Their language, entirely spoken few can read or write in French has been held in contempt by many people as a crude patois, though some authorities insist it is pure seventeenth-century French.
Until the first World War relatively few spoke English at all. And those who speak it today have a humorous, if expressive, jargon of their own. In many ways this is not really a dialect, but a literal translation from French, such as, 'He live in that house which is white, him.' The last pronoun being repeated to impress you with who it is living in 'that house which is white.' Sentences frequently terminate with an interrogative 'Yes?' or 'No?' or 'Hein?' as if desiring your assurance that the speaker is correct in his opinion and that you agree.
Pronouns are scattered here and there, liberally. Usually in the wrong places. The Cajun's hands, shoulders and eyes, which are all put into play when he launches into a conversation, are really almost as much organs of speech as his tongue. And when he cannot remember an English word or phrase he shoves in a French one, lapses right back into English and goes on from there, always speaking rapidly, betraying his impatient and nervous nature.
Education is seeping into even the most remote bayou settlements now, and Cajun children attend school at least for a few years. But for the most part this alters life but little. Cajun boys learn to fish and hunt and trap almost from infancy; it is only the rare individual who for a moment dreams of entering any other profession. They marry young, often before they are twenty, and are at that age quite as adept at earning a living in these occupations as their fathers. Their brides are usually dark-eyed children of fourteen or fifteen, but already equally as skilled at the tasks necessary to a good cook and housekeeper. The tiny houses in which they live, in many instances two-room shacks, are clean and orderly, the floors scrubbed white, the kitchen utensils polished. And Cajun cooking, especially in .the preparation of sea foods, may rival that of any famous city chef. Marriages last for life, and morals, as a whole, are relatively good among them.
A Cajun woman's life is of course a failure should she not capture a mate, and this dreadful prospect causes her much worry. The Cajun old maid is so rare as to be the object of both scorn and pity. From the time she is about fourteen her family begin to nag her about getting herself a husband. Each night many Cajun girls examine their heels for any tinge of yellow, for such a sign is a certain portent of spinsterhood. Tante Therese herself a horrible example will remember mournfully that at the age of seventeen the fatal yellow tinge appeared on her own heels, and here she is, well into her thirties, and of course without hope, since no man along the bayous wants such an old woman.Tante Therese reports that eighteen is just about the latest a girl may have hope of marrying.
But, says Tante Therese, there are many ways of rendering a man susceptible, though they didn't work in her case. Powder made from a green lizard dried in the sun, when thrown upon the object of a girl's desire, makes him her victim. Or she might ask him to dinner and put the scrapings from the four corners of the dinner table into his coffee. She may also put parings from her fingernails into his pockets, or write him a letter in her own blood. For an immediate proposal, she should tie a rooster under her porch, seat the man in a rocking chair right over the fowl, sit beside him, and wait. He can't help but fall in love with her then.
However, even should all this fail, there is still Poudre de Perlainpainfain rubbed. TXhis takes time and patience, but is worth it. The young girl must catch seventeen floating seeds blown from a thistle on a windy day. The down is removed from the seeds, then the seeds are rubbed over the honey sac of a bee, caught on a clover blossom leaning in a northerly TXhis must be carefully mixed with three white beans buried for three days previously under a mound of table salt, then added to a portion of salt measured in a black thimble. Now she really has something. Poudre de Perlainpainfain rubbed into any article of the clothing of her lover makes him hers forever and all time.
Charivaris are still popular at Cajun marriages, especially at that of widows to single men, or widowers to single women. The marriage of Ulysse Boudreaux to Onesia Polite might have been celebrated in this manner, if they were well liked in their community, for a charivari is an expression of affection and approval. A Cajun described the custom this way.
Curious names are popular along the bayous. Some that graced heroic characters of Greece are hereditary among the Cajuns. Hundreds of males titled Achille, Ulysse, Alcide and Telemaque now row pirogues through the Louisiana waterways. There is a penchant for nicknames. Even animals have them. Every cat is 'Minou,' and every child is given some diminutive of his name. It is perfectly safe to say that no group of Cajuns ever assembled without a Doucette, a Bebe, a Bootsy or a Tooti among them. At one school a family of seven children, named Therese, Marie, Odette, Lionel, Sebastian, Raoul, and Laurie, were known even to their teachers as Ti-ti, Rie, Dette, Tank, Bos, Mannie and La-la. It is said every Cajun family has a member known as 'Coon.' Other families, like the Polites, give their offspring names that all start with the same letter. An ' E' family might be, respectively, Ernest, Eugenie, Euphemie, Enzie, Earl, Elfert, Eulalie and Eupholyte.
