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Cajun Mardi Gras: Cultural Objectification and Symbolic Appropriation in a French Tradition Author(s): Rocky L. Sexton Reviewed work(s): Source: Ethnology, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 297-313 Published by: University of Pittsburgh- Of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3773909 . Accessed: 16/01/2013 20:17
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CAJUN MARDI GRAS: CULTURALOBJEC'llPlCATION AND SYMBOLICAPPROPRIATIONIN A RENCH TRADITION1
RockyL. Sexton College Augustana
customalthoughit was once Rural LouisianaMardiGras is viewedas a Cajun-French occurredduring shared by a diverseLouisianaFrenchpopulation.This transformation appropriated ethnic revivalwhich objectifiedand symbolically a late-twentieth-century processwas aided by externalinfluencessuch local cultureas Cajun. This Cajunization as scholarlyliteratureand the mediawhichidentifiedlocalcultureand FrenchLouisiana in general as Cajun. Despitea recent Afro-Frenchethnic movement,which also claims of ownershipor co-ownership localculture,ruralMardiGrasis still identifiedas a Cajun a cultural institution and the celebration unifwles diverse Cajun-Frenchpopulation. (Cajun, Mardi Gras, ethnic revival, symbolicappropriation,cultural objectifwlcation)
the Grasin Louisiana: famedNew Orleans formsof Mardi Therearetwo well-known is or and celebration, the "ruralb country" MardiGras.The lattercelebration now However,ruralMardi institution. cultural Cajun-French as widelytreated a uniquely it and Graswas once foundin areasof FranceandFrenchCanada, in Louisiana was This article Frenchpopulation. diverseLouisiana by shared a raciallyandethnically process that of describesthe Cajunization country Mardi Gras, a sociocultural ethnic revival centeredin Cajun-French occurredduring a late-twentieth-century ethnicmovementsin North southwestLouisiana.This movement,like concurrent identity as elements partof a speciElc valuedcultural and America Europe,objectiEled property of The to be publiclypromoted. transformation theseelementsintocultural becauseownershipof culturalmaterialsis often involves symbolic appropriation amongothergroups.Withthe Cajun-French they arepresent even though promoted Frenchculturalelements this involvedboththeir layingclaimto genericLouisiana camefrom ascription External to andhavingthesetraitsascribed themby outsiders. films, the media, and ethnictourism scholarlyand popularwritings,documentary link a and all promotion, of whichpromoted reinforced one-to-one betweenFrench internallyand Louisianaculture and Cajun culture and identity. Cajunization, undertheethnic French otherwhiteLouisiana subsuming driven,included externally to and and label, Cajun-French, a neglectof the Afro-French theircontributions the ethnic Frenchculture.A growingAfrican-American-directed of Louisiana evolution the is movement only now contesting latterprocess.Nonetheless,ruralMardiGras an elements,promotes imagined and institution, as a complexof cultural as a cultural a and community integrates diversepopulation. Cajun-French
ETHNOLOGYvol. 38 no. 4, Fall 1999, pp. 297-313. Pit,burgh PA 15260 USA of ETHNOLOGY, c/o Departmentof Anthropology,The Univerv,ity Pittv,burgh, CopyrightO 1999 The University of Pittsburgh.All rights reserved.
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ETHNOLOGY TRADITION FRENCH MARDIGRASAS GENERIC COUNTRY
By celebrations. the MiddleAges many MardiGrashas originsin pre-Christian In calendar. France, liturgical withthe Catholic wereassociated of thesecelebrations beforeAsh MardiGras(FatTuesday),becamea day of excess andriotousbehavior for usheredin Lent, a 40-dayperiodof austerity Catholics.In French Wednesday that carnival in the UnitedStates urban cities, MardiGrasevolvedintothe large-scale is now associatedwith New Orleans.However, in small Frenchtowns and the a countryside, beggingtourwas the definingelementof MardiGrasas well as other and (Candlemas), Mi(New Year'sEve), La Chandeleur holidayslike Guillonnee revelersvisitedhouse In (Mid-Lent). thesetours,rowdybandsof costumed Careme for comicalactsin exchange food, to be to house,singing,dancing,andperforming feast as a climaxto the holiday consumedon the spot or to provisiona communal to (Van Gennep 1947). The various holidayswere transplanted North America; however,ruralMardiGraswas the only customto takeroot in Louisiana. by to that While it is oftenassumed ruralMardiGraswas introduced Louisiana historyof this. The complexsettlement Acadians,no studyto datehas confirmed suggestthatthe custom Grastradition withinthe ruralMardi and Louisiana variation areasof France,or laterin Canada, in originating multiple fromelements developed timeswith variousFrenchsettlers.What at andthendiffusedto Louisiana different de is known is that the CoarEr MardiGras (MardiGras run) and an associated evening supper and dance were widespreadin French Louisianaby the early (Post 1936;Spitzer1986;Ware1994;AnceletandEdmonds1989; century twentieth Saucier 1956; Gutierrez1992; Laborde1996). Mardi Gras was found in rural that communities were close-knitsocial networksknownas voisinages(neighboras hoods). Gold (1980) describesthese neighborhoods the primaryunits of past LouisianaFrench identitybecausemost social life was limited to these insular a that confinesand therewere no largersocial institutions promoted Francophone identity. broader IN AND HOMOGENIZATION FENCH LOUISIANA DIVERSITY ETHNIC patternwas commonto a diverse Francophone settlement The neighborhood the from France,the Caribbean, Frenchsettlershadcometo Louisiana population. Valley, andQuebec(Hall 1992).At the sametime, Africanslaves upperMississippi (French,Acadiens)who had to were introduced the colony. Later,manyAcadians and New Brunswick Nova Scotia)by the been expelledfrom Acadia(present-day to Englishduringthe Seven Years War (1755-1763)were allowedto immigrate during also and Germans, Americans arrived of numbers Spanish, Smaller Louisiana. (Sexton1996). gallicizedwithina few generations this era andwere oFten to The term zCreole"emergedas a genericlabel for anyonenative-born the of colony (Dominguez 1986) althoughthe descendants Acadianexiles retained Acadianas an ethnic label. Europeans,Afiricans,and already present Native
