"Finding Cultural Diversity in Louisiana's Hinterland"

By Lilyan Mastrolia

A limo took us from New Orleans to Kinder, to the Coushatta owned Grand Casino. We stopped en route at a charming Cajun restaurant, Cafe Des Amis. The food rivaled that of a big city restaurant and had the added attraction of having ghosts, and being the favorite eatery of Robert Duval when he made the film, “The Apostle”.

The Coushatta are an Indian Nation that act as corporation or part owner of the casino. Much money from the profits go to the tribe. Except for summer camp, there are no more tepees, no beaded dresses and no moccasins. Only the Pow Wow on the second weekend of October reflect the ancient Indian heritage with Indian dances and costumes. Hardly any one lives on the reservation any more.

Only people who can’t afford other housing are there. There’s a new brick apartment house for any Indian who needs shelter. The administration building, the health clinic, the court house and the fitness centers are all brand new.

Birle Sylvestine, Public Relations Director for the tribe told us “everything is very modern.” There are no long black braids, and at Christmas time, there are Christmas decorations. The people who work at the health clinic are thrilled to be in a large modern building. The Indians go there for free health care. Even the dentist who is there once a week is all booked up.

They face two old problems and one newly identified one. The old problems are alcoholism and gambling addiction. The new one is the occurrence of Diabetes. It may have been within the tribe for a long time, but it is only modern techniques of identification and tracking that make the problem visible. All medication and medical services are free to the tribe. You must be at least one-fourth Indian to benefit from the tribal assets.

Another group of people who are making a great effort to perpetuate old customs are the Cajuns. The modern Cajuns are descendants of the Arcadians who were forced out of Canada in 1755. King Louis XIV of France accepted them in Louisiana. They live in Eunice and Mamou.

For a long time they were treated as secondary citizens. The children were punished for speaking French outside the home, and every effort was made to get them to assimilate. Somehow, they have managed to to hold on to their culture. Part of the culture they have cherished is that of the Mardi Gras. In the rural areas, the Mardi Gras was an attempt for poor people to survive the harsh winters. People dressed in costume and went begging for food to make a gumbo soup for those who had no food. The costumes were to disguise the beggars.

In New Orleans, the trend was more towards parades and floats, drinking and sexual excesses. It is as if there was an effort to get as much sinning in as possible before the restrictions of Lent.

Fred’s Lounge on Sixth Street in Mamou is a colorful local bar. Folks come around starting at 9 a.m. to drink and dance to the Cajun music. The dance is a quick two-step or quick waltz. Radio station KVPI- 92.5 broadcasts Zyodec music. This is one step beyond pure Cajun, because they use amplified instruments, and the washboard-like chest board.

This is one of the few stations that broadcast in French. Pure Cajun music uses only the fiddle, the Guitar and the accordion with the occasional triangle and spoons thrown in for good measure. We got a taste of the music and local culinary treasures at the Mark Savoy Music Center. The center is known internationally. We met people from England and France who were enjoying the music. Every Saturday morning, from 9 am to noon, people gather for a Jam session. They play genuine Cajun music. Older players are welcomed, and young musicians sit at their feet trying to imitate the masters. Mark serves coffee or at Christmas time eggnog and boudin, a local sausage.

Later, on Saturday night, there is a gathering at the Liberty Center for Performing Arts, called the Liberty Theater. People gather for dancing and for Vaudeville style acts. Local people are encouraged to share their talents. There is a comraderie among the people, even those in the city, that bonds the people together. Perhaps this is what makes people come back to the area after leaving. Many retire here, only too glad to have a job in the casino economy so they can return to the old home feelings. They gladly welcome the tourists to try their food, drink , music and traditions.



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Last Update:12/31/99

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