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The Cajuns

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The Cajuns

And Some of Many Misconception About Them

Creole:: What Does It Mean

Coonass:: What does it Mean

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In the early 1600s, the French formed a settlement at Port Royal in Acadia, currently known as Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia; the second European settlement in North America. From this settlement evolved a nation of people complete with their own habits, customs and traditions. These people were simple, God loving farmers who tried to live in peace by farming, fishing and hunting. While in time of peace, the British repeatedly raided the Acadians: killing inhabitants, stealing their farm animals and grain, and burning their homes, barns and churches. They lived with this fear for 150 years, until they were expelled from their home land. Guilty of nothing but loyalty to their church, and a country that did nothing to help them.

The British forced them on ships, burnt their homes, families were separated and sent to different parts of the world, many never again to see each other. They scattered them along the eastern parts of North and South America, the Faulklands, West Indies, England and France. It took about 30 years for an estimated 4,000 to reach Louisiana, where they lived in peace after that.

Their journeys fired the imagination of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Inspired by the mythical story of two young lovers parted by the deportation, to be reunited only at the end of their lives. Likewise, his grandfather may have planted the seed by telling him stories of the exploits of Major General Winslow and the sufferings of the Acadians who had come to live at Duxbury when he was a boy. [1] Longfellow wrote his famous poem, Evangeline.

In January 1990, Warren Perrin, a lawyer in Lafayette, Louisiana, sent a 24 page petition to then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and asked for and got a reply within 30 days. Mr. Perrin, a descendant of the expelled Acadians, wants Britain to restore their status as "French Neutral", taken away when the Acadians were expelled. Apparently, the British have taken this serious enough to hire a law firm from Houston, to represent them and negotiations are currently underway.

Cajuns, like other ethnic groups, take pride in their unique distinctive culture that sets them apart from other people. The makeup of these people in ancient Acadia, were of Scottish, Irish, English, Indians and French. The French contributing the most to the culture, the language, religion and music all very French. History repeated itself after they reached Louisiana. Immigrants from Germany, England, Spain, Portugal and Ireland that settled among the Acadians were absorbed and adopted the culture. Without any cultural artifact to relate to, because everything was destroyed during expulsion, the Cajuns have preserved their culture despite tremendous odds.

The makeup of their genes is also among their distinctions. Dr. Sudhir Sinha, president of Gentest Laboratories in Metarie, Louisiana, has discovered that Cajuns have a specific genetic marking, as do Caucasian, Hispanics, Asians, Japanese, Blacks and others. [1A]

All the history about the Acadians written in the 18th and 19th century is not very complimentary. The Acadians were characterized as lazy, sickly, backward, envious of each other, bickering over boundary lines, and extremely poor. The Acadians did engage in some in-fighting, inundating colonial magistrates with petty civil suits, usually involving disputed boundary lines. While uncertain on the surface, Acadians controversial lawsuits clearly reflects the eagerness of the frontier men to protect what was theirs. Though frequently involving members of different families, the individual confrontations were resolved peaceably. Most of these negative accounts were written by Anglo historians, trying desperately to manipulate the opinion in favor of the British, despite the reckless barbarous crime of deporting the whole Acadian populace. The Acadians did not hesitate to protest the actions of local administrators and clergymen to higher authorities in Quebec and France. When appeals proved ineffective, the colonists resorted to resistance, trickery, and other forms of passive prolonging to foil unpopular administrative policies, even closing ranks to oppose individuals or policies perceived as unfavorable to the group.

Some historians refers to the pagan elements in the Acadian society. It is evident the women were the primary transmitters of religious values and today still are loyal supporters of the Catholic faith. The disregard for the European morality and proper behavior on the church grounds, [2] particularly in the men, led to confrontations between the Acadians and the clergy. One priest bitterly protested in a letter to his bishop at Quebec, that the Acadian men would sometimes run horse races around the church during the sermon. [3]

This seems to have accompanied them on their forced odyssey to Louisiana. The Acadian men would walk in the church smoking their pipes and wearing their hats or get up during the sermon and go outside for a smoke and tell jokes in full view of the altar. [3] Also, a story my grandmother related to me that her uncle would lure the men outside for a bout of arm wrestling on the hitching rail. At one point it led to the priest stopping the sermon to go outside to give them a lecture and expel them from the church grounds. Even in the late 1940's I personally witnessed a priest on the altar giving a stern sermon about a saloon keeper. The son stood up and told the priest to shut up.

