Excerpts from the Anonymous Breaux Manuscript (1840-1901)

Early Louisiana French Life and Folklore. Excerpts from The Anonymous Breaux Manuscript, translated by George Reinecke.

Editor's Note: This article is posted in collaboration with the Louisiana Folklore Society. In 1926, a manuscript account of the customs, culture, and speech of the late 19th century Acadians in South Louisiana was left to the Louisiana State Museum. The manuscript, written in French, was in the possession of Judge Joseph Arsenne Breaux, a former Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, at the time of his death. Written anonymously and completed 1901, it was a recording of Cajun folkways, life, and character as remembered by the author from as early as the 1840s. It came to be known as the Breaux Manuscript, and internal evidence suggests that the author was probably Judge Breaux himself, a native of Iberville Parish who later lived in the Attakapas District. The manuscript was edited and published by Professor Jay K. Ditchy of Tulane University under the title Les Acadiens Louisianais et leur parler (Paris, 1932). In 1966, when the original manuscript had been lost, George F. Reinecke, then Professor of English at University of New Orleans and Editor of Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, translated and edited the portions of Ditchy's edition that dealt with folklore and folklife. In order to make these valuable materials more readily available, Professor Reinecke obtained the necessary permissions and rights from the Ditchy estate for the Louisiana Folklore Society to publish the Reinecke translation as "Early Louisiana French Life and Folklore," a special issue of Louisiana Folklore Miscellany (Volume II, 1966). Notes in brackets [ —R.] are by Dr. Reinecke. Dr. Marcia Gaudet, Professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Editor of the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 1995-99, arranged to have it re-published in the 1999 Houma Courier Special Edition for the Congrès Mondial Acadien. The Houma Courier edition was edited by Dr. Reinecke's son, Fred Reinecke.


Character, Customs, Charity, Hospitality

The character and customs of the habitants or farmers of South Louisiana (the word "paysan" does not exist) are rather clearly distinguishable according to which of the two chief divisions of that area one studies. In the first section, formed by the parishes bordering on the Mississippi, a country of open flatlands and rich crops, the manners and customs are more gentle and polished than in the other. One finds there a more generally advanced civilization, due to the fact that the place has been long settled, in more frequent contact with strangers and in constant communication with New Orleans.

In the other part, which includes the Attakapas and Opelousas countries, a region of old prairies where the winter is harsher and stays longer, the inhabitants are more active, industrious, and apt students of the mechanical arts. Their character partakes of the severity of their sea-dominated climate.

Besides these shades of difference which spring from differing origins of the population, one can readily detect certain influences which have modified the customs and changed the public attitudes of the inhabitants of South Louisiana. These vary according to locality; hence from place to place the character changes as well.

Attached to the old usages and ways which they still call "Les bonnes coutumes de leurs pères," Louisianians leave their place of origin with difficulty and with deep regret, whatever be the charms of a softer and more agreeable life elsewhere. They say that they prefer the sight of their plains, woods and streams, the natal place, the peaceful country where the happy days of their youth passed swiftly by.

Habituated to life in isolated places, they have somewhat unrefined manners; used to great freedom, they are very proud and easily hurt. They readily take offense, and rarely let pass an opportunity for revenge.

The inhabitants of the Attakapas (generally, the area surrounding modern Lafayette), whose fare is frugal and plain, possess a strong constitution and robust temperament, being in no way weakened by their hard work in the fields. Milk, rice, a few vegetables, much meat, these are the basis of their regular meals, and they drink black coffee constantly.

The Creoles [the author applies the word to all Louisianians of Latin origin but especially to Acadians. In the 19th century Cadien had a pejorative connotation.—R.] enjoy fighting. They are justly well-known for their skill with the rifle. Since the law has prohibited dueling, this custom has been replaced by the rencontre. In this form of combat, two men who have quarreled agree to carry arms, then at first opportunity in some public place such as a street corner they begin fighting under the pretext of self-defense. In the country, nothing is more common than the fistfight. This custom is highly approved of rather than condemned by the greater part of the community. Far from trying to separate two men punching at each other, the habitants make a ring around them and urge them on with shouts and bravos.

Almost all men go armed with a revolver or a dagger, any person who is struck or merely threatened having the right to kill the one who strikes or threatens him. Emplumage is a disgraceful punishment inflicted on someone who has broken the law, especially as regards decency. The person to be punished is stripped, then covered with a thick coat of tar, then covered with feathers. This custom goes back to the year 1200.

Rural manners are rather primitive. An habitant entering a group of twenty-five others will feel obliged to shake hands with all of them even if he knows only three. It is a mania among Louisiana men to whittle (chacoter) while talking, waiting, or walking about. They make shavings out of a tree-branch or a walking-stick left in a corner. If these are lacking they take to the furniture. They pitilessly attack counters, window-frames, doors, chairs, school benches, the desks in the courthouse. One sees whittlers crouched or standing in front of a country store talking about the weather or the crops. A few years ago one of my friends, a passenger on board a boat traveling Bayou Lafourche, saw several trays loaded with small pieces of wood brought to the tables. The travelers took hold of them. Baffled, he asked for an explanation and was told that it was a means of discouraging whittling on the boat rails.

The palmée or handclasp confirms a wager, and seals any bargain or transaction; it is as good as a contract. If one man strikes another's hand and the latter responds with a strong grasp in return, the most advantageous of alternative offers cannot break the agreement.

Organized Help

When a family settles somewhere along one of the côtes the neighbors come on the evening of their first day to wish them welcome. They inquire as to their situation and promise help if needed. Sometimes a fire destroys a house or barn; then the habitants from miles around come to help rebuild and replace what was lost. Likewise, if an habitant is ill, and his crop is likely to fail, his neighbors come to work his land and later harvest it. This voluntary action brings with it no further obligation than to prepare some cakes, coffee, whiskey, and jambalaya to feed the workers. at the end of the day if the wherewithal exists.

The poor woman in childbed is also well taken care of, perhaps more solicitously watched over than the richest, by the neighbors for several miles around. Scrupulous care is taken to visit and treat the sick, though the nearest of the neighbors may live a mile or two away. If the sick person is poor, everyone strives to furnish him with a good bed and to provide for his needs as to wine, preserves and so forth, and offer him food and clothing for his convalescence. A chatolier has the office of collecting the charitable offerings of the habitants.

Numbered among the good qualities of the Creole, and I have often had reason to acknowledge it, is his readiness to seize any opportunity to make himself useful without reference to the empty formulae of etiquette. He cordially fulfills the duties of hospitality to all comers. Even in the poorest of houses, too much cannot be done for the guest who comes asking hospitality. The materials to sustain life are so readily come by and boredom is so great that the arrival of a stranger is a godsend.

If, especially in the Attakapas, one is overtaken by nightfall or a storm while traveling, one need not fear to knock at the door or call to the farmhouse from the road. One will be received, not as a stranger but as a friend.—Where do you come from? Where are you going? You will leave the next morning only after having eaten a solid breakfast and promised to stop again if you pass the same way.

The background of the picture has remained unchanged. The ancestors' virtues are perpetuated when they concern courtesy and love of work, but the mark of the old customs in their simplicity, piety, and naive goodness is being erased nowadays as it rubs against contemporary life. Economic, political, and industrial revolutions have changed the die from which the people are struck; if nowadays they are no better than their forebears in many ways, they have acquired qualities which are the fruit of a more advanced civilization and which counterbalance the defects which have appeared.

Once upon a time, the habitants of a district or côte thought of themselves as neighbors and loved one another. Times have changed. Many of the old family heads have died, and others have taken their place, people coming from neighboring parishes or states. It is not uncommon, here as elsewhere, for the children not to resemble their parents. It follows then that the character is more suspicious, that there is less simplicity, frankness, and good-faith in the population, and this new disposition diminishes the old cordiality.

Things that have happened since the Civil War, things aimed at civilizing and enlightening the people, have not been without influence on the younger generation. The increase in human contacts over the past forty years has been great. There is less peasant rusticity and coarseness; it yields to a sort of pride, strongly marked in some, which is quite the opposite of the early character. Good fellows don't amount to anything, people say, and it is true enough. For good or evil, the new ideas and ethics must be adopted. Young folk who tried to revive the sociability of the earlier epoch would soon be the dupes of their own simple honesty. The more one examines the new centers of population, the more one finds the new character accentuated, whereas the old Acadian mores are now to be found only in out-of-the-way places, and especially among the elderly.

