and which the Maori did settle.

They don't seem to have been prevented from doing so by the prevailing winds either.

Also, it is said on Wikipedia that both islands were known to Arab traders before the arrival of Europeans. Now in their case, if they were traders who travelled along the coast, it makes a bit more sense that they wouldn't have cared given their remoteness from the trade routes. Still, it seems that they didn't even set foot on the islands to check whether they were worth something.

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    I was wondering the same thing. Does it have to do with the size? An island of that size could hardly support a growing population. And if I'm a seafaring explorer in ancient times, I'm probably going to keep going until I find a large Island that I can continue to explore, not just settle down in...
    – SimaPro
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 19:04
  • I'm not sure if it's a very good explanation... See my example of the Chathams islands.
    – Typhon
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 14:33
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    This might all come down to chance: A small island is easy to miss, so maybe it is simply that nobody has sailed close to these islands. Small boats follow major ocean streams. I would check the map of the Indian ocean streams. Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 19:44
  • True, it might all come down to chance, as frustrating as this explanation feels.
    – Typhon
    Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 20:02
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    Any of these islands are more than 10 times larger than Easter Island, and they are certainly closer to other inhabited lands. Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 21:01

2 Answers 2


The map (not great but the best I could find online) from this wikipedia article might provide an explanation. enter image description here

The two little dots to the East of the cost of Madagascar are the La Réunion and Mauritius islands. The South Indian Ocean stream splits before reaching the islands and makes an accidental discovery less likely. Compare this with the streams (West Australian current becoming the South Equatorial current) going straight into the coast of Madagascar.

  • I'm not sure I understand your reasoning. Well, indeed, if one considers only the currents, a discovery starting from Madagascar looks less likely. However, for people navigating from Indonesia, as were the Austronesian who came to Madagascar, I'm not sure if it's so clear-cut.
    – Typhon
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 0:51
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    @Typhon: Just take a look at the current coming from Australia: It (barely) misses the islands (as I said, it splits). Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 1:28
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    Ocean currents do occasionally bring objects to Mauritius & Réunion, though, as the debris from MH 370 has proved. Granted, nobody knows precisely where those particular objects started out, but it's not like the islands are in some magical no-current zone. Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 17:46
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    @MichaelSeifert: Of course, nothing is a no-current zone. My observation is about probabilities: The stronger is the current from P to Q, the higher is the probability that a small boat (akin to one used by Austronesian people) is to get from P to Q by accident. Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 19:04

The historical presumption that the islands were uninhabited, but plentiful of Dodo's which were hunted to their extinction by the colonialists in the 1700s, whist the undiscovered Chagos Islands had their natives expelled in (only)the 1900s for military occupation confirms that "history is written by its victors". The Dodo analogy is exactly what occurred to the natives of Mauritius by its colonialist,the Portuguese, Dutch, French and English(which completed this effort remains to be revealed).

I have it that the colonialists committed the genocide of the Mauritian natives ( as it was the colonial practice and modus operandi of the time ) to their extinction, as it was done to the colony of Dodos on the island.

It would remain naive to assume otherwise.

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 13 at 0:00
  • While killing off inconvenient local populations is certainly in keeping with other events through human (including my own family) history this answer is a non starter unless it includes an explanation for how an existing human population had not impacted the Dodo's behavior through hunting. As a starting point suggest checking the original sources to see if a claim can be made that the friendly/unaware behavior was because the birds were escaped domestic animals or pets. Commented Jan 13 at 0:34
  • It may well be a 'non-starter' and even remain so, in your experience, not an issue))). 'Gunpowder' would be a clue... if you care to think it through... Bless your departed ancestors /\ .
    – Pat
    Commented Jan 14 at 2:15
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    If you have proof of a hitherto undiscovered civillisation on Mauritius, you'd better publish in some respected journal instead of making unsourced replies and poorly worded answers to critics.
    – Typhon
    Commented Jan 14 at 19:20
  • I have never made claim to an undiscovered civilisation @Typhon. My comment... not thesis, suggests... The indigenous natives of the island (as there were similarly on neighbouring islands - as published authoritatively) were eradicated by means of genocide ( in the same manner to the published Dodocide ) by its colonial occupiers. Now, excuse my poorly worded comments Prof. Typhoon! Do you possess any authoritative evidence otherwise that you can eloquently enlighten us on?
    – Pat
    Commented Jan 15 at 21:23

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