However, there are comparatively few family names. There are literally thousands of Landrys, Broussards, Leblancs, Bourgeoises and Breauxs, these being the largest families of Acadian descent in the state.
The Cajun has great reverence and affection for family ties, and this extends to the utmost limits of relationship. Among no people is respect for their elders more sincere, and nanaine (god- mother), parrain (godfather) and numerous tantes (aunts) and cousines are held in high regard, to be upheld against outsiders at all times, to be taken into the family and supported for life if the need arise. Distant connections still reside in Nova Scotia, and more prosperous groups of Cajuns make pilgrimages there, and Nova Scotians journey to Louisiana to visit the Evangeline Oak at St. Martinville and to kneel at the grave of Emmaline Labiche, original of the heroine of Longfellow's poem, where a light is kept burning.
Death receives even more than usual respect among these people. Widows drape themselves in black veils for a year, wear black without the veil for another, and black and white the next year or two. Men wear crepe arm bands, and children are often put into mourning at tender ages. So large are some Cajun families that there seems always to be evidence of death among them.
Cajun widows sometimes soon recover from their grief, however. A stranger paying a visit of condolence to one was informed by the bereaved's sister-in-law, ' Oh, you ought to see her already! She is all frisce and rougie. Every time she see a man she roll her eyes, toute gougou!'
Of first importance in their lives is religion. They are, almost without exception, Roman Catholic, and the parish priest is an important personage. Catholicism is responsible for some of the most colorful customs.
Perhaps the best known of these is the annual blessing of the shrimp fleet. For this ceremony, which takes place each August, the Archbishop from New Orleans goes into the bayou country to bless the boats and trawlers for the opening of the shrimp season. Rites are held at Bayou Petit Caillou, Bayou Grand Caillou, Bayou Barataria and Golden Meadow. These pious people would not begin the season without having their boats blessed.
Fifteen hundred Cajuns gathered at Mass and Holy Communion at Bayou Petit Caillou in 1939, the morning the blessing was to take place. Immediately after Mass, the procession, headed by three altar boys, then the Archbishop, gorgeous in a rich golden cope flowing from his shoulders almost to the ground, in towering golden miter and golden crozier, followed by visiting bishops and at least twenty-five priests, walked to the platform over the bayou where the ceremonies were to take place. His Eminence first blessed the boats collectively, the choir singing lustily as, one by one, the boats were unloosened. Some boats carried as many as ten people, men, women and children, all attired in their best Sunday clothes, and every boat was freshly painted and gaily bedecked with brilliantly colored flags and pennants.
Atop the cabin of one boat perched a two-hundred-pound woman, breathlessly fanning herself with a palmetto fan and looking acutely uncomfortable. In all probability this was the first time she had worn a corset since last year. The corset and her pink Mother Hubbard were her only concessions to the occasion, however. One of the spectators pointed at her and called out, 'Regarde Naomie in her bare feets!'
As the boats approached the Archbishop everyone knelt and made the sign of the cross. Someone became worried that the Archbishop would not have enough holy water, and cried, 'There ain't enough holy water in that thing to bless all them boats, no.'
These boats go out as far as forty miles in the Gulf and return about every fifteen days to refuel. The freight and ice boats make daily rounds to pick up the catch and bring it to the factories. Approximately fifty thousand of these Cajuns are employed in the Louisiana shrimp industry.
Another impressive Catholic rite takes place on All Saints' Day, November 1. Priests gather at dusk in the cemeteries of the Cajun parishes to offer Masses for the souls of the dead, hundreds of blessed candles being lighted on graves, filling the advancing darkness with weird flickering lights and eerie shadows.
Cajuns celebrate not only the American Christmas, but Le Bonhomme Janvier on New Year's Eve, at which time the children receive candy, fruit and fireworks, and nanaines, parrains, tantes and other relatives visit branches of the family, exchanging gifts and greetings. Besides, there are many religious holidays in the Cajuns' calendar, each with its peculiar customs.
