Cajuns - History and Cultural Relations

Cajun culture began with the arrival of French Acadians (the French-speaking people of the territory that is now mainly Nova Scotia in Canada) who migrated to and settled in what is now Louisiana mainly between 1765 and 1785. Some migrated directly from Acadia, whereas others came after stays in France and the West Indies. All came as part of the Acadian Diaspora, which resulted from their forced exile by the British from Acadia in 1755. Because of additional migrants who arrived in the early 1800s and a high birth rate, the Acadians increased in numbers rapidly and were soon the most numerous group in many locales where they settled. Once settled in Lousiana, in environments very different from Acadia and in contact with other cultures including Black Creoles, American Indians, Germans, Spaniards, and Italians, the Acadian culture began to change, eventually becoming what has come to be called Cajun culture. With the exception of those in the levee-land region who lost their land to Anglos, most Cajuns lived in relative isolation in rural communities where they farmed, fished, or raised cattle.

It was not until after World War I that mainstream Society entered Acadiana and began to influence Cajun life. Mechanization of farming, fishing, and cattle raising, the building of roads linking southern Louisiana to the rest of the state, mass communication, and compulsory education changed local economic conditions and exposed Cajuns to mainstream Louisiana society. Contact also meant that the use of Cajun French decreased, and in 1921 it was banned from use in public schools.

The end of World War II and the return of Cajun veterans to their homes was the beginning of a new era in Cajun culture, one characterized by continuing involvement in mainstream life and by the birth of Cajun ethnicity, reflected in pride in one's heritage and efforts to preserve some traditional beliefs and practices. In 1968 Lousiana created the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) as a mechanism to encourage the teaching of French in public schools. Because of conflicts over which French to teach—standard French or Cajun French—the program has not been a total success, though many Cajun children do participate in French-language programs.

Acadians are one of a number of groups of French ancestry in Louisiana, which also include the French-Canadians, Creoles, and those who emigrated directly from France. Relations between the Cajuns and other groups in Louisiana Including Anglos, Creoles, Black Creoles, and others were generally peaceful because the Cajuns were largely self-sufficient, lived in distinctly Cajun regions, were numerically dominant in those regions, and chose to avoid conflict. That they were Roman Catholic while others were mainly Protestant further contributed to group segregation. Within the regional class structure, Cajuns were considered better than Blacks but the lowest group of Whites. In general, they were seen as poor, uneducated, fun-loving backwoods folk. Cajuns generally viewed themselves as superior to the poor rural Whites referred to as Rednecks.


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