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Cajun
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Cajun

Cajuns are an ethnic group consisting essentially of the descendants of Acadians who came from Nova Scotia to Louisiana as a result of their refusal to swear allegiance to the British Crown. The word "Cajun" is a corruption of the French pronunciation of the word acadien, after Acadia, the name of their ancestral region in Nova Scotia; the name "Cajun" was applied to them by English-speaking colonists when they settled in Louisiana.

 
Cajuns
Total population: XXXX
Significant populations in: Louisiana: XXXX
Texas: XXXX
Other US states: XXXX
LanguageCajun French, English.
ReligionPredominantly Roman Catholic
Related ethnic groups French
  Québécois
  Acadians
  Cajuns

Table of contents
1 History
2 Geography
3 Culture
4 Institutions
5 Classification
6 See also

History

The people who were to become the Cajuns were evicted from Nova Scotia in the period 1755 - 1763; this has become known as the Great Upheaval or Le Grand Derangement. At the time there was a war going on in what is now Canada between France and Great Britain over the colony of New France, which is today Québec. This war is known in the United States as the French and Indian War.

The Acadians refused to support the French but they also refused to swear allegiance to Britain, wanting nothing to do with the war and wishing to remain neutral. Fears remained among the British that the Acadians might join the French in the war, so the Crown (meaning the British Royal government) chose to evict those Acadians who refused to swear allegiance. At that time, Louisiana was still under French colonial government. (The Crown was to apologize for this act centuries later, in December 2003).

Geography

Most Cajuns call Acadiana home. The traditional definition of the region includes the parishes of Vermilion, Acadia, Lafayette, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Landry, Iberia, and Jefferson Davis. Cities within the region include Lafayette, Abbeville, New Iberia, Eunice, Mamou, Opelousas, Franklin, Crowley, Rayne, St. Martinville, and Breaux Bridge.

Over the years, many Cajuns have come to live in other parts of Louisiana, and in the "golden triangle" area of Texas (Orange, Beaumont, and Port Arthur) where they followed oil field jobs during the "oil bust" of the 1970s and 1980s.

Culture

Language

See Main article
Cajun French.

Cajun French (derived from Acadian French), although a dialect of the French language, differs in some areas of pronunciation, as well as in some areas of vocabulary, from Parisian or Metropolitan French. As of 2004, most of the older generations in Acadiana are bilingual, having grown up with French in the home and learning English in school.

As of 2004, in recent years the number of speakers of Cajun French has diminshed considerably, however efforts are being made to reintroduce the language among the youngest generations. CODOFIL (the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) was established during the late 1960s, and continues to teach a version of French somewhere between the older Cajun dialect and "Parisian" or "Metropolitan" French. Today, Cajun areas of Louisiana often form partnerships with Acadians in Canada who send French teachers to reteach the language in schools.

Some differences

Over the years, Cajun French speakers have sometimes incorporated English vocabulary (such as truck) directly into the language instead of adopting the neologisms of the Académie française. This can be disconcerting to non-natives.

Religion

Cajuns are predominantly Roman Catholic.

Literature

Arts

Music, including Zydeco

Cajun
music is originally rooted in the music of the French-speaking Catholics of Canada, but not all Cajun music today is sung in French. In earlier years the fiddle was the predominant instrument, but gradually the accordion has come to share the limelight. (The introduction of the accordion can be traced back to German settlers, who are more typically identified with east and central Texas. Though they were concentrated in Texas, many settled as far east as New Orleans, that path taking them directly though Acadiana.)

Some folks aver that Cajun music is always dance music -- with or without words. With Cajun music's heavy syncopation, it would be easy to make that claim. However, so much of the culture is expressed in the lyrics that one cannot separate them from the music. Whatever one might say about it, Cajun music was created for a party: either a small get-together on the front porch or a foot-stomping crowd intent on having a good time. Cajun and Zydeco have influenced American popular music for many years, especially country music. Cajun sounds embellish recordings by Alan Jackson, Hank Williams, Sr and Jr, Sammy Kershaw (himself a native of Kaplan, in Vermilion Parish), and countless others.

The Cajun dance is usually a two-step or a waltz, while Zydeco, further described below, is a syncopated two-step or jitterbug. A Cajun dancer will cover the dance floor while the Zydeco dancer will do all his dancing in one spot. Cajun music artists include DL Menard, Dewey Balfa, Belton Richard, and Harry Choates. The younger generation includes Balfa Toujours, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, and the all-teen groupe La Bande Feufollet.

In the early 1950s, Zydeco gradually developed from the music of the Creoles in southwest and south central Louisiana. At an earlier period, Creole and Cajun music were quite similar, but after World War II, Creole music took off into another direction, incorporating elements of the blues and rock and roll. The accordion replaced the fiddle and electric instruments, drums, and corrugated metal washboard (called a frottoir) were added. Zydeco artists include Buckwheat Zydeco, Beau Jocques, Clifton Chenier, and Rockin' Sidney.

Swamp Pop, another music genre from Acadiana, came about in the mid 1950's. With the Cajun dance and musical conventions in mind, nationally popular rock, pop, country, and R&B songs were re-recorded, sometimes in French. Several Swamp Pop songs have started as a local Lousiana record which performed well on the national record charts. One producer of early Swamp Pop, Huey Meaux, is a legendary figure in the history of rock and roll. Artists include Dale & Grace, Tommy McLain, Warren Storm, and Rod Bernard.

Food

See Main article Cajun cuisine.