The Acadians were not tolerant of the clergymen meddling into affairs that were not of a religious nature . They would not allow missionaries to impose their European homeland code of behavior on the parishioners. It is obvious that the Acadians had and still have today a genuine attachment to their Catholic faith.


The name Coonass inherited by the Acadians has nothing to do with the raccoon. After expulsion more than 3,000 Acadians sought refuge in France. French administrators had promised the displaced Acadians that they would be compensated and resettled on farms comparable to what they were forced to relinquish in Acadia. Several blundering attempts were made to resettle the Acadians on barren lands, however all failed. The Acadians having been farmers most of their lives, were unwilling to abandon the independence they were accustomed to, and adapt to France's feudal system. Unable to compete in the skilled urban job market, they were compelled to live in the French seaports on a meager Royal dole. The native Frenchmen, already over-burdened with taxes, resented the exiles they were forced to support.

Soon the Acadians were labeld "conasse" [4] a derogatory French slang word used to humiliate, embarrass or degrade another. The word has been defined as several different meaning "a prostitute who has not had her regular health inspection; a stupid woman or man , used especially for a bungling prostitute; a man who does some stupid things." The French now use the word for more broadly meaning a "grossly stupid person." When the Cajun's went to war in the first and second world war to help liberate France, the Frenchmen renewed the name calling, the word was brought back to the states by the Americans. It is used by outsiders intended as an ethnic ridicule. A large part of the Cajun population do not know why they were given that name and accepts it, but it is resented and considered an insult by most informed Cajuns.


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The word "Creole" [6] derives from the Spanish word (criollo) meaning native to the place. In colonial North America the term was used to suggest descendants of French or Spanish settlers of the Gulf States. The word is used as in the terms Creole cooking, Creole language, and to indicate local products. The Acadians used the term to distinguish the original settlers from themselves. The term lacks reference to the offspring of inter-breeding blacks and whites.

By definition, as found in Spanish, French and Italian dictionaries for the past 200 years or more, a Creole (Creolo) is a white person of European ancestry, born in a European colony. Historically, therefore, to apply the term Creole to anyone else is simply to ignore the reality and validity of history.

In Louisiana, the term Creole applies to both the Spaniards and the French whose ancestors came directly from Europe.

The Cajuns, whose ancestors came from Acadia, are obviously not Louisiana Creoles. In the same manner, Negroes and Mulattoes, even those with some white blood, cannot properly be considered to be Creoles without falsifying the very definition of Creole. However, years ago the Negroes adopted the term calling themselves Creoles hoping it would elevate them socially.

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The seasoning with the combination of several herbs is what makes Cajun food distinctive. The various herbs mixed in a roux, form the basis for many Cajun dishes. Roux is used in most dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, etoufee, court-bouillion, sauce piquante, which is (a peppered court-bouillion) and fricacee can be made with anything that flies or swims. Rice is the main staple in all Cajun dishes. It is said that only the Chinese eat more rice than the Cajuns.

Cajun food is not the peppery hot misconception that some cookbook authors, magazine articles, and the so called Cajun chefs have created. The delusion was helped by the fact that Acadiana is noted for its bottled pepper sauces.

Cajun chefs prefer the raw or powered peppers. Red, black and white pepper is used in the seasoning, but never dominating the distinct taste of seafood or of meats. It brings out and enhances their flavors instead. In the Cajun kitchen the bottled pepper sauces sits on the tables so individuals can pepper to taste.

Many Cajun dishes takes too long to cook and cannot be commercially successful. Numerous so called Cajun restaurants and fast food establishment are serving peppery dishes and sandwiches and trying to pass them off as Cajun food. A large part of outside population are under the deception that anything red and peppery hot is Cajun.

