In Reunion, plants at the service of good and evil

For centuries, healers and herbal tea makers have been using plant pharmacopoeia to heal themselves. But, for the followers of witchcraft, the use of plants is quite different. On rare occasions, it can even lead to murder… “Bois de rempart, une Plante assassine de La Réunion” is broadcast Monday at 6 p.m. on and at 00.00 on France 3.

“outremer.ledoc: Bois de rempart, a murderous plant from Reunion”. © AMC2

In the traditions, whatever they may be, plants only acquire their strength when the sacred is summoned (…). There have been, here in Reunion, people who switch to the side of evil and who will use power for more selfish, more personal ends, to enrich themselves or sometimes to abuse people.

Margaret Ah-Pet, author of a thesis on witchcraft in Reunion

All it took was a few anonymous phone calls from the victim’s daughters to sow doubt about what was, at first sight, a natural death. Otherwise, no one would have discovered that Erick Samy had been poisoned with a mixture of rampart wood and isopropanol. The story revealed in 2014 caused a stir in Reunion because of the modus operandi chosen. The future widow had called on a witch doctor to provide her with the lethal concoction. Arrested and then sentenced, the two ex-lovers had appealed against the judgment. In October 2020, the appeal trial sentenced the main defendant to thirty years’ imprisonment and her ex-lover to twenty years.

The knowledge at the start is the same, but afterwards, in relation to the evil or beneficial intention, this is where we will put the herbalist on one side and the sorcerer on the other.

Jean-François Samlong, writer and poet

This dramatic story testifies to the place still occupied today by popular beliefs, witchcraft or magic. By conferring on some the power to cause evil or to protect, we perpetuate these beliefs, these rites and these excesses. ” Here in Reunion, we say “evil exists”, reports Margaret Ah-Pet. “Who can do good can do evil”, it is also often said. And when we hurt someone, we don’t have our own abilities, so we go to see a sorcerer. We’re going to see someone “who is playing in there” (…). Only he can do that, because the person doesn’t have the power of a sorcerer to summon the invisible. So we need someone who knows how to go into this sacred, to summon the invisible, to be able to put the efficiency, I would say, on this bewitchment, bewitchment, or give someone herbal tea. »

Rampart wood is also called “river wood”. It has several names. It is also called “scab wood” or “mapou”.

Christophe Lavergne, botanist

Christophe Lavergne: It is a native species in Reunion. And it is a pioneer species. That’s why you find it in open places like that. It is found in gullies, in eroded places. They are also found in Saint-Philippe on the lava flows (…). It is the first tree that arrives on the lava flows.
Marie Faham: Can we say that it is on the verge of extinction or is it still there?
CL: There are. I mean, it’s not uncommon (…).
MF: Can we eat rampart wood?
CL: This question is important. Rampart wood is poisonous.
MF: Deadly toxic?
CL: You can’t eat it (…). You can’t say what it tastes like, it’s over (…). However, it is used in traditional medicine.
MF: But it will still heal, despite its toxicity?
CL: He heals things. It is called “scab wood”. So all skin diseases.

Exchanges between Christophe Lavergne, botanist at the Mascarin National Botanical Conservatory, and Marie Faham

overseas.ledoc: Bois de rempart, a killer plant from Reunion

On Reunion Island, more than a thousand plant species are protected by volcanic relief. Plants have always played an essential role in the life and daily life of Reunionese and are often used in infusion or decoction. The leaves are used by tea makers to treat the most diverse ailments.
But the virtues of plants can also be diverted by followers of black magic. Killing with plants — a rare and unconventional weapon. When plants are at the service of crime, when magic seizes ancestral knowledge… A look back at the story of Erick Samy, trapped by a sorcerer and a poisoner.

Documentary (unpublished – 52 min) – Author and director Emmanuel Descombes – Production AMC2with the participation of France Televisions

This documentary is broadcast on Monday 31 October at 6.00 p.m. on and at 00.00 on France 3
overseas.ledoc: Bois de rempart, a killer plant from Reunion can be seen and reviewed on

Verdict of the appeal trial

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In Reunion, plants at the service of good and evil

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