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Bayou Lafourche (pronounced BY-uh luh FOOSH), 60 miles upstream from New Orleans, was at one time a major distributary of the Mississippi River.  For the centuries of its existence the river flooded its banks every spring carrying with it fresh topsoil and welcome nutrients to the fields. The torrents of water kept the bayou bottom scoured and navigable. It is said that the Chetimachan Indian tribes that settled this fork of the river habitually folded their teepees every spring and carried them to higher hunting grounds. The following summer the tribes returned, welcoming the new land and higher water levels that meant better hunting, trapping and fishing. Then other settlers came, built more permanent dwellings along the bayou banks and feared the annual floods. Shouts of crevasse brought field hands and neighbors running with shovels struggling to re-construct dams around the break. Finally, in 1904, in response to requests from frantic sugarcane farmers, and obviously in an attempt to maintain more control over the discharge, the Corps of Engineers permanently dammed the Mississippi at Bayou Lafourche’s headwaters in Donaldsonville. The spring floods stopped, the once-navigable bayou became a hyacinth-clogged stream, and the new century saw a change in habit for the residents who lived and played along its length.

The change was superficial, though, and the new natives adaptable. Today the110-mile long natural bayou is home to 90,000 people from a variety of historical origins, collectively known as “Cajuns”. Still navigable for much of its journey, rolling through 20 communities and 4 Louisiana parishes, its channel is home to one of the world’s largest bird aviaries. The marshes and bayous nurture an incredible variety of fish and furs. Much of the nation’s oil and natural gas arrive by pipeline through its wetlands. The bayou and its backwaters is a sportsman’s paradise. The local arts, ranging from “black pot” cooking to waterfowl carving are celebrated with annual festivals highlighting Cajun Country’s infamous “joie de vivre.” 

Bienvenue! You are welcome to join the party.

Cajun French

Cajun French evolved as the years went by. When new ideas or new inventions came to their attention the Acadians had no idea what word their homeland French called it. Of necessity, they used whatever words they heard, whatever was handy, agreed upon their own sentence structure and assumed that it did not matter whose language it used to be: Parisian French, Quebecois, Spanish, English, Indian, or African. It only mattered that they understood what another member of the ever-enlarging friends-and-family was saying to them. Thus there is today a very pronounced difference in the way a Frenchman from Paris, or a Canadian from Quebec, or a Cajun from Lafourche speak French. However, that is of little importance. If the speakers enunciate clearly, slow down, wave their hands in the air, and occasionally revert to English phrases, they can usually communicate.

Thus they blithely Frenchified their neighbors. French speaking priests and census takers, unable to cope with unwieldy German names, for instance, transposed, among others, Foltz into Folse, Dubs into Toups, Heidel into Haydel, Greber into Grabert, Zweig (twig) into LaBranche and, ingeniously, the family name Achtzig (the number 80 in the German language) became Quatrevingt (the number 80 in French). The British and Spanish surnames fared no better. the Forrests became Forets and the Mallisons soon were Melancons.

Cajuns Rule

Although fewer than 3000 Acadians migrated to Louisiana in the 18th century, and these were definitely the new kids on the block, the Acadian language, culture and religion soon dominated the region. In 1971 a playful Louisiana legislature, following the lead of its Cajun governor, settled the issue when it designated 22 south Louisiana parishes as “Acadiana” and all of its inhabitants Cajuns.

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