This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 5 No. 2, "Long Journey Home: Folklife in the South." Find more from that issue here.
“Gumbo” has long been a favorite literary metaphor for describing the polyglot culture of the Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast. Like the people who populate the stretch of land from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Houston, Texas, gumbo takes many forms, from that served in fancy New Orleans restaurants to the blackbird-filled dish of some rural Cajun and black French homes.
In its essentials, gumbo reflects the cultural diversity of the area: the name itself is a West African term for okra; the sassafras filé powder, used for a flavored thickener, comes from the local Indians; the rice is raised by Cajuns, who learned the skill on a large scale from Germans; and in many cases, a Continental French or Spanish aesthetic determines how the final blend is cooked. It is this diversity within the overall French-influenced culture of the region that makes gumbo such an appropriate metaphor for the people variously labeled Cajun, Creole, Sabine, mulatre, redbone and redneck.
Cajuns who have entered the popular consciousness via Nashville recordings, such as Jimmie C. Newman, Joel Sonnier or Doug Kershaw, may represent the Cajuns back home as some kind of wild, mixed breed of pirogue-poling swamp people who wrestle alligators en route to the dance hall. But this is no more accurate than the common perception that the center of this enduring culture is the much publicized New Orleans French Quarter. The spirit of the performers who brought jazz out of that city in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (via the commingling of European and African traditions), or the more recent Caribbean-influenced pianists of the 1950s (like Huey “Piano” Smith and Antoine “Fats” Domino) has been relegated to Preservation Hall concerts and rock ’n roll revival shows. In fact, despite all its festivities and its impressive Jazz & Heritage Fair, New Orleans today is in many ways a typical American city, far less significant in the region’s culture than in the past.
The real heart of the Gulf Coast French culture, and the area that powers its current revival, spreads through the low-lying countryside to the south and east of New Orleans, from Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes (counties) to the Texas border towns of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange. This is Cajun Country. Cajuns are not the only people here, but they set the cultural tone for everyone in the region: Indians, Spaniards, Germans, immigrant north Louisianans, Texans and Mexicans. As the map indicates, the core area of Cajun culture stretches from the Gulf of Mexico northward to Avoyelles Parish, where Anglo Louisiana begins; it reaches into Mississippi on the east and as far west as Houston (with its 26,000 French speakers1), but the center is the Louisiana bayou country. French Cajun and Creole are still the mother tongue for over half the people in some of these parishes. Here, for over 200 years, an astonishing array of traditions have shaped the Cajun culture, and it is here that a renewed pride in ethnicity finds strong support.
Multinational, Multiracial Beginnings
The first people of French culture to enter Louisiana were explorers from France and French Canada. The settlers that followed set up outposts at Natchitoches, New Orleans, and what are now St. Martinville and Opelousas in the Attakapan Indian area (see map). The Acadians came later, hailing primarily from northwestern France. They had settled first in the area of Canada now called Nova Scotia, establishing prosperous farming communities in the early 1600s. In 1718, France ceded this territory, known as Acadia, to the British.
After years of growing political instability, as many as 10,000 of these French-speaking Catholics were suddenly deported in 1755. Four thousand were dropped in the English colonies where they were generally rejected (except in Catholic Maryland). Others were sent to the French West Indies, to English prisons, or back to France. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 allowed those held in English colonies or in England to regroup in the French area of Louisiana.2 In the years 1765 to ’67, an estimated 1,500 Acadians entered Louisiana through New Orleans.3 Another 1,600 came in 1784 after a 30-year trek.4 It is this awesome and tragic migration that Longfellow chronicled in Evangeline, a poem which romantically tells the story of two lovers who promise to marry when they are reunited in Louisiana.
By the time the Acadians arrived, Louisiana was no longer a French possession, having been ceded to Spain in 1763. The Spanish saw the Acadians as hard-working settlers and provided them with water passage to lands west of New Orleans below the Atchafalaya Basin along the bayous Lafourche, Teche and Vermilion. Still others went up the Mississippi River into the area below Baton Rouge. The Acadians did not fit into the colonial “haute culture” of New Orleans, where people born of Old World Spanish and French parents were traditionally called Creoles.
Prior to 1800, other immigrants of French culture arrived, including noblemen fleeing the French Revolution and plantation owners escaping from slave uprisings in the Caribbean. By 1809, a total of 10,000 Old World French, black slaves and “free people of color” had also entered Louisiana.5 Many followed the Acadians to the bayous, especially to St. Martin, Iberia and St. Mary Parishes, and up the Mississippi coast. Unlike the aristocrats of New Orleans, these latecomers mingled with the Acadians, as did some younger wealthy Creoles of New Orleans who moved to the St. Martinville area. Indeed, the territory around St. Martinville became an intriguing mixture of upper-class French, expatriates, blacks from the Caribbean, and the Acadians. A popular watering hole, it came to be called “Le Petite Paris.”
After 1803 the Americanization of Louisiana began.6 Yankee planters from Maryland and Virginia entered the rich lower Mississippi River Valley and succeeded in driving some of the French planters out. North Louisiana was populated by Scotch-Irish people from Tennessee and the Upland South. People from Germany, the “German Creoles,” settled an area on the Mississippi north of New Orleans, but south of the Acadian Coast.7 Another group of Germans came from the American Midwest in the 1870s bringing with them the farm technology to make the Southwestern prairies profitable as rice growing areas. They also brought the Hohner accordion which is today an essential element of Cajun music. Both these groups of Germans were largely absorbed by the Acadians and began to speak French.8
In their brief tenure, the Spaniards managed to settle people from the Canary Islands, called Isleños, in St. Bernard Parish. Other Spanish settlements were on Bayou Teche at New Iberia, Bayou Lafourche at Valenzuela and at Galveztown (60 miles north of New Orleans). These settlements were composed of Malegueños and Granadinos in addition to Isleños.9 Many Spaniards intermingled with the Acadians and were absorbed. A name like Rodriguez became Rodrigue, but a number of Spanish names remained intact, and Spanish is still spoken by a few people in St. Bernard Parish.
Meanwhile, the Atakappan Indians were largely destroyed or driven out of south Louisiana and east Texas; the Coushatta and Houma Indians survive today in the greatest number. The various mixtures of Indian, Cajun, and black are now called redbones and Sabines, with redbones found in western Louisiana from the Red River south, and Sabines scattered eastward from Houma to Biloxi.10 Both these peoples have sometimes held themselves apart from Cajuns and blacks who in turn often look down on them.
Who, then, is a Cajun?