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Americans interacted extensively.The resultof thesemyriadrelationships what was Hall (1992) has referredto as Afro-Creoleculture, or a blending of European (primarily French),African,andNativeAmerican cultural traditions. Slaveswerethe primarycarriersof this culturaltradition,althoughnon-blackswere to varying degrees influencedby Afro-Creole culture.Thus, there were both similarityand diversitywithinthe Louisiana Frenchpopulation. example,manyacculturated For slavesspokea highlyAfricanized French-based Creole,while otherAfro-French and white inhabitants spoke AcadianFrenchor continental-style French. All Francophones, however, utilized a multitude non-French of loan words. This linguistic amalgamation, whichreflectedoverallcultural amalgamation, characterized was by the emergenceof gumbo(derivedfrom a west Africanword for okra)as a staple dish. This soup-likerecipe utilized roux (brownedflour and oil, derived from continental Frenchcuisine)andfile NativeAmerican (a termfor groundsassafras) as thickeners, with ingredients suchas okra,chicken,sausage,andlocal wild fowl, servedover rice, introduced slavescaptured rice-growing by in areasof West Africa (Hall 1992). The colonialera witnessedthe emergenceof diversitywithinthe Afro-French population.A populationof mixed racial ancestrywith origins in the sexual exploitationof slave women emerged.These light-skinned offspringof AfricanEuropean unionswereoftenmanumitted, educated, givenproperty theirwhite and by fathers.These gens de couleurlibre (free people of color) constituted privileged a middlecategorybetweenslaves and whites. Likewise,their social life was much closerto manywhiteLouisiana French thanit was to Afro-Creole cultureas defined by Hall (1992). However, as with whites, the free people of color sharedmany cultural traitswith enslavedAfricans.Distinctions betweenthe descendants gens of de couleur libre and their phenotypically darker counterparts became blurred throughout nineteenth twentieth the and centuries.This was facilitated the rising by sociopolitical dominance Anglo-Americans of guided hypodescent, by post-Civil War impoverishment manyfreepeopleof color andthe emancipation slaves, which of of put both groupson a moreequalsocioeconomic footing(Brasseaux, Fontenot,and Oubre1994). However,mechanisms suchas endogamy quasi-legal and relationships betweensome free womenof color andwealthywhiteshelpedto perpetuate lighta skinnedpopulation with a distinctivezCreoleof color"identity,in some cases into the present(Dormon1996). The white French populationbecame increasinglyhomogeneousduringthe nineteenth century.Therehadbeendifferences amongwhiteCreolesandlatecomers like the Acadians;however, despite initial ethnic tensions, there was extensive intermarriage cultural and exchange(Brasseaux 1987, 1992; Sexton 1996). In fact, the termCajun,derivedfrom 'Cadien,a shortened versionof Acadien,was widely ascribed whiteFrenchof low socioeconomic to statusfollowingthe Civil War.This occurredas economic turmoil compressedmany LouisianaFrench black and white into a lowerclass of laborers, sharecroppers, yeomen(Brasseaux and 1992). Manynew neighborhoods formedoutof clusters this population worked were of who
often and plots of land. Small numbersof Anglo-Americans Europeans adjacent into assimilated the Francophone and movedintothesesettlements weresubsequently who (Sexton 1996). Anglo-Americans, or population at least stronglyacculturated were often oblivious to the arrivedin increasingnumbersafter the Civil War, and diversitywithinthe white Frenchpopulation, the term originalandcontinuing the Howevers labelCajunwas meansof classiElcation. servedas a convenient Cajun to device,continued denote and oftenascriptive, the termCreole,as a self-ascriptive (Gold 1979; FranSois1990; Gary century well into the twentieth ethnicdifference 1985;Sexton 1996). OF THE CREOLIZATION RURALMARDIGRAS It RuralMardiGraswas a widely sharedtraditionalbeitwith some variations. whose memberswere communities neighborhoods, was popularin Cajun-French (Saucier1956),andin heterogeneous descent of French non-Acadian whiteLouisiana Cajuns,white Creoles,andacculturated that neighborhoods included sharecropping (Sexton 1996). RuralMardiGras Europeans of and Anglo-Americans descendants (CrowleySignal communities Afro-French Louisiana was also presentin southwest 1907; Sexton 1996; Spitzer 1986; Ware 1994). For example, one early study of Acadian MardiGras"noted that "[c]oloredpeople of the RomanCatholicfaith withfilllyas muchgustoas was shownby the Acadians, and on carried thepractice [t]he descendantsof the free mulattoes[free people of color] possibly could as contribute much to the subjectof runningMardiGras as the whites" (Post 1936:31). By the early twentiethcentury,ruralMardiGras includedelementsfound in and celebrations, in sita creolization Canadian and French French continental parallel of the tradition.The goal of the MardiGrasrunwas to solicit charite(charity),a gumbo of genericterm for contributions money or food to providea communal CountryMardiGras bandsconsistedof mountedmen, known supperand dance. suits,masks,and in Gras,disguised clown-like and individually collectivelyas Mardi capitaine by was (tall capachons peakedhats). Leadership provided an uncostumed a assured responsibleS whosepresence member community a (captain), well-respected and merrymakers the bandof anonymous betweenthe raucous mediator identif1able and dance at a centrallocationin each community public. A communalsupper to the concluded MardiGrasrun. The routeof the runcorresponded the perceived Mardi so of and geographical socialboundaries eachneighborhoods thosewho zranX the charity,and attended supperanddancewere membersof the Gras,contributed MardiGrashelpedto Thus,country (Sexton1996).2 sameclose-knitsocial network and tO promote a local sense of socially integrateparticularneighborhoods and community identity.