The image problem the Cajuns are faced with stems from the musician and entertainers clowning around with their instruments. What is sad is these people are very good musicians and are very good at what they do when they do it right. They could be spreading to the outside world real Cajun music, not some silly rendition of a squeaky fiddle by a clown. So, if a clown is playing an accordion or a fiddle, he should be called a clown not a Cajun.

Another image problem are the so called Cajun disk jockeys and Cajun humorist using improperly constructed sentences in broken English. Out-of-date material painting the Cajuns as illiterate and simple-minded people is inaccurate and also in bad taste. Most of the Cajun people are angered and embarrassed by the thought that this kind of humor and mentality reflects the Cajuns to outsiders.

Since the late 1970's just about every magazine and major newspaper have written at least one article about the Cajuns. Most of these articles stereotypes the Cajuns as beer-drinking party- going types, placing extreme emphasis upon eating, drinking and dancing. Every magazine article about the Louisiana Cajuns implies that the whole Cajun population drops everything on Saturday morning and gathers at Fred's Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana to drink beer. Freds is a normal-size small-town Cajun bar about 2,500 square feet, that could hold about 70 to 80 people at any one time. Like many other Cajun bars around southwest Louisiana in the 1940s-50s that would cater to the local population, where they could gather every Saturday morning to visit, play a few games of cards, eat a couple links of boudin and sometimes drink a few beers. Saturdays the day between work and worship, have been for centuries the day for marriages, visiting and celebrations for the Acadians.

However, Freds is no longer a typical Cajun bar on Saturday morning. About 30 years ago Fred Tate the owner of the bar struck a deal with Revon Reed to broadcast live each Saturday morning and be heard on a near-by radio station. Now Freds clientele for the most part is out of state visitors, foreigners and the news media, so only a few locals can get in the place on Saturday morning.

Actually there are Cajun lawyers, professionals in sports, doctors, teachers. Cajuns are in just about every occupation there is.

Today, 393 years after the first settlement in Acadia, their music and food is popular all over the world. Acadian names appear in telephone books in every major city in the United States and Canada.

NOTES

[1] Ref. The Daily Advertiser June 2, 1991

[2] The Founding of New Acadia: (By Carl A. Brasseaux) Page 161-166

[3] The Cajuns: (By William Faulkner Rushton) Page-11

[4] The Cajuns: (By William Faulkner Rushton) Page-329. Numerous live interviews with second world war veterans and two Frenchman's born and raised in France Namely Jean Teaseau and Charles Dupont.

[5] The Founding of New Acadia: Page 1 (By Carl A. Brasseaux) The Daily Advertiser August 10, 1980

[6] Ref. Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Bibilography

History of The Acadians: (By Bona Arsenault)/ The Founding of New Acadia: (By Carl A. Brasseaux) / The Cajuns: (By William Faulkner Rushton)/ Cajun Country: (By Barry Jean Ancelet, Jay Edwards and Glen Pitre)/ Tears Love and Laughter: (By Pierre V. Daigle)/ The Cajuns, Essays on Thier History and Culture: (Edited by Glenn R. Conrad) / Acadians in Exile: (By Rev. Donald J. Hebert) / Les Indomptes: (By Simone Vincens) / The People Called Cajuns: (By James H. Dormon) / The Acadian Miracle: (By Dudley J. LeBlanc) / Curasders of New France: (By William Bennett Munro)/ Dictionary of Canadian Biography: (Editor George W. Brown)/ Exile Without An End: (by Chapman J. Milling)/ Daily Life in Early Canada: (by Douville Raymond) /History of Canada: (by Kennith McNaught) / Louisiana's French Heritage: (by Truman Stacey) / Saints and Strangers: (by George F. Willison) / Fortier's History of Louisiana: (by Alcee Fortier)/ Cajun Music: (by Ann Allen Savoy) / Cajun Music Its Origins and Development: (by Barry Jean Ancelet)/ Traditional Cajun Dance Music: (by Raymond E. Francois)/ Southwest Louisiana Biographical and Historical (by William Henry Perrin)

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