Intermingled with this passionate Catholicity is much superstition of an entirely primitive type. There are even werewolves in Louisiana! Here they are known as loup-garous; and are the most dreaded and feared of all the haunts of the bayouland. Accounts of lycanthropy are rare in America, but Cajun children are constantly warned, ' The loup-garous will get you, yes! You better be good.' And many of the children's elders believe emphatically in the existence of these horrible wolf-things.
There are many loup-garous, some, people under a spell, and others enjoying self-imposed enchantment. A Cajun will explain: 'Loup-garous is them people what wants to do bad work, and changes themselves into wolves. They got plenty of them, yes. And you sure know them when you see them. They got big red eyes, pointed noses and everything just like a wolf has, even hair all over, and long pointed nails. They rub themselves with some voodoo grease and come out just like wolves is. You keep away you see any of them things, hein? They make you one of them, yes, quick like hell. They hold balls on Bayou Goula all the time, mens and womens, both together. They dance and carry on just like animals, them. If you see one, you just get yourself one nice frog and throw him at them things. They sure gon' run then. They scared of frogs. That's the only way to chase a loup-garou away from you. Bullets go right through him.'
Loup-garous have bats as big as airplanes to carry them where they want to go. They make these bats drop them down your chimney, and they stand by your bed and say, 'I got you now, me!' Then they bite you and suck your blood and that makes you a loup-garou, and soon you find yourself dancing at their balls at Bayou Goula and carrying on just as they do. You're a lost soul.
'Is a good idea to hang a new sifter outside from your house, yes. Then they got to stop and count every hole in that sifter, and you catch them and sprinkle them with salt. That sets them on fire and they step out of them shaggy old skins and runs away. But, me, I don't fool 'round with no loup-garous!'
Some loup-garous change themselves into mules and work their own land, a power which must have certain and definite economic advantages.
The letiche is the soul of an unbaptized infant who haunts small children in their beds at night, a wandering, restless young spirit for whom there is no peace. Down in Terrebonne Parish the children talk as familiarly of mermaids as if they were their daily companions. And the age-old tale of the sirens, whose sweet music attracts men and costs them their souls, is as alive among the Cajun fishermen today as ever it was in Ancient Greece.
Belief in the Evil One is very strong. Woe to him who is so unfortunate as to be caught in his snares. And the Devil uses many a subtle wile in securing his victims. Even the most innocent appearing or beautiful things may be traps set by His Satanic Majesty.
From a small child's breast there is often a sticky exudation called witches' milk by the Cajuns. Children who become cross and fretful are believed victims of an evil witch, who comes nightly to suckle at their breasts. A broom placed across the threshold of the door will prevent this. No witch will step over a broom.
Until very recently doctors were almost unknown among the Cajuns. Only good roads and the extensive use of automobiles brought them. Besides, the general poverty of the Cajuns had offered no inducement for medical men to settle among them. In all communities certain people, usually old women, came to be looked on as their equivalents. Many strange remedies became popular and these cures are by no means extinct today. In some places doctors are still viewed with suspicion, and their prescriptions if used at all are secretly accompanied by the ones of the past eras.
Babies are fed tea made of earth from a mud dauber's nest to strengthen them; children are made to sleep on mattresses of moss gathered from the cypress tree. The strength of that tree goes into the moss and right into them, making them very strong.
Rheumatism is treated with fly blister, an ointment made by mashing lightning bugs which have been soaked in alcohol. The thick leaves of the prickly pear, boiled down with plenty of sugar, are the best cure in the Cajun world for whooping cough. Sunstroke is treated with a brew made by boiling the sticky young branches of willow trees. Those suffering with kidney disorders receive tea made from the swamp lily. Athlete's foot is bathed with a liquid of boiled pecan leaves with a pinch of cooking soda.
A person tormented with asthma should wear a muskrat skin over his lungs. If a snake bites you race him to the water. If you beat him there and dip in the wound, he will die instead of you. Soap mixed with the yellow of an egg and sugar will cure a boil, as will an ointment of lard and charcoal. For chills and fever go toward the bed as if to get into it, but get under it instead.
Most Cajuns sleep with their houses tightly scaled, no matter how hot the night. This is not only for fear of the louf-garous, but also because the 'night air' is deadly and filled with germs.
You can always tell whether a woman's labor pains will be severe or not from the way in which the steam rises from her kettle the day she is to give birth to her child. An expectant mother must not let anyone comb her hair or sweep under the bed during the time she is confined, else she will have trouble having her baby.
