What is Cajun?

Cajun Style House

Cajun Style House

Cajuns are an ethnic group mainly living in Louisiana, consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French-speaking settlers from Acadia or Nova Scotia, in the maritime provinces of what is now Canada). Today, the Cajuns make up a significant portion of south Louisiana’s population, and have exerted an enormous impact on the state’s culture.

If you ever hear Cajun music you won’t soon forget it. It’s rousing rhythms, foot stomping beat and sweet lyrics make it special and THE COUNTRY CAJUNS play it that way. Most of them have played Cajun music as long as they can remember. As Louisiana “Acadians” it’s a music they grew up on.

The ACADIANS were French subjects in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia and when Great Britain acquired their country in 1713 they wanted to remain loyal to their French homeland. The British ordered them to pay the homage to the English Queen and to give up their Catholic religion. The Acadians (later shortened to “Cajuns”) refused and begin what could be termed the longest “sit in” in history. The disagreement lasted forty-two years until 1755. In September that year the entire Acadian population, in all over 10,000 people, was loaded unto prison boats: families were sent to colonies and the British Isles as prisoners of war. Many hundreds died in route, many more found hope in stories of a place far to the south where they would be understood. As they escaped they made their way to the heart of Louisiana. On farms many could only see as unworkable swamp and barren grassland they built their paradise. It is this spirit of survival against all odds, a unique spirit that could only come from hardship, that gives Cajun music its own personality and character.



Today the Cajuns are basically a very earthly, happy people and a lot of folk call their music “happy, people music”. But if you speak Cajun French you might be surprised at what the music has to say. The happy tunes often words of tragedy, the slow mournful ones might capture a story of joy. Their songs are about life-love, loss, home, family, death and “a fate worse than death”…..life without love. The music almost always tells a tale or spins a varn but the best part is, you don’t have to understand to enjoy.



Acadia consisted mainly of present-day Nova Scotia, and included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day Maine.

Click: More information about Cajuns and Folklure»

Ethnic group of national origin
The Cajuns retain a unique dialect of the French language and numerous other cultural traits that distinguish them as an ethnic group. Cajuns were officially recognized by the U.S. government as a national ethnic group in 1980 per a discrimination lawsuit filed in federal district court. Presided over by Judge Edwin Hunter, the case, known as Roach v. Dresser Industries Valve and Instrument Division (494 F.Supp. 215, D.C. La., 1980), hinged on the issue of the Cajuns’ ethnicity. Significantly, Judge Hunter held in his ruling that:

We conclude that plaintiff is protected by Title VII‘s ban on national origin discrimination. The Louisiana Acadian (Cajun) is alive and well. He is ‘up front’ and ‘main stream.’ He is not asking for any special treatment. By affording coverage under the ‘national origin’ clause of Title VII he is afforded no special privilege. He is given only the same protection as those with English, Spanish, French, Iranian, Portuguese, Mexican, Italian, Irish, et al., ancestors.

—- Judge Edwin Hunter 1980.

History of Acadian ancestors

The British evicted the Acadians from Acadia (which has since been resettled and consists of parts of present-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Canada) in the period 1755-1763. This has become known as the Great Upheaval or Le Grand Dérangement. At the time there was a war between France and Great Britain over the colony of New France. This war is known in the United States as the French and Indian War; it was one theater of the Seven Years’ War that was fought chiefly in Europe.

The Acadians’ migration from Canada and the Thirteen Colonies was spurred by the Treaty of Paris (1763) which ended the war. The treaty terms provided 18 months for unrestrained emigration. Many Acadians moved to the region of the Atakapa, often traveling via the French Colony of Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti).[3] Joseph Broussard led the first group 200 of Acadians to arrive in Louisiana on February 27, 1765 aboard the Santo Domingo.[4] On April 8, 1765, he was appointed militia captain and commander of the “Acadians of the Atakapas” region in St. Martinville, La.[5] Some of the settlers wrote poignant letters to their family scattered around the Atlantic to encourage them to join them at New Orleans.

For example, Jean-Baptiste Semer, wrote to his father in France:

My dear father (…) you can come here boldly with my dear mother and all the other Acadian families. They will always be better off than in France. There are neither duties nor taxes to pay and the more one works, the more one earns without doing harm to anyone.