To paraphrase an old saying, Cajuns live to eat. Outside Louisiana the distinctions between Cajun and Creole cuisine have been blurred. However, Creole dishes tend to be more continental, although using local produce. Cajun victuals are more spicy hot and tend to be more hearty. But outside Louisiana the distinctions are academic.

The cornerstone of Cajun cuisine is "the trinity": onion, celery, and bell pepper, finely diced. This is similar to the use of the mire poix in traditional French cooking, which is finely diced onion, celery, and carrot. With this base, flavors are layered and concentrated. Inexpensive and readily available ingredients, seasoned and served over plain white rice, provided the fuel that early Cajun settlers needed for survival. Many such dishes are still served in homes and restaurants today.

High on the list of favorites of Cajun cooking are the stews called gumbos, a word brought to Louisiana from Africa. The word originally meant "okra", which is one of the principal ingredients of a gumbo, used as a thickening agent. The word came into Caribbean Spanish as "guingambó", which is now the word for okra in Puerto Rico. A filé gumbo is thickened with sassafras leaves, a practice borrowed from the Choctaw Indians. The backbone of a gumbo is the roux, made with fat, not butter as with the French. The classic gumbo is made with chicken and the Cajun sausage called andouille, but the ingredients all depend on what's available at the moment.

Another Cajun classic is the variety of jambalayas that is available at any time. The only certain thing that can be said about them is that they contain rice and almost anything else. Usually, however, you'll find green peppers, onions, celery and hot peppers. Anything else is optional.

Rice proved to be a valuable commodity in early Acadiana. With an abundance of water, rice could be grown practically anywhere in the region, and grew wild in some areas. Rice became the predominant starch in the diet. Easy to grow, prepare, and digest, the survival of the Acadians depended on it.

The food of the Cajuns had to meet certain requirements. Many households consisted of 8-12 people, so farming was a requirement, regardless of the head of household's other vocations. Whoever did the cooking had to prepare food for a lot of hard working people everyday. Rice became the easiest, cheapest, and tastiest way to do that. Cajun cuisine grew up around the ability to stretch what little meat, game, or other protein they had.

And, of course, to sop up the juices what would a meal be without cornbread? The corn pone one hears about in the South is derived from an Algonquian dish made with corn (maize) flour, salt and water. Wheat and flour was hard to find in many areas, and did not last long in the south Louisiana humidity. This made the cornbread a necessity.

In most cases, whatever is found on a Cajun table is what a Cajun found in the field or water a short time before and a short distance away, like crawfish or gator or rabbit or chicken. The cuisine is simple, lively, hearty and plentiful.

Celebrations

Many people in cajun country are prone to have a party "at the drop of a hat". Any get-together at home with a few friends, night on the town with a larger group, or a full blown festival involving thousands of people are all greeted with enthusiasm. Nearly every village, town, and city of any size has a yearly festival, celebrating an important part of the local economy. Examples are the Duck Festival in Gueydan, The Rice Festival in Crowley, the Sugarcane festival in New Iberia, and the Zydeco Festival in Opelousas. The Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge and Festival International in Lafayette are two of the most popular festivals, and attract visitors from around the world. Smaller local festivals are very popular, and are produced with great fanfare. The majority of festivals include a fais-do-do or street dance, usually to a live local band. Crowds at these festivals can range from a few hundred to over 100,000.

Outside Louisiana, a major Cajun/Zydeco festival is held annually in very un-Cajun Rhode Island; featuring Cajun culture and food, as well as authentic Lousiana musical acts both famous and unknown, and drawing attendance not only from the strong Cajun/Zydeco music scene in Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York city, but from all over the world. In recent years the festival has become so popular that it has now become several such large summer festivals near the Connecticut-Rhode Island border: The Great Connecticut Cajun and Zydeco Music & Arts Festival, The Blast From The Bayou Cajun and Zydeco Festival, and the Rhythm & Roots Festival.

Mardi Gras underscores the Cajun belief system. The Catholic church figures heavily in planning almost everything and many of the traditions of Acadiana are based on the church calendar. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent in the Catholic church, a 40 day period of fasting and reflection which ends Easter Sunday. So Mardi Gras is the last chance to have a huge party.

The traditional "fat Tuesday" celebration in the rural areas of Acadiana is nothing like the debauchery and craziness that typifies New Orleans and other metropolitan celebrations. It centers around the courir (translated: run). A group of people, usually on horseback, will approach a farmhouse and ask for something for the community gumbo pot. Often, the farmer or his wife will allow the riders to have a chicken, if they can catch it. The group then puts on a show, comically attempting to catch the chicken set out in a large open area. Songs are sung, jokes are told, and little skits are acted out. When and if the chicken is caught, it is duly added to the pot at the end of the day.

Institutions

Classification

The Cajuns as a distinct ethnic group

It is relatively uncontroversial to consider the Cajuns a distinct ethnic group. The distinction between the Cajuns and other people in and around Louisiana is generally agreed to by both the Cajuns themselves and others. Their descent from displaced Acadians, their retention in significant measure of a unique form of the French language, and numerous distinct cultural customs distinguish them as an ethnic group. Many (though by no means all) Cajuns live in communities relatively separate from other Louisianans.

As with most other contemporary Americans, many Cajuns are assimilated into the wider society and live more in a contemporary American culture than in a distinctly Cajun culture. As with most contemporary Americans of European ancestry, individual Cajuns are generally free either to embrace their specific ethnic identity or to be seen as undifferentiated "white Americans."

See also