In the narrowest sense, a Cajun is someone descended from the original Acadians; but the very name change from Acadian to Cajun rightly indicates the impact of other cultures. Many Cajuns today represent the mingling of German and Spanish traditions, as well as the upper-class French, and the importance of Indians and blacks in shaping the Cajun language and art forms cannot be denied. In addition, there are also descendants from the early English and Scottish loggers, traders and swampers who now speak and consider themselves French.11 In all these cases, the Acadian tradition remained dominant, perhaps because outsiders intermarried with Acadian women, who raised their children by the old ways, while Acadian men apparently avoided marrying “nontraditional” women.12
Blacks and Indians never completely entered Cajun culture. Although many blacks and Indians now speak French and participate in modified forms of Cajun cultural life, they have socially never thought of themselves, nor are they thought of, as Cajuns. An array of social types was set up to describe the various racial mixtures found in New Orleans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An 1889 dictionary of Americanisms follows these types in giving this account of the catchall word “mulatto”:
A name given to the offspring of a white and a negro. The word is Spanish, mulato from mulo a mule, or, as in this case, a mixed breed. Generally speaking, all persons with a “touch of the tar brush” are, in the States, called mulattoes, although experts draw very fine distinctions in the amount of mixedness displayed by any given example. The grades are as follows: — MULATTO, 1/2 black, white and negro; Quarteron [quadroon], 1/4 black, white and Mulatto; Metis or metif, 1/8 black, white and quarteron; Meamelouc, 1/16 black, white and metis; Demi-Meamelouc, 1/32 black, white and meamelouc; Sang-mele, 1/64 black, white and demi-meamelouc; Griffe, 3/4 black, negro and Mulatto; Marabou, 5/8 black, Mulatto and griffe- Sacatra, 7/8 black, griffe and negro.13
Meanwhile, in Cajun country, mulattoes with mixed Spanish, French, German and/or Afro-Caribbean blood also began to call themselves Creoles, and tended to acculturate other blacks with whom they came in contact. Thus, American slaves who were brought to Louisiana speaking English or Africanized English mingled with French-speaking blacks and became Creole in language and culture; for example, many adopted the religion of Creoles, which explains the paucity of black Baptists in south Louisiana compared to the number of black Catholics.16
Obviously, lighter skin color and more European physical features gave a person greater status.14 In practice, mulatto mistresses of varying shades mingled publicly with European Creoles at New Orleans social functions like the Octaroon and Quadroon balls. The offspring of these liaisons (whether public or private) in New Orleans and elsewhere in French Louisiana began to adopt the name Creole to enhance their status and separate themselves from darker Negroes.15
With the increased numbers of children from mixed liaisons and marriages, both in New Orleans and the Cajun areas, the term Creole gradually shed its earlier identification with the Spanish and French upper classes and came to refer to blacks or mulattoes intermingled with the Acadian-French culture. European and Anglo groups in southern Louisiana were also largely absorbed by Cajun culture, and the major socio-cultural division that remains is between black and white French people, between Creole and Cajuns. However, the extensive relations between these groups over the years has made their differences more fluid than a rigid racial barrier may imply. For example, many Creoles speak what is in effect a black rendition of Cajun French; conversely, some Cajuns speak Creole, which linguistically is an Africanized French, described at its simplest as an European vocabulary within a grammatical and phonological structure mostly derived from various West African languages.17 Many whites as well as blacks in the shaded area of the map speak this sort of Creole, although they refer to it by local names like Français Nèg’, Français Platte, Couri-Vini, Gombo or patois. In its “deepest” form, French Creole is unintelligible to speakers of Cajun French (with its genetic relationship to Old World Provincial French).
Despite cultural overlaps, race remains a conscious factor in identifying the difference between Cajuns and Creoles. Cajuns often refer to all blacks — whether they speak Cajun French, Creole French, or English — as les Nèg’ or Mond’ Couleur, but they generally call blacks of lighter color (and obvious European or white descent) either mûlatre or Creole. Black French people follow a similar ranking, calling English-speaking blacks Noir 'mericain, lighter people regardless of language mulatre, and whites Cajun or just white. Thus, the grossest distinctions between and within groups are made on the basis of perceived race, a pattern following the general American Southern attitude toward race. For example, a Cajun in his late thirties told me, “When we were growing up, we thought les Nèg’ were people just like us. It was only the private things we didn’t do together like eat and church ... if a colored man showed up at a dance, no one would care much unless he asked a white woman to dance.”
Swamp and Coastal Areas. The durability of the French culture on the Gulf Coast has long been helped by the physical inaccessibility of a region laced with marshes and bayous. The early Acadian settlers turned the bayou itself into a kind of main street for commerce and travel, and it has remained a central feature of the Cajun community along Bayou Lafourche to the present day. This Bayou (see map) is still called the “longest main street in the world,” and its pattern of closely spaced houses continues to reach northward toward the Atchafalaya Basin and southward to the Gulf Coast.
The original Acadian settlers placed their houses on the edge of the slow-moving channels — this movement distinguishes a bayou from a larger, water-entrapped swamp. Long, narrow plots extended behind each house measured in the ancient Gallic unit — arpent (about five-sixths of an acre)—still used today. This arrangement gave the new homeowner the advantage of being close to his neighbors with enough land for a garden behind the house and the cotton, corn, and indigo crops further back in the richer soil. Behind them lay the lower, wetter land suitable for raising rice, and finally the low swamp wood lots where small game and cypress were plentiful. Supporting themselves from these smaller environments, the Cajuns came to be called Petites Habitants in contrast to the French and Yankee plantation owners to the east on the Mississippi and west of the Atchafalaya Basin.
When growing sugar cane became profitable around the turn of the nineteenth century, Cajuns came in increasing contact with the plantation system. They did not generally own slaves, nor did they develop a landed aristocracy, but some did acquire fairly large holdings through intermarriage with Old French planters.18 As the population area grew and Yankee planters moved in to corner the sugar market, many Cajuns, especially those along the Mississippi coast, were forced into the swamp area in the Atchafalaya Basin. There they often competed with Anglos from north Louisiana for a livelihood based on trapping, fishing and moss gathering (sold for furniture stuffing). Others moved toward the coast for both inland and Gulf fishing.
The relative proximity to the New Orleans market made coastal fishing by small operators a profitable business. In fact, until very recently, the independent fisherman’s freshwater catch of catfish and crawfish in the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin and the coastal catch of oysters, shrimp, and crabs overshadowed the large Gulf fin fisheries.19 For generations, Cajun fishermen have been earning a living from their boats: the flatbottomed, shallow-drafted esquif (skiff), pirogue and bateau for swamp fishing, and the larger, deeper keeled luggers and shrimp trawlers for the coast. But modernization has changed much of this self-sufficiency. The pirogue, originally an Indian-designed, hollowed-out cypress log, is now made of aluminum and fiber glass.20 With refrigerated compartments, the trawlers and their crews can now stay at sea for weeks. Large companies have emerged which own fleets and hire Cajuns — and Anglos, Indians, Lithuanians, and Yugoslavs.