CAJUN MARDI GRAS
THE CAJUNIZATION LOUISIANA OF FRENCHCULTURE By the mid-twentieth century,countryMardiGrasdeclinedor disappeared in mostcommunities to economicandsocialfactors.3 due Mechanization agriculture of reduced need for humanlabor.Manyruralneighborhoods the were depopulated by the movementof residentsto regionalpopulation centersor local towns to enter nonagrarian occupations.Mobilizationof young men in World War Two also contributed temporary permanent to and outmigration. This was also the era when ethnicminorities were deridedbecauseof theircontrast idealizednotionsof the to Americanmelting pot. Stigmatization the Frenchlanguageoccurredthrough of mandatory education whichdictated English-only language instruction, the need and for linguisticaccommodation Englishin the workplace. termCajunacquired to The a negativeconnotation, the pejorative and label zcoonass"cameinto broadusageas a synonymfor Cajun(Gutierrez 1992; Sexton 1996; Dormon 1983). Afro-French wereeven morestrongly stigmatized theirdualidentity AfricanAmericans by as and as a French-speaking ethnicminority.Thus, practices MardiGraswere treated like as unnecessary cultural baggageto be de-emphasized discarded. or However,efforts on the partof the Cajun-French counter trendstarted early as the 1950s. to this as Cajun ethnicrevivalcanbe viewedas partof a broader national international and trend(Fishman1985). The zEthnicRevival, Fishman (1985:2)suggests,occurred in areaszwheredemocratic capitalism previously had madethe greatest progressin ethnicizing integrating or indigenous and/or immigrant minorities themainstream into sociocultural identity. InregionslikeQuebec, " Brittany, Scotland, and suchprocesses developed conjunction in with nationalistic sentiment, amongNativeAmericans and andAfricanAmericans the UnitedStates,with a questfor politicalandeconomic in equity(Handler1988; Badone1992). In most cases therewas a vision of reviving or revitalizingand promotinga distincttraditional culture, or more commonly, particularaspects of it that were supposedto characterizea group. Handler (1988:142)has describedsuch effortsas guidedby an objectifying logicXwhich zallows any aspectof humanlife to be imagined an object,that is, boundedin as time and space or (amounting the same thing) associatedas propertywith a to particular group."This logic can also be extendedto materialobjectsthat acquire symbolic value after being adoptedand claimed by a particulargroup. ThusS Chapman (1994:38)notesthatwithinCelticmusic in westernEurope,
[t]he piano accordion, for example, has become a Scottish instrumentin the minds of many, like the bagpipe and the harp before it. An unlikely combination of banjo, penny whistle, violin, and acoustic guitar has come to seem, for many, to characterize Irish "traditional"music. Instrumentsthat were popular throughout western France in the nineteenth century have now come to seem like Breton specialties.
However, objectification not only reifies culturalelements but often involves asserting claimsto them. Handler (1988:154) views this as problematic becauseaa self-conscious national ethnicgroupwill claimpossessionof cultural or properties as
Yet identity. the abilityof suchgroups of and bothrepresentative constitutive cultural to validateclaimsandthento act on them,will differwidely.n of The validation claimsandactinguponthemwhenothersdo not contestthese actionscan be due to factorslike unequalpower relations,indifference,lack of or property, the declineor disappearance betweengroupswho sharecultural contact of a traditionin an areafrom which it originallydiffused.It is also necessaryto and such as scholarlyliterature mass the acknowledge role thatexternalinfluences elementto a cultural or pattern speciElc a mediaplay in termsof ascribing cultural stuff can become,in processescultural these interrelated group.Through particular The mereassociation. that of the principle, property a groupin a manner transcends of defined)as the property a objects(broadly of objectification cultural uncontested entails beingcontested, without for thatendures longperiods group,or objectification As whatI will refer to as symbolicappropriation. will be seen, all of the factors This in Louisiana termsof the Cajun-French. in abovehaveoperated French outlined at becomesproblematic the local level, however,when situationsarise in which ownershipof cultural propertybecomes an issue or a potential issue among groups. competing often numerous, actuallycomprised in The Cajunrevivalmovement Louisiana in to ideologiesandactivities.In contrast similarmovements Quebecand conflicting ethnic revival has been describedas non-nationalistic Europe,the Cajun-French with ethnicrevivaldid not (Esman1981). This is becausethe discourseassociated void and dichotomy it was purposely us-versus-them dwellon a stronglyarticulated movements(Ancelet 1988). Cajunrhetoricfound in nationalist of the separatist than goal viewedas a meaningiful rather was preservation therefore Frenchcultural ends. The CajunFrenchrevival has also been nationalistic the meansto achieve and as portrayed apolitical focusedon issues of cultureandhistoryto the exclusion of (Esman1981). Butan examination allocation of of questions powerandresource indicatesthat issues of unequal experienceduringthis movement the Afro-French on to linked racehada bearing who couldor couldnot allocation powerandresource claimelementsof local culture. ethnicidentityor effectively a articulate particular Likewise, revival developed an economic componentas local culture became ltles commoc . townof Mamouin the Louisiana of Earlystirrings revivalcamein the southwest and by and were spearheaded supported merchants whiteI9SOs.These activities inhabitants. of ruralneighborhood children collarworkers,oftenthe Americanized These activists zbegan to manifesttheir concernfor retainingthe most valued " [Anglo-Americans] themandtheAmericains between difference of elements cultural at to (Gold 1979:276).In regard overallattempts revival,Gold(1979:276)suggests that
French use and participationin the most visible and demonstrableinstitutions of Cajun culture often constituteconscious and deliberatebehaviorchoices. Thatis, the extractionof what had been primordial aspects of Cajun-ness and their employment in daily, weekly, or yearly rituals become, on a group
basis, a collectivetransaction verges on the management symbolsor the placing of ethliic that of markers.