—- Jean-Baptiste Semer 1766

A review of the list of members shows many common Cajun names among soldiers who participated in the Battle of Baton Rouge and the Battle for West Florida. The Galvez Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was formed in memory of those soldiers. The Acadians’ joining the fight against the British was partially a reaction to the British evicting them from Acadia.

After the end of American Revolutionary War, about 1,500 more Acadians arrived in New Orleans. About 3,000 Acadians had been deported to France during the Great Upheaval. In 1785 about 1,500 of them obtained the authorisation to emigrate to Louisiana, often to be reunited with their families or because they could not settle in France. Mostly secluded until the early 1900s, Cajuns today are largely assimilated into the mainstream society and culture. Some Cajuns live in communities outside of Louisiana. Also, some people identify themselves as Cajun culturally despite lacking Acadian ancestry.

For more details on this topic, see History of the Acadians.

Ethnic mixing and alternate origins

Not all Cajuns descend solely from Acadian exiles who settled in south Louisiana in the eighteenth century, as many have intermarried with other groups. Their members now include people with ancestry of British, Spanish, German, Italian, Native American, Métis and French Creole settlers. Historian Carl A. Brasseaux asserted that it was this process of intermarriage that created the Cajuns in the first place.[1]

Non-Acadian French Creoles in rural areas were absorbed into Cajun communities. Some Cajun parishes, such as Evangeline and Avoyelles, possess relatively few inhabitants of Acadian origin. Their populations descend in many cases from settlers who migrated to the region from Quebec, Mobile, or directly from France. Theirs is regarded as the purest dialect of French spoken within Acadiana. Regardless, it is generally acknowledged that Acadian influences have prevailed in most sections of south Louisiana.

Many Cajuns also have ancestors who were not French. Many of the original settlers in French Acadia were English, for example the Melansons (originally Mallinson). Irish, German, Greek, and Italian colonists began to settle in Louisiana before and after the Louisiana Purchase, particularly on the German Coast along the Mississippi River north of New Orleans. People of Spanish or Hispanic origin, including many Canary Islanders and a number of early Filipino settlers (notably in Saint Malo) from the cross-Pacific Galleon trade with neighboring Mexico, and finally, descendants of black slaves and some Cuban Americans, have also settled along the Gulf Coast and, in some cases, intermarried into Cajun families. Anglo-American settlers in the region often were assimilated into Cajun communities, especially those who arrived before the English language became predominant in southern Louisiana.

One obvious result of this cultural mixture is the variety of surnames that are common among the Cajun population. Surnames of the original Acadian settlers (which are documented) have been augmented by French and non-French family names that have become part of Cajun communities. The spelling of many family names has changed over time.

Forced To Speak English

During the early part of the 20th century, attempts were made to suppress Cajun culture by measures such as forbidding the use of the Cajun French language in schools. After the Compulsory Education Act forced Cajun children to attend formal schools, American teachers threatened, punished, and often beat their Cajun students in an attempt to force them to use English (a language many of them had not been exposed to before).

Main article: Acadiana

Geography had a strong correlation to Cajun lifestyles. Most Cajuns resided in Acadiana, where their descendants are still predominant. Cajun populations today are found also in the area southwest of New Orleans and scattered in areas adjacent to the French Louisiana region, such as to the north in Alexandria, Louisiana. Over the years, many Cajuns and Creoles also migrated to the Beaumont and Port Arthur area of Southeast Texas, in especially large numbers as they followed oil-related jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, when oil companies moved jobs from Louisiana to Texas. However, the city of Lafayette is referred to as “The Heart of Acadiana” because of its location, and it is a major center of Cajun-Creole culture.

Folk beliefs

One folk custom is belief in a traiteur, or Cajun healer, whose primary method of treatment involves the laying on of hands and of prayers. An important part of Cajun folk religion, the traiteur is a faith healer who combines Catholic prayer and medicinal remedies to treat a variety of ailments, including earaches, toothaches, warts, tumors, angina, and bleeding. Another is in the Rougarou, a version of a Loup Garou (French for werewolf), that will hunt down and kill Catholics that do not follow the rules of Lent. In some Cajun communities the Loup Garou of legend have taken on an almost protective role. Children are warned that Loup Garou can read souls, and that they only hunt and kill evil men and misbehaved horses.

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