Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Arrival of the Acadians

It's Saturday in Cajun Country. Where is the festival?

Last Saturday the answer was St. Martinville, site of the 7th Annual Acadian Memorial Festival. The focus was on a retelling of the journey of the Acadians, who had been exiled from Nova Scotia between 1765 and 1785, to South Louisiana and of the emergence of a culture all its own.

Before the scheduled events began, we were introduced to some of the watercraft used by the early Acadians. One of the first references to the area's culture was the presence of one of the Tabasco company’s boats, “La Bon Vie,” a wooden oyster lugger reproduction (in the background in the photo above).

The primary mode of transporta-tion in those days were pirogues. Two examples are shown here: A dugout made from 800 year old cypress log by Keith Felder and

the later models.

But it was the "putt, putt, putt" sound of the boat (left) that caught our attention.

Not surprisingly, the boats are called "putt-putts." Early boats were powered by a single cylinder, 4 horsepower engine. Their top speed is said to approach 9 miles an hour.

In 1985, there was one boat left in Louisiana that was running, and even today there are fewer than two dozen fully operational putt-putts in the state,

The owners of these boats state that buildiing and restoring them is not an easy task.

First of all the wood is often hard to get. As one owner said, "We have to find a (cypress) log that's sunk in the basin, bring it to the mill, have it cut, dry it for two years, and then it's ready to use to build."

Getting parts for the engines is another challenge. "You can't buy parts for the engine," Tony Latiolais said. "We have to machine that. We have to make the shaft, the rudder--all custom-fit" (putt-putt webpage).

Partici-pants in the day's programs, lectures, and demonstra-tions, as well as some of the visitors, were dressed in period attire.

Just two of those in this group are shown here.

The morning's program began with dances by the Renais-sance Cadienne Dance Troupe.

Members of the Troupe also sang some songs. Here (left), the men are singing a drinking song and have their fists formed as if holding steins that would "clunk" as they toasted each other.

And here, the whole troupe joins in song.

Several visitors began dancing in the street to the music of the Babineaux Sisters Band, which included Gracie Babineaux (shown here), 12, and Julie Babineaux, 10. It is rare to find women accordion players, but Gracie seemed very comfortable in the lead role. Her singing and playing were already at a high skill level.

A few antique cars were on display near the food booths. The 1930 Ford was for sale. The owner regrettably wanted to sell it--but he needed the money to restore an '30s convertible. Asking price: $20,000.

We grabbed a quick lunch from the booth that was raising money to support the historical and cultural projects of the town. The catfish and cracklins (left in photo above) and jambalaya were excellent.

And right on time, half a dozen pirogues were heading down the Bayou Teche, re-enacting the arrival of the first Acadians.

The boats with the banners represented the two families beig honored this year--the Boudreauxs and Guil-lottes’.

The party was welcomed upon their arrival.

The families represented by the banners are those who have been honored in previous years.

Members of the Atakapa-Ishak Nation were also represented in this re-enactment.

As we headed home, we caught this early sign of spring.

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