Early Courts

In the early period, plaids were assemblies at the doyen, a judge selected by acclamation, administered justice to the habitants. These plaids were held whenever there was need. They took place in the open countryside, and there the differences of those who came to court were settled. In this kind of assizes, which continued into the 19th century, the doyen or his lieutenant had competence in matters of obligation in money or in kind. He administered justice of a summary sort, on the spot, without appeal and without records. Thus the witnesses were in effect the judges. The old people were consulted as to the ownership or boundaries of a field, etc. Recourse was had to these because it was assumed they were best informed and could enlighten the judge. At these same meetings sales, exchanges, and contracts were agreed upon. All those present were witnesses, and rarely anything set down on paper. Thus the law system was one of the simplest and most expeditious one can imagine.

On March 20, 1804, Congress divided Louisiana, newly acquired by the United States, into two territories. The southern portion, or lower Louisiana, was named the Territory of Orleans; the other, much larger, was annexed to the Territory of Indiana.

The legislative council in session divided the Territory of Orleans into twelve counties, providing each with an inferior court presided over by one judge. They were then divided into parishes.

In 1806, the first territorial legislature created for each parish a court, whose judge was ex officio judge of the probate court, notary, auctioneer, justice of the peace, sheriff, and clerk of court. The counties were Orleans, German Coast, Acadia [not the present parish of that name but up-river from New Orleans—R.], Lafourche, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, Attakapas, Opelousas, Natchitoches, Rapides, Ouachita, and Concordia.

Peddlers And Storekeepers

To give the reader who has not known the ancien régime in Louisiana a notion of the period when small tradesmen in the country were prosperous, one must hasten to reproduce before they are entirely effaced, the characteristics of the countryside at that time, and to call up from the chasm of the past the big Louisiana habitation or plantation, the rich planter and his numerous slaves. For of all these there will remain tomorrow only little farms, unpretentious landowners, and a laboring class.

Formerly the lower Mississippi was lined with vast plantations, interrupted only rarely by groups of houses, collecting about the church and parish courthouse. These in their vanity sometimes took the name of cities, though they had not the population of a European village. The plantation was the real population center. It was not sufficient to glance at the buildings sown the length of the river from a steamer-deck. Rather one needed to penetrate within the vast establishments. There was discovered a whole world, a complete social organism: the patrician and his numerous dependents, powerful capital, limitless credit, agriculture and industry united and progressing through the joint efforts of human strength and machinery—all the basic arts and crafts utilized successfully. Even today we could show two or three of these habitations which are still self-sufficient, because of wise management producing all their needs for survival and development, from the beast of burden and the plow to the tools in daily use. But these are the remaining fragments of still-upright wall in a crumbling edifice, mute witness to a vanishing past.

This was the field for action presented years ago to the Frenchman newly landed from Europe. As we know, the Frenchman is no polyglot. He avoids as much as he can all contact with those who do not speak his language; further, the Anglo-Saxon character is so different as to make mixing difficult. Most of the French immigrants arrived in New Orleans either directly or through northern cities in which they did not linger. Louisiana was their destination, and they stayed because they found here a living image of their motherland. Having few possessions, they sought employment, but did not always find it in New Orleans, which was already filled with those who had preceded them. Their money exhausted, they took to the country. But what were they to do? They were not farmers; had they been so, they would not have left home, for though he no longer pays his feudal dues, the French farmer is still attached to his land. Besides, the climate did not permit them to do heavy manual labor. Some, the least active and ingenious, would learn that a schoolmaster's job was vacant and obtain it, though unqualified, thus doing an ill turn to the population. The speech of the middle class still shows the sad effects of these improvised instructors. They did little good to themselves either, for they condemned themselves to vegetate in an occupational blind alley. The more intelligent would decide to go into business, the real road to wealth, and it had for them three stages, the peddler's box, the wagon, and the country store.

The Peddler's Box

The box is the rudimentary form of retail trade. It is commerce trying its wings. The bearer was usually a Savoyard. The pack-merchants were once legion and all seemed to be called "Jean-Marie." How many of that name have I known! So long as they were bent under the weight of the pack their family name remained unknown. The box was the butterfly's cocoon; the merchant still kept his individuality concealed.

In the golden age of credit, the New Orleans business man readily consented to risk some small merchandise within the four planks of the box, an instrument of work and fortune four feet high by two and one-half wide. Jean-Marie loaded upon his robust shoulders a weight of a hundred to a hundred and fifty pounds. Stick in hand he measured off the country miles. Accustomed to the cold slopes of his native mountains, he did not fear the hot plains of Louisiana, and went straight on, stopping at each plantation. The good fellow was everywhere well received. The lady of the establishment, the Creole châtelaine, showed him not only a smile of greeting but also a willingness to buy, having him open his ambulant shop with its thousand compartments. The children would run up and a circle of pretty blond heads circled the box. Purchases were made for them with a delicacy which prevented any suggestion of charity. The dinner-bell would ring and a place was set for the rustic merchant. Here then the European plebeian found himself in an opulent atmosphere, seated among silks and laces. After the meal the Negroes would come with what little money they had put aside. Then faces would light up on seeing the splendors of the box—colorful kerchiefs, gilt jewelry. And the peddler's purse grew fatter. He spent the day on the plantation, earning without spending, and passed the night there in one of the rooms kept for travelers on all the hospitable large plantations.

The Wagon

After two or three years of the pack, the peddler, having increased the scope of his operations, gets himself a wagon. Here is marked progress—the wagon contains an infinity of articles of trade. It is less tiring and brings in more. If it be possible to divide this commercial class according to the traditional European system, one might call the store-owner the noble, the wagon-merchant the bourgeois and the peddler the proletarian of rural Louisiana commerce.

One can imagine the amount of business done by such a wagon in the good old days; the vendor gave credit and settled with his debtors at the end of the year.

His stock was complete enough to satisfy every request, each instinct of coquetry and each demand of luxury. Was a girl to be married? He furnished the veil, the gloves, the embroidery, and laces. He was ever-present, clever, making things easier for all. Why trouble to go to town or even to the parish store? The inexhaustible wagon was already here. True, one paid a little more, but were not the speed and the careful service worth it?

Thus this infernal habit of credit-buying slipped in everywhere, a convenient and easy habit which has caused much suffering since. The merchant prospered; he bought slaves to drive and tend his horses. And as he went along he grew in importance and pretensions: he hired a clerk, outfitted another wagon, then a third. His prestige grew with the number of his wagons, and soon he covered both banks of the river from New Orleans to Bayou Lafourche.

More than one became a planter without going through the store-keeper phase. Some became money-lenders, using with more or less discretion the excellent knowledge they had of each person's financial situation. These last have little reason to congratulate themselves on their activity, for their returns were swept away by the Civil War. They would have done better to stay in trade where one day's gain makes up the previous day's losses. But one cannot be ever wary—they slept the general sleep and the lightning bolt awoke them.

Most of the wagon-merchants survived the crisis and then disappeared or rather were transformed. Commerce is a Proteus which changes with the times and circumstances. The wagon died out with slavery and the big plantation, having heard its own death-knell. The old order once broken, the Negroes spread out among the smaller holdings. There was not then a mile along the côte where a store could not recruit enough customers to keep its owner alive. The wagon gave way to the store, and the stores increased tenfold.

The Store

The store was the last and highest stage of the rural vendor, his dream, his ideal, the summit of his mountain. The store has now absorbed the peddler's box and wagon; as an institution it will last, and grow with the break-up of the bigger estates. The small-holder will not have open accounts at the wholesalers, as the major planter once had, but will buy his provisions locally. Often he will pay in kind and the local merchant will be his intermediary with the urban markets. This is the inevitable direction which things are taking, and cannot be ignored. Travel in country districts and you will see the change occurring before your eyes. Yesterday the humble shop was no bigger than your hand, a mere canteen. A few loafers spent their Sundays at the door, talking idly about the weather and the crops, and going in from time to time to draw from the inexhaustible fountain of rum and whiskey. The liquor livened and brought back the clientele. The shop sold a few grocery items and carried a few yards of cotton cloth. Business was limited. The planter sent to New Orleans for the food and clothing of his Negroes; the trifling sum these last could spend themselves were spent on the peddler's wares. Our leveling epoch has changed all this to the shopkeeper's advantage, and as instinct often warns of the future, he has for a long time had a vague idea of his manifest destiny. Several handsome stores have grown up which could rival those of New Orleans as to elegance, quality, and quantity of stock. Some town businessmen have even migrated to the parishes. . . . [The entire section on rural business seems to have been written not by the anonymous author but by one E. Dumez, otherwise unknown. The periods at the end indicate an omission by the translator due to the fact that the remaining matter in no way touches on Louisiana's past and folkways.—R.]