Common bayou belief holds that mothers must not comb their infants' hair until they are nine days old. It is darkly hinted that all bald men owe their bare pates to ignorance of this fact. No child should have his hair cut until he has passed his first year. Even then the operation must be performed during a full moon; if done while the moon is fading to a thin sliver the baby's crop will fade accordingly. Neither must fingernails be cut until le jeune enfant is past that first year, violation of this taboo being considered very serious, though no one knows exactly what might happen. Mirrors must be kept away from the infant; it would not do for him to develop vanity when so young! He must never be allowed to see anyone who is extremely ugly; he must always wear white; and he must never be taken to a funeral or to a cemetery. Raising a babe on the bayous presents even more problems than in other places.
Once there was a man and a woman who were just married. The man had a Bible, and the woman said, 'I'd rather have the Devil in my house than any Bible.' Before long she had a child and it had horns on its head. And, of course, if the mother is frightened by an animal while carrying the child, the infant will certainly be marked in some way, maybe resembling the animal when born.
There are many superstitions besides the medical ones. Marie Polite can tell you about them. 'When you find out you forgot something and got to go back to the house, before you go back there, you be sure to make a cross mark right on the spot where you turned around, yes. And when you come back you rub that cross mark out, or bad luck she gon' sure follow you, her. If you go out on picnic and she is rain hard, go out in yard and make cross with two sticks and put some salt on top that cross. That sure stop rain! That what us Cajuns call gris-gris.
'Be sure on New Year's Day you cook some cabbage, even if nobody she don't eat him. You won't have to worry about food all the next year, no. M'sieu, that is for true! Me, I don't believe if black cat walk front from you that be bad luck. I think is good luck. But plenty Cajuns believe other ways. If you see spider in room, don't you kill him, no. That very bad for your luck. But if you hear cricket sing by your house ah! that she is fine for you. You gon' have best luck all year, yes. Turn up your collar when you is under the full moon and you is get yourself all the fine clothes you want for the whole year. 'Course you know about open embrella in your house is very worse thing you can do; and that bride on her wedding day must have something old, something new and something she borrows from a good neighbor and something blue. Those not Cajun only, no. Everybody in the whole Unite' State' believe in them, hein?'
You must spit on your bait before you throw it in the water if you hope for a good catch. If you burn your finger striking a match, put the burnt match behind your ear, as the heat of the match will draw the pain from your finger. Always leave one end of a loaf of bread until last. If you eat both ends before the middle, then you'll have trouble making ends meet in your life. And if a neighbor asks you to sell him a pig, or cow or any other animal, you had better do it, because if you don't the animal will die.
'One thing you must not do,' said Marie, 'is to take down curtains from your doors and windows to wash in month of August. That is very bad thing, yes. For sure as you hang curtain back in month of August, so sure is you gon' hang crepe on your door. And I tell you something else bad, me. You must never lay your bread on table on his backside. Always lay bread on his belly side. Don't never kill no spider. That is bad luck for long time. Is worse than breakin' lookin' glass, that. If you just bust up spider web, that means is gon' rain before day is through. If you put your drawers on wrong side out by mistake like, you is got to spit on them before you change. If you spit like that you have good luck. all day long.'
If an alligator crawls under your house it is a portent of death. If a woman is infidele to her husband just before doing her baking, the bread will not rise. This evidence has caused many a husband to beat his wife when her bread failed. If a designing woman can sew hair combings of the man she desires in her mattress, the rest is easy.
Old Monsieur Rigaud, a descendant of one of Lafitte's lieutenants, for whom Bayou Rigaud was named, offered the details of a sure-fire gris-gris, absolutely guaranteed to evict an unwanted neighbor. You take a piece of red flannel, twelve inches by twenty-four inches, and at each corner sew the foot of a baby duckling. On the right end sew a dried lizard and on the left sew a dried frog. Place this on your neighbor's doorstep, sprinkle sulphur in the center in the shape of a cross. When the man sees that, you can bet he'll move. The only antidote he can use is to throw the gris-gris into the closest stream and let the current carry the bad luck where it will. Dried frogs are always especially bad; one placed on your doorstep will bring tragedy to the home, particularly if it has been put in a black coffin.
The Cajun is usually healthy, lusty and red-blooded. He likes a good time better than anything in the world and always has a bit more enthusiasm for his play than for work. Balls and dances, usually given on a Saturday night, are beloved and never fail to attract everyone who can get there.
