Who are the Cajuns?

Jessica Ellis

Cajuns are an ethnic group that makes up a large portion of the population in Louisiana. Originally hailing from a French-Canadian community, modern Cajuns often have a mixed background, including French, English, German, Native American and Creole ancestry. The Cajun people are responsible for much of the culture in modern-day Louisiana, including contributions to food, music and entertainment.

Cajuns may use prayer to alleviate physical and mental problems.
Cajuns may use prayer to alleviate physical and mental problems.

During the French and Indian War of the late 18th century, the Acadians were expelled from their colonies in the maritime provinces of Canada. Acadians themselves often had a mixed ancestry created through the intermarriage of French settlers and the local Micmaq Indian tribes. After being expelled from Acadia, the displaced people spread out across the United States and Canada, many coming to settle in the historically French territory of Louisiana, where they came to be called Cajuns, perhaps a corruption of the word "Acadians."

Jambalaya, a Cajun dish.
Jambalaya, a Cajun dish.

Cajuns formed played an important part in the American Revolution, volunteering to serve the American cause. Their ranks participated in the Battle of Baton Rouge and several other decisive conflicts. Many suggest that the Cajun soldiers were acting in retaliation for the part played by the British in their exile from Acadia.

Seafood features prominently in Cajun cuisine.
Seafood features prominently in Cajun cuisine.

The Cajun group settled mostly along the Mississippi River in Louisiana, in the swampy lands west of New Orleans. While they frequently intermarried with other local groups, consistent efforts were made to retain Cajun culture and language. These efforts were subverted by local governments in the first half of the 20th century, who made public education compulsory for Cajun children and instituted strict policies forbidding French to be spoken by Cajun students. In the late 1960s, the Cajun community created the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, in the hopes of revitalizing the culture and instilling ethnic pride in Cajun descendants.

The influence of the Cajun community on Louisiana culture is extremely vital to the character of the state. Traditional Cajun music is a heavy influence on the folk-style of zydeco, widely associated with Louisiana. Most Cajun music is fast-paced dancing music, using strong rhythmic patterns. Commonly used instruments include fiddles, accordions, and a variety of percussive tools.

Cajun food has long been recognized as an important cuisine of the South. By combining classic home-style French dishes with local produce and seasonings, the Cajuns created a new, hearty style of food. Thick vegetable and fish stews like gumbo and jambalaya are staples of Cajun food. They are also responsible for the bizarrely popular turducken, which is a chicken cooked inside a duck cooked inside a turkey. The turducken may also be stuffed with boudin, a spicy Cajun sausage.

Many Cajuns consider themselves Roman Catholic or Christian, but many folk beliefs also influence spirituality. Traiteurs, or faith-healers, are common in many Cajun communities. Traiteurs are occasionally said to have supernatural powers, but traditionally use prayer and folk-remedies to cure physical and mental maladies. These healers are often highly respected and sought for help by members of all faiths.

Through entertainment and traditional culture, the Cajun community has had a serious impact on Southern culture. Their frequent intermarriages with other ethnic groups have caused a true melting pot of cultural ideas, celebrations, and new traditions. They are a vital part of American history, and have gained tremendous respect as a valuable influence.

Gumbo is a Cajun stew.
Gumbo is a Cajun stew.

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Discussion Comments


Oh Cheri,

Gumbo is not a "Cajun Stew", and your photo does not give a "true image" of the popular Cajun dish.

Gumbo is a thick soup dish served over cooked rice whose origins began with okra, originally brought to Louisiana by African slaves.

The word "gombo" is an African term for the okra plant. The African term for the okra pod, which is eaten, is "fevie (feh-vee)".

The Cajun dish commonly referred to as gumbo consists of herbs, seasonings, finely sliced okra pods, and may contain a seafood base of shrimp, crab, oysters, and/or crawfish, or may contain chicken and sausage and a roux base. Filé is very finely ground dried sassafras leaves that is used as a thickener in the absence of a roux base. It was introduced into the Cajun gumbo by locally indigenous Native American tribes such as the Houma.

To see what a real cajun gumbo looks like, just look up images of authentic Cajun Gumbo.

You'll get it right, Cher!

-- A real Louisiana Cajun cook

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