Rural Schooling

The education of the public has been badly neglected in Louisiana. The unconcern of the rural population, the long distances from home to school, the poor education of the teachers, the lack of confidence in the schools, the low salaries, the lack of proper buildings, have all worked against the establishment of elementary schools until the present (1875).

In the last few years one sees a notable improvement in public instruction. The schoolmasters are better chosen, they must pass an examination, school-houses are being built, and the schools inspected; the teaching is no longer a matter of the individual teacher's fancy but follows a new and uniform plan.

Before 1850, one had only to know how to read, write, and cipher up to the rules of interest to find a job as a schoolteacher. There was much concern for numbers but grammar was in low esteem, and, as in the time when the older people of our own day were at school, handwriting was stressed at the expense of spelling. More than three-quarters of the habitants could not readily read handwriting; a certain number, especially among the women, could neither read nor write. Today, in spite of the great impetus given education, one meets many people who can neither read nor sign their names. These are usually older people, especially women, who could not when young receive the advantages of elementary schooling.

Half the younger generation can read and write English more or less correctly, and French to some extent. However, very few are sufficiently educated to keep books for the farm or write a clear letter or narrative. This is due to the ineptitude of the individual in some cases, to his neglect in others, or to the small interest his parents showed in education. Indeed there are intelligent, clever children who attend school for five or six years without learning more than a little reading and writing. Others, though they profited from their lessons, quickly forgot their little pack of learning. This is true of the greater part of the young population from twenty to thirty.

Most parents think their children know enough when they have a fairly good handwriting and read without too much hesitation. They then hastily remove them from school and put them to work. In most farm houses, there is neither paper nor pen and ink. Books are rare. There are almanacs, prayer-books, some devotional works, and nothing more. Parents who have never read a book, and who honestly believe that to be a farmer one requires only a little reading, writing, and arithmetic, would probably view with jaundiced eye any interest in books or writing for pleasure among their grown children.

The children themselves do not tend to pursue further study because they have not progressed enough to read even the simpler material they can come by without troublesome effort. Further, the demands of daily work, friendly visiting, and youthful pleasure, which fill up the lives of the young, militate against any continued interest in letters. In short, books and pen are put aside, and at the age of 21, one can do no more than read and sign one's name. Girls read much more than boys, but most do not write. Once married, they say farewell to the pen and almost never use one again, especially when they become farmers' wives.

We read in the Athénée Louisianais for 1894 under J. L. Peytavin's signature:

In all the parishes of South Louisiana which were Latin and venerated the French tongue, English was not yet a necessity. In some remote places, the population was not big enough to maintain good schools, so that several generations grew up in total ignorance. There was a class of ignorant but hard-working people who had masses of money hidden under their low-built houses or up in their attics; so great was their lack of learning that they did not dare take the first step toward progress. Education, they said, is nice, but it makes a fellow tricky. I made my way without schooling, and my children will do the same. This class has almost wholly disappeared, for progress in material knowledge has made the need for education felt in all callings, and even for the simplest tasks.

Clothing, Ancient and Modern

At the beginning of the 19th century, men wore as their Sunday outfit: a pair of short breeches called the braguette, a very long waistcoat, and a capot or outer coat with long tails. Nowadays (c. 1900) they wear clothing cut more in keeping with present style. Winter suits are made of a mixed wool-and-cotton cloth called jeture de laine, and for the other seasons clothes made of cotonnade, a rather thick cotton cloth, blue, white, red, and black are worn; on the head, they wear a hat of felt or one woven from the palmetto.

The women used to be dressed in very loud-colored materials, with varied and often clashing hues. The skirt was of woolen stuff with stripes of red, yellow, violet, and green, the woolen or cotton stockings of gray or white. The upper part of the dress, called corset, was made of a material different from that of the skirt. This garment allowed the real corset, usually red, to be seen above the belt. [The difficulty of this passage is present in the original French. Probably the second corset referred to is a laced outer garment such as is seen in many European peasant costumes.—R.] The tasteful ensemble was completed by a kerchief or large fichu hanging down the back. These kerchiefs were wide-striped and of brilliant colors. The head coverings of the fairer sex did not change as frequently as they do nowadays. For a long time it has been the custom to wear bonnets called garde-soleil. The garde-soleil was made of cloth and had a number of shapes, the most common resembling a half-cylinder kept in shape by thin blades of wood with a barbe or skirt-like appendage falling on the shoulders and pleated at the neck. It is tied under the chin with broad streamers of the same material.

At funerals, including formerly those of close relatives, women wore as head-covering a napkin of damask which they folded in a particular way and knotted under the chin. Until quite recently it has been the custom for close relatives of the deceased to wear a large fichu made of batiste. Deep mourning was white; nowadays (c. 1900) black is commonly symbolic of mourning.

Before the Civil War, the country habitant dressed from head to foot in home-grown products. He made his own clothing; his hat came from the branches of the palmetto, which his wife plaited skillfully. The capot vest and trousers were made of cotonnade. The women wove the material for quilts, striped coverlets, bed-sheets, shirts, and so forth. Cowhide or deerskin cantiers or boots were made by the men. Nowadays all these home-made objects are so easily come by that people prefer to buy the commercial product. Home industry does not generally pay; however, cotonnade of great regional renown is still being manufactured (A.D. 1901).

Everybody went barefoot; shoes were used only for outings, called promenades; children wore shoes only at the age of ten or twelve. Even now, almost everyone goes barefoot at home.

Children's dress, nowadays so careful, was in those days of little elegance. It changed after the Civil War. Children of both sexes wore a dress with a catch at the back. Boys wore neither breeches nor trousers before six or seven years. In comparing the old costume with that of our own times, one is struck by the great change in forty years. Trousers have replaced breeches, which are worn only by children and adolescents. Boots and fine shoes have taken the place of moccasins and cantiers. The vest of satin, velvet, piqué, or other fine cloths, the pleated and ironed or embroidered shirt, the light and elegant tie have supplanted the waistcoat of coarse stuff, the big-knotted cravat, and the thick-weave shirts with big, high-rising collar. Today's head covering for men consists of a felt or straw hat in summer and various kinds of cap in winter.

The cut of dresses and shape and materials of outer garments change several times each year, especially, of course, as regards feminine attire. Luxury, that scourge of city households, has erupted in the country and today it costs more to dress the daughter of an unpretentious planter than it used to take to dress an entire family.

House and Farm, Food and Drink

Cabane was the name given in early times to all dwellings; it is still applied to those built in the ancient style. In Acadia, Canada, these are called loge and in the Antilles case. Houses in this old style still (A.D. 1901) exist in out-of-the-way places on Lake Verret, on the coast, in the great Attakapas and Opelousas prairies and in places where the soil is poor. These little huts dignified with the name of houses are built on blocks, or piers, twenty or thirty inches above the ground level. The wood is hand-sawed and squared with an axe in the woods, before being brought to the construction site. The building is normally fifteen by twenty feet, usually of only one room, but sometimes partitioned or alcoved. The big chimney is built at the gable end. There are two doors and one or two windows. The walls and chimney are of bousillage, a mixture of Spanish moss and mud. The preparation is done with the help of friends and neighbors. Copious refreshments and a heavy meal cooked on the spot by the womenfolk are the reward for their service. The tache is a square or round hole for making bousillage. The topsoil is stripped off with shovels. Then the hole is excavated with hand tools and the spoilage thrown to the side. At the bottom is laid a coating of "green" moss and layers of earth are alternated with further layers of moss. Then the whole is watered so as to soak the earth. Then men called tacherons, bare-footed and with trouser legs turned up, descend into the tache, treading and crushing the mixture until it is of the consistency of mortar. It is then applied to the building frame by torches or double-handfuls. Where there is no Spanish moss, prairie grass or hay are poor substitutes.

The wooden uprights of the building frame are indented at intervals of five or six inches. To accommodate the bâtons (sticks or laths) which are placed between them. The bâtons are thus between the two thicknesses of bousillage. When this is half dry it is smoothed with a shovel-blade, then allowed to dry completely, whitewashed, and then makes a strong and handsome wall, cool in summer and warm in winter.