While the Gulf Coast centralized fisheries have blossomed, much of the swamp business has dwindled. The disastrous flood of 1927 brought in the federal government with a host of projects to contain the Atchafalaya Basin water flow behind a system of levees, and now most of the area’s people reside on the outer edge of the levees, venturing periodically to camps in the swamp interior and returning to sell or barter their catches of crawfish, catfish, nutria and raccoon. While some swampers live in houseboats, they more often have a house on small blocks protected by the levee (the coastal dwellers usually have houses on stilts). Some of the houses have steady front porches while the rest of the house can float upward rf the water rises. Since the Basin has been channeled by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent flooding, it has steadily filled with silt, destroying fishing areas. To compensate, farmers and landowners have begun deliberately flooding fields near the swamp and throughout southwest Louisiana to create large catfish and crawfish “farms” or “pounds.” These in turn have given rise to a complex system of land tenure involving merchants, processors, and a new species of “sharecroppers” who are in continual debt for supplies needed to harvest the next crop of fish.21
The combination of isolation, poverty, resentment toward the government for forcing relocation, and the subjugation to outside markets makes the people of the Atchafalaya Basin the least cosmopolitan of the Cajuns. Strangers are viewed with more suspicion here than in other areas of south Louisiana, and settlements often discourage visits or settlement by outsiders. In one tiny village on the edge of the Basin north of St. Martinville’s sugar cane area, there are no black residents and an unwritten curfew insists that all black visitors must be out of town by sunset.22 But just to the south, large numbers of blacks live in the sugar cane area of St. Martin, St. Mary and Iberia Parishes, and the Creole language of Africanized French is the dominant language for both whites and blacks.
Cane Area and Prairies. In many ways, the sugar cane area west of the Atchafalaya Basin is a transitional one from the swamp and coastal subregions to the southwestern prairie. Plantation mansions, some delapidated, others in fine repair as museums and private homes, mingle with shotgun houses and a variety of sharecropper dwellings. The classic cypress Acadian house with double doors and garçonniere stairway on the porch (galerie) and picket fence, is especially visible along bayou roads. There is a feeling of the Old World in the French colonial architecture and town squares in villages such as Grand Coteau, Abbeville, and St. Martinville. A few members of the population today speak an aristocratic French — in juxtaposition to Creole or Cajun — and until the turn of the century, many read the language. Local historians such as Andre A. Olivier greet the outsider by reciting Evangeline. Light-skinned Creoles of Spanish, black and French background may live in meager circumstances here, but they treat guests with a gentility that is distinctly European. The contrast to the swampers a few miles to the east is remarkable.
Further west, the difference is even more dramatic. A sign over the entrance to a small bar in Scott, just west of Lafayette, says, “Welcome to the Scott Bar. Where Friends Meet and the West Begins.” The crops in this area shift from sugar cane to soybeans, sweet potatoes and rice. The town of Sunset touts itself as the “sweet potato capital of the world,” and Opelousas to the north has a yearly yam festival that crowns a “yam queen” and celebrates with a giant dance in the local “Yamatorium.” This area westward into Texas was opened after the 1830s land offers made by the federal government; since wood was scarce, some Acadian-style houses were moved overland from the more plentiful timber regions of the swamps. The pattern of large, open square and rectangular plots contrasts sharply with the long, narrow bayou tracts in the swamp and coastal subregions. Here, towns do not have the French village aspect; neither are they built along bayous, nor closed-in as swamp settlements. Instead they are built on the main roads and rail lines where they receive some impact from Texas cowboy culture with its rodeo arenas, western hats and boots, and Lone Star Feed and Seed Stores. The land is open and flat, generally lacking the ridge and swamp aspects to the east. In the midst of sea-like expanses of flooded rice fields, the horizon is broken only by “pine islands.”
Some of the most traditional Cajuns and black French live in these remote areas, and even the rise of local agribusinesses with large landholdings has not destroyed many traditional patterns of exchange.23 The practice of giving a godchild son a pig or calf — tantamount to a savings bond in mainstream America — persists among Cajuns and Creoles. On a grander scale, entire communities cooperate to acquire heavy equipment, field flooding systems, and rice drying equipment.
In the bayou prairies, the tradition of boucherie de compagne still exists; groups of men contribute cattle and pigs to be butchered. Prior to the electric freezer, this meant fresh meat on a weekly basis, but it is carried on today largely as a social event, often within an extended family.
Many of the blacks in the rice prairies are far more “Cajunized” culturally than those in the Creole speaking sugar cane area. West of Opelousas is an area particularly known for its prominent Creole, locally termed mûlatre, population, many of whom own large tracts of land which they rent to whites as. well as blacks. But throughout the area, Creoles speak a black rendition of Cajun French rather than Africanized Creole, and their music is more Cajun than Caribbean.
The bayou prairies also contain a few pockets of ethnic people who exist alongside the Cajuns: Robert’s Cove is a German settlement where, on the Sixth of December, the feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated; Crowley and Jennings have English influence; Kaplan is named for a Jewish mercantile family. The Coushatta Indians are settled on a reservation in Elton; some of the older Coushattas are speakers of a Mississippi River trade language called Mobilian known to Indians, blacks, Spaniards, and French alike in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.24
Overall, though, the Cajun culture dominates. The area around Basile and Mamou is well known for its musicians: the Balfa Brothers, Ed and Bee Deshotels, and Nathan Abshire, as well as the late Amade Ardoin, the first black French accordionist to make records. French music radio programs blanket the area, broadcast at varying times of the day from Ville Platte, Jennings, Crowley and Eunice. The area has a number of dance halls, and Mardi Gras is celebrated enthusiastically here.
Religion and Rituals. Although the Catholic church is the strongest religious force in the French Gulf Coast, local practices may vary greatly as folk beliefs are integrated into church teachings.25 For example, many homes have blessed palms (usually magnolia leaves) placed in crucifix form over doorways to keep away bad luck and storms. They may also be blessed by the presence of numerous religious portraits, statues, rosaries, or perhaps an altar built with shelves for holy water and candles.
Most French communities have two Catholic churches, one black and one white. Although Louisiana has the largest per capita black Catholic population in the US, the priests for the black churches are generally whites from the North, French Canada or Ireland, who often view themselves as missionaries in an exotic land. Cajun churches are more likely to have local whites who have gone through seminary training in Louisiana. In some rural communities, the church is integrated, but blacks sit in a designated corner and take communion last.
The racial segregation of the church is mirrored in the different beliefs of blacks and whites, although, again, there is considerable overlap and exchange between the two groups. Black French Catholics usually build the most elaborate altars, with candles, prescription medicines, homemade medicines and holy water. They regularly display photographs of children and various rites-of-passage events, such as graduation and weddings, and occasionally of deceased parents or grandparents with attached prayers. The influence of West African beliefs is evident in the practice of placing ancestor portraits over doorways and using powders and potions to prevent harm from coming to the family, or to bring a member good fortune.
In some cases, such practices have been adopted by whites as well; for example, both blacks and whites use holy water to restore health, applying it to injured parts of the body or to the forehead of a sick person. And while many black communities have a particular person, usually a woman, who can affect the forces of good and evil (called Mojo), many Cajuns may also consult a black conjurer to help with a specific problem. Also called upon for help are treateurs, persons of either sex who treat physical problems with a mixture of Catholic prayers and such practices as the laying on of hands and the tying of knotted strings around the afflicted parts of the body.26 Furthermore, some older blacks and whites believe in phenomena called Feu Follet and Cauchemar. Feu Follet is a light which, if seen at night, will make the viewer lose the way home. Cauchemar affects the sleeping person by attempting to choke them or ride them if they are sleeping in an exposed position, have been unfaithful Catholics, or have done some wrong. Both of these supernatural phenomena are explained as the wandering souls of babies who died unbaptized. For the most part, however, the belief in Feu Follet and Cauchemar as well as the use of conjurers and treateurs is fading in all but rural areas. Other religious and social traditions remain stronger.27
Mardi Gras. The Mardi Gras festival occurs on Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. It is most traditional in rural areas; generally black and white communities hold their own celebrations.28 In all cases, the festival involves elements of ritual reversal: men who normally work, make mischief, chasing chickens and singing in falsetto voices, dressed in costumes, asking women for handouts, dancing together — all taboos the rest of the year. The event consists of men, called “runners,” riding through the countryside, asking for charitè in the form of live chickens, sausages, rice, cakes, wine, whiskey and cooking oil. Some items are consumed immediately while others are saved for a gumbo that will be served prior to the large dance that evening. Women are rarely runners — although some towns have a separate women’s Mardi Gras on the preceeding Sunday — and wives stay home to control the handing out of charity, in symbolic reversal of their usual relationship to the family “provider.” The women also help prepare gumbo and are, of course, at the evening dance.
