Flag of Acadiana.svg
Total population
2-5 million[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
 United States
Louisiana Louisiana 432,549
Texas Texas 56,000
Florida Florida N/A
Mississippi Mississippi N/A
Alabama Alabama N/A
Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia N/A
Other U.S. States N/A

Cajun French
Cajun English, American English, Standard French, Acadian French


Predominantly Roman Catholicism

Related ethnic groups

French, Québécois, Métis, Acadians, Louisiana Creoles

Cajuns (play /ˈkən/; French: les Cadiens or les Acadiens, [le kadjɛ̃, lez‿akadjɛ̃]) are an ethnic group mainly living in the U.S. state of Louisiana, consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French-speakers from Acadia in what are now the Canadian Maritimes). Today, the Cajuns make up a significant portion of south Louisiana's population, and have exerted an enormous impact on the state's culture.[1]

While Lower Louisiana had been settled by French colonists since the late 18th century, the Cajuns trace their roots to the influx of Acadian settlers after the Great Expulsion from their homeland during the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763). The Acadia region to which modern Cajuns trace their origin consisted largely of what are now Nova Scotia and the other Maritime provinces, plus parts of eastern Quebec and northern Maine. Since their establishment in Louisiana the Cajuns have developed their own dialect, Cajun French, and developed a vibrant culture including folkways, music, and cuisine.



The origin of the designation Acadia is credited to the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, who on his sixteenth century map applied the ancient Greek name "Arcadia" to the entire Atlantic coast north of Virginia. "Arcadia" derives from the Arcadia district in Greece which since Classical antiquity had the extended meanings of "refuge" or "idyllic place". The Dictionary of Canadian Biography says: "In the 17th century Champlain fixed its present orthography, with the 'r' omitted, and (the Canadian historian) W.F.Ganong has shown its gradual progress northwards, in a succession of maps, to its resting place in the Atlantic Provinces."[2]

Ethnic group of national origin

The Cajuns retain a unique dialect of the French language and numerous other cultural traits that distinguish them as an ethnic group. Cajuns were officially recognized by the U.S. government as a national ethnic group in 1980 per a discrimination lawsuit filed in federal district court. Presided over by Judge Edwin Hunter, the case, known as Roach v. Dresser Industries Valve and Instrument Division (494 F.Supp. 215, D.C. La., 1980), hinged on the issue of the Cajuns' ethnicity. Significantly, Judge Hunter held in his ruling that:

We conclude that plaintiff is protected by Title VII's ban on national origin discrimination. The Louisiana Acadian (Cajun) is alive and well. He is 'up front' and 'main stream.' He is not asking for any special treatment. By affording coverage under the 'national origin' clause of Title VII he is afforded no special privilege. He is given only the same protection as those with English, Spanish, French, Iranian, Portuguese, Mexican, Italian, Irish, et al., ancestors.

—- Judge Edwin Hunter 1980.

History of Acadian ancestors

Joseph Broussard ("Beausoleil"). Artist Herb Roe

The British Conquest of Acadia happened in 1710. Over the next forty-five years, the Acadians refused to sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to Britain. During this time period Acadians participated in various militia operations against the British and maintained vital supply lines to the French Fortress of Louisbourg and Fort Beausejour.[3] During the French and Indian War (part of the Seven Years War and known by that name in Canada and Europe), the British sought to neutralize the Acadian military threat and to interrupt their vital supply lines to Louisbourg by deporting Acadians from Acadia.[4] During 1755-1763 Acadia consisted of parts of present-day Canada: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The deportation of the Acadians has become known as the Great Upheaval or Le Grand Dérangement.