It is necessary offera new interpretation this situation notingthatzprimordito of by al aspectsof Cajun-nesst wereattributable the Louisiana to Frenchin general.Thus, selected valued cultural elements that revival leaders labeled as Cajun were objectiEled selectively (i.e. extracted froma traditional milieu)as elements be used to in the promotion a Cajun-French of ethnicity.As a result,culturalrevivalactually entailedthe reinvention cultureandtradition of rather thanthe simplepreservation of an enduring traditional cultural pattern (Handler Linnekin1984). A corollary and to this processis the invention primary of ownership the traditions of being revived or preserved a new context;hencesymbolicappropriation. in An earlypriority Mamou's of cultural activists the resurrection the Mardi was of Grasrun, with revival-minded individuals key positionslike captain(Osterand in Reed 1960). Theft, vandalism, fightingwhichoccasionally and plaguedpast Mardi Grasrunswere discouraged orderto lendrespectability the eventandto regain in to publicsupport.Andin keeping withthe goals of revivalleaders,actingztraditionalX becamepartof the discourseassociated with MardiGras.It has been suggestedthat the Mamou Mardi Grasgroupservedas themodelfor othercommunities revived that MardiGrasgroupsor developed onesduring new ensuingdecades,including several women'sandchildren's groups(AnceletandEdmonds1989). Subsequently, the by early 1990stherewere approximately twentyactiveMardiGrasgroupsin southwest Louisiana. However,the eventwas notrevivedin eastern FrenchLouisiana, perhaps because the celebrationhad disappeared much earlier under the overwhelming influenceof the nearbyNew Orleans carnival (Saucier1956). Revivalleadersencouraged scholarly the documentation the cultural of elements they soughtto preserveandpromote.For example,folkloristswere given full cooperation revivalleadersin theproduction recordingsin-depth by of linernotes, and articlesaboutmusicandMardi Grasfromthe Mamouarea(Oster1957, 1959, 1958; OsterandReed 1960). In another instance, folkloristsarranged a Cajunbandto for perform at the renownedNewportFolk Festival in 1964 (Ancelet 1989). The Newport FolkFestivalsubsequently funded applied folklore research Louisiana in and sponsored performances otherCajun by musicians the festival.The NewportFolk at Festivalalso providedsupportfor local activiststo featureCajunmusic in public eventsin Louisiana. This academic interest providedan air of legitimacy revival to effortsandhelpedto rehabilitate popularize and localcultureamongthose not active in revivalefiSorts. Hence, as Handler (1988)notesfor concurrent effortsby scholars in Quebecfolklorestudies,therewas a growingconsciousness amongnonactivists that these practices were valuable folklore and traditionand thus worthy of preservation. However,at the same time that scholarlywork lent respectability to LouisianaFrenchculturalelementslike MardiGras, it packagedthem underthe labelsCajunandAcadian. An institutionalizedS regional approach cultural to revivalinvolving politicalelites startedin 1968 with the formation the Councilfor the Development Frenchin of of
Louisiana (CODOFIL). CODOFIL was createdwith the intentto preserve and
develop the Frenchlanguagein Louisiana.This action was spurredby ongoing including and of the revivalwhichsparked interest intellectuals politicians, grassroots the (Ancelet1989)who recognized political FrenchandAnglo-Americans Louisiana world windowto the Francophone a andeconomicbenefitsof developing bilingual saw standard 1991; Lewis 1996). However,those directingCODOFIL (Trepanier in Frenchinstruction public schools as the primaryvehicle to achievetheir goal, culture,despiteits value Cajun was usagein general alsopromoted. French although and was less of a concernto CODOFIL, the A*o-French to grassrootsrevivalistss was largely ignoredand even treatedwith disdain componentof the population by was of (Dormon1996; Spitzer1977).4The emergence CODOFIL accompanied who sought Cajuns the growingactivismof a smallcore of young,college-educated energyto causesspecificallylinkedto Cajun-French to redirectthe organization's identity(Ancelet 1993). Undersuch influence,as well as the emergenceof promodified its by CODOFILleadership the 1990s, the organization Cajun-French by culture of for and approach beganto providesupport thepromotion Cajun-French sponsoring ethnic festivalsS although Afro-Frenchculture was still afforded space in statusby beingpresented publicCajun-controlled as a subsetof subordinate culture. Cajun-French created statelegislature efforts,the Louisiana with CODOFIL's In conjunction an official region, Acadiana,out of 22 south Louisianaparishesin 1972. This of perceptions the and was to reference Acadians basedon romanticized historicized thanuponthe rather in Acadians,such as thatpromoted Longfellow'sEvangelinew The culture,whichwas still viewedby manyas backward. realityof Cajun-French and as of promotion southLouisiana Acadiana the growingsaliencyof aCajun-nessb practices causedthe areaandthe cultural initialindifference) (despiteCODOFIL's both inside and outside Louisiana within it to be identified as Cajun-French to a 1991). Therewas undoubtedly racialcomponent the use of the label (Trepanier (1991) suggeststhatthe Cajundespite its dubiousstatus.For example,Trepanier term Cajunwas promotedbecause it was linted to the white LouisianaFrench by and population thuscouldbe manipulated politicalelites who wishedto promote a white identityfor the region. As far as politicianswere concerned Cajun-ness acquiredsome political currency. For example in a successful gubernatorial ran campaign,Edwin Edwards(a Cajundespitehis surname) underthe label of he support, usedthe termCajuninclusivelyfor any Cajun.To mobilizewidespread 1991). of white Louisianian Frenchdescent(Trepanier and organizedby CODOFIL,grassrootsethnic organizations, local Festivals fromrural culture venuesto moveCajun-French as developed important communities in festivalswere agrarian nature to neighborhoods publicforums.EarlyLouisiana but and not specificallylinkedto ethnic identityS manyfestivalsbeganto assume with duringthe 1950sin conjunction revivalefforts(Esman1981). ethnicattributes festivalsareviewed as idealforums This is because,like otherrevivalmovements, folkloredisplaysanddemonstrations to traditions the publicthrough for presenting
