Written by Jasmine Grace -high school Intern
The Acadian people have a long history going all the way back to when they first arrived in North America. The vast majority of these people were immigrants from France. They settled in Acadia, which is made of modern-day New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward’s Island, and parts of the American Northeast.
The Acadian people lived off of the land, eating what was available. But in 1755, after Britain had ruled most of Acadia for decades, war was brewing (again) between France and Britain. The ruling British ordered the Acadians to swear their allegiance to Britain, but such an oath would mean they would be forced to go to war for Britain, fighting their countrymen. The Acadians refused. Earlier attempts to negotiate for Acadians to remain neutral had been ruined when the British discovered that some Acadians had broken their promise. In the eyes of the British, this made them a threat, so the British deported them.
Many families had lived in Acadia for generations, and this forced relocation was devastating. They called it Le Grand Derangement (The Great Upheaval). Nearly 13,000 people were kicked off their land. Communities, and even families, were separated and torn apart. Some tried to escape to the forest to escape the British, but few were able to survive on their own in the wilderness. The journey was brutal. The Acadians were crowded into small cargo ships, where disease ran wild. Some people think all Acadians ended up in Louisiana, but this is not true. Many did settle there, but the British transported them all over the world. Some were sent to other future U.S. states, British colonies, and even back to Europe.
The Acadian settlers in Louisiana soon came into contact with a variety of cultures, including Native Americans, Creoles, Germans, Spaniards, and Italians. These influences created the Cajun culture we are familiar with today. The term Cajun came to mean a descendent from an Acadian living in Louisiana. They learned to live off the land, just as they had up North. Foods like carrots and potatoes were replaced by bell peppers, onions, rice, and celery. They also ate a lot of seafood, because it was readily available. Foods like jambalaya, a gravy-based dish served with rice, and gumbo, a stew with a little bit of everything, evolved and are still widely popular today. Modern Cajun food often features cayenne and black pepper, but the original Cajun settlers wouldn’t have been able to afford such spices. At the time, Cajun food was considered food of the peasants because it included everything and anything that was available from the land and sea.
Because of similarities in cuisine, Creole and Cajun cultures are often confused. Creoles were French-speaking colonial settlers belonging to the upper class. Because of this, historical Creole food would have been made with more spices and more expensive ingredients. For example, Creole jambalaya is made with tomatoes while Cajun jambalaya is not. Creole roux contains butter, while Cajuns use oil.
Both Cajun and Creole cultures are very community oriented, speak a dialect of French, and have been heavily influenced by other cultures. Both were in contact with the diverse people living in colonial Louisiana, and Creoles also were exposed to various African groups and French settlers of the Carribean. And both groups have a strong presence in Louisiana. The Cajun culture and cuisine have survived and evolved for hundreds of years, and are still flourishing in Louisiana today.
Hungry for more? To learn more about modern French, Creole, and Cajun culture in Louisiana, check out this link to the New Niveau Media and Entertainment website. They are dedicated to keeping “Louisiana French alive and thriving in the United States and around the world.”