Cajuns

Cajuns are the descendants of exiles from the French colony of ACADIA (present-day Nova Scotia and adjacent areas) who left their homeland in 1755 and found refuge in southern Louisiana a decade later. By 1790 about 4,000 Acadians occupied the wetlands along Bayou Lafourche and Bayou Teche; they later settled the Louisiana prairies. In the fertile bayous they fished, trapped the fur-bearing animals, gathered moss, and raised sugarcane, cotton, and corn; on the prairies they established cattle ranches and planted rice. Their traditional domestic architecture consisted of daubed or half-timbered houses with gable roofs, mud chimneys, and outside stairways leading to attics. The landholdings were often surrounded by the characteristic pieux, a rail-and-post fence.

The French-speaking, Roman Catholic Cajuns, today estimated to number about 500,000, maintain many cultural and occupational traditions of their ancestors. Their speech is an archaic form of French into which are incorporated words taken from English, German, Spanish, and various Indian languages. With the decline of the muskrat in the wetlands, the nutria, an import from Argentina, became the Cajun trapper's staple. Oystering and shrimping are increasingly important industries. Recently, the exploratory drilling for oil in the wetlands and adjacent offshore areas has provided the Cajuns with another source of employment.

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Cajun Country

The Canadian province of Acadia (today's Nova Scotia and surrounding regions) was settled in the early 1700s by French colonists, but the area became a British possession soon afterwards. In 1755, as war neared between France and England, the British authorities demanded that the Acadians renounce their Roman Catholic faith and swear allegiance to the Crown. The Acadians refused and the mass exile that followed is well known to all who have read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Evangeline".

The migration of the French Acadians to Louisiana was neither smooth nor immediate. Many were shipped to the New England colonies, others to the West Indies or back to France, and many wandered for 20 years before learning that they were welcome in the predominantly French territory of Louisiana. Here they established small farms along the Mississippi River, Bayou Teche, Bayou Lafourche and other streams in the southern part of the region. Fishing and trapping villages were established in the swamplands. Cajun (the word is a corruption of the original French pronunciation of Acadian--A-ca-jan) Country today lies within a triangle whose base is the Louisiana coast and whose apex is near Alexandria in the central part of the state. The triangle contains 22 parishes and the region's principal city, Lafayette, is the unofficial capital of "Acadiana".

Cajun Country covers much of southern Louisiana. French-speaking Acadian refugees, driven from their homes in Acadie(now Nova Scotia) by the British in 1755, settled along the swamps and bayous after wandering for 10 years along the Atlantic seaboard. They quickly adapted to their strange new environment and were soon harvesting crawfish, shrimp, crabs and oysters. They build house and boats (called pirogues) from cypress trees, trapped nutria and muskrat, and grew rice, hot peppers and okra.

Cajun cooking may be a first cousin to the Creole cuisine of New Orleans, but there is none other quite like it in the world for the imagination of its dishes or the artistic robustness of its seasoning. Favorite Cajun dishes include jambalaya, gumbo, turtle sauce piquante, andouille sausage, boudin (a pork and rice sausage), cochon du lait, soft-shell crab, stuffed crab, a hundred shrimp dishes, crawfish etouffee, crawfish bisque, crawfish pie, and dozens more.

And they developed a style of cooking that has become world-renowned, with savory, spicy dishes that include crawfish pie, gumbo, jambalaya and otherdelicious concoctions. The feisty, hardworking Acadians (Cajuns for short) remained isolated in the swamps well into the 20th century. As a result, they still speak their own language, and their culture is filled with unique dances, songs, festivals and Crawfish Racing.

Cajun music can be lively or melancholy, ...and sometimes both at once. The traditional instruments are fiddle, accordion and triangle, and those still dominate (although drums and guitars have found their way into Cajun bands in recent years). Like the spoken language of the Cajuns, the lyrics of their songs are part French, part English. The themes are universal, love (lost and found) and the beauty of their land, but the melodies and phraseology are unique.

Originally farmers, trappers and fishermen, today's Cajuns occupy virtually every occupation and are the backbone of the state's oil and gas exploration and production industry, particularly offshore. When oil was first discovered in the North Sea more than 5,000 Cajuns with experience working on oil rigs in the open sea were employed to drill the first wells and to provide training.

Along with its food and music, the major trademarks of Cajun Country are pirogues (canoes made from a single cypress log), Spanish moss, alligators, swamps, bayous and "Cajun Cabins".

See the number of people in Louisiana reporting Cajun(Acadian) or French ancestry in the 1990 census.


Bibliography: Browne, Turner, Louisiana Cajuns (1977); Conrad, Glenn R., ed., The Cajuns: Essays on Their History and Culture (1978; repr. 1983); Dormon, J. H., The People Called Cajuns (1983); Post, Lauren C., Cajun Sketches from the Prairies of Southwest Louisiana, 2d ed. (1974); Ramsey, Carolyn, Cajuns on the Bayous (1957); Wilson, J., and Jacobs, H., Justin Wilson's Cajun Humor, 2d ed. (1978).