Creole peoples

Creole peoples

The term Creole and its cognates in other languages — such as crioulo, criollo, créole, kriolu, criol, kreyol, kreol, kriulo, kriol, krio, etc. — have been applied to people in different countries and epochs, with rather different meanings. Those terms are almost always used in the general area of present or former colonies in other continents, and originally referred to locally born people with foreign ancestry.


United States


People of mixed Alaska Native American and Russian ancestry. The intermingling of Promyshlenniki men with Aleut and Alutiiq women in the late 19th century gave rise to a people who assumed a prominent position in the economy of Russian Alaska and the north Pacific rim.[1][2]

Chesapeake Colonies

During the early settlement of the colonies, children born of immigrants in the colonies were often referred to as creole. This is found more often in the Chesapeake Colonies[3]


In the United States, the word "Creole" refers to people of any race or mixture thereof who are descended from settlers in colonial French Louisiana before it became part of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Some writers from other parts of the country have mistakenly assumed the term to refer only to people of mixed racial descent, but this is not the traditional Louisiana usage. Originally it referred to people of French and then Spanish descent who were born in Louisiana, to distinguish them from immigrants. Later Creole was sometimes used as well to refer to people of African descent born in Louisiana. Later the terms were differentiated, by French Creole (European ancestry) and Louisiana Creole (meaning someone of mixed racial ancestry).

Contemporary usage has broadened the meaning of Louisiana Creoles to describe a broad cultural group of people of all races who share a French or Spanish background. Louisianans who identify themselves as "Creole" are most commonly from historically Francophone communities, with some ancestors who came to Louisiana either directly from France or via the French colonies in the Caribbean. Many Louisiana creole families arrived in Louisiana during the Colonial Period following the Slave Uprising led by Toussaint Breda (later called L'Overture) in 1791 in Ste. Dominique, later called Haiti. Protesting French Colonial rule - and winning the fight with the assistance, in part of the mosquito, as the French plantation owners most holding land grants from Louis XVI (farming primarily sugar) were succumbing to yellow fever. The slave army of L'Overture originally in alliance with the French to exile Spanish and English eventually helped evict them too creating a free Haiti. Though L'Overture wound up being imprisoned by Napoleon in a remote mountain jail dying of starvation and neglect while his army continued in liberating Sante Dominigue concurrently with Napoleon's Louisiana Purchase for his French King. With the French Revolution (1789) and Napoleon Bonaparte's deceiving L'Overture (despite his full cooperation with the French beginning with the Jacobian, Robespierre, and anti-slavery minded French a few years earlier) the French Colonist regime was then forced into exile with most being shipped first to Cuba. From Cuba the exiles finally arrived in the French governed and purchased Louisiana Colony where their descendents can be traced to date. New Orleans and the surrounding river parishes are the mainstays of Creole culture. The language however is a dying form. Spoken creole is dying with the dissolution of Creole families and continued 'Americanization' in the area. Most remaining creole lexemes have drifted into popular culture. Traditional French creole is spoken among those families determined to keep the language alive or in regions below New Orleans around St. James and St. John Parishes where German immigres originally settled (also known as 'the German Coast', or Les Cote Des Allemandes) and cultivated the land keeping the ill-equipped French Colonists from starvation during the Colonial Period and adopting commonly spoken French and Creole French (arriving with the exiles) as a language of trade.

Creoles are characterized as being largely Roman Catholic and influenced by traditional French culture left from the first Colonial Period officially beginning with the arrival of the Ursuline Nuns in 1721 (they were preceded by another order, the sisters of the Sacred Heart with whom they lived until their first convent could be built with monies from the French Crown. Both Orders still educate girls in 2010). The "fiery latin temperament" described by early scholars on New Orleans culture made sweeping generalizations to accommodate Creoles of Spanish heritage as well as the original French. The mulatto creoles, descendants of mixing of European colonists and slaves or sometimes 'Gens du Colour' (free men and women of colour) began during the colonial periods with the arrival of slave populations. Their collective cultures are known as "Creole" though many non-Louisianans often do not distinguish between the two groups, or do not recognize the distinctions held around the New Orleans area between the original white colonists that produced offspring who were the original first born in Louisiana and those creoles that were a mixture of European and slave populations or free men and women of color ancestry and whose skin was mulatto for lack of a better descriptor. Those 'criollos' the word of which comes from the Spanish language indicates "mixed" and was a term used in the post-French governance period to distinguish the two groups of New Orleans area and down river creoles. Both 'mulatto' (though specific amounts of blood from different ancestors is too lengthy a subject to interject here) and European creole groups share many of the same traditions, and language into this age but whose socio-economic roots differed in the original period of Louisiana history. The term is also often used to mean simply "pertaining to the New Orleans area".

Louisianans descended from the French Acadians of Canada are not creoles at all in the strictest sense but referred to as and identify as 'Cajuns' - a derivation of the word Acadian, indicating French Canadian settlers as ancestors. Though the land areas overlap around New Orleans and down river, Cajun culture and language extend westward all along the southern coast of Louisiana concentrating in areas southwest of New Orleans around Lafayette, Marksville, and as far as Crowley, Abbeville and into the rice belt of Louisiana nearer Lake Charles and the Texas border.


