Cajun country horse racing, like other aspects of Cajun culture, has its own special
style. Racing the quarter horse was the order of the day in Louisiana and western states,
simply because the blockier quarter horse was more suitable for cow work. His gait
certainly isn't the smoothest in the world, nor can he run the high speed, long distance
races his thoroughbred cousin can. But he can explode from a standing start, and this is
important if you want to turn a cow back in the herd, or rope a streaking calf.
Thoroughbred blood was introduced in greater doses for the racing quarter horse. Thus
the cajun horse is short and fast. In addition it is generally a match race, one horse on one;
and the betting is like it is in chicken fighting, on man to another.
The pirouge has played a crucial part in Cajun life, and it is fitting thatr this wisp of a
boat is celebrated in annual pirouge races all about the southern part of the state. The
Indians had been building this kind of boat before the Cajun arrived, for it is an elegant
version of the dugout. Originally a cypress or cottonwood log was hollowed out by
burning. The Frenchmen brought hatchets and axes. The pirougues taking part in the race
on Bayou Lafourche are not constructed inthis way. It is rare to see a pirouge built from a
single log. Now they are made with thin planks of cypress, plywood, or even fiberglass.
Present day pirougues maintain the same general shape, the amazing lightness, and
certainly the legendary propensity for turning over. All Louisians have heard the tall tales
about how difficult it is to stay in a pirouge. Once mastered, however, as the Indians and
Cajuns did, these boats became formidable transportation throught the lilies, the cypress
knees, the bayous barely two feet wide. One man can fairly make a pirouge fly.
The best part of the year is attached to the most important fais-do-do of the year. I am
speaking obviously of Mardi Gras, but a cajun country Mardi Gras. There is a vastly
different character to Mardi Gras in Mamou as compared to New Orleans. Naturally the
number of people is far less, but the difference is much more than that. The day begins
with what is known as "running Mardi Gras." A band of masked and costumed riders is
led by a capitaine around the community. The capitaine chooses the houses where he
thinks the pickings will be good, asks the owner of each house if his merry men may
approach, and, when given the go ahead, motions them to come galloping in. they are
after a fat chicken or some sausage for a gigantic gumbo that will be prepared during the
afternoon. But it is a special skill to do a Mardi Gras gumbo for 200 people. And it is a
special sense of community that gets that many people together in that way in the 20th
century. C'est bon!
Many Louisiana recipes begin "First you make a roux". This is true for making gumbo.
Gumbo is another African loan word, one derived fromt the Congo for okra. Careful
attention must be paid in blending the hot fat and the flour. It must reach just the proper
stage of rich brownness, just before the critical stage when it can burn, but not before the
fat and flour have had a chance to declare themselves fully. At this moment add your
chopped onions and garlic, and a little bell pepper, along w/ the liquid in which the meat
has been boiled. Then the tomatoes and okra. Then comes the chicken or sausage you
have cooked before. Leave it in those big black post you see for the Mardi Gras gumbo.
In earlier days the capitaine was the host for a fais-do-do, and after the gumbo was eaten
everyone danced at his place. Fais-do-do derives from the country custom of gathering
for a dance. Do-do from the French dormir. Today the fais-do-do of Saturday and Sunday
nights is still very much with us. There is no mistaking cajun music for something else-it
has its own style and if anyone wants to know about that special Cajun sense of joie de
vivre, only look at the accordian player dancing his jig.
Brief Facts about Evangeline
Longfellow's description of Acadia includes many comparisons between people and
nature. the murmuring trees tell a sad story and the ocean answers in a deep voice.
To make the talking trees seem more like people, the poet calls the moss, which
covers them beards. the trees stand like Druids and harpers. the Acadians had
hearts that leaped like the deer. Although they had problems, their lives ran
smoothly like rivers.
Longfellow first heard the story of Evangeline from Nathaniel Hawthorne, a famous
American novelist with whom he had been friends since the 2 of them had been
classmates at Boddoin College. Hawthorne had heard the story from someone else.
ON October 24, 1838, he wrote the following in his "American Notebooks":
"H.L.C. heard from a French Canadian a story of a young couple in Acadia. On
their marriage day all the men of the province were summoned to assemble in the
church to hear a proclamation. when assembled, they were all seized and shipped
off to be distributed through New England, among them the new bridegroom. His
bride set off in search of him, wandered about New England all her lifetime, and at
last, when she was old, she found her bridegroom his deathbed. The shock was so
great it killed her as well."
In telling the story of Evangeline, Longfellow follows the general history of the
Acadians. Moreover, he judges both them and the British. The Acadians he
pictures as a simple, kindly people living an ideal life as farmers. The British he
pictures as cruel and inhumane. What are the facts, one asks. Historians agree with
Longfellow. Longfellow followed 2 sources, he said, in writing his poem: "As far as
I can remember the authorities I most relied onin writing Evangeline were the Abbe
Raynal and our Haliburton." In 1837, Longfellow wrot the Frioth's Saga, the poem
which Longfellow scholars agree most influenced Evangeline. Like Evangeline, this
poem is an epic. The central character, Evangeline, shares with other Acadians the
sorrows and misfortunes of a people driven from their homeland. That the
Acadians were driven from Canada byt he English is a historical fact. Certainly,
many lovers, like Evangeline and Gaberiel in the poem, were separated. The
particular experiences of Evangeline in the poem are similar to those of many of the
Evangeline-The focal point of the poem. Childhood sweetheart of Gabriel.
Gabriel-Evangelines love, childhood playmate.
Father Felician- The Parish priest of the Acadians, a simple kindly man.
Benedict Bellefontaine-Evangeline's father, wealthiest farmer of Grand Pre.
Basil Lajeunesse- Blacksmith of Grand Pre, a big man with a red face.
Reading Evangeline is more than reading a poem. It is an experience that will last a
lifetime. It is worth every minute, and then some. It is one of those rare poems that
one can read again and again, and never tire of it. It has everything to warm the
heart, touch the soul, and capture the mind. I highly recommend it.
Short story search engine.
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Evangeline. A cajun love story!
Joseph Jefferson, The Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson, 1917.