Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Cajun or Cerole? What's the Difference?

One of the granddaughters of Armita Marie Alleman, my grand uncle Henry Muir's second wife, always heard her grandmother was a full-blooded Native American. As she digs into her family history, she's finding out that may not be true. Her grandmother's race was always listed as "W" for white on the census forms, but she was from Acadia Parish. So was she Creole or Cajun and what's the difference anyway?

"Creole in a Red Turban" by Jacques Aman, circa 1840; image courtesy

I learned it's pretty easy to determine the difference between Creole and Cajun food; Creole cuisine uses tomatoes, Cajun doesn't. People, well, that's not as easy.

When the French settlers moved to Louisiana, the placage system was set up due to a shortage of accessible white women. The French wanted to expand its population in the new world, however men were not expected to marry until their early thirties and premarital sex was inconceivable. African woman soon became the concubines of white male colonists, which in some cases they happened to be sons of noblemen, military men, plantation owners, etc. Soon, wealthy white men would marry and, in some cases, they would possess two families. One with the white woman to which they were legally married, and one with their mistress of color. The offspring from their mistresses were then grouped into a new class of creoles known as gens de couleur, or free people of color. This class of people would soon expand when refugees from Haiti and other French speaking colonies would migrate to New Orleans, effectively creating a new middle class between the white French Creoles and slaves.

Courtesy of Google

This class of colored people was unique to the South as they were not in the same category as African slaves. They were elite members of society who were often leaders in business, agriculture, politics, and the arts. At one time the center of their residential community was the French Quarter. Many were educated, owned their own property and businesses. Additionally, some were even slave-owners. They formed a third class in the slave society. This meant that in the pre-civil war era, race was mainly divided into four categories. These were white, black, creoles, and free people of color. French Creoles objected to the fact that the term Creole was used to describe Free People of Color but their culture and ideals were often mirrored by them. French Creoles spoke French while Black Creoles spoke Louisiana Creole which was a mixture of English, French, African or Spanish. The end of the civil war was a threat to the Louisiana Creoles of Color because this brought about the two-tiered class system that existed in the rest of the country that was divided predominately by race: black and white.

Cajuns, on the other hand, are any descendant of Acadian exiles (French-speaking Canadians from the Maritime provinces) who lived in the southern bayou region of Louisiana. They can be any race.

Courtesy of Google

Cajuns began arriving in Louisiana during the French and Indian War. Their forced expulsion by the British was part of the its military campaign again New France, the French territories in Canada. It is thought that over 11,000 people out of 14,000 were deported during what became known as the Great Expulsion.

I learned when researching the cultural history of Russians in Alaska, they also used the term "creole" to define people with mixed Russian and Native Alaskan blood.

A version of this post first appeared on the Robert Muir Family blog on 7 April 2016, which is the publishing platform for the multi-volume book, Descendants of Robert Muir (c1800-1869). The original version of this post will be published in an electronic book, Volume VII: James Muir (1848-1926) Descendants in June 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment