|My Name Is Rosalie And I Am
Proud To Be A Cajun
by Sherry Bourget
Monday, December 10, 2001 3:45:25 AM
From: Sherry Bourget
Subject: My Name is Rosalie and I am proud to
be a Cajun
My Name Is Rosalie And I Am Proud To Be A Cajun
by Sherry Bourget
My name is Rosalie Brasseaux, and I am proud
to be a Cajun. My nickname is Doucette, because I am so sweet, my
papa says. All Cajun children have nicknames. I really like
I was born on July 11, 1901 in our house
on the bayou near Atchafalaya Bay in Louisiana. My papa and my maman,
Ulysse and Armentine Brasseaux, and my seven sisters and brothers,
are proud to be Cajun, too. Papa says "Cajun" Is a shorter form of
"Acadians," who were our ancestors who lived in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.
I love to hear Papa tell stories about how we Cajuns came to live in Louisiana.
Sometimes Papa and his friends debate where
the name, "Acadia" came from. Papa says it comes from the Greek word,
"arkadia," which means "paradise, utopia, or land of dreams." My
Papa, he is a dreamer. His friend Achille says it comes from the
Micmac Indian word "akade," which means "a place where things abound."
I like my Papa's explanation better, because I am a dreamer, too.
Papa says being a dreamer can be good,
but that dreams are only accomplished with hard work. He says that
all our ancestors: those in France who came to Nova Scotia to escape
the tyranny of the Church and the King of France, those who were deported
from Acadia, and those who built a new life in Louisiana, were all dreamers
and hard workers.
"But," he says, "they also knew how
to have fun. Your grandpere often said, 'Laissez les bon temps rouler'
(let the good times roll) before every fais do-do."
Papa says his great-great-great grandpere
and great-great grandmere came to Louisiana during the Grand Derangement,
which is also called the Great Disruption, or the Deportation, in 1755.
The English soldiers were angry because the Acadians would not sign a paper
swearing allegiance to the King of England, so the soldiers burned the
homes and farms of Papa's ancestors and many other Acadian farmers and
their families and forced them to leave their beloved "Acadie." Many
families were separated when the soldiers crowded them aboard wooden ships
and transported them to the American colonies. Papa's family was
lucky that they did not get separated, like Evangeline and her beloved.
Maman says some of the deportees were left
in New England, where the English settlers were distrustful and cruel to
them. Some families were dropped off in Virginia and the Carolinas,
where they became indentured servants or slaves. People in Maryland
were kind and welcomed the deportees. Papa says that was because
many of the Maryland settlers were English Catholics and would not turn
their backs on members of the Church.
Papa's grandpere told me that his grandpere
heard of opportunities in Louisiana, so he left Maryland after a few years
and floated down the Mississippi River on a raft to New Orleans.
He arrived in 1759. When he was settled, he sent for his wife and
Maman's ancestors were deported to France,
where they lived along the coast and were very poor. When the war
between England and France ended in 1763, Louisiana was given to Spain.
The Spanish government wanted to populate Louisiana, so they agreed to
transport 2000 Acadian deportees in France to the United States in 1785.
That's how Maman's family came to live here.
Both Papa and Maman's families lived near
New Orleans until 1812, when Louisiana became a state. Once more
the Acadians were forced to move, this time by the Americans. They
had to leave the fertile land and move to less desirable swamp land
around the Atchafalaya Bay. My Grandpere was one of those forced
to move into the swamps.
Grandpere built a ribbon farm for his family.
A ribbon farm is a long, narrow piece of land that includes frontage on
the bayou for access to the water roadways and to fishing, fields for farming,
and woods for hunting. When Papa and Maman were married, Grandpere
divided the land into narrower ribbons for his children. Papa says
that is how the Acadians in Nova Scotia did it. Papa has enough
land to divide between my brothers and me, but I don't think there
is enough to divide it for my children, when I am married and have a family.
I think I will get married because I don't
have yellow heels. Maman says when a girl has yellow heels, she will
be a spinster. I check my heels every night. Maman doesn't
think I will have to put my fingernail parings in a man's pocket
or sit him in a rocking chair on the porch over a rooster tied up under
the porch, to make the man propose. She says I will not have to make
poudre de berlainpainpain to catch a husband. She says I am a pretty
girl and will make someone a good wife.
Some people say our Cajun language sounds
like the language of our ancestors. who were artisans, farmers, and fishermen
in Northern France hundreds of years ago. Words from other settlers,
like the Spanish, Germans, Irish, Africans, and Indians, have become a
part of our language. Cajun people often talk with many hand movements.
Papa says if he tied my hands behind my back, I would not be able to talk,
but he hasn't tried it, so I don't know if it's true. Sometimes everybody
talks at once, which is called "gumbo ya-ya." Maman says our Cajun
language comes from the heart. I think our music does, too.