The roof is made of large pieces of cypress split with the sledge-hammer and pegged to the rafters. The door hinges and window fastenings and hinges are also pegged. The chimney is built like the walls, around four quenouilles de cheminée (literally, chimney distaffs), 4" x 4" wooden uprights pierced like the colombes or wall uprights to receive bâtons and bousillage. Earthen chimneys were common in the 1840s but have tended to be replaced by brick.

There is no need of a lock; when one goes out, a chair keeps the door closed and informs the public that no one is at home. At the entrance, near the door, are a pail of water, a polished gourd beside it, with which to dip out the water, and a wash basin or lavabo, set on a little shelf fixed to the wall, near which hangs a handtowel of locally-made cloth. The furniture consists of a cypress bed made by just about anybody, for all the habitants understand carpentry. There are also a cypress table and chairs upholstered with skins. There are stools and benches. The spinning wheel for wool and cotton, the loom for weaving the well-known blue-and-red cotonnade take up much room. Roller-beds for the children (lits-à-roulettes) are low cots which slide under the big bed at morning and have sticks set up in each corner at evening to hold up the mosquito netting.

As one can see, this room serves as kitchen, dormitory, and dining room. Here too the corn is shelled. Let us not forget the gun, an indispensable object on an habitation, hung horizontally over the door on two brackets whittled out in wood and nailed to the wall. From these also hang the game bag made of chawi (racoon) skin. This contains the powderbag and other necessities of the hunt. The powderhorn is in fact made of skin or cotonnade. The racatchias also hangs here. [The meaning of racatchias is not clear. It is often used in Louisiana and Mississippi to mean "burr." According to the glossary of the Breaux Manuscript, it means a kind of spur. Neither seems applicable here, unless the association with hunting equipment is fortuitous. —R.] The gun is useful in hunting wild animals, killing mad dogs, and slaughtering livestock as well as in defending the home.

In recent years these small unhealthy houses are disappearing and giving place to houses which, if they do not offer all the comforts of city houses, give proof of greater ease and better taste on the part of the owner.

On entering a rural Acadian house, one is struck by the profusion of wall decoration. There are large and brightly-colored prints, among them the family's patron saints, the Wedding of the Blessed Virgin, the Consolatrix of All Afflictions, and the Good Shepherd, model of solicitude, carrying on his shoulders the injured sheep. There one sees the affecting story of Genevieve de Brabant. There are sketches from illustrated papers. The chimney walls are papered with all sorts of pictures, clippings from anywhere, badly trimmed, labels from cloth bolts, liquor bottles, tobacco packages, perfume bottles. The panorama surrounds a statue of the Virgin, perhaps Our Lady of Lourdes, resting on an altar placed on a shelf near which hang a rosary and holy water font.

The moving of a house or building, called trâinage, is a characteristic of the Acadian country. The house is first placed on long pieces of wood called rances. These are set on the axles of large wagons. Oxen in sufficient number, harnessed to this kind of train, pull simultaneously. Whatever its weight, the house is sometimes dragged long distances. The trip is usually made without incident except for breaking of the ox-teams' harness-chains. Bridges are thrown over smaller streams, ditches filled, fences taken down and rebuilt. Once at the new site, the building is again placed on foundation piers with great skill. It is in the Attakapas country that this trâinage is most commonly performed. The labor force consists of volunteers and the operation costs the owner only a few gallons of whiskey, coffee, and an open-air meal.

Ramasserie or harvesting is also done free by large numbers of workers. These ramasseurs are men and women. They pick before leaving the field every boll of cotton even if they must work by moonlight. To repay their efforts, whiskey, coffee, and cakes are distributed profusely. The work is accompanied by shouts of joy, songs, and animated talk. It all seems more like a festival than a working day.

The boucherie d'habitants or boucherie de société refers to the slaughter of livestock, each participant in his turn. Each individual taking part goes to the place where the animal has been slaughtered and takes the meat he needs or that which is coming to him. When his own turn comes, he responds to each in kind.

In the part of Louisiana where oxen are used in working the fields, these animals are given names by which they are incited to their work and which they answer to: Alison, Blondeau, Brifau, Cerision, Chamois, Charbonneau, Châtain, Chauvet, Courtaud, Dos-Blanc, Fauviau, Gabillon, Jolivet, Marjolaine, Mascari, Mataché, Pievelé, Robin, Rouget, Rossigneu, Sarazin, Tartarin, Taupin. Some names given cows are Alisone, Bassette, Belle-Feuille, Blanchette, Brama, Belsamine, Caillette, Chatine, Fleurette, Front-Blanc, Grisonne, Jolicoeur, Matachée, Noironne, Piquelie, Rougette. Caillette, a name for a black and white spotted cow, the coloration being referred to as caille, recalls the refrain of a song which was sung for me in the cradle:

Caillette est crevée derrière chez l'oncle Joe,
Les quatre pattes en l'air, la tète écrasée!
Caillette, Caillette!


Caillette has died behind Uncle Joe's house,
Her four hoofs in the air, her head smashed in!
Caillette, Caillette!

To prepare a skin (repasser une peau) the leather is softened and made easy to work by soaking in a mixture of the brain, the soft fat, and the marrow of the animal. It is then smoked, washed, soaked again in hot water over a medium fire, and stretched and rubbed until dry, then scraped with a curved knife (See cantier in the section on costume).

Gombo is the national dish of Louisianians. . . . It is made from all sorts of meats, fowl, birds, game, fish, etc. cooked on a slow fire in their own juices, with salt, red pepper, and black pepper. The whole is sprinkled with a large amount of dried and powdered sassafras leaves which give an aroma and a certain viscosity to the sauce much like water in which linseed or macaroni has been steeped. It is hard for a housewife serving gombo to choose pieces swimming in a blackish sauce that leaves them unrecognizable. Her only recourse is to plunge her spoon haphazardly into the homogeneous substance and pour its contents into her guest's plate. The guest then fills the remaining space with a quantity of rice. Figuratively the word gombo refers to a mixture of ill-assorted things, or to poor and incoherent speech. Gombo fêve or févis (okra) is a cultivated plant common in Louisiana and esteemed by the Creoles, who make various dishes with it.

Jambalaya is a Spanish dish which the Creoles delight in; it is made of meat, sausage or oysters and rice, a sort of pilaf. Couche couche is a mixture of corn-meal and water cooked in hot lard. Estomac de mulâtre is a burlesque name for a spice-bread or ginger bread shaped like a brick.

The champoreau is a drink named after its inventor and much appreciated in Louisiana. It is made by adding some alcoholic beverage to a thin café au lait. Rum champoreau and kirsch champoreau are both known. The phrase, s'en aller sur une jambe, meaning literally to go off on one leg, is used of those who drink only one drink at a bar. From daybreak men offer each other a little glass (magnane), a bitter or champoreau and never want to leave "on only one leg."

Customs Through the Year

The New Year

New Year's day is particularly consecrated to visits and wishes of "Bonne Année!" This custom is known to go back to the Romans. On January l, people would wish each other happiness and health and exchanged gifts which they called bonnes étrennes.

Nowadays (1901) the custom of New Year's gifts is observed only in the family circle, and though in towns a great deal of enthusiasm for visiting is still shown, in the rural areas people do nothing more than wish each other a happy new year when they happen to meet. However, in some places, families get together, often beginning on New Year's Eve. On the day itself, good wishes are exchanged, the young enjoy themselves, the older play cards and drink together. But what is noble, touching, and Christian about this day is the sight of people who have long been enemies seizing the opportunity which the day presents to be reconciled and to wish each other good fortune and prosperity.

It is on this day that a young man who wishes to marry often asks his sweetheart's parents for permission to wed. A woman or girl avoids receiving the first good wishes of the day from someone of her own sex; if she does, the new year's wish will bring bad luck. Meeting a woman or girl on the morning of New Year's Day is thought an ominous thing.

Kings' Day (January 6)

Almost all families gather on the eve of this day at supper to elect by lot the "king of the bean;" but it is especially among the common folk that the full manner of observing the ceremony is preserved.

After supper, a cake is brought out. It is round, and encloses a bean. It is cut into as many pieces (plus one) as there are members of the family, including the hired hands. The pieces are placed in a sack. The youngest member of the family withdraws the pieces of cake; he begins by giving the first piece to God. This is given to the next poor man who comes to the door and asks for help. The second piece goes to the eldest of the family and from thence on to the youngest.