CAJUN MARDI GRAS
(Handler Linnekin1984). Publicevents in Louisiana and becamedevotedto foods identified Cajun-French; example,crawEish, as for gumbo,boudin,andjambalaya. Other festivalscelebrated activities eventslikeMardi and Grasassociated with CajunFrenchculture, or they specificallynamedCajun-French identityas a subjectof celebration(Sexton 1996). In this context,,preservationefforts meshed with economicsbecausefestivalssimultaneously promotedaspectsof local cultureand attracted tourist trade. More prioritywas placed on ethnic tourism after the oil industry, long a pillarof Louisiana's economy,collapsed the 1980s. For example, in in 1990 Louisiana doubledits tourismbudgetandfundedpromotions Franceand in FrenchCanada marketzCajunCountrytas an attraction to (Lewis 1996:76). Ethnicrevivalwas encouraged the popularization Cajun-French by of culturein greaterAmericansociety, and the label Cajunbecamean effective mechanism to promoteethnictourism.This popularization not surprising is considering thatthe socialclimatesincethe 1960shasoutwardly embraced diversity.The zbeautification" of Cajun cultureresulted a beautiE1cationthe labelCajuns to a lesserextent in of and beautification the termcoonass(Gutierrez of 1992).5These labelscame to embody the exotic elementsof Louisiana Frenchculturethat appealed people inside and to outsideLouisiana. Manypeoplewho in thepastwerereluctant self-ascribe such to as increasingly accepted termCajun.For example,white Louisiana the Frenchof nonAcadian ancestrywho still identified themselvesas Creoleat mid-century willingly or at leastsuperficially accepted Cajun anethniclabel(Gold 1980;Francois1990; as Gary1985;Trepanier 1991).Thesameprocessoccurred withmanypeopleof mixed Cajun-French, Anglo-American, German and ancestry who in the pastwere hesitant to self-ascribeas Cajun-French because of the stigma associatedwith the lahel (Sexton 1996). This acceptance the term Cajunwas more widespreadamong of children of these Zreluctant Cajuns.- They were exposed to Cajun-nessin its favorable light andCreolewas not emphasized an alternative as labeleven for those of predominantly white Creoleancestry. Use of the labelCajunas a catch-all termfor a complexwhiteFrenchpopulation andits link to a perceivedshared,unchanging Cajun tradition was increasingly that promoted regionaldiscourserepresents conceptof cultureas an organization in the of diversity(Schneider Rapp1995;Wallace1961). All of this maybe viewedas and the evolutionof the type of imagined community is at the heartof nationalistic that movementsand large-scaleethnic revival movements(Anderson1983). But this community maintained racialboundaries becauseof the traditional emphasison the Cajun-French white. The resultwas a superficially as homogeneous Cajun-French population stood in contrast a diverseAfro-French that to population. RURALMARDIGRASAND THE AFRO-FRENCH EXPERIENCE Whathappened with Afro-French culturein generaland ruralMardiGras in particular duringthe Cajun-French revival? The declineof Afro-French ruralMardi Graswas muchmoredramatic longterm.It appears onlythreeAfro-French and that
by Louisiana the 1980s, andtwo of MardiGrasgroupswere still activein southwest from by disbanded 1990. One factoraffectingthis was that emigration these had thanfrom Cajunwidespread has ruralcommunities been muchmore Afro-French French, so many Afro-Frenchneighborhoodsliterally disappeared.African low becauseof theirtraditionally positionin the economicandpolitical Americans, were in a poor positionto lay claimto practicesrangingfrom foodways structureS usefulfor validating materials to MardiGras,nor were most scholarlyandpopular ethnicrevival,parallel unlikethe Cajun theseclaimsif theyweremade.Furthermore, endeavorswere late in coming. This is not surprising, Afro-French-directed were generallyconcernedwith consideringthat until recentlyAfricanAmericans as and advancement with zblacknessbor aAfrican-nessX political and economic identities. divisive ethnic potentially rallyiIlgpointsSratherthan with articulating of for Dormon(1996) notes thatthis createda paradox some descendants the free and statusfromotherAfro-French a to peopleof colorwho attempted retain separate of Duringthe 1960sand 1970smanyyoungerdescendants free AfricanAmericans. oftento thepoint movement, the peopleof color supported overallAfrican-American identity. Thus, French-based an of de-emphasizing alternate,often stigmatizedS of the between descendants freepeopleof colorandtheirdarkdistinctions traditional for were skinnedcounterparts to varyingdegreessubordinated the sakeof a broader the (Dormon1996). Consequently, and its advancement identity African-American declineof many by revivalweremirrored the continued earlystagesof Cajun-French customs. Afro-French As Cajun culture achieved widespreadpopularityand became a lucrative with a dual Afrowho economiccommodity,Afro-French hadbecomecomfortable identitysoughtto promotea specificidentityandculture FrenchtAfrican-American (Dormon1996).Revivaleffortsincluded experience to in response thepositiveCajun who, as a resultof the Civil and businessmen politicians by participation Afro-French this powerto support effort(Dormon1996). This movement,had sufficient Rights goals:to preserve threerelated toward directed movement resultedin an Afro-French to contributions for culxre; gain acknowledgment the Afro-French Afro-French Louisiana'sculturalmilieu; and to claim a shareof the touristmarket.The label whitesalike,was and to ascribed Afro-French non-Acadian Creole,once generically of dueto the Cajunization perhaps by appropriated AfricanAmericans, symbolically this process. This was to some white Creoleswho in the past may have disputed becauseownershipof the Creole ethnic label extent a subregionalphenomenon and ancestry) Afro-French whites(of non-Acadian between to continues be contested beena minority. havehistorically 1986),whereCajuns in New Orleans(Dominguez becausetherehas not been Louisiana Ethniclabelsare less of an issue in southwest from self-ascribing the by movement whitesto prevent Afro-French any significant to have never attempted self-ascribethe the term Creole. Also, the Afro-French Cajunlabel, nor has therebeen a local effortto ascribethe labelto them, although is Thusthe controversy this occasionallyoccursin discourseoutsideof Louisiana.
