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Understanding Cajun and Creole Traditions in New Orleans

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Cajun and Creole music, food, and language share a great deal, particularly through their shared French origins, but they do have their distinctive properties, helping to give New Orleans its rich and varied culture.

Origins

The word "Cajun" is derived from "Acadia," a French colony founded in the 1630s around what today we call the Canadian Maritime Provinces. By 1755, the area was under control of the British, who ousted the Acadians in Le Grand Derangement (the Great Disturbance). The Acadians went all over, and a large portion went to the then-French territories of Louisiana. These people became Cajuns.

The word "Creole" comes from the Spanish criollo, which mean "a child born in the colony." The term was applied to descendants of early French and Spanish settlers all over the "New World," but eventually narrowed to indicate native-born Louisianans of French and/or Spanish descent.

Food

The Cajuns brought their recipes not just from France, but also from about 150 years of living in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Cajun cuisine is heavy on hearty seafood dishes, often made in one big pot and served over rice. Standard fare includes:
  • Jambalaya
  • Crawfish Étouffée
Creole recipes were developed in New Orleans and are usually more urbane and cross-cultural, including the cuisine traditions not just of the French and Spanish, but also of other European and African countries. Creole dishes are all about the rich sauces. Standard fare includes:
  • Shrimp Creole
  • Grillades and Grits

Language

The Cajun language is primarily derived from French, with a blend of Indian, African, and English thrown in, particularly with terminology originating after the 1630s.

The Creole language (of Louisiana) is again a blend, but does not feature French so prominently among the many languages of its origins, including Spanish, Portuguese, English, and many African dialects.

Music

Cajun music is rooted in French folk songs and heavily influenced by African rhythms. It tends to be upbeat to the point of athletic, often with a wild accordion lead.

A Zydeco dancer once asked if me if I were "tired of them Cajun aerobics" while he led me more sedately around the dance floor. Creole and Zydeco music tends to focus on the melody and often tell stories, many times of life as a slave or heavy laborer.

That said, Cajun and Creole music and culture have tended to blend in recent times, which only makes sense, considering that they were themselves born of cultural fusions.
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