The one whose piece contains the bean which had been placed along one of the edges of the cake is acclaimed king. All the diners treat him with honor and must watch him attentively so as not to fail to cry out "Le Roi boit!" (The King drinks) whenever he does so. Failure to conform will result in having the face besmuttered by the rest of the party.

Another custom of this day is that a girl wishing to know who will be her future husband places her garter beneath her pillow on the eve of the feast, and getting into bed recites this prayer:

O grand saint Francois!
C'est aujourd'hui la veille des Rois.
En mettant le pied sur ce bois,
Je te prie de me faire voir cette nuit
Celui que je dois avoir pour mari.


O great St. Francis!
Today is Kings' Eve.
Putting my foot on this wood
I pray you to make me see tonight
The one whom I must have for husband.

A variant has the girl bowing three times to the moon, and saying to the moon three times without laughing, "Beautiful moon, I greet you!" The moon then assumes the appearance of the one she will wed.


Love letters are written by young people on St. Valentine's Day. This custom comes from England but is much changed. On the eve of St. Valentine's the young celebrate in an ancient custom a feast which is a symbol of the renewal of nature and the inborn desire of all living beings to perpetuate their kind. A number of boys and girls gather. They write their own names or pseudonyms on individual bits of paper. These are rolled up and are drawn from a hat, the girls picking from the boys' names and vice versa. Thus each boy meets a girl whom he calls "valentine" and each girl a boy whom she calls her "valentin." Often these valentines are seen to form a permanent and happy union.

Mardi Gras

In the rural areas, carnival has lost its former animation; it is marked nowadays (1901) only by some unimaginative masquerading and by dances where the joyous madness of yesteryear is rarely to be met.

March 1

It is customary for those wishing to know the identity of their future spouse to rise at the stroke of midnight on March 1, and as the clock strikes, walk three paces forward from the bed while saying, "Good day, March, from March to March make me see in sleep the wife (or husband) whom I will have in real life." Then one goes back to bed walking backward, goes to sleep and dreams. The person who appears is the future spouse.

The Poisson d'Avril or April Fish

The first day of April is dedicated to mystifications of all sorts, to pretended gifts, false news, false joys, false alarms. People are sent to houses to which they have not been in fact invited; everybody looks for dupes, but at the same time remains on guard lest despite precautions he himself be taken in.

Good Friday

On the evening of this day, men and children in a group go singing from door to door some verses of the complainte which follows. They ordinarily receive eggs, butter, etc. which have been set aside for them. We have seen this very old custom practiced on Bayou Lafourche before the Civil War.

La passion du doux Jésus,
S'il vous plaît de l'entendre,
Entendez-la, petits et grands,
Et ci prenez exemple.

Il a marché sept ans déchaux
Pour faire pénitence,
Il est resté quarante jours
Sans prendre soutenance.

Si c'est le jour de Pâques fleurie,
Cette digne journée,
Est entreé dans Jérusalem
Par une galerie

Il n'avait ni petits ni grands
Qui n'assent révérence.
Se dit saint Pierre, aussi saint Jean:
Voici grand référence.

Leur dit le doux Jésus le grand:
C'est trahison bien grande,
Avant qu'il fût vendredi nuit
Vous verrez l'experience.

Vous verrez mon chef couronneé
D'une aubépine blanche;
Vous verrez mes deux bras tendus
Et mes deux pieds ensemble;

Vous verrez mon côte percé
D'une cruelle lance;
Vous verrez mon sang découler
Tout le long de mes membres;

Vous verrez mon sang ramassé
Par quatre petits anges;
Vous verrez à mes pieds
Marie la plus dolente;

Vous verrez le lune et l'soleil
Qui combattront ensemble;
Vous verrez la terre trembler
Toute pierre se fendre.


The passion of the good Jesus,
If you will please to hear it,
Hear it then both great and small
And take example from it.

He walked barefoot seven years
To do penance;
He stayed forty days
Without taking food.

It was indeed on Palm Sunday
That worthy day
He entered into Jerusalem
Through a gallery.

Everyone both small and great
Did him reverence;
Said to themselves Saints Peter and John
Here's something great to be reported.

Said to them Jesus good and great
There is very great treason;
Before Friday night comes
You will know it by experience.

You will see my head crowned
With a white hawthorn;
You will see my two arms stretched out
And my two feet together.

You will see my side pierced
By a cruel lance;
You will see my blood flow out
The whole length of my limbs.

You will see my blood collected
By four little angels;
You will see at my feet
Mary most sorrowful.

You will see the moon and sun
Fighting together;
You will see the earth tremble
And every stone split open.

Gunshots and Birthdays

Guns are fired a number of times on Christmas Eve at night, on New Year's day, at Corpus Christi, and on family birthdays and saint's name days. The birth of a son is announced by three shots, preferably fired by the father of the new-born, whereas a daughter is announced by two.

Soon all the women of the neighborhood arrive at the new mother's house to inquire as to her condition and offer their help. Exactly one year later, there takes place a meal attended by godparents, relatives and neighbors. The custom is repeated annually. When the child is one year old, he is given a young cow. Of the calves she bears only the females are kept. These, as it were, double the capital each year. The youth thus finds himself owner of a little herd which will serve to set up a new household.

Fête de la Roulaison or Grinding Festival

When the last crop, sugar cane, is harvested, there is held a feast at which the rules of sobriety are often neglected. People say, "the roulaisoncomes only once a year," which is as much as to say that one is then permitted to forget his troubles for a while. These meals are followed by dancing.

The Clocheteur des Trépassés or Bellman of the Dead

Formerly, at night on the eve of All Souls' Day (November 2), the church bells were wildly pealed, and people ran about the streets of the village ringing hand bells and saying in a loud and serious voice these words:

Réveillez, réveillez,
Entre vous gens qui dormez,
Pensez a l'éternité!
Priez Dieu pour les fideles trépassés.
Requiescat in pace.


Awake! Awake!
Those among you who sleep;
Think of eternity!
Pray God for the faithful dead.
Rest in peace!

Charivari or Shivaree

When two people of disparate age marry and when a widow marries a bachelor or a widower a single girl, as well as when spouses of appropriate ages fail to provide the expected entertainment at their wedding, there gathers at evening a crowd furnished with skillets, kettles, and other pans of brass or copper. They beat on these with shovels or tongs and go tumultuously to the house of the couple. Increasing their noise, they dance before the house shouting, "charivari, charivari!"

To bring the noise to an end, the couple must offer a collation as well, as the promise of a ball. If a widow marries a widower they are exempt from this burlesque serenade.


The barbecu is an open-air celebration during which an entire steer is roasted and eaten. Such celebrations usually are connected with a political meeting.


Families visit each other even when separated by twelve to twenty-five miles. They travel in oxcarts or horse-drawn wagons. Often numbering a dozen or more, the traveling family, find at their host's other visitors in equal number. At table it is common to find twenty-five or thirty-five guests. Usually the visitors remain some thirty hours. During this period many matters are discussed, news of their respective neighborhoods, weddings which have occurred or soon will take place, whose crops are the best, who raises the most livestock, who has good horses, or who best looks after his habitation. They talk of this man's having a good store of corn, that other's growing ribbon cane, of the neighbor who is putting out more cotton. They discuss the production of various commodities, the quality of soils, the best means of cultivation; they talk of drainage, the condition of the roads and of taxation.


On Christmas eve all the members of a family gather at the house of the father or eldest. Those who live far away, think nothing of traveling long distances to be there. At supper the head of the house takes a full wine-glass and drinks to the health of all his family. This toast is repeated at the end of the meal. Everyone else in turn drinks to the members of the family, including those absent. When supper is over, hymns or carols are sung. Then they play a game which is played only that night. This is how it goes: You attach to the ceiling a piece of thread which will hang just as high as the mouth. At the other end you fasten a pin on which is fixed a hot coal. The young people make a ring about the hanging coal and each one blows with all his might toward the person opposite, who does likewise. If one party laughs or blows less hard than his opponent, the coal touches his face and everybody laughs.

Some Other Pastimes

Galance is a name applied to two year-round children's pastimes, the rope swing hanging from a tree branch and provided with a wooden seat also called balancoire or escarpolette, and also the English seesaw, called branloire or bascule. The pétard is a piece of cane or hollow branch, six inches long, into which children place chewed paper balls. The first ball goes into the middle of the tube, the second at the end. The latter is pushed with a little stick, and the compressed air between the two causes the former to shoot out with a loud noise. Bird traps in common use are called cage. They are shaped like grist-mill hoppers, about twenty inches square. The cage is made of little sticks set up horizontally, each layer placed at right angles to and on the ends of the one below (as in a log cabin). At the top is a horizontal bar to the two ends of which a cord is fastened, the ends of which are fixed to the lowest stick on either side of the trap. Placed on a smooth surface, the cage is set on an angle to allow the birds to enter beneath, the incline being maintained by a straight stick called bois malin or "mischievous stick." At the end of this bois malin is a marchette or pedal on which are placed a few grains of corn. The bird, suspecting nothing, comes to peck at the corn and causes the bois malin to drop. This fall causes the trap to fall and thus the bird is captured.