The Acadians' migration from Canada was spurred by the Treaty of Paris (1763) which ended the war. The treaty terms provided 18 months for unrestrained emigration. Many Acadians moved to the region of the Atakapa in present-day Louisiana, often travelling via the French Colony of Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti).[5] Joseph Broussard led the first group of 200 Acadians to arrive in Louisiana on February 27, 1765 aboard the Santo Domingo.[6] On April 8, 1765, he was appointed militia captain and commander of the "Acadians of the Atakapas" region in St. Martinville.[7] Some of the settlers wrote to their family scattered around the Atlantic to encourage them to join them at New Orleans. For example, Jean-Baptiste Semer, wrote to his father in France:

My dear father (...) you can come here boldly with my dear mother and all the other Acadian families. They will always be better off than in France. There are neither duties nor taxes to pay and the more one works, the more one earns without doing harm to anyone

—- Jean-Baptiste Semer 1766[8]

The Acadians were scattered throughout the eastern seaboard. Families were split and put on ships with different destinations.[9] Many ended up west of the Mississippi River in what was then French-colonized Louisiana, including territory as far north as Dakota territory. France had ceded the colony to Spain in 1762, prior to their defeat by Britain and two years before the first Acadians began settling in Louisiana. The interim French officials provided land and supplies to the new settlers. The Spanish governor, Bernardo de Gálvez, later proved to be hospitable, permitting the Acadians to continue to speak their language, practice their native religion, Roman Catholicism—which was also the official religion of Spain—and otherwise pursue their livelihoods with minimal interference. Some families and individuals did travel north through the Louisiana territory to set up homes as far north as Wisconsin. Cajuns fought in the American Revolution. Although they fought for Spanish General Galvez, their contribution to the winning of the war has been recognized.[10]

"Galvez leaves New Orleans with an army of Spanish regulars and the Louisiana militia made up of 600 Cajun volunteers and captures the British strongholds of Fort Bute at Bayou Manchac, across from the Acadian settlement at St. Gabriel. And on September 21, they attack and capture Baton Rouge."[citation needed]

A review of participating soldiers shows many common Cajun names among those who fought in the battles of Baton Rouge and West Florida. The Galvez Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was formed in memory of those soldiers.[11] The Acadians' joining the fight against the British was partially a reaction to the British having evicted them from Acadia.

The Spanish colonial government settled the earliest group of Acadian exiles west of New Orleans, in what is now south-central Louisiana—an area known at the time as Attakapas, and later the center of the Acadiana region. As Brasseaux wrote, "The oldest of the pioneer communities . . . Fausse Point, was established near present-day Loreauville by late June, 1765."[12] The Acadians shared the swamps, bayous and prairies with the Attakapa and Chitimacha Native American tribes.

After the end of the American Revolutionary War, about 1,500 more Acadians arrived in New Orleans. About 3,000 Acadians had been deported to France during the Great Upheaval. In 1785 about 1,500 were authorized to emigrate to Louisiana, often to be reunited with their families, or because they could not settle in France.[13] Living in a relatively isolated region until the early 1900s, Cajuns today are largely assimilated into the mainstream society and culture. Some Cajuns live in communities outside of Louisiana. Also, some people identify themselves as Cajun culturally despite lacking Acadian ancestry.

Ethnic mixing and alternate origins

Not all Cajuns descend solely from Acadian exiles who settled in south Louisiana in the eighteenth century, as many have intermarried with other groups. Their members now include people with ancestry of British, Spanish, German, Italian, Native American, Métis and French Creole settlers. Historian Carl A. Brasseaux asserted that it was this process of intermarriage that created the Cajuns in the first place.[1]

Non-Acadian French Creoles in rural areas were absorbed into Cajun communities. Some Cajun parishes, such as Evangeline and Avoyelles, possess relatively few inhabitants of Acadian origin. Their populations descend in many cases from settlers who migrated to the region from Quebec, Mobile, or directly from France. Theirs is regarded as the purest dialect of French spoken within Acadiana. Regardless, it is generally acknowledged that Acadian influences have prevailed in most sections of south Louisiana.

