Cajuns - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Cajuns were and are mainly Roman Catholic. Experts suggest that the traditional culture cannot be understood unless the central role of the Catholic church is considered. On the one hand, their Roman Catholic beliefs set the Cajuns apart from the surrounding population, which was mainly Baptist and Methodist. On the other hand, the church was a visible and active participant in family and Social life in every community. The priest was often a major figure in the community, setting the moral tone and serving as a confidant and adviser as necessary. All life events such as birth, marriage, and death required church rituals as did many daily events, with the blessing of fields, tools, boats, and so on an integral part of the work cycle. There were also numerous festivals and feast days of religious significance. Perhaps more important, the church teachings formed the belief system underlying Cajun social organization. Male dominance in the home, stable marriages, large families, and so on were all in accord with the requirements of the church. In addition, Roman Catholicism as practiced in Acadiana created an atmosphere that allowed the celebration of life, or "la joie de vivre," so characteristic of Cajun culture.

Ceremonies. All the major Roman Catholic holidays were celebrated by the Cajuns. Mardi Gras was the most important festival, with local communities celebrating in ways often much different than that in New Orleans. Public dances ( bals ), festivals, and feasts were regularly held in Cajun Communities. All usually involved community dinners, dancing, playing, drinking beer, and music making, and all were family affairs with the entire family participating. Although they occur now less often, public dances, especially the fais do-do, are still important social events for the extended family. Dances, parties, and other opportunities to have a good time are an integral element of the Cajun life-style. Numerous other festivals are held in Acadiana each year, many of which are harvest festivals focusing on local crops such as sugar cane, rice, crawfish, and shrimp.

Arts. With their current status as a folk culture, considerable interest has developed in the expressive elements of traditional Cajun culture, especially the music and food. Both are unique cultural forms, with a French base combined with elements drawn from American Indian, Spanish, African, British, and German cultures. Both have also changed over the years as new features have been added. Today, Cajun music comes in a variety of styles, the two most prominent being the country-western style and zydeco, which reflects the influence of Black rhythm and blues. Cajun music involves a band, singing, and sometimes foot-stomping. The particular instruments vary with the style, though the fiddle and accordion have been basic instruments for some time. As with their music, Cajun food reflects the combining of elements from a number of cultural traditions on a rural French base. Traditional Cajun cuisine was also influenced, of course, by the foods grown or available locally. From this combination of Influences, we find, for example, the heavy use of cayenne pepper for a piquant taste, an oil and flour roux, gumbo, dirty rice, jambalaya, boudin (stuffed hog intestine casings), and crawfish as distinctive elements of Cajun food.

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