Courtship and Marriage

In the Attakapas country, chimney tops are white-washed where there are marriageable girls in the house. The main gate giving on the road is also whitened. There is a song that goes as follows:

C'est dans la maison là-bas,
Qui a une-cheminée blanche
La fille qui est dedans
Est belle et bien plaisante;
Les amoureux y vont
Par derriére et par devant


It's in that house over there,
The one with the white chimney-
The girl inside
Is beautiful and quite pleasing;
The lovers go there
Through the back and through the front.

Young people call on such families on Saturday afternoon to play berlingue, chiquette, pigeon vole, colinmaillard, and la main chaude. (The last three are simple games to be found in the French encyclopedias; information is lacking on the first two.—R. ) Danses Rondes or game-songs are performed and songs appropriate to the occasion are sung. Then all those present are offered refreshments consisting of a large tray of cakes and another of coffee cups.

From time to time there is a ball to which all are welcome. This dance is given to mark the fifteenth birthday of a daughter, or to celebrate her name-day. At such meetings preferences develop and the young man who wants to marry makes his choice.

When there is a question of matrimony between members of two families, an accommodating relative or friend of the boy's clan undertakes to negotiate. He calls on the girl's family, always on a Saturday. He ceremoniously lays before them the good qualities and wealth of his protégé, while the girl's parents counter with eulogies of their daughter, her virtues, and agreeable qualities.

On this first day, nothing is decided, but from the manner in which the go-between has been received at table he can already forecast the outcome of his mission.

If this first move seems to have been successful, the parents meet to talk things over and the girl's hand is formally requested toward the end of the meal, which is almost always supper. As the first sparks of gaiety spring from the gathered group, the gallant, seated next to his beloved, gives her his picture, then, a little later, a roll of gold pieces or bank-notes of a size appropriate to his financial standing. If she accepts, she is officially engaged. Timid and embarrassed, she places the earnest-money in her pocket, giving no further reply. Henceforth, she is not permitted to go back on her engagement without forfeiting double the amount accepted.

On the day appointed for the wedding, at daybreak, the groom, accompanied by his relatives and all the invited neighbors, goes to his intended's house. He is likely to find her in her usual daytime dress, busying herself with the domestic chores with the rest of the women. Her eyes are modestly kept lowered; she will for instance sew or card wool in a corner of the room. She does not quit her work to show any improper curiosity. The groom's father approaches her, asks her with feeling why she alone in all the household is not dressed to go to church. She replies, still without raising her eyes, that she is not aware of the reason why all these people she sees have come to her father's house.

Then her mother tells her softly and often, meanwhile shedding tears, that she will soon be informed as to the reason, and instructs her to get dressed. At the mother's request, the girl's young friends remove her, and carry rather than lead her to her bedroom.

In the interval, the respective parents and their guests offer words of praise concerning bride and groom. Flattery is at a minimum, for people are convinced that only the shameless are to be praised without reserve. They say the groom is a good habitant, no one knows more about farming or takes such good care of his livestock; his spouse is energetic, a good travaillante. She is good at sewing, spinning, carding, weaving, etc.

During this conversation the unmarried girls, who have eagerly sought the privilege, place the first pins in the bride's outfit. These will be returned after the wedding as charms which will bring the girls husbands soon after.

Once these preparations are at an end, the bride's father asks his daughter and future son-in-law to kneel and gives them his blessing, usually preceding this action by a brief talk containing the following counsel (nowadays, in 1901, the priest has taken over this task): My children, I charge you to love one another with the same tenderness which my heart and your good mother's have shown to you. Nothing is more pleasant than a fine springtime and a fine rich harvest, unless it be the sight of a married couple equally motivated by the duties of Holy Matrimony. If you have defects—and who does not—you must forgive them calmly, without bitterness or acidity, like true Christians, moved by a real charity. Think that life is a brief pilgrimage and that the best companions given man by God to lighten the fatigue and troubles of each day are religion and virtue. Think of the poor; neglect no chance of feeling that happiness which comes from the poor man's gratitude when you have given him a stool at your fireside and place at your table. If Providence grants your prayers for offspring, teach them early that nothing is more holy than misfortune.—A touching ceremony this, recalling the customs and morals of days gone by.

All those present then rise, and after a light meal go to the church for the nuptial blessing, which always takes place at the bride's parish church. When it is time to leave the family house, joy gives way to a tearful scene. Gathered at the hearth, the girl's relatives begin to sigh and to express regret over the forthcoming separation. They shed a torrent of tears. Only with difficulty is the young victim torn, as it were, from the bosom of her virginal state.

The numerous wedding procession heads for church, and when it enters, the bell peals out. An artificial wreath adorns the head of the timid virgin, who is led by her father or nearest relative. When the public see the crown, they either praise the bride for her purity conserved or make remarks about the symbol's impropriety when worn by a girl of dubious reputation.

The newlyweds' carriage, harnessed to a team of oxen or of horses covered with ribbons, must by custom go fast, especially when it approaches its goal to the sound of welcomes and of gunshots. The trip is interrupted by much drinking. The more humorous well-nigh force strangers whom they meet to have a drink with them. Sometimes the youth along the route meet the cortege with guns, music, and flowers.

Having reached the bride's house, all are seated at tables made of long planks set up on stakes in the yard and covered with white tablecloths. The newlyweds are seated in the midst of their closest relatives. These, as well as the oldest guests, sit at the head of these rustic tables, or sometimes have a table of their own. They are waited on by the groomsmen.

Anecdotes, laughter, songs, and merriment normally characterize such occasions; here two families seem melted into one. Someone offers a toast to the health of the married couple; attempts are made to make the bride forget her new state, but these often have no more result than to bring her to tears.

As dessert, a huge wedding cake is carried in. It can take various shapes, but most usually it resembles the steeple of a church or the tower of Babel, ornamented with garlands, sugar flowers of various colors, and is topped with a bouquet of real flowers. It is divided into slices on a vast tray and the slices are offered to each guest. Some are sent to people who could not attend the feast.

It was the general custom in days gone by for one of the young women-friends of the bride to come forward at dessert. When the tables were loaded with pastry, tarts, and cakes, she would sing for the bride the "romance" or "complaint" which follows, set to a melancholy tune. In it she bemoaned in the name of the bride the loss of sweet liberty beneath her father's roof and especially the forfeiting of her virginity, la noble qualité de fille, which she had prized so much:

Adieu, fleur de jeunesse!
Il faut enfin t'abandonner;
La noble qualité de fille
Me faut aujourd'hui la quitter.

J'ai promis dans mon jeune age
De ne jamais me marier.
Aujourd'hui je trouve l'avantage:
Mes parents l'ont conseillé!

Quand j'vois ces filles à table
Assis devant moi en ces lieux,
Quand je les vois et les regarde,

La ceinture que je porte
Et l'anneau d'or que j'ai au doigt
C'est mon amant qui me les donne
Pour finir ses jours avec moi.

Il est vrai, ma mignonne,
Il est vrai j'vous les ai donnés
C'est pour passer votre jeunesse
Avec moi z-en tranquilite!


Farewell, flower of youth
At last I must leave you;
The noble calling of maidenhood,
Today I must quit it.

I promised when young
Never to marry;
Now I see that it is better (to do so)
My parents have recommended it.

When I see these single girls at table
Seated before me in this place,
When I see them and look at them
Tears flow from my eyes.

The belt I wear
And the golden band on my finger,
My lover has given them to me
To end his days with me.

[The groom:] It is true, my darling,
It is true I have given them to you;
I did it so that you would spend your youth
With me in peace.

This song causes a flood of tears to course down the bride's cheeks, and soon the whole party is in the throes of emotion.

The younger guests rise from table and go to the room where the ball will take place. There they do more jumping and twisting than dancing in the ordinary sense. The bride is obliged by custom to dance at least once with everyone, even the old men who on such occasions like to show that they were once good dancers. It is also the bride's duty to see that all the guests, including the old women, have dancing partners. At evening, when the meal and the songs are coming to an end, the couple steal away silently and go to a neighboring house, where their nuptial bed is prepared.

