Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture

Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture

Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture

Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture

Synopsis

The detectable identity of southern Louisiana's one-of-a-kind culture has been expressed in numerous descriptive phrases--"south of the South," "the northern tip of the Caribbean," "this folklore land." A strange, piquant, and savory mixture, it also has been likened to one of the region's signature dishes, gumbo.

Capturing this elusive culture and its charm has challenged many authors, anthropologists, and anthologists. Coming perhaps closest of any book yet published, this new anthology of readings affords reflections on southern Louisiana's distinctive traditions, folklore, and folklife. Crystalizing its rich diversity and character, these sharply focused essays are a precise introduction to aspects that too often are diffused in sundry discussions of general Deep South culture. Here, each is seen distinctly, precisely, and uniquely.

Written by leading scholars, the thirteen essays focus on many subjects, including the celebration of Mardi Gras and of Christmas, Louisiana foodways, the delineation between Cajun and Creole, the African Americans and Native Americans of the region, Zydeco music, and Cajun humor.

The essays show great range and are reprinted from hard-to-find publications. They include a description of Cajun Country Mardi Gras on the prairies of southwestern Louisiana, an analysis of the social implications of the New Orleans Mardi Gras parades, a study of the Houma Indians of coastal Louisiana, and an analysis of the devotion given to a young Cajun girl whom many regard as a saint.

Collected here, the essays portray a land and a people that are unlike any other.

Marcia Gaudet, a professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is the author of Tales from the Levee: The Folklore of St. John the Baptist Parish and Porch Talk with Ernest Gaines: Conversations on the Writer's Craft.

James C. McDonald, a professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is the editor of The Allyn and Bacon Sourcebook for College Writing Teachers.

Excerpt

Journalists routinely travel far and wide to report on what's happening in the country and the world. Their human interest pieces are all the information most of the public has on other people and their culture. Yet reporters often lack the kind of ethnological background to understand the cultures they encounter. Consequently, they frequently produce interpretations considered inaccurate by concerned folklorists and community members, interpretations which misinform their viewers, listeners and readers. This chapter examines popular media coverage of the south Louisiana prairie Mardi Gras celebration and some of its unusual (and erroneous) interpretations as a case study of intercultural misunderstanding.

Though issued from the same liturgical tradition as its counterparts in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, and Nice, the Cajun Mardi Gras differs substantially from them. Rooted in the medieval European fête de la quémande, the course du Mardi Gras is related to other ceremonial begging traditions like Christmas caroling and trick-or-treating in which a procession of revelers travels through the countryside bringing their performance with them to various homes and requesting a gift in exchange (Ancelet 1980; Lindahl 1984; Spitzer 1987; Ancelet 1987). The Mardi Gras riders seek ingredients for a communal gumbo served at the end of the day. The most interesting gift is a live chicken which the riders catch themselves despite their costumes and varying states of inebriation.

From Southern Folklore 46:3 (1989): 211–19. Reprinted by permission of University Press of Kentucky.

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