There are many differences between black and white Mardi Gras. The white groups usually sing a medievally-moded Mardi Gras song en masse or individually in a highly melodic form, while the blacks tend to have a call/response arrangement with a lead clown making the request for charitè and his followers responding supportively. “Ouis bon cher mon camarade.” Most white Mardi Gras feature “runners” on horseback, a symbol of wealth and prestige. Black Mardi Gras clowns usually ride flatbed trucks; their costumes tend to be homemade, while some of the white celebrants’ costumes are elegant storebought silks.
Black Mardi Gras are more traditional because they are generally smaller, and the participants (25 or less) are more likely to be neighbors. At a huge rural Cajun Mardi Gras in Mamou (where there were 200 riders), a number of outsiders came along on horseback and the participants knew one another less well. Prior to the day’s events in Mamou, the formal rules of Mardi Gras are read aloud in French and English. They include warnings to respect private property, to not carry concealed weapons and to act “traditionally.”28 In a nearby black Mardi Gras, the elders submerge the “rules” in allegorical statements and make no mention of observing tradition. The heightened self-consciousness of the white Mardi Gras reflects the fact that it once died out, was only revived in the 1950s, and now receives increasing attention from outsiders.
Despite the segregation of Mardi Gras groups, some events at this time may be more interracial than usual. At an outdoor church fair, for example, I saw racially mixed dancing late in the day after people had consumed a fair amount of alcohol. The musicians performing for the dance were black, while the majority of the crowd was white.
Mardi Gras is considerably less traditional in an urban area like Lafayette, where public drunkenness and general revelry overshadow older rituals. In Lafayette, the local Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, and Knights of Columbus dominate the planning of the festival. Parades and floats are a main attraction, and a king and queen arc crowned. Music and food are also central to the day’s celebration, but people do not go door to door asking charitè.
Devout Catholics take the restrictions of the 40-day Lent period following Mardi Gras very seriously, and many give up certain foods and habits. Others may make some token sacrifice, but the general spirit of the religious season is strong enough to close most French dance halls, or at least cut back their schedule to one dance a week.
The Easter holiday, which ends Lent, is a time for family gatherings and church worship — even by those who otherwise rarely attend church. Relatives from as far away as the Cajun and Creole communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco may come to celebrate the family holiday, and most urban people on the French Gulf Coast will join their rural kin at the country homestead for religious services and fun. Among blacks, Easter eggs are often dyed green with the boiled-down resin of the so-called Pâcque plant. Blacks and whites alike take hard-boiled eggs and tap them, trying to break the opponent’s eggs. This “pâcqueing” of eggs is carried out in good cheer and the person with the unbroken egg may be called le roi (la reine) de Pâcque.
All Saints Day and Other Festivals. Prior to All Saints Day on November 1, black and white French Catholics visit their cemeteries (which are segregated) to clean, whitewash and decorate the graves. The raised, sealed vaults found in much of south Louisiana and the Gulf Coast are traditional in their style and function: they protect the remains of a body from high ground water.
At the graveyard, people may gossip about others who don’t respect the dead. Actually, most people seem to feel that, except in unusual circumstances, the dead do not know what is being done; but the decorating tradition gives the living the comfort of knowing they too will be remembered. In the black French community especially, photos and other ornaments — even an accordion marking for a dead musician — are often added to the small vestibule that may be built into headstones. As with Mardi Gras, blacks and whites observe similar private traditions separately and in different forms, while public events — such as the church fair — are racially mixed and open to all comers, though whites tend to run the festivities.
A blessing of the cemetery followed by mass on All Saints Day completes the special tribute paid to the dead and signifies the release of souls from purgatory to heaven. The ceremonies follow Catholic doctrine, but they are also linked to certain harvest festivals. For example, the Basile Swine Festival in the prairies of southwest Louisiana coincides with All Saints Day and typifies the popular celebration of the hog as food and source of livelihood. The celebration includes two days of street dancing with one day devoted to rock ’n roll and another to Cajun music. On the second day, a boudin eating contest (boudin is a sausage made with pork and rice, stuffed inside hog intestine and served hot) commemorates a successful year of production. A greased pig chase provides more entertainment, and suggests the combination of hard work and luck needed for a good harvest. Finally, a cake auction, with the proceeds going to a worthy charity, encourages the audience to bid exorbitant prices, sometimes as much as $50, to demonstrate their generosity; in fact, sometimes money by itself is auctioned off at twice its value.
A variety of other celebrations occur throughout south Louisiana in the spring and fall, with many tied to lesser religious holidays. These festivals include: Rice (Crowley, Louisiana), Frog (Rayne), Crawfish (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and Port Arthur, Texas), Shrimp and Petroleum (Morgan City), Oyster (Galliano), and Sugar (New Iberia). Increasingly, such events have subordinated their traditional natures to a publicity-conscious Cajun image which attracts large numbers of tourists. One such event, held in Port Arthur with crowds of over 100,000 people, was promoted in the local newspaper:
PORT ARTHUR — This year’s Cajun Festival, slated May 27-29 at the Golden Triangle Drag Strip, will have two new events — the Le Petite Mignon and the World Champion Frog Jumping Contest. Le Petite Mignon Contest is a mini Cajun Queen event for girls under age seven. Heading up the contest will be Pat Du Plantis, Audrey Porter and Helen Frederick.
Though all the details are not yet worked out, the Louisiana jumping frog champion is scheduled to be here for the festival to take on all Texas challengers. A special highlight of the contest is that all contestants will be expected to wear costumes.
From the most traditional Mardi Gras to the Port Arthur spectacle, a public joie de vivre is expressed in festivals which clearly distinguishes French Catholics from their less extroverted Anglo Protestant neighbors.
Joie de vivre is expressed in community consumption of large amounts of traditional foods, such as gumbo, shrimp and crawfish dishes as well as drinking and dancing. I have been continually amazed at the ability of Louisiana/Texas French people to dance and drink until the middle of the night and be back on the job at 6 a.m. This sort of behavior increases at festival times.
If beer lubricates the evening spirits then cafe-noir (drip made from various dark roast blends) cranks up the morning’s activities. Mid-morning visiting of men on the job and women at home, with good humor and strong coffee served in demitasse portions, is as oft-reported by observers of the culture as it is ubiquitous. These visits must also be considered a component of the joie de vivre expression commingling coffee, conversation and comradery.