All the guests present the young couple with gifts, and these tokens of friendship, which are of more importance nowadays (1901) than they once were, are used in the newly-established household and kept as mementoes of this memorable period of their life.

Deaths and Funerals

The moment a person dies, the relatives and others about him quickly close his eyes. Two people, who must be unrelated to the deceased, have the job of shrouding him. Then the "honey-flies" or bees are told of the loss they have sustained. It is the custom whenever a death occurs where there are beehives to place a piece of black cloth on each hive to "put the bees into mourning." Unless this is done, it is thought they will leave the hive. Then all the mirrors are covered with cloths, the clocks stopped to indicate that they will no longer mark the hours for the dead man, and all water containers are emptied, in the belief that the soul of the departed might drown.

The relatives are informed. Those who live at a distance will arrive the next day. The body is laid out in the biggest room and everybody makes the Sign of the Cross over the corpse with a palm-branch dipped in holy water. At the head is a lamp or lighted candle. In another room, a table is set up with refreshments for those who have come a distance. In many places the custom of singing hymns in the house of the deceased is preserved. Both young and old observe this pious custom.

Immediately after the enshrouding, two people, usually, women, remove the straw from the deathbed and burn it near the house. They must be careful to note which way the smoke goes, for, say the womenfolk, there will soon be a death among the families who live in the direction toward which it blows.

The ceremonies appertaining to the dead are carried out with the greatest care and fidelity not only by the relatives but by neighbors and friends. They attract a large number of citizens who form in groups on the road along the funeral route to view the procession conveniently, then follow it to the grave, especially when the deceased was a prominent man of good reputation. Sorrow is not ordinarily exaggerated by loud noises, but shown itself more calmly in stifled sobs and tears.

In the country, where the houses are far apart and sometimes twelve or fifteen miles away from church, the body is taken in a private carriage to the church. Though horses are in common use, the harnessing of oxen to the rustic hearse is not unknown. If a child or young girl has died, the pall which covers the coffin is decked with white roses or periwinkle leaves, attached with pins. Should the deceased be a baby, these symbols of innocence and of virginity are linked by ribbons and crowns made of flowers, the purpose of these last being to indicate the glory which the child enjoys in heaven. In several places it is the godfather who has the sad privilege of carrying the child to the grave. The flower-covered pall is presented by the godmother to the child's own mother, and on the grave are planted flowers emblematic of the child's innocence.

It is an ancient custom to throw a clod of earth on the coffin after it has been lowered into the grave.

Les Veillées

In winter, veillées (watchings or sittings-up-late) follow the evening meal. During this season, families visit each other. The men, seated on benches before the big fireplace, carve wooden utensils, repair their farm tools, and make baskets. The women spin, card, and sew. The women and children gathered about the hearth listen attentively to the conversation. If someone knows how to read, the almanac and its predictions are consulted. The wonders which charlatans and chanteurs de miracles have told in the village square are repeated. Most often conversation is in order, and at such times the most common subject for conversation is not agriculture but superstition. You will learn which old woman best foretells the future, where to find the man who cures eye trouble with a grain of blessed wheat. You will hear about a man who can stop bleeding, another who cures skin troubles. You will be told the true nature of the torments of hell and the delights of heaven. You will be informed as to the number and power of sorcerers. The age of fairies and miracles is not dead for these good country people. One man speaks up: he knows a man who gave himself to the devil, he has also seen a ghost, and crossed himself to chase it away. Once he carried for miles the goblin who jumped on his shoulders. Then he lost all his livestock because a wizard cast a spell on his barn.

The Sabbat And the Feu-Follet

There are no longer any Sabbats and this makes it all the more important to gather what old timers tell of these astonishing apparitions. At the beginning of the last century there were still a multitude of such phenomena, as well as wizards and little devils dancing around in the deep forest of St. Martinville, the uninhabited areas of St. Landry, the woods near Grand Lake Verret, etc.

Numbers of hook-nosed wrinkled old women, men of bad repute and strange appearance, and loose-moraled young people took part in these nocturnal sabbaths.

Aerial singing and melancholy cries were heard on misty nights in winter, joined to the loud strains of musical instruments. This was the devil's sabbath passing by, and carrying away by magic whirlwinds those people of the countryside whose souls were irretrievably lost. Once arrived at a given place, they ate a meal by night and danced their infernal round-dances.

A benighted traveler passing there at midnight would be stopped by an invisible hand. The trees would seem to be overturned; he heard strange rustlings, shouts, and laughter in the depths of the woods. At dawn, cloven footprints could be seen on the sand or dewy grass. On a number of occasions, women's shoes, broomsticks, and the leftovers of a banquet were found in places just vacated by the devils, sorcerers, and witches of the countryside.

People over the age of eighty have told me what the sabbaths were like: they consisted of a loud noise up in the air—dogs barking, musical instruments playing, screams and laughter. This noise was heard first afar off, then near at hand. In 1785 a man who lived on the Mississippi was chased one night by one of these infernal bands and said that he had clearly seen men and women pass above him, up in the air. He even recognized one individual, and it surprised him greatly to see him thus transformed. Next Sunday, he sought out this same man after church and invited him to have a drink at a nearby bar. Finding that they were alone, he said, "What were you doing that night with the "sabba?." The neighbor grew pale and tried to deny his presence at any such assembly, but finally had to admit it, for his friend proved to him that he had both seen and recognized him.

Then he said, "The devils carried me off; if you had only said one word to me, I would have not have had to follow them for the remainder of the night. . .? Then he turned quiet and thoughtful. The neighbors separated only after secrets had changed hands, secrets which T.D. never revealed.

The Feu-Follet

The feu-follet, sometimes called simply follet, is an evil spirit which pursues its victims and causes them to lose their way in marshy places or in the dark and winding bypaths of a forest.

We have heard tell that some sixty years ago (c. 1840) a young man returning to his father's house at Chacahoula was preceded by a light which had suddenly sprung from a bramble patch in a form resembling a lamp. It dazzled him completely; he did not know where his footsteps took him, and was led by the light to the edge of a large swamp with rather deep water. Suspecting that he was being drawn on by a follet, he had the presence of mind to throw his hat on the little lake. Immediately the follet jumped on it. At that moment the young man realized where he was and what had happened. He returned to his father's possessed by an inexpressible fear and expressed the cause of his concern only with the greatest difficulty. The next day at dawn, he returned to the swamp and saw there his hat still floating on the water.

The Jack, pronounced "dee-AHK," is another spirit. It mounts on horses' backs at night and tangles their manes.


Every people has its prejudices and superstitions. There exist, in Louisiana as anywhere else, old beliefs condemned by the rational and disappearing a little more each day as time goes on. People still believe to some extent in sorcerers, spells, and certain imaginary beings, like the lutin (hobgoblin), who enjoy tormenting men and animals. Fortunes are told by means of certain ridiculous practices. Marvelous cures are believed in and attempted; these work through the agency of mysterious words, "magnetic" passes, secret remedies, and assistance from sleepwalkers and guerisseurs or healers.

Nothing is more common than to hear a farmer say when he is losing livestock or has a poor crop, "On m'a jeté un sort," or "Someone put a spell on me." I know some prominent people who firmly believe that with one word, touch, or wink, sorcerers work on livestock and make them sickly or cause their death. They assert that a certain powder can kill men and animals, and cause the crops to fail.

When the head of a family dies, a piece of black cloth must be hung on the beehive to put the bees into mourning, otherwise they will leave within nine days, or else die.

Spinsters or widows who walk on a cat's tail need not hope to marry within the year.

When the husband places the wedding ring on his wife's finger, she is careful to close her hand so as to prevent its going past the second joint, believing she will thus keep a certain ascendancy over her husband.

The spouse who rises first after receiving the nuptial blessing will be master in the house.

The girl who puts the first pin in the bride's dress will be herself married within the year.

The first time a girl sleeps in a new house, she must count the joists of the bedroom, so as to see in dreams the picture of the man she will marry.

If the first being you see on rising is a spider, it is a sign of bad luck during the day. A proverb says, "Araignée le matin, chagrin."

The prairie daisy is consulted, to learn if a girl will be married within the year. In plucking the white petals, the day-dreaming maiden says, "He loves me a little, a lot, not at all." The point at which the last petal falls determines her state of cheer or pessimism.