We live in a nice house with a steep roof
and two covered porches. The front porch is called the galerie.
When we have company, we sit in rocking chairs and swings on the galerie
to talk, laugh, and sing. Oh, how Cajuns love to have fun!
When it is really hot in the summer, the
whole family brings their quilts outside and sleeps on the galerie, where
it is cooler. Usually, my four brothers sleep upstairs in the garconniere.
They use an outside stairway to reach the attic. My three sisters
and I share a bedroom downstairs, next to Papa and Maman's room.
When the mosquitos are thick, we cover our beds with netting at night to
keep out the pests.
Sometimes, Papa lets me go with him through
the swamp in our pirogue, which is a flat-bottomed boat that glides on
the water. Last week, when we went to town, I spied a quilt hanging
over the porch railing at the Landry's house. A quilt displayed like
that means there is news: a birth, a death, or an engagement, so
Papa and I stopped to visit. Mme. Landry was very excited.
"My daughter, Clementine, had a baby girl
last week. It is the first time that I am a grandmere!"
"Congratulations, Marie," Papa and I said
at the same time.
"You, Doucette, should be thinking about
getting married and making your papa a grandpere and your maman a grandmere.
When is your papa going to have a fais do-do to announce your readiness
"Soon, Marie, soon." Papa laughed.
"We are planning a fais do-do next month on Doucette's fifteenth birthday--on
July 11. Will you help us get the word out?"
"Mais oui, my friend. Laissez les
bon temps rouler."
Maman says I am ready to get married and
that I have learned well how to be a good wife and mother.
She says my role is to make my husband happy, to care for our children,
to cook, clean, sew, quilt, and to do laundry. I know how to scrub
the floors and keep the house very clean. Maman says I am the best
pot polisher she has ever seen. She says also that I weave sturdy
baskets. Maman has also taught me that it is very important for the
wife to unify the family and fill her home with love and peace.
Last winter, Maman and my sisters and I
spun wool from our sheep and made fabric from cotton to make my trousseau.
We made sheets, blankets, tablecloths, and rugs. In early afternoons,
we worked on a bright red and blue quilt for my marriage bed. It
is finished and it is so beautiful!
We make all the family's clothes
and linens from the sheep and the cotton crop we have on our ribbon farm.
We make braguettes (knee-length pants) for Papa and the boys. Maman,
my sisters, and I like bright, striped dresses. Every blouse, dress,
and shirt is made with long sleeves and we wear white or gray stockings,
to protect us from mosquitos. When we are outside, we wear sabots
(wooden shoes) to protect our feet from the damp ground and from snakes.
When we are inside, we wear savates (moccasins), which are more comfortable.
Most children under ten go barefoot.
Maman made a beautiful dress for my fais
do-do: it has a purple full skirt and a red bodice. I will
wear a bright yellow kerchief around my shoulders and I will wear my savates
the night of the party, so I can dance all night long.
One of the things I like most about being
Cajun is that "we are like one big family, " as Grandmere often says.
We help each other at harvest time, which is called "ramasserie" (communal
harvest). Sometimes, when a neighbor is sick, all the neighbors come
together in a "coups de main" to bring in his crops. The night of
the harvests, after the work is done, we eat and laugh and tell stories
and sing and make music and dance.
My favorite gathering is the "fais do-do."
My next-to-favorite is
"le boucherie"(butchering). All the neighbors
come to help butcher the hogs, then we share the meat: smoked hams,
sausage, and cracklings. My job is to clean the intestines to use
as casings for the boudin, which is a delicious spicy sausage made from
grinding the internal organs of the hog, combined with rice and seasonings.
Cleaning the intestines is not my favorite job, but I try to think about
how good le boudin will taste.
I also love to eat crackling, which is
the crispy pork rinds left over after they have rendered lard from the
hogs. Again, once the work is done, we eat and laugh and dance.
Cajuns are very good cooks, expecially
my Maman. Some of my other favorite foods are gumbo: a thick, spicy
soup with lots of okra, crawfish etouffee: a stew served over rice,
pain perdu, made from stale bread soaked in milk and cinnamon and fried
in a skillet, fried chicken, and beignets, a fried dough that is
rolled in powdered sugar. Maman says we will have to cook lots of
these foods for my fais do-do.
The Catholic church is also an important
part of our lives. Maman says we must always remember to thank God
for our blessings. She says our Acadian ancestors would not have
survived the Deportation and other challenges if they had not had such
a strong faith. We pray in the morning, at meals, and at bedtime.
On the first Sunday of every month, all the families in the swamp
climb into their pirogues and glide through the swamp to a small country
church a few miles away. The priest travels to other small communities
in the swamp, so he only can come here once a month.
Although our faith in God is strong, we
also are superstitious. Here are some of our beliefs: "An alligator
under the house is a sign of death." "Yellow heels signify spinsterhood."