The public value, however, is meaningless without its contrast to other values in the importance of hard work, a stable family relationship, and religious life. Indeed the conflict between these values accentuated by tremendous changes in the society may be one explanation for problems of alcoholism that plague the area.29
Cajun Music and Zydeco. A wide variety of styles is subsumed under the term “French music” in south Louisiana. While men have traditionally made the dance music, women have carried on several forms of unaccompanied singing. In the past, when night visiting sessions or veillee were common, women’s singing to friends and children was quite popular. Though individual repertoires would vary, many Cajun women sang old French ballads as well as humorous songs. The black French tradition overlaps somewhat here, but a large body of traditional Creole songs are humorous social commentaries on pompous wealthy men or town fools.30
Cajun band music, although rooted in the seventeenth century French dancehall, is fairly eclectic and includes material from the north Louisiana hillbilly repertoire, pop songs and blues. The old-time sound of fiddle and accordion backed by a triangle is fairly rare now, as are modal scales and tunings that sounded harmonics at each stop on the accordion for a vaguely medieval sound. Contemporary Cajun bands usually have single row, button accordions based on a diatonic scale with violins, rhythm guitars, steel guitars, bass, and drums. Amplified music is the rule, with acoustic playing limited to home events.
Since the 1930s, country and western has strongly influenced Cajun music in song choice, scale usage, instrumentation, and demeanor of performers. In one recent example, the hit song “Here I Am, I’m Drunk Again” is translated to “Garde lei, Je Sou Encore.” A hillbilly fiddle style is fairly popular, although the Cajun style is still distinctive and preferred. The steel guitar is also popular, but is usually played without melody solos using standard breaks in what has become an almost traditional Cajun steel sound. Accordionists are most likely to be group leaders although there are many exceptions.
Black French music shares with Cajun music many French tune sources, but the influence of the blues is also significant, especially in the cities. In the urban and rural Creole speaking areas, a decided Afro-Caribbean influence is also heard not only in the language of the songs, but in the rhythms as well. The black French version of the Cajun two-step is the la-la, which is faster and highly syncopated. The waltz, although less popular, is also rendered faster. Black French music features more play with rhythm, less emphasis on melody, some blues tonality, and instrumental differences. Most zydeco bands, for example, have a frottoir (metal rubbing board) played with thimbles, spoons or bottle openers. In some of the more Caribbeanized areas, notched gourds are used. The urban groups, unlike the rural ones, do not use violins, but typically add lead guitar parts, two and three row button accordions, and occasionally the larger chromatic piano accordion.
While Cajun music has felt the acculturative influence of country and western music over the last 40 years, zydeco has syncretized Afro-American forms such as country blues and, later, urban blues and soul. In Lafayette, Lake Charles, Beaumont and Houston, there are a number of black French clubs that compete for crowds with the soul clubs; some bands even play in both. Urban zydeco groups often sing rhythm and blues and soul numbers in French, which the people call “ ’cordion music” rather than zydeco; it is not as rhythmically complex as rural zydeco and is essentially black American pop music in French.
Because dancing remains an important social activity, musical taste and choice of club attendance may well be the most reliable way to identify different classes of black and white French Louisianans. The growth of club attendance is largely a post- World War II phenomenon. Prior to that time, the house dance was the most important regular rural social event. Even today, many dance halls retain a sense of home, family and friends that is linked to the time of fais-do-do or Cajun house parties. Black French dances continue to be called la-la’s or zydecos or sometimes just “French dances,” to distinguish them from soul dances and rock ’n roll dances, while Cajun dances are simply called “French dances.” From a number of dances popular prior to the Depression such as the mazurka, polka, hot-step, one-step, two-step, contradanse and waltz, only the waltz and two-step have remained primary forms.
Cajun dances as events vary greatly in decorum. Some are for people just off work in their daily attire, others are in large old wooden-floored dance halls and require spiffy dress: polished boots and coats for the men, and carefully done hair for the women. Church dances are usually the most dressy and proper.
The character of black dance halls and clubs is also diverse. The rural clubs, like Cajun dance halls, are often family places where all ages come to dance, and where wedding receptions, anniversaries and benefits are held. Even in urban black French clubs this home feeling is stronger than in strictly Afro-American clubs. But some clubs are definitely upper-class places for lighter people, Creole or mulâtre. Indicating this class distinction, one man at a mulâtre club advised me not to go to another dance hall where soul music rather than zydeco was featured because the place was full of “town niggers and hoodlums.”
With the increasing “melting pot” pressures of the larger culture, attending a Creole or Cajun dance hall is probably the most common expression of cultural identity. The individual selects the social group within which he can comfortably drink, dance, joke, work and marry. For black and white French people of all kinds, the dance is still the pre-eminent form of socializing in rural areas.
Language and Identity The effect of acculturation on Cajuns greatly increased after 1930. Until then, they had tended to absorb the various groups they had come in contact with, partly by sheer numbers, and partly through relative prosperity and social strength. But the Depression seriously crippled many people who depended on a mixture of small cash crops, fishing, and trapping; and Governor Huey Long’s road building program brought not only job seekers to the city, but outside forces into the countryside. In addition, Long’s free schoolbook program—and other socioeconomic pressures of the era—forced many Cajuns to learn English. The French language, which had long been a keystone to the Cajun/Creole culture, became considered a mark of illiteracy.
The influx of the oil industry, which provided many jobs to Cajuns, also hastened the demise of the traditional culture and its notions of the relationship of land and community.31 Led by Texans and a few wealthy Cajuns, the industry turned more and more of the Gulf Coast into a wasteland for refining oil, sulfur and natural gas. Morgan City was transformed from a shrimper’s town into a roughneck paradise of welders, pipeline companies, and contract drillers. Honky-tonks sprouted to soothe the “offshore blues.” Lake Charles also underwent extensive industrialization with rural Cajuns pouring into it and other cities of the Texas coast. The daily contact with Anglo Texans and north Louisianans who came into the area seeking work had a significant effect on Cajun language habits and art styles.32
Cajun music, for example, from the ’30s on, became increasingly influenced by hillbilly and western swing. The accordion fell into disfavor. French bands that played hillbilly music were in demand, and a fiddler from East Baton Rouge Parish named Harry Choates — whose identity as a Cajun is questionable — emerged as the definitive regional star of French Country Western. In 1947, his version of the traditional waltz “Jolie Blonde” — also known as the “Cajun National Anthem” — became a hit.33
While Cajun western swing bands and honky-tonk singers were springing up, the regional power of the Cajun culture was conversely being felt, especially in east Texas. Texans Link Davis and Moon Mullican recorded a number of songs either about Cajun country or in broken French with Cajun instrumentation. These versions of “Jolie Blonde” and “Big Mamou” departed considerably from tradition and invoked such romantic images as finding Jolie Blonde “on de bayou in de moonlight.” Even more popular was Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” written when he was a radio performer on Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride. A Creole family at a dance in Opelousas, Louisiana.
