Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cajun Mardi Gras 2013 - Further Reflections on the Courir de Mardi Gras

My last post described my experience participating in the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras 2013 in Cajun Louisiana. In this post, I will reflect further on the Courir.

In case you haven't read the previous post, a Courir de Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras Run, is the Cajun way of celebrating Mardi Gras. Costumed and masked participants (each participant called a Mardi Gras) trek from farm to farm, on foot or on horseback, to beg ingredients for a community gumbo to be cooked and shared later in the day. Below, you see the Mardi Gras walking from one farm to another.

Mardi Gras participating in the Faquetaigue Courir walk from one farm to another.
I would call the Courir de Mardi Gras a form of high play. As I understand it, it is an acting out of the peasant, or perhaps even the serf, role in a society where the wealthy land-owners held the power.

On Mardi Gras, the peasant grabs some of this power. Unrecognizable in costume and mask, the Mardi Gras represent peasants begging for food and coins from the wealthy land-owner. But the peasants have the power of anonymity and the license granted by the mis-rule of the day. In complete disguise, they are free to threaten and play tricks on the land-owner as they over-run his farm, chasing chickens and creating mayhem.

I could tell, from my participation in the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras, that this re-enactment provided huge fun, great release of energy, high entertainment, and joyful celebration for the participants, both Mardi Gras and farm hosts. The Mardi Gras vied in chasing and catching chickens, engaged in mock fights, provoked the "vilains" (who were armed with whips of rope to "keep order"), and danced energetically to the Cajun music of the Courir musicians. Everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time!

Mardi Gras in Cajun Louisiana is a most lively celebration in preparation for Lent. Cajuns are mostly Catholic, so Lent is observed. I got up early on Ash Wednesday and went to Mass at Saint Joseph's Church in Rayne LA. I found the church about 3/4 full for the 6:30 a.m. Mass.

One thing that is quite different from New Orleans Mardi Gras is the deep connection with the land. From what I saw, many Cajuns still live on and from the land, and life is closely connected with the land. It was probably not so long ago that, when the land did not produce enough, starvation became a real possibility, and life was in jeopardy. In fact, I think that life was often hard, making life precious and worthy of celebration.

The Mardi Gras in each Courir walk across the land, on foot or on horseback, stopping at the farms of their neighbors. It is a great celebration of the land, of the food that the land yields, and of the community that lives on the land.

I was incredibly impressed with the friendliness, openness, and hospitality of the Cajun people. The young people on the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras (most participants were in their 20s and 30s) were welcoming and happy to share with my friend David and me about their lives and their culture. We are especially grateful for the hospitality of Kelly and Lance Pitre of L'Acadie Inn just outside Eunice LA, who opened the door for us to participate in the Faquetaigue Courir.

I will conclude with a list of several sources that David and I found helpful in informing ourselves about Cajun Mardi Gras.

  • BOOK. Carnaval! by Barbara Mauldin (2004). Gives a history of carnival and describes the carnival traditions of various cities in Europe and the Americas, including Cajun Mardi Gras and New Orleans Mardi Gras. Generously illustrated with gorgeous photographs - like a coffee table book.
  • BOOK. Cajun Mardi Gras Masks by Carl Lindahl (1997). Describes various types of Cajun Mardi Gras masks and shows how they are made. Generously illustrated with great photos.
  • BOOK. Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture by Marcia G. Gaudet (2003). Exactly what the title says.
  • VIDEO. Dance for a Chicken: The Cajun Mardi Gras by Pat Mire (1993). An excellent video about the Courir de Mardi Gras and its significance.
My next post will describe experiences other than the Courir de Mardi Gras during my visit to Cajun Louisiana.

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