CAJUN MARDI GRAS
not a matter semantics of the ownership the attempt claimco-ownership) of but (or to of cultural contentthat is simultaneously linkedto bothethniclabels. A major step toward Creole-directed ethnic revival came in 1983 with the organization theSouthwest of Louisiana ZydecoFestivalin Plaisance. the festival, At Creolessoughtto articulate ownership Zydecomusic, an Afro-French sole of genre of accordion-led musicthatis oftenmistakenly identiEled Cajun as music.6 addition In to showcasing symbolof Creoleethnicity African-American this in controlled space, otherCreolecultural elementssuch as language food were promoted and (Kuhlken andSexton1991). As in Cajun-French events,theselatterofferingsareactually panLouisiana French.Muchof the organizational infrastructure the eventwas based for on anAffican-American (primarily Affo-French) farming co-operative headquartered at the site. The organization a Creole-oriented of crawfishfestivalin BreauxBridge was another exampleof the Creolemovement. Thiseventwas developed a Creole as alternative the Cajun-French-dominated to Breaux BridgeCrawfish Festival(Dubois andMelancon,In press), which hasplayeda majorrole in promoting crawfilsh the as an icon of Cajun-French identityandculture(Esman1981;Gutierrez 1992). By the mid-1980s,the organization CREOLE (Cultural ResourcesEducational Opportunities towardLinguistic Enrichment) formedto promoteCreoleculture was in Louisiana,often within the contextof the above-mentioned festivals (Dormon 1996).Morerecently,Creoleethnicmobilization manifested the appointment was in in Lafayette7 majorethnictourismcenter,of an African-American a zmulticultural marketing coordinator" is charged who withpromoting Creoleculture-linked tourism (Foote 1996). This Creolemovement couldbe treated an extensionof earliereffortstoward as African-American economic advancement but which now followed a speciElc ethnicity-oriented agenda.A broadgrassroots movement developedbecauseCreole identity,like contemporary Cajunidentitye inclusiveandcan be successfullyselfis ascribed by dark- and light-skinnedAfro-Frenchand people of mixed AfroFrench/Affican-American ancestry. Thus,self-ascription a Creoleidentityis much of less divisivethanit was a generation anda broader ago African-American population canbenefiteconomically fromit. Likewise,as withtheirCajun counterparts, Creole festivals serve as forumsto articulate imaginedcommunityin a mannerthat this subsumesinternal diversitysuch as regionaldifferences Afro-French in cultureand persistent notionsof differencebetweensome light-skinned Afro-French their and darker counterparts. In termsof the possiblerevivalof CreoleMardiGrasandassociated eventssuch as festivals raceandpowerareclearlyan issue. Withonly a few recentexceptions suchas the ZydecoFestivalS publicdisplaysof Creoleclllturehavebeen acceptable only when they are incorporated a minority into white-controlled as events. Furthermore, organization a MardiGrasrun and associatedevents requires the of considerableco-operation and support from law-enforcementofficials civic organizations, and the public. Due to unequalpower relationstied to a racial hierarchy,and the past lack of Creole revival-oriented economic and political
untilrecently.Thismaybe has suchsupport beendifficultto negotiate mobilization, African-American to, opposition or even fear of, autonomous due to the unspoken African-American-controlled rites of reversal which would transcendtraditional space. RURALMARDIGRAS OF THE CAJUN-NESS CONTEMPORARY duringthe revival and MardiGrashas beenCajunized recontextualized Country era. In the past two generations,Mardi Gras has moved beyond its traditional temporaland spatialcontexts, as has Cajuncultureand identity.The routes of revived Mardi Gras groups cross-cutnumerousrural communitiesbecause the to declined the pointwheretheycannotsupport settlements of populations individual some memberswho in the past had a run. Thus, MardiGras bands incorporate had whoseancestors participants, run. in participated theirownneighborhood's Other area, nearby are drawnfrom the surrounding lived in the variousneighborhoods, centers.MardiGrasgroups,with the encouragetowns, andeven distantindustrial of ment of folklorists, appear at regional folklife festivals as representatives homes Grasgroupsalsostagerunsat nursing Mardi culture. Cajun-French traditional reflectthe shih from prior to MardiGras. These transformations and restaurants diverse to ruralcommunities a more dispersed,socioeconomically small agrarian difficultto treatMardiGras (Sexton1996). It is therefore population Cajun-French even thoughgroupsare still named community as the propertyof a circumscribed Rather,countryMardiGras, as a cultural towns or neighborhoods. after specific that of concept,is envisionedby manyas the property a Cajuncommunity extends of far beyondthe close-knitcommunities the past. ruralMardiGrassuggeststhatthe event has of An examination contemporary of become Cajunizednearly by defaultbecauseof the incorporation most white few into the Cajunpopulation, active CreolerunsX Creolesin southwestLouisiana ruralMardi lackof overtCreoleclaimsto MardiGras.Furthermore, andthe current Grashas not been revivedin areaswherea strongsense of whiteCreole,or at least white Frenchidentity,persists.Thus, manyCajunsare at best non-Acadian/Cajun amongother tradition only vaguelyawarethatruralMardiGraswas a longstanding by whites?it is groups.Whenthe existenceof CreoleMardiGrasis acknowledged culturewhich, as Spitzer Cajun-French subsetof dominant treatedas a peripheral (1986) has noted, now sets the tone for the entireregion. past socioeconomic Despite the presenceof a few CreoleMardiGrasgroups? Frenchculturehave andthe variouslevels of discourseaboutLouisiana conditions of ownership MardiGrasat all levels Cajun-French at validated, leastsymbolically, of by of society. This is oftenfacilitated dismissingthe relevance the Afro-French, and Most by or it hassimplybeenovershadowed theCajun-French. scholarly popular to albeitunintentionally, shape continues, culture French of documentation Louisiana With Cajun-French. only a few milieuas exclusively of localperceptions thiscultural exceptions(e.g. Spitzer 1984, 1986? 1996), over three decades of scholarship