Traditional Cajun music underwent something of a revival a few years later even as Jimmie C. Newman was taking the Cajun sound in modified form to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. In the 1950s, the accordion evoked a new interest in the hands of men like Nathan Abshire and Iry Lejeune. Both were heavily influenced by blues, and Lejeune in particular was often dubbed the “Cajun Hank Williams.”
Black French people, especially those in the Creole speaking parishes, were less affected by acculturation, due, at least in part, to racial discrimination and the fewer number of jobs available to them. When blacks did move to the cities, they tuned into Gulf Coast rhythm and blues provided by Fats Domino, Bobby Blue Bland, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Guitar Slim. Zydeco accordionists like Clifton Chenier and, later, Marcel Dugas, increasingly created a middle ground between black French music and black American music by playing soul and rhythm and blues on their accordions.
The rise of television did contribute to the undermining of French in favor of English. Today, nearly every rural home has a TV, and it is not unusual to see older people who speak primarily French watching programs broadcast in English. One fascinating result of television on folk culture is illustrated by two black French brothers who played a tune on their violin and accordion which they called “Granny’s Two Step,” and explained that it was taken from a TV show about “granny” — it was the theme from the Beverly Hillbillies.
Thus, the 1930s to the 1960s saw Cajuns and Creoles alike becoming less culturally distinct from other Southerners, but because of the isolating factors and cultural strengths, much that was traditional survived or was modified within tradition. When the current “revival” began, many ways of doing things were rediscovered rather than merely revived.
Nowhere is this rebirth more significant than in the urban areas which have lost relatively more of their cultural heritage. Lafayette (population 75,000) is a case in point. It is a minature melting pot of Cajuns, Creoles, retired farmers, Texas and Louisiana oilmen, businessmen with and without formal education, college students, Syrian/Lebanese merchants and old Jewish families. It is the current center of Cajun urban culture; tourist brochures dub it the “hub of Acadiana.” It is a town of self-proclaimed seafood kings, mobile home kings, and furniture kings who resurrect a vestige of French royalty to sell their products. It is also a city intoxicated with growth in the form of fast foods, traffic congestion, and farm-swallowing suburban sprawl. Unlike Lake Charles, Morgan City, Beaumont and Port Arthur, Lafayette is not heavily industrialized. Oil operations here are mainly at the managerial support level for the drilling and processing done elsewhere.
Cajuns in Lafayette are largely middle class in their orientation, as they are becoming in smaller cities like Eunice and Opelousas with the continued influence of the oil industry. There are Cajun bankers, lawyers, dentists, and doctors in abundance — Edwin Edwards, the first Cajun governor, is a businessman from Crowley. There is also Lafayette’s University of Southwestern Louisiana, the “Ragin’ Cajun” school, with upwards of 10,000 students, and finally, there are the Quebec Government offices, and the offices of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL).
CODOFIL came into being in 1968 by an act of the Louisiana State Legislature, no small feat when one considers that the northern half of the state is Anglo and often disapproving of Cajun ways, and that the New Orleans politicians tend to ignore Cajun country. Although various groups such as “France-Amerique de la Lousiane-Acadienne” existed earlier, the movement to establish CODOFIL first took shape in the mid-1960s under the leadership of a non-Cajun, Dr. Raymond Rodgers. In 1966, as professor of social studies at USL, Rodgers wrote a series of newspaper articles urging the preservation and revival of French culture and language in Louisiana.34 In the light of later developments, it is important to note that he shunned the teaching of standard French, arguing that the local varieties of French should be taught since they are the language of the culture. He also emphasized the advantages of increased tourism and trade that such a cultural revival could bring.
By the time CODOFIL legislation became a reality, lawyer and former US Representative James Domengeaux (1941-1949) became the figurehead of the new movement. Domengeaux, who has received the French Legion of Honor award for his efforts, has shifted the emphasis to the French language itself, although bills passed in 1968 had provisions for cultural enrichment including school programs of history and culture of the Louisiana French population.35 The legislation empowered CODOFIL to direct oral French programs at the elementary school level as well as to make sure that French courses were offered in high schools throughout the state. Funding came from the federal government through the Bilingual Education Act, and Quebec and France sent additional teachers at their cost. There are currently about 230 such imported teachers supplementing those paid by state and local school board funds.
Although much of CODOFIL’s activity was modeled after bilingual programs in Quebec, the fairly conservative Louisiana group was careful to remove the separatist rhetoric of the Quebecois and the anti-American feeling of some French nationals.36
The basic complaint is that CODOFIL programs do not teach Louisiana French. The standard international French is fairly distinct from the many Cajun dialects that contain archaic French as well as Indian, Spanish, German, African, and English words; and somewhat different phonology and structure. Standard French is even more remote from French Creole.
Additionally, by using outsiders to “develop” French in Louisiana, various cultural attitudes are brought in that may conflict with the local way of doing things. To be sure, not all the teachers feel that they are in the “boondocks” or that they are bringing Culture to the uneducated. Many are quite sympathetic and inject their perceptions of the local language and culture into the curriculum on their own. Still, it is difficult to view CODOFIL’s work as a genuine cultural “renaissance” (as they term it) since, for the most part, local teachers are not being utilized.
Critics also claim that CODOFIL is not concerned with all the people who participate to varying degrees in Louisiana French culture. This is reflected in Chairman James Domengeaux’s own restricted definition of the Cajun as a descendant of the original Acadians.37 Although he is descended from French planters who settled in the Caribbean and thus doesn’t consider himself a Cajun, he notes, “The Cajuns are perhaps the purest race of people in the United States today.”38
Domengeaux and his cohorts are unswerving in their commitment to save French “maintenant ou jamais” (now or never), as one of their many signs posted about south Louisiana proclaims. However, in contemporary Louisiana French, the impact of the English languagehas been enormous, not just at the level of word use and pronunciation, but also in the deeper structure of grammar. Linguist Raleigh Morgan has written of “dialect leveling” in Southwest Louisiana whereby Cajun and Creole are increasingly reshaped to an Anglicized, Louisiana French.39 Just as the many dance genres have been reduced to the waltz and two step, John Guilbeau has noted that once prominent tales, such as that of “Le Juif Errant” (Wandering Jew), are now only used in metaphorical speech, while knowledge of the tale or of its origin has been lost. In the realm of belief, the formerly popular notion of a werewolf or lougarou is now used merely to describe a noisy party or perhaps an animal in heat.40
Yet English language and American ways do not completely spell the loss of Cajun culture, if we take into account the many monolingual English speakers in South Louisiana today who are proud to be Cajuns. In some ways, the area’s most prevalent language is Cajun English which, with its own grammar and phonology, can be considered sociologically parallel to black English. For many it marks community and cultural boundaries. Along with Cajun French and Creole French it is a uniquely South Louisianan language.
One major problem facing supporters of standard French in south Louisiana is that Cajun French has been an oral language for a long time. Originally, some Acadian settlers did read and write French, but maintaining a regular course of instruction was impossible during the trek to Louisiana. The one exception was the occasional use of the French “catechism” into the nineteenth century.41 French Creole has never been a written language and literacy in English alone is a problem for many Cajuns and Creoles. This is partly reflected in the need for a large remedial reading and writing program for incoming students at the University of South Louisiana.