Typical is the all-night dance known as a fais-do-do, the name being a corruption of fete de Dieu or Festival of God. All the family attend a fais-do-do, the old, the young, nanaines, parrains and old maid tantes. There is even a room set aside, known as the pare aux pe fits, wherein you can actually 'park' the babies. But the fais-do-do is extremely exclusive so far as the outside world is concerned, the exclusiveness often being enforced with the point of a knife, or with a gun.
Married women seldom dance at a fais-do-do, no matter how young they may be. Most Cajun men believe it improper for their women to dance, and these wives, sometimes fifteen or sixteen years old, must sit on benches lining the walls, gazing wistfully at their husbands and the single girls and men enjoying themselves.
King and Queen dances, a type of modernized cotillion, are still immensely popular. A boy and girl must be chosen who are 'King' and 'Queen' for the evening, and riots often result because of these chosen two.
An inhabitant of one village described another type of dance.
'You ought to see them Yankee dances. Some people call them Variety dances. They is the same things. A crowd gets together and forms sets with a leading couple in the middle from the floor. Then they dance by commandment, like. They call what dance is to be danced and you dance that dance until they change. They do the polka, mazurka and two-step dances, all the real popular dances what is danced in North Unite' State', yes!'
The Mardi Gras, so elaborately celebrated in New Orleans, has festive echoes in the bayou country. Those who have automobiles decorate their cars and nearly all don costumes of one sort or another.
Peculiarly Cajun is the Mardi Gras custom of begging for small coins and for chickens to make gumbo on that day. A group of gay maskers will approach a house, mount to the front porch, and be invited in by Madame, who serves the traditional refreshments of tac-tac (popcorn), beignets (doughnuts) and gateaus (tea cakes). They chat for a while, then, with a 'Bien merce and one more chicken added to their sack, depart.
The women make their gumbo outdoors, fry some of the chickens and cook rice. There is much chatter and gossip. Julie Bourgeois' trousseau is enough to make your eyes pop out like M'sieu Frog's, hein? The priest is to read her bans in church Sunday. Madame Joubert's rheumatism is worse. That crazy doctor from the city wanted her to have all her teeth pulled out, that paillasse! How can pains in her legs have anything to do with her teeth? What a flirt is that Louis Thibodeaux, yes! And him engaged to Clothilde LeBlanc over a year now. Poor Clothilde! That harelip is sad.
Mardi Gras Night there is the ball. Everybody attends. The babies, maybe fifty of them, are all in the fare aux petits. It'll be a hard job finding your own baby when the ball is over. As a matter of fact, some mothers take home the wrong baby and the next day they must be redistributed. When a child turns out a disappointment to his parents, many Cajun mothers and fathers have been heard to exclaim that they must have taken home the wrong infant from a Mardi Gras Ball. Surely their own offspring could not be so wicked, no!
Sports occupy much of the Cajun's time. The annual pirogue race on Bayou Barataria is immensely popular. It attracts throngs, not only from the Cajun country, but also from New Orleans and neighboring towns. Each year hundreds of people line the marshes along the three-and-one-quarter-mile course to watch the stirring contest.
A pirogue is a frail shell of a boat, hewn out of a single log, averaging thirteen feet in length and twenty-two inches in width. They are indispensable in the swamps and along the bayous and coastal marshes, being the only practical means of transportation. While their frailty makes them difficult to handle, these Cajuns skim over the water at amazing speeds, the boats often loaded with shrimp and crabs. Children often use them in traveling to and from school.
So great is Cajun skill that the races are thrilling sights. In 1940 Adam Billiot won the race for the fourth consecutive year, establishing a new record of thirty-five minutes and twenty seconds for the four-mile course. Billiot was only a youth of twenty at the time, but for years the highest praise anyone of the bayou folk can give another has been, 'That man, he paddle like a Billiot, yes!' In 1940 a 'Nawthun Yankee' entered the pirogue race for the first time. This caused much consternation. If this 'Nawthuner' won, the humiliation of the Cajuns would be without precedent. They managed very well, however. The 'Nawthuner' came in last. Pirogues are for Cajuns.