Many Cajuns also have ancestors who were not French. Many of the original settlers in French Acadia were English, for example the Melansons (originally Mallinson). Irish, German, Greek, Spanish Canary Islanders, and Italian colonists began to settle in Louisiana before and after the Louisiana Purchase, particularly on the German Coast along the Mississippi River north of New Orleans. People of Latin American origin, a number of early Filipino settlers (notably in Saint Malo, Louisiana), known as "Manilamen," from the annual cross-Pacific Galleon or Manila Galleon trade with neighboring Acapulco, Mexico, descendants of African American slaves, and some Cuban Americans have also settled along the Gulf Coast and, in some cases, intermarried into Cajun families. Anglo-American settlers in the region often were assimilated into Cajun communities, especially those who arrived before the English language became predominant in southern Louisiana.

One obvious result of this cultural mixture is the variety of surnames that are common among the Cajun population. Surnames of the original Acadian settlers (which are documented) have been augmented by French and non-French family names that have become part of Cajun communities. The spelling of many family names has changed over time. (See, for example, Eaux).[citation needed]

Modern preservation and renewed connections

Census Bureau 2000, Cajuns in the United States.png

During the early part of the 20th century, attempts were made to suppress Cajun culture by measures such as forbidding the use of the Cajun French language in schools. After the Compulsory Education Act forced Cajun children to attend formal schools, American teachers threatened, punished, and sometimes beat their Cajun students in an attempt to force them to use English (a language many of them had not been exposed to before). During World War II, Cajuns often served as French interpreters for American forces in France; this helped to overcome prejudice.[14]

In 1968 the organization of Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) was founded to preserve the French language in Louisiana. Besides advocating for their legal rights, Cajuns also recovered for themselves a sense of ethnic pride and appreciation for their ancestry. Since the mid-1950s, relations between the Cajuns of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Acadians in the Maritimes and New England have been renewed, forming an Acadian identity common to Louisiana, New England, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

State Senator Dudley LeBlanc ("Coozan Dud", a Cajun slang nickname for "Cousin Dudley") took a group of Cajuns to Nova Scotia in 1955 for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the expulsion. The Congrès Mondial Acadien, a large gathering of Acadians and Cajuns held every five years since 1994, is another example of continued unity.

Sociologists Jacques Henry and Carl L. Bankston III have maintained that the preservation of Cajun ethnic identity is a result of the social class of Cajuns. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, "Cajuns" came to be identified as the French-speaking rural people of Southwestern Louisiana. Over the course of the twentieth century, the descendants of these rural people became the working class of their region. This change in the social and economic circumstances of families in Southwestern Louisiana created nostalgia for an idealized version of the past. Henry and Bankston point out that "Cajun", which was formerly considered an insulting term, became a term of pride among Louisianans by the beginning of the twenty-first century.[15]


The 22 parishes of Acadiana. The Cajun heartland of Louisiana is highlighted in darker red.


Geography had a strong correlation to Cajun lifestyles. Most Cajuns resided in Acadiana, where their descendants are still predominant. Cajun populations today are found also in the area southwest of New Orleans and scattered in areas adjacent to the French Louisiana region, such as to the north in Alexandria, Louisiana. Over the years, many Cajuns and Creoles also migrated to the Beaumont and Port Arthur area of Southeast Texas, in especially large numbers as they followed oil-related jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, when oil companies moved jobs from Louisiana to Texas. However, the city of Lafayette is referred to as "The Heart of Acadiana" because of its location, and it is a major center of Cajun-Creole culture.


