Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cajun Karl and Acadian History and Culture

The Lafayette Museum of Natural History and Planetarium's back door opens right onto the square that is home to Downtown Alive.  We were treated to a tour of the Museum, and a Cajun dinner featuring a delicious Gumbo.  It was cooked for us by Cajun Karl, who is really Karl Breaux, a French speaking Cajun who is a champion of the Cajun culture, and a fantastic cook who has his own cooking show on local television.

Karl Breaux is a French speaking CAJUN, born in Lafayette, Louisiana and has received awards from the governments of France and Louisiana for his efforts to protect the French language. Karl's commitment to the culture of the legally recognized "Acadiana" region of French Louisiana is evident in his efforts to highlight the various historic and eco-cultural destinations. 

Karl works with his family in their supermarket and has cooked for many years at hunting camps, family outings and public events. Karl has a unique way of enjoying Louisiana’s Paradise while showing how a real and True CAJUN cooks the traditional meals as well as the modern methods of preparing Great Home Cooked Meals. Karl's authentic product line finally gives everyone a chance to experience a family style Cajun meal, just like someones' grandma cooked it here in South Louisiana.

To quote Karl’s favorite saying: 

“Love everyone and have fun, it is a short life” 

We were fortunate enough that he came to the Heritage conference on Saturday to give us a cooking demonstration and an education on Cajun heritage.

So here, in a nutshell, is the history of Acadiana (Direct quotes are from the Travel Host magazine that was in my hotel room):

The 700,000 Cajuns who live in South Louisiana are descendants of French Canadians.  About 18,000 French-speaking Catholic inhabitants from Brittany, Poitou, Normandy, and across France established the French colony of Acadia, now Nova Scotia, Canada.  The year was 1604 - sixteen years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, thus establishing one of the first permanent colonies on the North American continent.  By the time the British won the colony from France in 1713, they had established a thriving, self-sufficient community.

For refusing to pledge allegiance to the British crown, which required renouncing their traditional Catholic religion for that of the Anglican Church, they were forced from their homes in 1755. This cruel and tragic event, known as Le Grand Derangement, separated families and forced people to flee with only the possessions they c ould carry.  Homes and crops were burned by the British and the Acadians went to sea under dreadful conditions.  More than half lost their lives.

The survivors were scattered along the U.S. eastern seaboard and France until 1784, the King of Spain consented to allow them to settle in South Louisiana.  Most followed the path which led to New Orleans.  There they received a hostile greeting from the French aristocracy so they headed west of the city into unsettled territory.  They settled along the bayous of south central and south western Louisiana where they could live according to their own beliefs and customs.

For several generations, the Cajuns raised various crops and lived on the bayou where they fished and trapped.  Today, Cajuns are famous for their unique French dialect, their music, their spicy cooking and for their ability to live life to its fullest.

According to Karl, a law was passed in the 1920's that made it illegal to speak the French language in schools and public buildings.  This law persisted up until the late 1960's or early 1970's, in an attempt to assimilate the Acadian people into main stream America.  While many, including Karl, resisted the homogenization of their culture, the harsh restrictions had a severe effect.  Now some of the schools offer "French Immersion" education in which children are taught all subjects in French, along with a course on English.

It seems we've come a long way.

The Cajuns aren't the only distinct ethnic group to call the Lafayette area home.  After the Napoleonic wars, many French emigrated to the area, as did Catholic Germans, Lebanese, Vietnamese, who were accepted to the area because of their shared faith.  Many slaves and free people of color added their beliefs and customs to the mix.

The motto of the people of this area is "Laissez les bons temps rouler!  Which is translated as "Let the good times roll!  Whether it's a shared beverage after a long hard days work, a celebration of one of the many festivals, or the grand Mardi Gras, they know how to have fun!

So dust off your copy of Evangeline by Longfellow, find a CD of Cajun music (I just know there are some available for download from iTunes), throw some shrimp and crawfish in a pot and call some friends.  You can experience a little Cajun culture right in the heart of Nebraska.  OK, it probably won't be the same, so you should just plan a trip down here.

Thanks for stopping by.  The coffee is always on.

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