Papegai shooting offers the winners the portions of a calf or ox that correspond with the particular part of the wooden animal they manage to hit. This large animal is attached to the top of a long pole and those taking part must pay a fee. Lubin Laurent, in his History of St. John the Baptist Parish, tells an amusing story in connection with this. It involves one Telesphore Cynporien, who had shot off the head of the wooden animal and as a consequence must be the one to lasso the ox in the pasture. To make sure he could hold the ox once he caught him, Telesphore tied one end of the rope about his waist and proudly walked into the pasture, leaving the gate wide open. All at once spectators saw the ox running at a terrific speed toward the open gate, dragging Telesphore behind him, and as the ox went through the gate someone yelled, ' Where are you going, Telesphore?' Telesphore yelled back, 'How I know, me; for why don't you ask the ox?'
All Cajuns love frog legs, so hunting the frog is a favorite pastime. Even children take part. In the spring frogs come out of the mud where they spend the winter and begin to croak. It is said that the entire population of a settlement can be depended upon to take part in a frog hunt.
Children take part in the important crawfish industry, too. So popular is this that they even have a little song about it, a taunting jingle flung at the Cajun youngsters by Negro children.
Poor crawfish ain't got no show,
'Creeping the goose' is the Cajun's method of hunting geese. They believe geese always leave a member of a flock posted as a sentinel, and that this sentinel is alert for only one thing, the appearance of any watching human eyes. So the Cajuns, when they have spotted geese feeding in a pond or bay, begin to creep toward them, snaking through the sawgrass and holding their heads down so that their eyes cannot be seen by the sentinel bird. When they are near the geese, one of the Cajuns, who has been previously selected, claps his hands, and at this signal all the hunters spring up and fire.
In the Attacapan country the people are mostly herdsmen, for cattle thrive on the marshland. There they have become skillful and daring riders. Their horses are small Creole ponies, descendants of the mustangs which once ran wild on the prairies. These the young men train as courting horses, teaching them to prance, curvet, rear and dance, so as to impress the young ladies whose favors they hope to win.
The Cajun has little opportunity to enjoy the theater, but he makes the most of what he has. Occasional tent shows reach the Cajun communities, and when this happens the whole village turns out. Paul English operated one of these repertoire companies for years, and many amusing incidents occurred when his troupe performed for Cajun audiences. He was very popular and was known as 'M'sieu Paul' to everybody along the bayous.
On one occasion while playing the murder mystery 'The Gorilla,' English used the same uniform for the gorilla character as was used in the New York production, a very realistic and terror-provoking costume. At the end of the play the gorilla leaps from the stage and runs down the aisle of the theater, most of the other characters in the play behind him. In the most cultivated communities this sensational bit always evoked screams from the women and much amusement from anyone who had never seen the production before. In the bayou country the response was overwhelming. Many a Cajun fled, or joined in the chase.
While playing one small town, English received a call from three Cajuns carrying bulky bundles on their backs. After being greeted by English, one, acting as spokesman, revealed: 'M'sieu Paul, we is all gon' come see your show tonight, and we want to promise you all this trouble she been having is gon' stop, yes. We is all your good friend, M'sieu Paul, so we is take care of all that for you.'
Puzzled, English asked, ' What do you mean, boys?'
'Well,' said the spokesman, 'we understand that in the last go 'round (last act) is a beeg animal that she bust up your show every night. That ain't gon' happen no more, no. Me, Leon and Tee Jacques, we is gon' put all these things we got here in them aisles, and you bet your life that's the end for that monkies!'
They had all brought their animal traps!
Movies are popular all over the Cajun country, cowboy and other types of action pictures being first choice. 'Quiet, please!' signs are wasted in Cajun cinemas, for no Cajun ever stops talking except when he's asleep, much less when Gene Autry is chasing rustlers across the screen. At such tense moments, leaning forward in their seats, Cajuns will yell: ' Come on, Gene! Get him, you! I would not let him get away with that, no. Not me!' And with anxious sighs, 'Sacre bleu! That Gene Autry is sure dead now. There ain't never gon' be no more pictures from him. That's for true!'
Baseball has its devotees as elsewhere. Nearly every town has its home team. They are exceptionally good teams, too. The Empire Louisiana nine, made up of brothers and first cousins, won every Sunday game they played for three consecutive years. Some of these boys found their ways into minor leagues, but none can be traced as having joined the majors, possibly because a Cajun gets homesick very quickly and has an absolute horror of cold weather, which is anything under fifty degrees. Auguste Breaux explained: 'Even this water down here don't like cold weather, no. You see how as soon as she gets a little cold she turns herself into ice?'
