One tradition maintained by Cajuns is to have a traitier. The traitier usually doesn't
accept money for their services but instead prefers the company of others. Sometimes the
various afflictions suffered by someone are the direct result of a gris-gris. One famous
voo-doo of older times, Marie Laveau, made a gris-gris out of salt, gunpowder, saffron,
and dried dog dung. That is truly a gris-gris.
The land of the Cajun is a haunting and mysterious land to this very day, and anyone
who has moved about the swamps has no trouble understanding how it can powerfully
shape a way of looking at the world. No small element in the landscape is the Spankish
moss that shrouds the trees. Drifting along in a pirougue or bateau during the hour before
dark, or the hour after sunrise , the world becomes either beautiful and restful, or
beautiful and terrifying, depending upon the particular ghosts that inhabit the mind of the
boatman. To the early French settlers it looked like a Spaniard's beard and was therefore
called the "barbe espagnol. Now, though, the Cajuns use the word mousse. Spanish moss
is an epiphyte, not a parasite, which means it does not get its nourishment from the tree,
but fromthe dust particles in the air. Gathering of moss usually was by 2 men using long
poles much like in the earliest days. The poles were probably used to propell the boat as
well. Moss taken from the tree is "green" or uncured. Often the gatherers have a barge
onto which they can dump smaller boat's load. When the barge is full and towed back to a
road, likely a sugercane loader is used to put the moss onto trucks. The curing process
was in the old days carried out by the gatherers, but now the gin operator does nearly all
of it. the uncured moss must be put into piles and moistened. Bacteria rot the outer part
of the moss's fiber over a period of 3-4 months, and as it falls away the inner fiber that
looks like horshair remains. during the rotting process the moss must be turned.
Nowadays it can be turned by a can loader, but before it had to be done with a pitch fork.
After the curing process is complete, the moss is hung up in the air to dry; and then taken
to the gin. Ginning takes out the sticks and mud that cling to the moss. After is it clean, it
is baled. By now the moss is only a fraction of it's former weight. Cured moss had many
more uses before the invention of foam rubber. It was used as nogging between the studs
of wall for homes. It was great insulation. Moss was used for stuffing matresses, chairs,
etc.. Today much moss goes to the furniture industry, and is also used by fish hatcheries in
the egg laying process.
As one travels south dropping out of the red clay hills of northern and central
Louisiana, it is just this radical change to swamp and bayou, lake and marsh that first lets
you know you are entering another country. The affiar the Cajun has with water is rich,
diverse, and sometimes threatening.
One understanding inhabitant of this fecund marine world is the crawfish. He has at
least one celebration held in his honor, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, and is
generally held in high esteem by South Louisianans. Since the arrival of the Cajun,
though, the crawfish has had to run for his life. Come spring, the swamps are filled with
commercial crawfishermen, as well as families, trying to fill their pirogues. There aer 29
species of crawfish in Louisiana, but only 2 are generally eaten; the red, or swamp
crawfish and the white, the river crawfish. Families may use small nets resting on the
bottom in the shallow water. Beef melt is tied in the center of the net and raised every few
minutes. Commercial fishermen use traps made of chicken wire. One end of the trap has
a funnel entrance which is placed down-current. The traps are run every day or two, and
the opposite end of the trap is emptied.