70 Mardi Gras festivals emphasize feasting and excess just before the fasting of the Christian Lenten season. Occurring on the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) is usually a processional celebration. Unlike the lavish parades through the streets of New Orleans, the country Mardi Gras processions travel from home to home or to local business establishments, singing and dancing to the traditional Mardi Gras song in exchange for a contribution to the communal gumbo to be shared later that day. Donations may be coins or such ingredients as rice, cooking oil, onions, and sausage.
71 The authority of le capitaine is absolute. He leads the procession and distributes any liquor that is consumed. No member of the colorful band of beggars may enter private property without his permission. He approaches each farmhouse with raised white flag to ask permission from the homeowners for les Mardi Gras to enter. If he receives an invitation, he drops or waves the flag to signal the others.
72 Masked and costumed participants revel in rituals of chaos that include reversals of the social order. Men dress as women, women as men; the poor as rich, the rich as poor; old as young, young as old; black as white, white as black. Costumed as clowns, monsters, movie heroes, historical and political figures, the colorful and noisy celebrants sing, dance and play the fool with abandon. Behind the anonymity of masks, les Mardi Gras mock and ridicule the accepted social structure and push the boundaries of conventional social behavior.
73 French for Dry Wood. Bois Sec explained his nickname to Ann Savoy. “ Sometimes the rain would caught you in the fields, you know, you can’t get to the barn before you get wet yourself. All the rest of the men, they’d wait until the rain started good, now they would run to the barn for that. Not me, I was spoiled, you know, the other men would let the rain cool them off…Well, [Bois Sec’s neighbor and father figure] would come meet us at the barn after the rain had stopped—“Why you was dry and all the rest was wet?” He had an old tree that was dead, it was dry, you know. He said, “I’m gonna call you dry wood.”
74 The most highly prized gift is a live chicken, released by the homeowner and chased down by les Mardi Gras who are hampered by masks, costumes, and their various states of inebriation. Chasing chickens is usually the role of women, who raise chickens in the yard of the home, and is a significant part of the day’s mockery of convention. The chicken will be used for the night’s gumbo.
75 “Chant de Mardi Gras” can be heard on Zodico: Louisiana Creole Music. Rounder Records 6009.
76 Cajun is a term used in south Louisiana for the people that originally lived in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1603. Rather than swear allegiance to the British crown, they chose to maintain their independence in Nova Scotia. By 1755 a large number of them, about 5,000, were deported by the British, and many eventually resettled in Louisiana. – Nick Spitzer
77 Both the Creole and Cajun capitaines are identified by the white flags they carry, but the Cajun capitaine also wears a black cape and cowboy hat.
78 One major distinction between Cajun and Creole celebrations is in “The Mardi Gras Song.” In the Cajun community, an individual sings the song, or now it is more likely recorded or played over loud speakers from a music truck or van. In the Creole community, the song is a call-response chant between a lead clown and the other members of the Mardi Gras troupe.
79 Mardi Gras festivities in the rural Creole communities of southwest Louisiana are similar to those of their Cajun neighbors, but the separate celebrations maintain distinguishing characteristics as well. The Creole Mardi Gras runs are usually much smaller than the Cajuns, and they usually ride on flatbed trucks, whereas the Cajuns are on horseback.
80 Gumbo, perhaps the most dramatic of the Cajun dishes, has clear African origins, but draws on many other traditions as well. Originally its main ingredient was okra, a vegetable first imported from western Africa where it is called guingombo. The spicy cayenne seasoning, typical of subtropical cuisines, represents Spanish and Afro-Caribbean influences. Gumbo is now considered festive, but originally it was a cook’s way of making do with whatever was at hand: chicken, guinea hen, duck, turkey, rabbit quail, dove, blackbird, deer, and other wild domestic meats, alone or in combination. – Barry Jean Ancelet
81 Bois Sec’s oldest son Morris owns the club, which is the center of social life in Duralde. See
82 A principal rule of Acadian [and Creole] life is that no one is left out. This is why small babies are brought to the fais-do-do (dancehall) rather than being left at home with a baby sitter. Young children dance with elderly adults on the dance floor of bars and restaurants. – Barry Jean Ancelet
83 This long shot, among others, exemplifies what reviewer and professor Robert Cochran calls the “absolutely unwavering visual confidence” of Les Blank’s films.