Cajun music is evolved from its roots in the music of the French-speaking Catholics of Canada. In earlier years the fiddle was the predominant instrument, but gradually the accordion has come to share the limelight. Cajun music gained national attention in 2007, when the Grammy Award for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category was created.[16]


Cajun boudin rolled into a ball and deep fried

Outside Louisiana, and even within, some food writers wish to distinguish between Cajun and Louisiana Creole cuisine, maintaining that Creole dishes tend to be more sophisticated and continental while Cajun food is rural, more seasoned, sometimes spicy, and tends to be heartier. This distinction is based mostly on encounters with the cuisines as encountered in eateries in New Orleans. Outside the city, Cajuns and Creoles often intermingle socially and culturally, and chances are that the cooking of Cajuns and Creoles living in Lawtell for example, have more in common with each other than the Creole dishes of a Lawtell resident and one from Isle Brevelle. Both cuisines tend to focus on local ingredients like locally available wild game (e.g., duck, rabbit), vegetables (e.g., okra, mirlitons), and grain (e.g., rice), which is where they remain distinctive, since many of these ingredients have never truly entered American mainstream cuisine and thus were available to displace local traditions.

Since many Cajuns and Creoles were farmers and not especially wealthy, they were known for not wasting any part of a butchered animal. Cracklins are a popular snack made by frying pork skins or fat and boudin is created from the ground-up leftover parts of a hog after the best meat is taken, which is mixed with cooked rice. It is usually formed into a sausage, but can also be rolled in a ball and deep-fried called a boudin ball.[17]


Cajun French is a variety or dialect of the French language spoken primarily in the Acadiana region of Louisiana. At one time there were as many as seven dialects spread across the Cajun Heartland.

Recent documentation has been made of Cajun English, a French-influenced dialect of English spoken by Cajuns, either as a second language, in the case of the older members of the community, or as a first language by younger Cajuns.

Religious traditions

Cajuns are predominantly Roman Catholic. However, Protestant and Evangelical Christian denominations have made inroads among Cajuns, but not without controversy — many Cajuns will shun family members if they convert to any form of Protestantism because of the extreme persecution the Cajuns were subjected to by Protestants during the Great Expulsion of 1755, and throughout their history for maintaining their Catholicism.

The 1992 cookbook, Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux by Cajun Chef Marcelle Bienvenue outlines long-standing beliefs that Cajun identity was rooted in community, cuisine, and very specifically, devout Roman Catholicism. Traditional Catholic religious observances such as Mardi Gras, Lent, and Holy Week are integral to many Cajun communities.

Mardi Gras

Musicians playing at a traditional Courir de Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras, (French for "Fat Tuesday", also known as Shrove Tuesday), is the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day period of fasting and reflection in preparation for Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras was historically a time to use up the foods that were not to be used during Lent, including fat, eggs, and meat.

Mardi Gras celebrations in rural Acadiana are distinct from the more widely known celebrations in New Orleans and other metropolitan areas. A distinct feature of the Cajun celebration centers on the Courir de Mardi Gras (translated: fat Tuesday run).[18] A group of people, usually on horseback and wearing capuchons (a cone-shaped ceremonial hat) and traditional costumes, will approach a farmhouse and ask for something for the community gumbo pot. Often, the farmer or his wife will allow the riders to have a chicken, if they can catch it. The group then puts on a show, comically attempting to catch the chicken set out in a large open area. Songs are sung, jokes are told, and skits are acted out. When the chicken is caught, it is added to the pot at the end of the day.[18] The courir held in the small town of Mamou has become well known. This tradition has much in common with the observance of La Chandeleur, or Candlemas (February 2), by Acadians in Nova Scotia.


On Pâques (French for Easter), a game called pâquer, or pâque-pâque was played. Contestants selected hard-boiled eggs, paired off, and tapped the eggs together — the player whose egg did not crack was declared the winner. This is an old European tradition that has survived in Acadia until today. Today Easter is still celebrated by Cajuns with the traditional game of 'paque', but is now also celebrated in the same fashion as Christians throughout the United States with candy-filled baskets, "Easter bunny" stories, dyed eggs, and Easter Egg hunts.

Folk beliefs

One folk custom is belief in a traiteur, or Cajun healer, whose primary method of treatment involves the laying on of hands and of prayers. An important part of Cajun folk religion, the traiteur is a faith healer who combines Catholic prayer and medicinal remedies to treat a variety of ailments, including earaches, toothaches, warts, tumors, angina, and bleeding. Another is in the Rougarou, a version of a Loup Garou (French for werewolf), that will hunt down and kill Catholics that do not follow the rules of Lent. In some Cajun communities the Loup Garou of legend have taken on an almost protective role. Children are warned that Loup Garou can read souls, and that they only hunt and kill evil men and women and misbehaved horses.

