2154The Louisiana-Based Creole Culture
- Dec 25, 2006
America's Creole Heritage
According to the Creole Heritage Center located
in Natchitoches , Louisiana at Northwestern State
University , Creoles are defined as individuals who
are generally known as people of Mixed French,
African, Spanish, and Native American Ancestry, many
of whom either reside in or have familial ties to Louisiana .
Creole Is Not Cajun
-- and Vice-Versa
The misleading combined terms "Cajun/Creole"
and "Creole-Cajun" appear so often in print that
some people may be surprised to learn Cajuns
and Creoles are not synonymous names.
Both cultures have co-existed in Louisiana for over
two centuries, each with distinctive traits and special
nuances that enrich and complement the other group.
Although their heritages are different, Cajun
and Creole people do share certain similarities
of language, religion, music, and cuisine.
A major distinction between
the two groups is ethnic origin.
Cajun people are descendants of the Acadians
(the French-Canadian exiles) who emigrated to
Louisiana mostly during the years 1765 to 1783.
The heritages of both the Creole and the Cajun Cultures
are essentially Francophone (French-speaking) and
greatly influenced by the Roman Catholic church.
Historically, Creole people practiced the "true French" of
their European ancestors, while the unwritten dialect of
the Cajuns was from their French-Canadian background.
The language of Creole-French in Louisiana
gradually developed into a distinctive
patois sometimes called Kreyol Lwiziyen.
The other common denominator among
Cajuns and Creoles is their religion.
The devout faith and rituals of Catholicism are strong
traditions within the two major cultures of Louisiana .
Universally, the city of New Orleans remains a cornerstone of
sophisticated Creole tradition while Acadiana (the southwest
Lousiana region) is gaining recognition as Cajun Country.
Both Cajuns and Creoles have experienced
a cultural renaissance in recent years.
During the 1970's the group known as CODOFIL
spearheaded ongoing educational programs for
preservation of the French-Acadian heritage.
In the next decade, an organization called
C.R.E.O.L.E., Inc. initiated revival of ancestral
pride for Louisiana-born African-Americans.
This group publishes an informative magazine and has
adopted the colorful Creole Flag which was created to
symbolize the French, West African, Spanish,
and Christian influences on Creole culture.
Designed by Pete Bergeron in 1987 and also
adopted by C.R.E.O.L.E., Inc., a Lafayette based
African-American heritage preservation group,
the Flag of Louisiana Creoles represents the
cultural melting pot that is the Louisiana Creoles.
The first flag was hand stitched by Bergeron's
sister, Delores Kay Conque of Carencro , Louisiana .
By adopting the Creole flag, C.R.E.O.L.E.,
Inc. upholds its mission statement,
"to identify, preserve and promote the numerous
aspects of the Creole culture of southwest Louisiana ."
Today there are Creole populations in New Orleans ,
St. James Parish, Isle Brevelle , Cane River ,
Opelousas , Lafayette and other Louisiana towns.
The Creole flag celebrates the Mixed Lineage,
Culture and Religion of these Louisiana Creoles.
The upper left section, a white fleur de lis on a
blue field, represents Louisiana 's French heritage.
On the lower left and upper right sections, West African
heritage is represented by the Mali Republic National
tri-color flag (green, yellow and red) and the Senegal
Republic National flag (green, yellow and red). Spanish
Colonial heritage is depicted by the Tower of Castille
(gold tower on a red field) on the lower right section.
A white cross dividing the four symbols represents
the Christian faith accepted by the Muslim and
Islamic from Senegal and Mali in Louisiana .
Since 1993, an annual Creole Heritage Day has been
hosted by the Cane River Community of Isle Brevelle,
Louisiana, during the third weekend of January.
Headquartered at Natchitoches in the northwestern part of the
state, The Louisiana Creole Heritage Center is an excellent
source of official information about the non-Cajun culture.
In Louisiana , the Creole name has had several connotations
throughout history and is now popularly associated
with "black" ancestry --- and/or non-Cajun heritage.
The state's first Creoles were "native-born White
Louisianians "whose parents came directly from
France or Spain beginning in the 17th century.
White Colonial aristocrats originally used the term
"Creole" to distinguish their offspring from those
Whites who were of lower socioeconomic status.
Later, the name was extended to also include the
Persons of Mixed-Race who became known
as "Creoles of Color" during the 19th century.
Because intermarriages with other ethnic groups
were rare among the White Cajun inhabitants, their
population remained less diverse than the Creoles.
In simplest terms, a Creole of Color is a generally south
Louisiana native (or descendent of such) who is also of
a Mixed-Race Ancestry (consisting of either Black-White,
and usually of French-speaking heritage.
Numerous terms throughout history have been invented
to describe the members of this ethnic group, including
'Gen de Couleur Libre' (Free Man / Person of Color);
Mulatto (1/2 Black-1/2 White); Grif / Griffe
(1/2 Black-1/2 Amerindian or 1/2 Black 1/ 2 Mulatto);
and Quadroon / Quarteron (1/4 Black 3/4 Non-Black).
Although a distinct ethnic group, the Creoles of Color exerted
a profound influence on Cajun culture, and vice versa.
Creoles-of Color-were by definition Afro-Europeans
(with the additional presence of Native American
/ Amerindian lineage in some / many cases).
While many may attain to a socio-political `identity'
which is often referred to as "black" they, just like
many of the people who are of the Ethnic group which
is referred to as `African-American' are not at all a
mono-racial `Black' (i.e. African) people grouping
anymore than they are a mono-racial
`White' (i.e. European) people grouping.
In regards to historical experiences, one historical
difference ---- between the Creoles-of-Color `Cultural'
group of Louisiana (and other states) and the remaining
portion of the people who are of the largely (+70%)
Multi-Racial `Ethnic' group known as `African-American
---- is that people who are of the Creoles-of-Color `Cultural'
group are often found to have been the descendents of
those people who were Free-Persons-of-Color (FPOC),
for many generations, rather than descendents of
those people who were trapped within the `system'
of chattel-slavery during those same generations.
The Food & Music of
Music is a vital part of both the Creole and the Cajun
cultures wherein the people have customarily
celebrated life with songs and dancing.
Cajun-French music is a unique blend of folk and
bluegrass traditionally performed with fiddle, triangle,
guitar, and accordion; modern Cajun bands also
include drums and electrically-amplified instruments.
The Creole-French musical tradition began as "La La"
dances held in local community halls or private homes.
Contemporary "black"-Creole music is now known as
Zydeco (zah'dee-koe) and its influences include
rhythm & blues, soul, plus a little bit of rock-&-roll.
In addition to using the traditional instruments of
Cajun musicians, Zydeco ensembles are distinguished
by the "frottoir" (washboard played with spoons).
The ever-growing Southwest Louisiana Zydeco
Music Festival has been celebrated since 1992
in the Creole community of Plaisance.
The famous cooking skills of Creoles and
Cajuns developed in reflection of their
respective city and country lifestyles.
The culinary arts of Creole chefs involved classic
French gourmet recipes enlivened by seasonings
introduced by the Spanish, Africans, Italians,
West Indians, and Native Americans.
Also using local ingredients, the Cajuns
traditionally prepared less elegant and more
practical meals often cooked in a single pot.
Rice is a common item on
the menu for both groups.
Great food is available from
either school of Louisiana cuisine