Food, its preparation and consumption, must be classified as a Cajun pleasure. Cooking is an art. Eating, one of life's genuine delights. At community gatherings, at church fairs, in the home, great skill and infinite patience go into the creation of their dishes.
Favorites are oysters, which can be served in at least thirty-five different ways, crawfish bisque, courtbouillon, crabs, soft-shelled and hard, spaghetti and bouchettes, the latter a kind of meatball made with chopped onion and sweet pepper, fried chicken and no one can fry chicken like a Cajun! fish in a hundred and one different ways. Always there is gumbo, made with crabs, shrimp and ham, sometimes with chicken, beef or sausage, and thickened with file, the powdered leaves of the sassafras plant, or with okra. Various jambalayas are favorites, combining rice, tomatoes and seasoning with oysters, shrimp, ham, sausage or other meat or sea food. Grillades are popular; these are veal rounds cut into squares and cooked in a roux, a highly seasoned brown gravy nearly always present on Cajun tables. Rice is always there, too, white and dry, each grain separate. Bouillabaisse, a stew of several kinds of fish, usually redfish and red snapper with crabs, shrimp, oysters and crayfish, all highly seasoned, with tomatoes and shallots in the gravy, is common. Cafe noir strong black coffee pours down Cajun throats all day long, and the coffee-pot is always on the stove, hot and ready.
Like many Cajuns, Alastair Foucheaux deplores the development of the oil industry in southern Louisiana.
'Me, I'm afraid we don't get no more oyster soon,' he groaned. 'Why? Them oil business she kill all the oyster in the bayous. You know them machines what look like steeples on a church? Derreeck? I don't call them things nothing good, me. They spill oil all over the bayous and kill everything, them. M'sieu, they is crazy! What happen we have no more oyster, hein? Then maybe we have no more shrimps and no more crab, how, we gon' make gumbo or jambalaya? And if we don't have no more gumbo and no more jambalaya, what hell Cajun gon' eat that's any good, hein? Oh, M'sieu, 'a cest awful!'
It has been said that Cajun Heaven is 'gumbo, go-go and do-do!'
Occasionally a Cajun will go on 'one beeg Bambache,' a drinking spree. 'Mine friend,' said Paul Dada, 'it just happen, that's all. We get in our boats and all of a sudden, us, we find ourselves thinking life ain't nothing to a mans without womens and wine. We sit and think a while, then one of us, he say "This boat, she ain't actin' right, Paul. I think maybe she need a new spark plug." They everybody say he think so too. Before you can say "boo" we is going back up that old river to the town, us.
'We stay in town maybe Friday, maybe Saturday, maybe Sunday. Those bambache is bad. Me, I always have head like one big barrel.'
Cajuns, in their own way, make good husbands, so long as their wives behave. A visitor in a Cajun home where a young couple lived with the husband's parents was astonished to hear blows and screams from a room into which the young couple had just entered. The door flew open and the young wife ran out of the house with a great bump on her forehead. The boy's mother turned to her husband and complained: 'Charles Alex is bad, yes. He should not hit Lulu like that. You would not do that to me, you.'
The older man took his pipe out of his mouth and said quietly: 'I never had no reason for to hit you. But if Charles Alex did not beat hell out of that womans he's got once in a while there would be nothing he could do with her.'
Then the mother turned to the visitor and explained gently, 'Outside of these little things them two children love themselves plenty and get along fine.'
The Cajun is shrewd and often clever at outwitting the 'foreigners' trespassing in his bayou land. Apparently his motives are mixed, on one hand the fun of proving himself smarter than the city stranger, on the other the opportunity of financial gain.
A Cajun is proud of his race, his family, his strength, his prowess as a hunter, fisherman, fighter or lover, and he boasts of any or all of these with a childish lack of restraint. A Cajun told a friend: 'I am a true man, me. I got credit at Fisher Store; I got a share in my boat; and I make fourteen children for my wife.'
Tell a Cajun woman that she is beautiful and she will shrug her shoulders and say, with a roll of her dark eyes, 'You is tell me something what I is already know!'
We are grateful to those earlier writers who recorded some of the phases of Louisiana folklore Alcee Fortier, Lafcadio Hearn, Grace King, and George W. Cable as well as to such contemporary writers as Doctor William A. Read, Edward Laroque Tinker, Roark Bradford, and Doctor Thad St. Martin. LYLE SAXON, EDWARD DREYER, ROBERT TALLANT
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