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Out in the Bayous: Mardi Gras in Cajun Country

Cajun Country

Bayou in Louisiana

When we think of Francophone culture in Louisiana, New Orleans and Mardi Gras are often in front of our minds. But the Cajun communities of rural Louisiana put a flavorful twist on the festivities of Mardi Gras. Cajun Country, or Acadiana, covers much of rural Louisiana. Twenty-two bayou-ridden,sugar-producing parishes (counties) make up the region.  Here, some of the wildest Mardi Gras traditions take place. 

 Creole in Rural Louisiana 

Creole Shrimp

Among the Cajun culture in rural Louisiana is another vibrant group that enjoys Mardi Gras celebrations: Creole speakers. Descendants of freed slaves, Haitian immigrants, and others of African American lineage, Creole people in Louisiana have dispersed far and wide into Cajun country and have left their mark on Mardi Gras traditions, especially in the realm of food and music. Creole food often consists of spicier renditions of classic dishes such as gumbo and jambalaya. This cuisine is also fond of saucier dishes, using tomatoes and butter as main ingredients. 

Fais Do-Dos

Mardi Gras in New Orleans features massive floats throwing candy and beads to passersby. In the countryside, however, people can’t rely on busy streets for the festivities. Instead, the spread-out parishes celebrate in a small, community-focused style. Fais do-dos, as they’re called, are small gatherings in backyards and fields where friends and neighbors throw Mardi Gras parties. Cajun and Creole music and culture are showcased, and food is abundant. The most important activity, however, is the Courir de Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Run). 

Courir de Mardi Gras

Traditional Costumes

The “Mardi Gras Run” is a Cajun tradition that quintessentially summarizes rural celebrations of the holiday. Starting in the center of town, participants of the run go door-to-door asking for gumbo ingredients. To obtain the ingredients, one must perform a show or spectacle, often dressed in wild costumes.

Chicken Catching

The most coveted prize is a live chicken, which the runner must chase through mud and ditches to catch it (with their bare hands!). The gumbo ingredients are then put together and brought to the fais do-dos for sharing. 

Celebrating Community

For many in the Cajun Country, celebrating holidays is more about community and family than large spectacles like in the city. This is captured in their celebrations of Mardi Gras, which focus on fostering a unique sense of belonging rather than highlighting the most flashy parts of this holiday. 

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence, University Intern

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