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Cajun Country

Cajun Country

Barry Jean Ancelet
Jay D. Edwards
Glen Pitre
Carl Brasseaux
Fred B. Kniffen
Maida Bergeron
Janet Shoemaker
Mathe Allain
Lynwood Montell General Editor
Copyright Date: 1991
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  • Book Info
    Cajun Country
    Book Description:

    The first book in the Folklife in the South series and by far the broadest look at traditional Cajun culture ever assembled. It not only describes the traditions as they are but also explains how they came to be.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-617-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    William Lynwood Montell
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    The French founded Louisiana in 1682 when Robert Cavelier de La Salle stood on the banks of the Mississippi near the Gulf of Mexico and claimed all the land drained by that great river in the name of King Louis XIV. La Salle probably intended to claim a large territory, but it is doubtful if he understood that he was in fact claiming roughly half of what is now the United States. French settlers first began to arrive in Louisiana in the early eighteenth century, but France’s efforts to colonize Louisiana were at best half-hearted. Colonial speculator John Law’s financial...

  7. PART ONE History

    • CHAPTER 1 Origins
      (pp. 3-18)

      For decades, it was generally believed that most of the Acadian colonists were originally Normans, a misconception created by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epicEvangelineand perpetuated by historical literature. This misconception lives on today in Louisiana through the so-called authentic “Evangeline” costume, a seventeenth-century Norman outfit consisting of light blue skirt, white apron and blouse, and black corset.

      The popular image of the early Gallic settlers of Nova Scotia (Acadia) has little basis in historical fact. Only one Norman family settled in seventeenth-century Acadia. The predispersal Acadian pioneers, particularly the women who were said to have “a passion for...

    • CHAPTER 2 Settlement and Society
      (pp. 19-32)

      In the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, the social order of Acadians had become fixed firmly in a long-established rural mode of life founded on three main elements. These were the farmstead, the rural community with its local church, and the larger social and political order such as parish and state government. These elements interacted with physiographic variations to shape the patterns of Acadian settlement and communication in the colonial and post-colonial periods. Three principal zones of settlement emerged: the banks of the major rivers and bayous, the swamps and marshes, and the great western prairies...

    • CHAPTER 3 Acadian Folklife
      (pp. 33-66)

      The development of Acadian society in the nineteenth century has been almost completely neglected by historians. What little is known about the era is based primarily upon travelogues, written by outsiders who were generally interested only in the more exotic aspects of local life. Almost without exception, commentators failed to comprehend the complexity of Acadian society and totally ignored all but the most impoverished strata of the community.

      Despite the emergence of distinctive socioeconomic groups within the antebellum Cajun community, members of the lower social strata of Acadian society, particularly yeoman farmers andpetits habitants(subsistence farmers), shared a similar...

  8. PART TWO Social Institutions

    • CHAPTER 4 Family Organization
      (pp. 69-76)

      Three principal factors combined to shape the traditional Cajun family: cultural history, religion, and adaptation to rural life. The Acadian family is not unique in its basic organization, being much like the families of many other rural ethnic groups in the United States. Itisdistinctive, however, in the quality of its life and its psychological flavor. One must always keep in mind also that Cajun families may be as diverse as those of any other ethnic group. Although basic elements are characteristic, individual families vary greatly in values and organization. The feelings and values that unite Cajun families are...

    • CHAPTER 5 Religious Rituals and Festivals
      (pp. 77-94)

      As we have noted, religion has played a powerful role in shaping institutions such as the family. But whatisreligion in a folk society? It is even legitimate to ask which kind of religion exerts more influence on the lives of the average Cajun—the formal church with its clergy and teachers, or the complex system of extra-ecclesiastical and informally transmitted religious beliefs that have remained a basic ingredient of the life of rural people such as the Cajuns?

      Folklore is knowledge passed along from one person to another, or from one generation to another, through traditional, nonofficial channels....

    • CHAPTER 6 Folk Medicine
      (pp. 95-100)

      Folk medicine consists of a body of lore and practice for identifying and treating illness and injury. It also deals with the definition of illness and the recognition of culturally defined syndromes. Like the people of most cultures, Cajuns have maintained a well-defined body of folk medicine. Its practices occur at two different levels of Cajun society. On one hand there is a large body of lore that is generally shared among most older Cajuns, particularly those of rural background. Knowledge of how to cure warts or lessen pain during childbirth falls into this category. Another body of lore is...