CAJUN MARDI GRAS
(books, articles, ethnographic film) influencing attitudesof nonactivistshave the labeledanddiscussedruralMardiGrasalmostentirelyas a Cajunevent (Gutierrez 1992;Lindahl1996a, 1996b;AnceletandEdmonds1979;Ware1994;Sexton 1996; Mire 1993). Such representations the area and its inhabitants of continueto reify Louisianaas a Cajun-French place in popularAmericancultureand this in turn directlycolors local perceptions. Self-conscious Cajun-French claimsto Mardi Gras,andgeneric,externally driven links of it to the Cajun-French, have been transmitted withoutcontest to a new generation unreflectively that acceptsthe labelCajunmoreeagerlythangenerations before.Therefore, manycontemporary for Mardi Grasparticipants, understandtheir ing of the event is a apresent-tense understanding, generated from the contextand meaningof the present"(Handler Linnekin1984:281).One could say thatthis and zpresent-tense understandingXa reinterpretation MardiGrasas a Cajun-French is of event that has facilitated symbolicappropriation MardiGrasby the Cajunthe of French as a cultural institutionlinked to contemporary Cajun-ness,and as a combination cultural of elements viewedas Cajun-French now ethnicmarkers (Sexton 1996).Fromthesetwo interrelated perspectives, MardiGrasis currently articulated as a symbol of Cajun-French identityat multiplelevels. For example, a widely circulated Louisiana touristbrochure refersto MardiGrascelebrations the ZCajun of prairie" (Mergist1997:5).RuralMardiGrasrunsareannually coveredby stateand nationalmedia and describedas a Cajun-French holiday (Ancelet 1990). Local organizers promoters MardiGrasfestivalsmakea deliberate betweenthe and of link event andCajunculture.For example,one suchfestivalincludesthe music, dance, artsandcrafts, andfoods of severalethnicandracialgroups.However,the event's foremostbilling is as a showcasefor aprairieCajunlife" (Tee Mamou-Iota Mardi Gras Folklife Festival Association 1989). In the festival, culturalelements are selectedfroma complexsocialmilieuas representative traditional of cultureandare placed in a new context. As Handlerand Linnekin(1984:280) note aboutpublic cultural displaysin Quebec,thesevariouscultural elementstake on a new meaning for the zresearcher, craft-workers,dancers, spectators, and consumers who participate folklore activities."The new implicitand explicit meaningsin this in festival and other such events are those relevantto Cajun-ness.MardiGras and associated festivalsserveas rites of unity(Esman1981)whichtemporarily facilitate consensus aboutobjectified symbolically and appropriated aspectsof localculture and therebygenerate consensusaboutthe entireculture.This new meaningof the event is transmitted outsiders,who interpret to these festivalsandtheircontentas CajunFrench.In regardto both these propositions, Esman(1981:110) has stated, "By positingidentityor culturetraits as worthyof celebration, ethnic festival can any becomea celebration thatidentityandits salience." of MardiGrasas an intersubjective realityreinforces imaginedCajun-French the community is proposed publicdiscourse. that in Individual articulations this vision of areprovided those who unconsciously by acceptpractices MardiGrasas Cajun like cultural property.For example,one MardiGrascaptain's responseto an outsider's
in requestto participate MardiGraswas, zSo you wantto be a Cajunfor a day?" are Similarperspectives found in the discourseof otherMardiGrasgroups. One and Grasis all abouttakingchancesX then that stated zMardi participant middle-aged abilityto enjoylife. This genericlink of Mardi discussedthis as partof the Cajuns' traitthat Cajunsare quickto selfGraswithjoie de vie (Joyof life), a behavioral by articulated the Cajunto ascribebut are reluctant ascribeto others,is frequently Frenchwhen discussingculturalpracticesthat they value. This is relevantas it elementslike pertainsto ruralMardiGrasas a complexof Cajunthings. Cultural are music, dancing,food, andlanguage presentin ruralMardiGras.The collection of charityand the communalMardiGras supperrevolve aroundgumbo which, culture.By withCajun synonymous origins,is nowvirtually despiteits multicultural engaging in any of these specific practices,as well as the overall Mardi Gras and competence cultural demonstrate practice,participants as celebration a cultural that community now claims Cajun-French in citizenship the imagined by extension culturein generalandMardiGrasin particular. of ownership FrenchLouisiana CONCLUSION Clearly, the culturalhistory of FrenchLouisianaand its people is complex. real Throughtime there has been a trendtowardhomogenization7 and imagined, With dichotomy. into Frenchpopulations a broadCajun/Creole withinLouisiana's and interaction beganwith nineteenth-century the whiteFrench,this transformation among the various white French ethnic groups, combined with intermarriage into this processesthatbeganto compress amalgam a nascentCajun