The problem of coming up with a standard orthography for Cajun and Creole is a difficult one which adds strength to CODOFIL’s argument for standard French. Still, a sympathy toward and understanding of Cajun and Creole dialects — a trilingual cultural approach — seems essential to a true revival. To this end, one local teacher without CODOFIL affiliation, Mrs. Phoebe Trotter at Carencro High School, offers a conversation class utilizing local dialects. Students can in sequential years take reading and writing of standard French. This innovative idea is popular with* students and parents.
It would be wrong to deny any positive effect of CODOFIL. Their yearly music festival, Hommage a la Musique Acadienne, has done much to revive an interest in French music; and their programs have given a new respectability to the French language. However, to be effective, a movement must take many forms rather than be directed from the top down.
Not surprisingly, the most interesting and important things happening in south Louisiana culture are diffuse and reflect local sentiments. Community leaders in small towns have worked for years in a variety of ways to make people aware of their culture. Revon Reed, a French teacher from Mamou in the prairies, has long hosted a Saturday morning radio show of live French music heard throughout the region. He has appeared as a spokesman in films made for French public television in Quebec and recently has authored his own book, Lâche Pas la Patate (Don’t Let Go of the Potato), about French Louisiana.42 In nearby Basile, fiddler Dewey Balfa has received federal grants to perform music in schools locally and throughout the South in addition to leading the internationally-known Balfa Brothers. Floyd Soileau of Ville Platte, starting as a disc jockey after World War II, has created Swallow Records which sells a variety of Gulf Coast musical forms. He also operates a pressing plant and publishing house which employs many locals. Soileau is justifiably proud of the "rural Mecca” for south Louisiana music that Ville Platte has become.
A number of people run private museums. There is a Cajun Hall of Fame in Port Arthur, documenting the great Cajun musicians as well as individuals like the record producer Huey (the Crazy Cajun) Meaux and Dudley LeBlanc — politician and Hadacol entrepreneur. In Lafayette there is the Acadian Village, where a number of traditional Cajun homes have been reconstructed. This is run by a local mental health organization which employs patients for the upkeep of the grounds. In tiny Loreauville on the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin is the small Louisiana Heritage Museum, largely the work of one concerned and now elderly woman who has assembled pirogues, hand-run sugar mills, a small church, and a number of homes.
Although bilingual educational television was supported at least as an idea in the 1968 CODOFIL legislation, the current French TV show with the most influence is a commercial morning program, Passe Partout (starting at 6:00 am), with its first segment in French. The program comes from Lafayette and features Cajun and Creole musicians.
Many locals sport T-shirts and bumper stickers that give some idea of the popular public aspect of Cajun culture today. Some say "Cajun Power” and "Proud Cajun” or “Proud Coonass.” "Coonass,” like hillbilly or redneck, was long a perjorative term, but like those other words it now has a new social power when used with pride by a Cajun, although some public officials have gone to great lengths to try to abolish the word. Others have responded angrily that*"l was bom a Coonass and I’ll die one.” Though various humorous etymologies of the word have been offered, it is hard to say how the term originated. The word "Cajun” itself was at one time an insult, especially when spoken by a non-Cajun. Sidney McGlaurie, a black Frenchman in his sixties told me: "When I was young, if the white man called you a nigger, just call him a Cajun back and you had a fight on your hands.”43
Perhaps the most vital aspect of the Cajun revival is music. Local record labels like Swallow, La Louisianne, Goldband, Blues Unlimited, and Jin continue to find larger markets for both traditional and modernized French music as well as Gulf Coast rock and blues. Maison de Soul, a new division of Swallow, promises to be an outlet for zydeco.
Symbolic of a heightened awareness of all cultural forms on the Gulf Coast, young Cajuns have become big fans of the zydeco bands led by Clifton Chenier, Rockin’ Dopcee, and Queen Ida, which now appear in white clubs. Gulf Coast rhythm and blues as played by Gatemouth Brown and Ernie K-Doe also enjoys a Cajun following.
Although Creole consciousness is not presently strong, within any community certain local leaders, politicians, and especially club owners act as spokespersons. It is difficult to say what shape a Creole revival might take since many rural people still live traditionally and those in the cities are lured by black American culture. However, many urban blacks who have rural French roots return home for major holidays and family events.
Some indication of an increased interest in black French identity is seen in a return of patronage to zydeco music within the Creole community. Although zydeco has been considered "too black” by Cajun radio programs and "too French” for most soul stations, sales of records are up and club attendance is also on the rise.44
The most prominent addition to the local music scene is the appearance of Cajun rock. One group in particular called Coteau may have found the Cosmic Cajun equivalent to Austin’s Cosmic Cowboys and Macon’s Southern Sound. The comparison is not unwarranted. Coteau combines high energy twin lead guitars with accordion and violin, playing waltzes and two-steps and a version of the Mardi Gras song that, in the words of one observer, "makes you wonder if you are in the seventeenth or twenty-first century.” Coteau and a number of other groups (the Red Beans and Rice Revue, Bayou Drifter Band, and Beau Soleil) have brought young people back into the dance hall, the traditional location of social events. Coteau means "higher ground” in local French, and when you hear an improvised jazz-rock guitar lead over a fast two-step or a Cajun Reggae version of "Jambalaya,” the mystical perspective of those two words becomes clearer.
With jambalaya (a chicken dish with a rice dressing) we come full circle, returning to the culinary metaphor which began my effort to share three years of fieldwork and friendship on America’s French Gulf Coast. The power of the French revival grows from the survival, in scattered pockets, of traditional cultural forms and from the adaptation of old forms to new circumstances. The strength of French Cajun and Creole languages combined with the presence of uncounted speakers of Cajun English, and with the renewed pride in ethnicity within an America now somewhat more comfortable with pluralism, suggests that the Cajun/Creole Gulf Coast will inevitably be unique for many years to come.
1. This figure is derived from the 1970 US Census Table 119 (Texas). It actually applies to all of Harris County in which Houston is situated. Black French people and Cajuns came to Houston mainly during World War Two to work in shipyards and defense industries.
2. Elizabeth Branden, “The Sociocultural Traits of the French Folksong in Louisiana,” Louisiana Review, 1972, 1:2, p. 19. Numerous historical works dealing with Louisiana and the Cajuns in particular are available. For Fouisiana, see Martin (1882) 1963, and Fortier (1904). Some highly romanticized accounts of Cajun history are by: Daigle, 1972; FeBlanc, 1966; Winzerling, 1955; Voorhies, 1911.
3. Emile Fauvriere, Histoire de la Louisiane Francaise, 1763-1939 (Paris, 1940), pp. 413-414.
4. Branden, op. cit., p. 19. Shiplogs detailing passengers in this second wave of Acadian immigrants to Louisiana have been studied by Milton P. and Norma G. Rieder, 1965, ’67; Bona Arsenault, 1965; and Sidney Marchand, 1943, ’65.
5. Branden, op. cit., p. 20 and footnote.
6. The Louisiana Territory was again in French hands for three years, 1800-1803.
7. J. Janno Deiler, The Settlement of the German Coast (Philadelphia, 1909). This author wrote a number of major works about Germans in Louisiana. He generally laments their absorption by the Acadians, and shows various Cajun names of German origin: e.g., Toubs from Dubs, Weber from Webber, and Tregre from Traeger.