    • CHAPTER 7 Folk Law and Justice
      (pp. 101-112)

      When the Acadians first arrived in Louisiana, they carried with them a well-defined set of assumptions about appropriate behavior and the role of civil authority. Their norms were grounded in a century of common experience in Acadia and shaped by the twin themes of self-reliance and passive resistance to the imposition of external authority. In Louisiana, the Acadians encountered from the beginning conditions similar to those that had prevailed in Acadia, where the goals of the French seignorial authorities, and later those of the British, were in many respects at odds with their own.

      As they had in the past,...

  9. PART THREE Material Culture

    • CHAPTER 8 Folk Architecture
      (pp. 115-136)

      The origins of Louisiana’s Acadian vernacular architecture are little investigated and imperfectly understood. History has eradicated much of the evidence normally available to the architectural historian. The lives of Acadians in the period preceding the settlement in Louisiana were so chaotic that it is extremely difficult to identify specific sources of architectural influence. We are left with little more than a series of educated guesses about the genesis of the Cajun house. It is possible, though, to identify the general cultural influences and to narrow the range of possibilities.

      Evidence concerning the houses of Acadian settlers in Nova Scotia is...

    • CHAPTER 9 Foodways
      (pp. 137-146)

      In a recent film,J’ai été au balby Chris Strachwitz and Les Blank, the Cajun accordion maker and musician Marc Savoy describes Cajun music as a gumbo made of various ingredients and spices. He demonstrates the development of the sound by adding one element at a time (basic melody, syncopation, embellishment, and so on) until, as he puts it, “it starts totastelike a Cajun song.” It is no accident that Cajun food (especially gumbo) has often been used as a metaphor for other Cajun cultural features. Like their music, language, architecture, and the Cajuns themselves, Cajun cooking...

  10. PART FOUR Performance

    • CHAPTER 10 Music and Musical Instruments
      (pp. 149-170)

      Like jazz, rock, and the blues, Cajun music was improvised in the New World. Along with Cajun cooking, it is one of the most accessible aspects of Cajun folklife. Entertaining and danceable, Cajun music circumvents the language barrier. Like Cajun cooking and Cajun culture in general, Cajun music is a blend of the cultural ingredients found in south Louisiana. The French Creoles shared some western French folk songs with the Acadians. In addition, French Creole immigrants continued to update the repertoire during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Native Americans contributed a wailing, terraced singing style in which vocal lines descend...

    • CHAPTER 11 Games and Gaming
      (pp. 171-182)

      Like most elements of Louisiana French culture, traditional Cajun children’s games were usually improvised. Most were very simple, requiring no props; some were based around things easily found around the house or on the farm. Games were also creolized. Some were brought from France, others were adopted from neighboring cultures. Many were made up on the spot and lasted only the time they took to be played. Others were somewhat more durable and were passed on from one generation to the next. In the countryside, children of a fairly wide range of ages played together. Later, schools began to narrow...

    • CHAPTER 12 Oral Traditions
      (pp. 183-224)

      In the past, Louisiana French oral tradition was studied simply for its reflection of French and African culture. In these terms, the search for traditional tales became little more than a search for Old World vestiges. This was certainly due in part to the area’s linguistic singularity as well as to past trends in folklore scholarship, which placed a premium on the discovery of long, European-style fairy tales collected by the Grimms in Germany, or Afro-Caribbean-styled animal tales. Alcée Fortier’s almost exclusive emphasis on animal tales among New Orleans black Creoles in his landmark 1890s collections stressed the Louisiana/Africa connection....

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 225-230)

    When we reflect on the style of life that Cajuns forged for themselves in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we realize just how completely the orally transmitted aspects of their culture dominated. And yet, we also see how culturally mixed was the world they lived in. In the more isolated areas of the state, the traditional rural lifestyle persisted well into the twentieth century. The Cajun family lived in a world that reflected both the traditions of France and the realities of Louisiana.

    While any generalization about Cajun culture can always be contradicted by the enormous diversity within it,...

  12. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 231-240)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-256)