socioeconomie duringthe late-twentieth-century The population. processbecamemorepronounced forces underthe guise of preserving and ethnicrevival,whenbothinternal external Cajunculture,actuallyused the label as a levelerof diversitywhile viewing it as time. This is because through pattern replicated of representative a uniquecultural the culturalpracticesto be preservedand promotedoften reflecteda widespread group,the Afrothis culture.Within context,an important French genericLouisiana French, was not fully recognized.This populationunderwentits own set of and as transformations the social boundaries, to some extentthe racialboundaries, of of betweenthe descendants free people of color and the descendants gallicized except that slaves becameblurred.The processroughlyparalleled of Cajunlzation that Afro-Frenchethnic revival, and the emergenceof the label Creole as an of organization diversity,developedlater. elementandcomplexof traitsreflectsthis MardiGrasas botha cultural Country tradition.Despite its cross-cultural belongsto a broader process. The celebration was the diverse origins and influenceswithin Louisiana, celebration treatedas an media alikeS element of Cajuncultureby Cajuns,scholars, and popular-culture of especiallyduringthe ethnicrevival.This Cajunization MardiGrasinvolvedthe in and objectiElcation symbolicappropriation which processesof cultural hYorelated culturalelementsare reifiedinto thingsthata groupcan lay claim to, at the same
time that they are ascribedto that group by externalsources. Much of this is symbolicin thatcultural elementsmayhavevalueto othergroupswho are in less of a positionto articulate theirclaimsto cultural property. Among the white LouisianaFrench, cultural objectificationand symbolic appropriation were facilitated a subsuming culturaldiversityunderthe label by of Cajun,with MardiGrasas simultaneously objectandcollectionof objectsto be an manipulated the articulation promotion this identity.The incorporation in and of of MardiGrasintoethnicfestivalsresulted a publicstagein whichlargenumbers in of the diverse Cajunpopulation celebratean imaginedcommunity that levels socioeconomicdifference. processincludes The symbolicappropriationScountry as Mardi Graswas once commonto the Afro-French untilrecently annual and the MardiGras runwas stagedby them in numerous communities. becauseof unequalpower But relations thepast,andthetardyemergence a Creoleethnicmovement, Afroin of the Frenchhave hadlittlevoice in layingequalclaimto the tradition well as to most as otherelementsof genericLouisiana culture; theelements i.e., forming constituent the partsof MardiGras.However,symbolicappropriation also facilitated the fact is by that a culturalobjectis disappearing, has disappeared, or from one groupeven as another groupclaimsthe tradition its own culturalproperty. as This is true of the Creole Mardi Gras, which has never recoveredfrom the same decline that had endangered Cajuntraditions earlierthis century.This is becausethe outmigration fromthe countryside Creoleshas resulted muchless of a ruralpopulation by in base for CreoleMardiGrasruns. Furthermore, MardiGrashas declinedso sharplythat few Creolesmay immediately recognizeit as worthyof reclaiming, given the recent high priorityplaced on other culturalelements. Nonetheless,the Creole ethnic movement in recentyearsarisenin response the Cajunethnicmovement has to that claims, and is associatedwith by others, generic LouisianaFrenchculture. The Creolemovement a rallyingpointfor a diversepopulation recentlychallenged as has the symbolicappropriation culturalelementsthat are equallymeaningiill the of to Afro-French. Thus far, Afro-French revival has centeredupon Creole-controlled eventswhichensurethatZydecomusicis firmlyassociated with Creoleidentity,and events like the CreoleCrawHish Festivalthatobjectifyfoodwaysandclaim themas Creole,or at leastproposeco-ownership this valuedcultural of property. partof As the sameprocess,Creoleshaveacquired voice in the overallpromotion cultural a of tourismand have soughtto portraylocal cultureas a commoditythat can also be exploitedby Creoles.Thus, the discourseof Louisiana Frenchculturehas become multivocal recentyears.Whether new Creolevoice will speakof revivingrural in the MardiGrasas a meansof contesting objectification symbolicappropriation the and of the tradition the Cajun-French by remains be seen. to
NOTES 1. The author thanks Miles Richard,son, Mac Marshall, Peter Kivisto, and John Guidry for commenting on earlier drafts of this article. 2. This description is a generalizationof wide.spreadfeatures of the Mardi Gras run. Some elements like costumes could differ from community to community.
3. This decline was not limited to Louisiana. Celebrations like rural Mardi Gras declined or disappeared in many areas of French North America and France due to similar processes. 4. Many Afro-Frenchwho are the descendantsof Afro-Creoleslaves speak a dialect similarto Haitian Creole. It is often stigmatizedas "Nigger French" and is considered to be of lower status than CajunFrench. Therefore, many Afro-Frenchwere stigmatizedand excluded from revival efforts because of race and linguistic issues. 5. Use of the term coonass is a point of contentionamong Cajuns.Many, especially activists, consider it to be negative and insulting, whereas other Cajuns openly self-ascribe it as a point of ethnic pride. However, its use by non-Cajuns is frowned upon. 6. Zydeco music is related to Cajunmusic but the two forms differ considerably in style, lyrics, and
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