84 The festivities of Mardi Gras stop abruptly at midnight, and many of Tuesday’s most enthusiastic participants are at the altar on Wednesday receiving the penitential ashes on their foreheads.
85 Roman Catholicism is the predominant faith in the Cajun and Creole communities of southwestern Louisiana.
86 Rice was introduced by the French who harvested what they called providence rice in the flooded lowlands produced by the Louisiana prairie’s high clay pan. It was grown by slaves and Creole and Cajun yeoman farmers as a supplementary food source, and later made a staple by German and Anglo-American farmers who moved into the area from the Midwest in the nineteenth century. – Barry Jean Ancelet
87 “Jolie Catin” can be heard on “La Musique Creole” Arhoolie 1070.
88 Both urban and rural zodico groups use the vest frottoir (rubbingboard played with spoons, beer can openers, or thimbles), but it is rarely found among Cajun bands. The vest frottoir has antecedents in Africa and the Caribbean as a scraped gourd, notched stick, and, later, a washboard. The current model made in Louisiana by tinsmiths became popular after the introduction of sheet metal for roofing and barn siding to the area in the 1930s. – Nick Spitzer
89 Currently, no food is more representative of Cajun culture than the crawfish. The ancestors of the Acadians and French Creoles may have known about these freshwater crustaceans…Yet until the 1940s and 1950s, though considered edible, crawfish were not commercially available in Louisiana. Nor were they highly prized. In fact, the derogatory name “mudbug,” which still repels outsiders until they taste them, was not unknown in south Louisiana even thirty years ago—a time when shrimp and crabs were much more in demand, particularly in towns within easy reach of the coast. -- Barry Jean Ancelet
90 Filmmaker Les Blank notes that the men’s supper is a tradition in both the Creole and Cajun communities. Often, especially with the Cajuns, this takes place at a “camp” ( a shack or weekend residence) in the woods.
91 “Quo’ Faire” can be heard on La Musique Creole Arhoolie 1070.
92 Les Blank says, “They offered to cut up with the camera. I didn’t ask. They said, ‘We’re going to have fun together. You can shoot it if you want.’ So they started dancing around, falling down like they were drunk, playing around like they were going to shoot someone. One guy is playing the sheriff.”
93 Sponsorship of butchery was on a rotating basis and all members of the community within a small geographic area participated. In addition to providing an efficient way of distributing fresh meat to participating families, boucheries also were an important part of the social life of many regions, providing a chance for friends and relatives to get together on a regular basis. -- Barry Jean Ancelet
94 Les Blank says, “When they shoot the pig in Dry Wood, [people] cringe a bit now. If I had to do it over again, I’d probably eliminate that part.”
95 “La Robe Barrée” can be heard on La Musique Creole Arhoolie 1070 and on Canray Fontenot Louisiana Hot Sauce Creole Style. Arhoolie CD 381.
96 Fried pieces of pork skin, also called gratons.
97 As in other frugal societies, it was said that the only thing lost in a pig was the squeal. -- Barry Jean Ancelet
98 “Creole” in south Louisiana originally referred to the large French and Spanish planters, people of Old World descent born in the New World. These Creoles brought slaves, mainly through the French West Indies and from what later became French West Africa. Through intermingling with these slave populations, a new middle population emerged that was neither fully African nor fully European. It was an Afro-French population. And this middle population, sometimes referred to as the “Creoles of color” or “black Creoles” are the basis for what we now call Creole society. – Nick Spitzer
99 “Home Sweet Home” can be heard on “La Musique Creole” Arhoolie 1070.