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What is a Cajun?


a tree in front of a house with Melrose Plantation in the background

Experiencing the Cajun culture is like no other. The Acadians of today are a thrifty, hard-working, fun-loving, devout religious folk. They work and play with equal enthusiasm.

The word Cajun began in 19th century Acadie (now Nova Scotia) when the Acadians began to arrive. The French of noble ancestry would say, “les Acadiens”, while some referred to the Acadians as, “le ‘Cadiens”, dropping the “A”. Later came the Americans who could not pronounce “Acadien” or “‘Cadien”, so the word, “Cajun” was born.

The Cajun’s pleasure-loving nature expresses itself in the community festivals, dancing and food that are integral parts of bayou life. Cajuns are known for their “joie de vivre” (joy of living), and to add excitement to their food they experiment with herbs, spices and ingredients to create some of the most flavorful dishes that people throughout North America now enjoy.

One of the traditional favorite Cajun pastimes is an old- fashioned crawfish boil. When the sacred “mud bugs” or “crawdads” go into the pot a breath of excitement fills the air. Before the great feast of the boiled crawfish, potatoes, onions and corn, youngsters make a mad dash for the crawfish tub poking the live crawfish with sticks while other family members participate in crawfish races.

Boiling crawfish is not the only way to enjoy the crustaceans. When crawfish go into the pot a number of delicious dishes result because there are almost as many ways to cook crawfish as there are swamps, ponds and ditches in which to catch them. Crawfish are served up in gumbo, bisque, étouffée, jambalaya, pies or patties. When the Cajuns aren’t eating crawfish, they enjoy other world famous cuisine of Louisiana such as oysters, shrimp, boudin, pralines, gumbo and red beans and rice.

What better way to experience Cajun food than at a festival? Any time is festival time in Cajun Country. Towns and villages throughout Acadiana celebrate every season with their special blend of music, food and the colorful Cajun heritage. Most festivals feature live music of all sorts, contests, native crafts and food and, of course, dancing.

Cajun music is also distinctive. It can be lively or melancholy, and sometimes both at the same time. The main reason why many attend festivals is for the unique Cajun music. Cajun music, once deemed as “nothing but chank-a-chank” has infiltrated radio, television and classrooms and is becoming world famous for its unique sounds of instruments like accordions, fiddles and triangles.

One of the largest festivals is our world-famous Mardi Gras. Celebrate an old-fashioned Mardi Gras at the Courir du Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Run), one of the local traditions that makes Mardi Gras in Cajun Country truly unique. The spectacle celebrated in small towns and villages in Acadiana is a favorite of visitors interested in off-the-beaten-path experiences. With its roots firmly in the medieval tradition of ceremonial begging, bands of masked and costumed horseback and wagon riders led by the unmasked “Le Captaine” roam the countryside “begging for ingredients for their community gumbo. The day’s festivities end with a fais-do-do and, of course, lots of savory gumbo.

In Cajun Country, a week hardly goes by without chants of praise to crawfish, rice, alligators, cotton, boudin, yams, gumbo and andouille, all the necessities of bayou life. Within the triangle of Acadiana’s 22 parishes, you’ll experience the “joie de vivre” of the Cajun lifestyle. Whether in food, music or fun, the Cajun tradition continues to live on in the hearts of Cajuns and visitors alike.

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