If you’re reading or following this blog, you have probably picked up on a few subjects that recur throughout the posts. Two of them are fairly well-known, yet also widely misunderstood: Cajun and Creole. Both cultures have been associated with Ascension Parish, Louisiana since the early days of the colony. For those of you who haven’t grown up in, around, or with either culture, you may assume that they are both the same. Folks, these terms are not one and the same; they are two entirely different cultures that happen to reside in close geographical proximity to each other. Both cultures share some commonalities, which can confuse those who don’t fully understand them: they share the French language (although different dialects), have an affinity for spicy food (although Creole food has much more West African influence), and a joie de vivre not found in other parts of the United States.
Most Louisiana residents, especially those in south Louisiana, can you tell you the difference between the two. But after working in the tourism industry for a few years, I have noticed that the common mistake of cultural homogenization is very prevalent in the minds of most visitors to our state. So, this blog entry will set out to differentiate the Cajuns from the Creoles, in hopes that as you continue to follow and keep up with the blog, you’ll be able to fully grasp what I mean when I use “Cajun” or “Creole” throughout the text.
The term “Cajun” comes from the word Acadian, which refers to those French Canadians who lived in the province of Acadia in northeastern North America that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day Maine to the Kennebec River. The Acadians were poor, rural farmers who were expelled from Acadia at the end of the Seven Years War by the British. The diaspora spread to several parts of the New World, especially to French colonies in the Caribbean basin. The largest group settled in Louisiana, stopping briefly in New Orleans before spreading up the Mississippi River and west into the bayous. They were able to adapt their agricultural habits rather successfully to their surroundings, but remained, for the most part, poor rural farmers for several generations, even up into our modern times (their architecture was also very simple, lacking the grand, ornate stylings of their Creole cousins).
The term “Creole” refers to those who are descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French, Spanish, and African descent. The term was first used during colonial times by the early French settlers to refer to those who were born in the colony, as opposed to those born in the Old World (Europe). Creoles by nature tended to be more aristocratic, wealthier, homes were built on a grand scale (think Destrehan Plantation), and their communities were very insular (especially those in New Orleans).
If you visit Louisiana, you will undoubtedly collide with some aspect of either culture. But keep in mind, they are two separate cultures. If you remember this one fact, you will be able to better grasp our strange, mystifying, unique culture.
What kind of experiences have you had with the Cajun and/or Creole cultures? Share it below!