"If you are not a good child, the loup-garous (werewolves) will get you."
"Place a broom on the threshold of the door to prevent evil witches from
suckling the breast of newborns." "Babies need the backbone of a shark
for teething, so they will have stong teeth." "Always watch
out for the Evil One. He is just waiting to get you!"
My grandmere handed down to Maman many
of the natural remedies she learned from her grandmere: "Bathing
in pepper grass will make your aches and pains go away." "Elderberry
tea is good for measles." "Ointment made from mashed lightening bugs
that have been soaked in alcohol will help rheumatism." "When you
have chills and fever, sleep under the bed."
We Cajun people also have customs and superstitions
about death and funerals. When Alcide Breaux died last year, all
the clocks were stopped and people ceased working for that day. His
body was laid out in the bedroom and the coffin covered with a black cloth.
Young people's coffins are draped in white.
His widow placed two candles near his coffin
to light his body, which had his feet facing the door to permit him to
travel to the other world. Someone had to stay with his body at all
times before the funeral. During the funeral procession, neighbors shut
their doors and windows to keep wandering spirits from coming in.
We Cajuns have strong beliefs about death.
As I said earlier, the fais-do-do is my
favorite gathering of family and friends. Next month will be mine,
and we have much work to do to prepare for it. Maman and I will be
cooking and cleaning for the whole week before it. On the day of
the party, Papa and the boys will move all the furniture from the front
room to a bedroom to make room for the dancers and the musicians in the
front room. Next they will set up chairs around the edges of the
room for guests and for chaperones, les veilles femmes (old ladies),
who will watch us carefully to make sure we are behaving ourselves.
My grandmere has eyes like a pelican. Last year at a fais do-do,
she tapped me on the shoulder when Etienne and I were dancing too close
and she made me leave the dance floor. I was so ashamed. Later
that evening, she scolded my cousin and her beau for holding hands, which
is not allowed. Sometimes a beau will wear a kerchief around his
head to warn other men not to dance with his girlfriend.
Kissing is not allowed either, so Papa
will hang lanterns in each room, on the porches, and in the trees around
"I remember what it is like to be a young
man," Papa said, laughing. "The girls will be safe at my home."
As with many Cajun customs, there is controversy
about the origin of the word "fais do-do," which is a lively communal
dance to live music, where everyone dances with everyone else: children,
parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. "Fais do-do" actually means
"go to sleep."
Some people believe the name of this communal
celebration comes from the practice of rocking young children to sleep
in the "parc aux petits," which is a room next door to the dancing room,
where weary babies and young children can go to sleep before the dancing
Others believe it stands for "Fete de Dieu"
(festival of God), but Papa disagrees with that definition. He says,
"We Cajuns, we love God, but we never have had a "Fete de Dieu, even when
our ancestors lived in France." Still others believe that it comes
from the idea that the dance floor is often very crowded and couples sometimes
stay in one place so long, without moving, that they fall asleep.
Papa doesn't agree with that idea, either.
I don't care where the word, fais do-do
comes from, I just know I love them! I love the music and the dancing
and the laughter. I love twirling around the dance floor until I
am breathless. Although I love the lively fast dances, I love to
waltz the most. When I am waltzing, I feel like a Cajun princess.
Some married women don't dance, but I am going to tell my future husband
that I will not get married if I can't dance! I will rub yellow flowers
on my heels and be a spinster if I can't dance!
I also love the music. Papa and Uncle
Louie will play the fiddle, and my brother will play "le frottier "(the
washboard), which has an unusual sound. Etienne will play "les cuilleres"
(spoons). Papa may let me play" le 'tit fer" (the triangle).
We shall be so merry!
Although I am happy that Papa will be announcing
at the fais do-do that I am eligible for marriage, my secret wish
is that Etienne Levasseur will court me. We have been friends for
many years and he is a kind and hard-working young man. He is handsome,
too. And he loves to dance as much as I do.
Yes, I am proud to be a Cajun girl.
We shall have so much fun next month as I twirl aroung the dance floor
in my special purple and red dress!
"Laissez les bon temps rouler.!"
Bial, Raymond. (1998) Cajun Home.
Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston.
Brasseaux, Carl A. (1987) The Founding of
New Acadia. Louisiana State University Press.
Duke, Jerry C. (No copyright date available)
Dances of the Cajuns. Duke Publishing Company. San Francisco.
Gravelle, Karen and Dioff, Sylviane. (1998)
Growing Up in Crawfish Country. (No publisher identified).
Gumbo Ya-Ya. Folk Tales of Louisiana.
"The Cajuns," Chapter 9 Coursepack for FAWO 329.
Tuesday, December 11, 2001 1:18:02 AM
From: Sherry Bourget
Subject: Re: Publishing the final projects
Rhea Cote has my permission to publish my final
project for FAS329.
December 10, 2001