Réunion was known to the Arabs and was visited by the Portuguese in the early 16th cent. The island was uninhabited until settled by the French c.1642; its present mixed population is descended from the French settlers and their East African, South Asian, and Indochinese slaves (after 1848, when slavery was abolished, indentured laborers). At first a penal colony, Réunion became a post of the French East India Company in 1665. In the 18th cent. the island was an exporter of coffee. From 1810 to 1814 Réunion was held by Great Britain. After 1815, when coffee no longer could be produced competitively, sugarcane became the main crop. In 1947 the status of Réunion was changed from a colony to an overseas department. In the 1980s and 90s, the citizens of Réunion sought greater political autonomy and better wages and working conditions.