Yesterday was all about Cajun country and Cajun history, We have been to Nova Scotia, home of the embarkation of the French Catholics to New Orleans, pushed out by the English in 1765. It was a major national trauma, and this part of the world is where the rest of the story took place.
Mostly farmers, hunters and trappers, the Acadians or Cajuns were the country folks looked down on by the Creoles – those born in Louisiana. It seems that only recently have they begun understanding and celebrating their own history. There is now a close interchange with the Nova Scotians, and a quadrennial meeting takes place to share their story. “We are all going up there next year,” they say. It was not so easy when they first left their homeland.
What a change from harsh Canadian winters to this subtropical land! Different crops, different farming techniques, different housing were all required. It took several generations for this to be home and new customs to emerge.
We spent the morning in what was Vermllionville in the early part of the 19th century, now called Lafayette. There is a museum which has collected a number of houses from early Acadians.
They had to suffer again, along with the Creoles, when the “Americans” took control of the state in 1917 and forbade the French language in the schools. Mervyn, who is 90, fiddled for us in the school house and explained how they were punished in school for speaking French, Crazy, eh? Now it’s all nicely bilingual, but being of French descent was certainly not a social asset here in the early 20th century. The homes are located right on the bayou, which Don ferried us across.
Next we went to St. Martinville, center of the disembarkation. If you know the Acadian story as told by Longfellow, this is where Evangeline was reunited with her lover. A tree commemorates the site of the story.
The second half of our day was spent in the Great Cypress Swamp, on a tour given by Sean Guchereau. His family has lived on Bayou Teche for generations, and he is now armed with degrees in zoology and botany to explain the wildlife and fauna he has known all his life.
You have to get the alligators out of your system first, and then you can start to appreciate the rest of the inhabitants, like the egrets and herons, turtles, frogs and most of all the wonderful cypress trees that live in these waters. We often drifted quietly through the trees, just listening to the birds, and it was magical.
As the sun sank over the swamp, it became even more beautiful and exotic. It’s not hard to understand the passion these people have for their part of the world and their pride in a life spent learning how to live within it.
The Cajun culture is remarkable, vibrant and a special corner of our country, that has managed to survive and find a place far larger than the tourist images.