Cajuns - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In Canada, the Acadians lived by farming (wheat, oats, rye, vegetables), raising cattle, and fishing, and by selling surplus crops and cattle and buying manufactured products. Louisiana had a markedly different environment, with four environmental regions, none exactly the same as Acadia. These new environments led to the development of new subsistence and commercial pursuits in Louisiana as well as variation in activities from one region to another. In the levee-land region, the early Cajun settlers grew maize and rice for consumption and cotton for sale. They also grew vegetables and raised cattle. Non-Cajuns began settling in the region around 1800, however, and took much of the land for large plantations. Most Cajuns moved elsewhere; those that stayed lived by subsistence farming in the backwaters until well into the twentieth century. In the swampland region, fishing and the hunting and gathering of crawfish, ducks, crabs, turtles, frogs, and moss were the major economic activities. By the late 1800s, most Cajuns in this region were involved in the commercial fishing industry, and many still are today, though they have modernized their equipment and methods and often live outside the swamps. The Cajuns who settled on the Louisiana prairies developed two economic adaptations. Those in the east grew maize and cotton, supplemented by sweet potatoes. Those in the west grew rice and raised cattle, with local variation in terms of which was the more important. In the marshland region, on the Chernier Plain, Cajuns raised cattle, trapped, and Gardened; on the Deltaic Plain they farmed, fished, hunted, and trapped.

Regular contact with the outside economy, which influenced all regions by about 1920, has changed the traditional economy. Cattle ranching has declined, and sugar cane, rice, cotton, and maize are now the major crops. As towns have developed and compulsory education laws have been enforced, Cajuns have been employed in service-sector jobs, and many now work in the oil and gas industries that have entered the southern part of the region. With public interest in the Cajuns as a folk culture developing in the 1960s, tourism has also become a source of income.

Industrial Arts, Aspects of the traditional subsistence technology of the 1800s that draw attention today are mainly adaptations to life in the swamp and marshlands. The traditional technology has been modernized, although traditional knowledge and skills are still valued. Aspects of the traditional technology that are of interest today are the Cajun cottage, the various tools and techniques used in collecting crawfish, crabs, and moss, and the pirogue (a narrow canoe made from a dugout log or planks).

Trade. The intinerant traders ( marchand-charette ) who once supplied most household supplies are a thing of the past. Most Cajun families are now integrated into the mainstream economy and purchase goods and services.

Division of Labor. The traditional economy centered on cooperation among members of the extended family and kindred. Men generally had responsibility for subsistence activities, and women managed the household. As the Cajuns have been drawn into American society, traditional sex roles have weakened, with women now working outside the home and often taking the lead in "Americanizing" the family.

Land Tenure. Despite their early settlement in Louisiana, Cajuns own relatively little land. This is the result of a number of factors, including dishonest land agents, Cajun ignorance or misunderstanding of real estate laws, and patrilineal inheritance of property coupled with patrilocal residence which meant that once sizable farms were divided into smaller and smaller units over the generations. Today, lumbering, fossil fuel, and agricultural corporations own much land in the Cajun region, and in some locales, many Cajuns lease the land they farm.

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