The person who carries about him some bit of hangman's rope will not fail to be happy and fortunate in business.

A buzzing in the ears is a sign that someone is speaking of you; if it is the right ear, something good is being said; if the left, something bad.

If when starting on a trip you meet a cat or an old woman, it is a sign of accident or misfortune on the voyage.

Not only the spilling of salt but also the accidental disposing of such objects as knife and fork or wisps of straw and wood in the form of a cross proclaim misfortune or death near at hand.

When a hen imitates the rooster's crow, this is an ill omen, and she must speedily be killed.

If a loaf of bread is placed upside down, the first person who notices it will hear some bad news.

Broken glass or windowpanes forecast a great quarrel.

A broken mirror means misfortune without remedy.

A lost dog howling near a house foretells the almost immediate death of someone. People are careful to chase away or quiet the unfortunate beast.

The aurora borealis foretells revolutions, great happenings, bloodshed. [There must be some misuse of French words here, or else this superstition is taken from a written Canadian source.—R.]

If a cat, after washing one of its front paws, smooths the hair of its head by passing its paws over its ears, no barometer can better forecast rain near at hand.

Having thirteen at table is to be avoided, for one of the thirteen will die during the year unless a coin is placed between two of the guests to represent a fourteenth guest.

On Friday, trips, stable-cleaning, washing, changing houses, concluding business deals, marrying, and even changing one's shirt are to be avoided; work begun on a previous day may be continued.

When pies or grackles (there are no magpies in Louisiana —R.) appear often near an habitation and fly while cackling or giving their call, this is a sure indication of a death in the house.

The Roi Bertaud or Carolina Wren makes its nest in houses. It is also called the bird of the good God. To touch its nest brings bad luck; to kill it is a crime.

When someone is seriously ill, people watch to see if some owl or screech-owl (chouette chat-huant) comes to fly about the sick man's house. The presence of these sinister birds, and of bats as well, like the howling of the dog are indications of the proximity of death.

The spider is a sign of happiness, and especially foretells money for the person on whom the spider is found.

If a setting of eggs is to hatch, the hen must be given the eggs only after sunset.

Finding a horseshoe on the road is good luck. The finder quickly nails it to the lowest step at the entrance of his house.

A wet umbrella should not be opened to dry inside the house, lest it bring bad luck to the household.

Bread should not be cut up into milk, but rather broken, lest the milk cow dry up.

Alligator teeth, or bones from a pig's head, or four or five rings from a rattlesnake's tail are hung from children's necks when they are teething. These amulets are said to hasten the process. Some of these objects have been in use for more than seventy years.

Fever is cured by hanging about the neck a spider shut up in a nutshell.

Medicinal plants and herbs plucked on St. John's eve are believed to have more power, especially for certain illnesses.

Dew gathered on St. John's day is a specific for eye troubles.

To quench a fire started by lightning, throw on it a little milk from a black cow.

To make warts disappear, place in a little bag as many white pebbles as there are warts and throw it at the fork of two highways. The person who picks it up will acquire the same number of warts. Or one of these excrescences may be pricked with some oat grains. Again, peas may be applied, which are then placed in a twist of paper and thrown into the grave of the next person to die.

Toothache is cured by a nail which has never been used. Turn it three times about the tooth, touch the tooth, and drive the nail into a piece of wood. At the moment that the wood is penetrated, the worm which was devouring the tooth will be smothered and the pain ceases.

Anthrax is cured by learning the age, sex, and full name of the person affected, even without seeing him, or by being given the description of the afflicted creature, if it is an animal which has the disease.

Bleeding is stopped by saying certain words. Those who have this power need not see the patient. Only his color need be known.

Skin ailments (dartres) and headache are cured by applying of the hands.

If one's hair is cut during the new moon, it will grow back quicker.

To slaughter a hog at the waning of the moon is to see one's crops diminish quickly.

Mirrors are covered during thunderstorms to protect the house from lightning.

One often sees fires like little lanterns which gather in some low-lying place, jump and dance about, and after doing so for an hour or two, return to the places from which they came. People say that these are the sorcerers going to the Sabbat; on these they blame all their misfortunes.

St. Anthony is invoked to regain possession of lost or stolen articles. To find them, one turns to people who have the power to find the articles or place them where they will later be found. Such people must recite a prayer to St. Anthony while fasting.

Never move your household during the waning of the moon unless absolutely necessary, for it means you are heading for ruin.

Healers and Sorcerers

There have always been, and still remain in the country some people who make a living out of healing "by means of the secret" (traiter par le secret). Several of these empirics have acquired great fame. The traiteurs arrest diseases by wetting their fingers with spittle and tracing a cross on the sick part, or by signs of the cross or by saying certain words they cure illness called maux secrets (presumably those which yield to the "secret").

Almost everyone in the country has recourse to traiteurs for inflammations, erysipelas, angina, tumors, dislocations, whitlow, rheumatism, etc. One also goes to sorcerers, especially for such illnesses as acute arthritis, internal sicknesses, and sicknesses of the members which come close to the category of ills for which one turns to ordinary doctors. These wizards, after having halted the disease, prescribe a novena, make plasters in which one of the ingredients is dew gathered in May, etc.

There are some healers who go to the bedside of one too sick to seek them out, some who cure with holy water, wax and signs of the cross, mixed with secret prayers. Others, more powerful, can stop all sorts of illness at a distance, notably bleeding from a wound or an operation (provided the name and sex of the sick person, or name, sex, species and color of the sick animal be known). Once the pain has stopped, these give their patient a little bag to be worn on the chest for nine days.

In this mysterious bag is a mixture of spiders, bones of frogs, snakes and other animals, such as played a large role in the magic and medicine of the middle ages. These sachets are hung in a stable to dislodge the spell which is causing an animal's sickness. The empiric also administers powders and drugs which account for many of the real and surprising cures performed by these individuals.

The remarkable cures which made the reputation of J. Manseau in the neighborhood of Abbeville (Attakapas) in the treatment of cancer were not the result of witchcraft. This practitioner's reputation has been justly acquired, for his treatment of cancer is better than that employed by the medical faculties.

Let us cite a fact: Twenty years ago, Mme. S.L., living four miles west of New Iberia suffered for several weeks from erysipelas of the breast. She saw doctors without success. Much concerned, she learned that a few miles away lived an able traiteur, an old Negro named Zenon. Called to her, the empiric examined the diseased area and promised to cure it. But he needed simples [medicinal plants]. He was taken to Petite Anse woods, from which he brought roots, bark, leaves, and so forth which he boiled and applied the result, still hot, on the sick area. Two hours later, the awful pain was gone as though by enchantment.

But in spite of these excellent means of curing, the simple folk in the country, have more faith in conjuring. An ill is thought to be half-cured when its pain is alleviated. If it is not cured, the failure is attributed to delay in seeing the traiteur; sometimes it is said that the illness would have been even worse, had the treatment not been performed. Thus, according to the believers in magic, it is always worthwhile to see the traiteurs early and often. These persons do not all have the same power, as we have seen. Some can cure animals as well as people, whereas others, especially old women, treat only sore throat, erysipelas, and certain swellings. The leveurs de luette of whom there are many, treat for fallen palate or uvuloptosis. They raise the organ with a spoon handle, grasping at the same time a wisp of the sick person's hair. The recovery is total. The Almanach de la Louisiane (year and page not cited) gives this account: "During a stay I made in the northern part of the state, a horse fell suddenly ill. He had acute colic. Immediately an old Negro named Pierre was sent for. He alone could chase away the spell cast on the poor animal. Pierre arrived, examined the horse, now near death, and said that in a few minutes the horse's life would be saved. He asked for a frying pan, water, and salt, and boiled the water, into which he had thrown a few herbs, until it evaporated. Then muttering some sacramental words and making a lot of cabalistic signs he rubbed the horse's belly with the bottom of the hot pan. The effect was marvelous; the horse got up completely cured and Pierre had one more jewel in the crown of glory which his entourage was busy weaving him."

Benne or grigery (sesame) is a medicinal plant. Its leaves are steeped in a pot of water to make a refreshing infusion. It is used to rub on rough or itching hands, and from it are made enemas and cataplasms. Of the seeds excellent pralines are made. Herbe à coquin or burdock is a common plant the root of which is an excellent sudorific. The leaf is good for wounds and the seeds are a powerful diuretic. It also cures mange.

One need have no fear of cramps if one always wears garters made of eel skin or places inside one's mattress a used horse shoe.