Celebrations and gatherings

Cajuns, along with other Cajun Country residents, have a reputation for a joie de vivre (French for "joy of living"), in which hard work is appreciated as much as "passing a good time."

Community gatherings

In the culture, a coup de main (French for "to give a hand") is an occasion when the community gathers in order to assist one of their members with time-consuming or arduous tasks. Examples might include a barn raising, harvests, or assistance for the elderly or sick.


Cajun fiddler at 1938 National Rice Festival, photographed by Russell Lee.

Laissez les bons temps rouler is a more than a cliché phrase of the local culture, which means "let the good times roll", as nearly every village, town and city of any size has a yearly festival, celebrating an important part of the local culture and economy. The majority of Cajun festivals include a fais do-do ("go to sleep" in French, originating from encouraging children to fall asleep in the rafters of the dance hall as the parents danced late into the night) or street dance, usually to a live local band. Crowds at these festivals can range from a few hundred to more than 100,000.

Other festivals outside of Louisiana

  • In Texas, the Winnie Rice Festival and other celebrations often highlight the Cajun influence in Southeast Texas.
  • Major Cajun/Zydeco festivals are held annually in Rhode Island, which does not have a sizable Cajun population but is home to many Franco-Americans of Québécois and Acadian descent. It features Cajun culture and food, as well as authentic Louisiana musical acts both famous and unknown, drawing attendance not only from the strong Cajun/Zydeco music scene in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York City and California, but from all over the world. In recent years the festival became so popular that there are now several such large summer festivals near the Connecticut-Rhode Island border: The Great Connecticut Cajun and Zydeco Music & Arts Festival, The Blast From The Bayou Cajun and Zydeco Festival, Rhythm & Roots Festival also in California the Cajun/Zydeco Festival; Bay Area Ardenwood Historic Farm, Fremont, Calif. and The Simi Valley Cajun, Creole Music Festival.


A statue of Evangeline — fictional heroine of the poem Evangeline by Longfellow — at St. Martinville, Louisiana. The statue was donated by actress Dolores del Río (who also posed for it), who portrayed Evangeline in a 1929 silent film by director Edwin Carewe.

Documentary films

  • Spend it All (1971, color) director: Les Blank with Skip Gerson
  • Hot Pepper (1973, color) director: Les Blank
  • J'ai Été Au Bal (English: I Have Been To the Ball), by Les Blank, Chris Strachwitz & Maureen Gosling; narrated by Barry Jean Ancelet and Michael Doucet (Brazos Films). Louisiana French and Zydeco music documentary.
  • Louisiana Story (1948, black and white) director: Robert Flaherty. Further addressed in 2006 documentary Revisiting Flaherty's Louisiana Story, by a group at Louisiana State University.



  • Evangeline (1847), an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow loosely based on the events surrounding the 1755 deportation. It became an American classic, and also contributed to a rebirth of Acadian identity in both Maritime Canada and in Louisiana.
  • Bayou Folk (1894) by Kate Chopin who wrote about the Creoles and Cajuns (Acadiens).
  • Children's book author Mary Alice Fontenot wrote several volumes on Cajun culture and history.