8. T. Lynn Smith and Homer Hitt, The People of Louisiana (LSU Press, 1952), p. 41.
9. Gilbert C. Din, “Spanish Immigration to a French Land,” Louisiana Review, 1976:5:1, pp. 63-80, passim.
10. Smith and Hitt, op. cit., pp. 46-47.
11. See: T. Lynn Smith and Vernon J. Parenton, “Acculturation Among the Louisiana French,” American Journal of Sociology, 1938:44:3, pp. 355-364. 12. Ibid., p. 363.
13. John S. Farmer, Americanisms Old and New (London, 1889), p. 377.
14. The 1850 census did make the grossest distinction between Mulatto and Negro as Hitt and Smith note, op. cit., their footnote on p. 33: “of a total free colored population of 434,495 in the United States in 1850, 159,095 (37%) were classified as mulattoes; of an aggregate in Louisiana at the same census, the free colored population totaled 17,462, of whom 14,083 (81%) were classified as mulattoes; the slave population equalled 244,809, of whom only 19,835 (8.1%) were mulattoes. Apparently the association between an admixture of white blood and free status were much closer in Louisiana than elsewhere in the United States."
15. For a complete discussion of this phenomenon, see Sister Frances J. Woods, Marginality and identity: A Colored Creole Family Through Ten Generations (LSU Press, 1972).
16. An interesting institution in south Louisiana is the black French Baptist church. One of these in Eunice features a call/response service in French. Protestant blacks either came with Yankee planters or were converts of missionaries during the Reconstruction era.
17. Dorice Tentchoff, “Cajun French and French Creole: Their Speakers and the Question of Identity,” The Culture of Acadiana, Gibson and Del Sesto, eds. (Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana, 1975), pp. 87-109, passim.
18. T. Lynn Smith, “An Analysis of Rural Social Organization Among French Speaking People of Southwestern Louisiana,” Journal of Farm Economics, Vol. 16, October 1934, pp. 680-688.
19. H.R. Padgett, “Physical and Cultural Associations on the Louisiana Coast,” Association of American Geographers’ Annals, 1969:59, pp. 481-493.
20. See: William B. Knipmeyer, “Folk Boats of Eastern French Louisiana,” American Folklife (Univ. of Texas Press, 1969), pp. 105-149, passim. H.F. Gregory, Jr., “The Pirogue Builder Vanishing Craftsman,” Louisiana Studies, 1964:3, pp. 316-318. Although Gregory is somewhat pessimistic about the continued use of the pirogue and other boats, my own fieldwork and perspective reveals a modification of the tradition.
21. The best work on all these topics (occupation, cultural ecology, environment exploitation techniques) for the Atchafalaya Basin is Malcolm Comeaux, Atchafalaya Swamp Life Settlement and Folk Occupations, Vol. II in the Geoscience and Man series (LSU Press, 1972). 22. Personal communication via Patricia Rickels, Fall 1976.
23. For accounts of the cultural activities in the Bayou Prairie area, see: Lauren Post’s Cajun Sketches, (LSU Press, 1974).
24. Personal communication from Emmanuel Dreschel, a linguist working in this area.
25. This problem is extensively covered from a Catholic historian’s point of view in: Roger Baudier’s Catholicism in Louisiana, (New Orleans, 1934).
26. Seraphia Leyda, “Les Treateurs,” Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, 1961:2:1, pp. 18-27. 27. For treatments of all the phenomena see: Darrel Bourque, “Cauchemar and Feu Follet," Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, 1968:2:4, pp. 69-84. Also Patricia Rickels, “The Folklore of Sacraments and Sacramentals in South Louisiana,” Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, 1965:2:2, pp. 27-44.
28. All the Mardi Gras referred to here take place in the Southwestern bayou prairie area. I have personally observed or have firsthand reports of Mardi Gras (black and white) in Soileau, Mamou, McGhee Cove, Church Point, Opelousas, Oberlin and Basile. A team of fieldworkers observed a series on geographically contiguous Mardi Gras in the above footnoted localities. This observation concerning the “rules” for the Mamou Mardi Gras was relayed to me by Joel Sherzer.
29. A Lafayette Parish traffic commission concerned with alcohol use circulates literature claiming that consumption of beer in that parish is twice the national average.
30. See, Mina Monroe, ed., Bayou Ballads (N.Y.: G. Schirmer, 1921). Also, Irene Therese Whitfield, Louisiana French Folksongs (N.Y.: Dover Press, 1939, 1969).
31. A particularly good account of the effects of such industry immigrants in recent times is John Western’s account from the perspective of cultural geography: “Social Groups and Activity Patterns in Houma, Louisiana,” The Geographical Review, July 1973, 63:3, pp. 301-321.
32. Conwell and Julliand do note however that some oil companies found it advantageous to have French speaking foremen who could get along best with Cajun workers on the oil rigs. Louisiana French Grammar, Janua Linguarum Series Practica, Vol. I (Hogue Mouton & Co., 1 963).
33. For accounts of acculturation and revival of Cajun music see: Harry Oster, “Acculturation in Cajun Folk Music,” McNeese Review, 1958:10, pp. 12-23. Also, Nicholas Spitzer, “The Louisiana- French Connection in Country and Western Music: Cajun Country/Western Music on the Texas Border,” unpublished manuscript delivered at the 1976 meeting of the American Folklore Society, Philadelphia, Pa.
34. “Community Action Needed to Preserve French in Area,” Daily Advertiser, October 23, 1966, p. 21. Also (title unavailable) Daily Advertiser, December 18 1966. 3
5. See: Domengeaux’s commentary in “Pelican, French Language Dying in State, Report,” Times-Picayune, April 8, 1968. See Acts 408 and 409 in Acts of the State Legislature, Regular Session. State of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, 1968. For commentary on the legislation and CODOFI L’s interpretation of it see “CODOFIL and the Cajun Ethnic Revival,” unpublished manuscript by Tom Ireland, 1975, pp. 25-26.
36. Ireland, p. 27.
37. Ibid., p. 27, and personal communication from James Domengeaux, Feb. 1977.
38. Domengeaux communication, ibid.
39. Raleigh Morgan, “Dialect Leveling in Non-English Speech of Southwest Louisiana,” Texas Studies in Bilingualism, 1970.
40. John Guilbeau, “Folklore and the Louisiana French Lexicon,” Louisiana Review, 1972, Vol. I, No. 1, pp. 45-54.
41. Conwell and Julliand, op. cit., p. 18.
42. Revon Reed, Lache pas la Patate: Portrait des A cadiens de la Louisiane, Edition Parti pris, Montreal, 1976.
43. Personal communication from Sidney McGhlaurie, Lafayette, La., Winter, 1976.
44. Based on my own interviews with club owners, band leaders and record store owners.
Nicholas R. Spitzer
/*-->*/ /*-->*/ Nicholas Spitzer, is a folklorist working with the state of Louisiana, with a special interest in south Louisiana’s ethnic diversity and black Creole music and festivals. (1982)