The creole of Louisiana has been a favorite subject of the story writer, and has been so often and so charmingly described by Cable, Grace King and that queen of southern dialect writers. Ruth McEnery Stuart, that of them nothing remains to be told. But a large element of the French population of the state are not creoles, but Acadians, or as they call themselves and are generally called, “Cajuns.” Their expulsion from Acadia forms one of the most pathetic tragedies in the history of the settlement of our native land, and is of additional interest since it furnishes our Immortal Longfellow with the inspiration for his touching poem, “Evangeline.”
After the treaty of Paris, by which the French abandoned forever all controlling influence in the new world, these unfortunate refugees were by the French government assisted to Louisiana and assigned lands to the west of New Orleans, where their descendants live to this day, and where in the midst of an age of progress they remain distinctly medieval in thought, manners and customs.
Their dwellings are for the most part built of a kind of clay mixed with moss, and are not unlike the concrete and adobe houses of western Texas. Their furniture is just about what their ancestors considered necessary for their Acadian farmhouse over 100 years ago. The little treadle spinning wheel occupies a conspicuous place in the domestic economy, and whatever artistic taste they may have finds vent in the numerous cheap-colored prints of the Virgin which adorn the walls of even the poorest.
Of books there are none, except possibly a French prayer book, which none of the family is able to read, and which they could not understand anyway, as their dialect differs in so many respects from the modern French.
They are in a certain sense religious, but their religion consists in the observance of the forms and festivals, especially festivals, of the Catholic church, some of which are very pretty, but also very suggestive of the middle ages. With them, celebration of mass in the morning is usually followed by a ball at night, an amusement of which they a passionately fond, and in which the old, middle-aged, the youth and children take part with equal zest.
They are extremely hospitable, and in their dwelling it is said the coffee pot is never allowed to grow cold, and every chance guest is served with a cup of this beverage, boiling hot, and very bitter, which he must not refuse on penalty of giving lasting offense to his host. This inveterate coffee drinking seems to be productive of no ill effect physically, but I have sometimes wondered if it might not in part account for the low order of intellect, which prevails.
They are a pleasure-loving people, and work only enough to secure the necessaries of life, and as they all – men, women and children – go barefoot except on state occasions, and corn bread and tasso (dried beef) form the staple articles of food, a very little work enables a man to provide for a moderately large family.
Their aversion to regular employment might be ascribed toa probable strain of Indian blood that flows in their veins, and for the same reason they mingle with the superstitions of the French peasant, some which come by inheritance from their Indian ancestors.
The creoles, many of whom boast of the bluest of the blue blood, have always treated their plebian fellow countrymen with a good-natured contempt (which the Cajuns bitterly resent) and have so far done nothing for their social and mental advancement.
Politically, these people are a problem. They take very little personal interest in elections, and are usually voted by the parish priest.
One important factor in the making of the children of ignorant foreigners into good citizens is our public school system, and with the Cajuns this has failed so far, partly from prejudice against brain labor of any kind, which is innate, and partly from an antipathy to receiving instruction from a heretic, which is inculcated with their religion. And as their poverty in most cases precludes their attending the Catholic schools, where the creoles educate their children, they remain after nearly a century of American citizenship no better educated in republican institutions than the immigrant of yesterday.