  • Jambalaya (On the Bayou), (1952), a song credited to Hank Williams. Jambalaya is about life, parties and stereotypical food of Cajun cuisine. The music is taken from the Cajun song "Grand Texas".
  • Acadian Driftwood (1975), a popular song based on the Acadian Expulsion by Robbie Robertson that appeared on The Band's album, Northern Lights - Southern Cross.
  • Louisiana Man, an autobiographical song written and performed by Doug Kershaw. It became the first song broadcast back to Earth from the Moon by the astronauts of Apollo 12. The song not only sold millions of copies but over the years has become the symbol of Cajun music.
  • Jolie Blonde: lyrics & song history of the traditional Cajun waltz (aka Jolie Blon, Jole Blon or Joli Blon) often referred to as "the Cajun National Anthem".
  • Mississippi Queen, 1970 song by Mountain about a Cajun woman visiting from Mississippi
  • Elvis Presley was a Cajun, a song from the 1991 Irish film The Commitments in which a 2-piece band plays along to the lyric "Elvis was a Cajun, he had a Cajun Heart"
  • Amos Moses, a song by Jerry Reed about a fictional one-armed alligator-hunting Cajun man.

See also



  • Maria Hebert-Leiter "Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke". Baton Rouge,LA. :Louisiana State University Press, 2009 ISBN 978-0-8071-3435-1
  • Dean Jobb, The Cajuns: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph, John Wiley & Sons, 2005 (published in Canada as The Acadians: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph)


  1. ^ a b Carl A. Brasseaux, Acadian to Cajun: Transformation of a People. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd edition
  2. ^ Link to Dictionnary of Canadian Biography online
  3. ^ John Grenier, Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia 1710-1760, Oklahoma Press. 2008
  4. ^ Stephen E. Patterson. "Indian-White Relations in Nova Scotia, 1749-61: A Study in Political Interaction." Buckner, P, Campbell, G. and Frank, D. (eds). The Acadiensis Reader Vol 1: Atlantic Canada Before Confederation, 1998. pp.105-106.; Also see Stephen Patterson, Colonial Wars and Aboriginal Peoples, p. 144.
  5. ^ Gabriel Debien, "The Acadians in Santo-Domingo, 1764-1789" in: Glenn R. Conrad, ed., The Cajuns: Essays on their History and Culture, Lafayette, La., 1978, 21-96.
  6. ^ "Broussard named for early settler Valsin Broussard"
  7. ^ "History:1755-Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil (c. 1702-1765)". 
  8. ^ "Letter by Jean-Baptiste Semer, an Acadian in New Orleans, to His Father in Le Havre, April 20, 1766." Transl. Bey Grieve. Louisiana History 48 (spring 2007): 219-26 Link to full transcription of the Letter by Jean-Baptist Semer
  9. ^ John Mack Faragher (2005). A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland, New York: W.W. Norton, 562 pages ISBN 0-393-05135-8 Online excerpt
  10. ^ Acadians who fought in the American Revolution
  11. ^ Broussard, Karen (2004-03-11). "History of the Galvez Chapter". Lafayette, LA: National Society of the American Revolution, Galvez Chapter. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2011-03-17. 
  12. ^ Carl A. Brasseaux (1987), The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765-1803 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), pp. 91-92.
  13. ^ Jean-Francois Mouhot (2009), Les Réfugiés Acadiens en France (1758-1785): L'Impossible Réintégration? Quebec: Septentrion, 456p.
  14. ^ Tidwell, Michael. Bayou Farewell:The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast. Vintage Departures: New York, 2004.
  15. ^ Blue Collar Bayou
  16. ^ Grammy Awards
  17. ^ Michael Stern. 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late: And the Very Best Places to Eat Them. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN 0547059078, 9780547059075. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  18. ^ a b Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane; Migdale, Lawrence (September 1995). Mardi Gras: a Cajun country celebration. Holiday House. p. 11. ISBN 978-0823411849. 

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  • Cajun — Ca jun, n. [A corruption of {Acadian}.] (Ethnol.) In Louisiana, a person reputed to be Acadian French descent. Also used attributively, as in Cajun cooking. [Webster 1913 Suppl. +PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Cajun — 1868, Cagian, dialectic pronunciation of ACADIAN (Cf. Acadian), from Acadia, former French colony in what is now Canadian Maritimes. Its French setters were dispersed and exiled by the English and thousands made their way to New Orleans in the… …   Etymology dictionary

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