Portuguese Africa

The English word creole derives from the French créole, which in turn came from Portuguese crioulo. This word, a derivative of the verb criar ("to raise"), was coined in the 15th century, in the trading and military outposts established by Portugal in West Africa and Cape Verde. It originally referred to descendants of the Portuguese settlers who were born and "raised" locally. The word then spread to other languages, probably adopted from Portuguese slave traders who supplied most of the slaves to South America through the 16th century.

While the Portuguese may have originally reserved the term crioulo for people of strictly European descent, the crioulo population came to be dominated by numerous people of mixed Portuguese and African ancestry. This mixing happened relatively quickly in most Portuguese colonies of the time. The growth of a mixed population was due to both the scarcity of Portuguese-born women in the settlements, and to the Portuguese Crown policy of encouraging mixed marriages in the colonies to create more stable populations.

The crioulos of mixed Portuguese and African descent eventually gave rise to several major ethnic groups in Africa, especially in Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe, Ziguinchor (Casamance), Angola, Mozambique. Only a few of these groups have retained the name crioulo or variations of it:

the dominant ethnic group, called Kriolus or Kriols in the local language; the language itself is also called "Creole";

Other parts of Africa

Sierra Leone, founded by the British to serve as a colony for freed slaves, has a Creole ethnic group whose ancestors migrated from Canada, where many were Americans who had fought with the British and settled there after the American Revolutionary War; the British West Indies, and various parts of West Africa. Their offspring (born in the Freetown colony) came to be known as Creoles or its cognate Krio. Many of these Creoles or Krios were of mixed ancestry, carrying admixture from the African slave heritage of the Americas as well as ancestry from allied Afo-European ethnic clans such as the Sherbro people.

Similarly, the United States established a colony for freed slaves in what became Liberia. Descendants of African-American immigrants, or Americo-Liberians, were often called Creoles. Many of the African-American immigrants and their descendants were of mixed ancestry.

Creoles from these two nations emigrated to other African countries, such as Equatorial Guinea, where they were known as Krios; or Nigeria, where they were known as Saros. Some scholars report that a new wave of Krio immigrant descendants of freed slaves of Sierra Leone and Liberia are known as Fernandinos (see Fernando Po).[citation needed] The original Fernandinos of the region who existed on the islands of Bioko and Sao Tome and Principe, both discovered by explorer Fernão do Pó, stemmed from indigenous, Spanish and/or Portuguese ancestry.

An additional sub-group of African descent from the Caribbean and South America on Bioko Island were descendants of freed Cuban and Brazilian slaves brought to the islands during the 17th century and 19th century. People of this specific ancestry were part of the emancipado population which included other distinct groups assimilated into the local colonial society.


In Brazil, the word crioulo initially denoted persons of Portuguese parentage born in Brazil (as distinct from colonists that migrated from Portugal), like in Portuguese-speaking Africa. It eventually came to denote a person of predominantly African ancestry. In colonial Brazil, it was common refer to a Brazilian-born slave as a crioulo, whereas slaves from Africa were known as "Africans". Thus crioulo came to refer to slaves born and raised in Brazil. Later, crioulos was used to refer to all people of African ancestry.

African slaves were imported into the country from the 17th century until the first half of the 19th century. Due to their multiple ethnic roots and to the wide geographic expanse of the country, the slaves and their descendants did not constitute a cohesive ethnic group. On the other hand, as in the Portuguese colonies in Africa, people of mixed Portuguese and African ancestry soon came to constitute a large segment of the population. There were no sharp class divisions based on degrees of African heritage.

Former Spanish Colonies

In regions that were formerly colonies of Spain, the Spanish word criollo (literally, "native," "local") historically referred to class in the colonial caste system, comprising people born in the colonies with unmixed Spanish descent. People with at most 1/8 of Amerindian ancestry, were also considered Criollos; but this rule did not apply to black African ancestry. The crown often passed over Criollos for the top military, administrative, and religious offices in the colonies in favor of the Spanish-born Peninsulares (literally "born in the Iberian Peninsula").

The word Criollo is a cognate of English "Creole", and often translated by it; even though many other Creole peoples never were historically connected to Spain or to the colonial system, and/or were never defined in terms of racial purity.

Spanish America

The racially based caste system was in force throughout the Spanish colonies in the Americas, since the 16th century. By the 19th century, this discrimination and the example of the American Revolution and the ideals of the Enlightenment eventually led the Spanish American Criollo elite to rebel against the Spanish rule. With the support of the lower classes, they engaged Spain in the Spanish American wars of independence (1810–1826), which ended with the break-up of former Spanish Empire in America into a number of independent republics.


In many parts of the Southern Caribbean, the term "Creolean" is used to refer to a French-speaking person of primarily European ethnicity born in the Caribbean islands.

The term Creole is sometimes used to describe anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, who was born and raised in the region. In Guadeloupe and Martinique, 'creole' is used to refer to people of mixed race accepted as white, and people classified as black/mulatto who are mixed of European, African and both native and east Indian. In the French West Indies, people of African and East Indian ancestry are called "Bata-Indians," which is not considered a pejorative term.[4]

Creole, 'Kreyol' or 'Kweyol' also refers to the creole languages in the Caribbean, including Antillean Creole, Haitian Creole, and Jamaican Creole, among others.

Indian Ocean

The usage of 'creole' in the islands of the southwest of the Indian Ocean varies according to the island. In Réunion and the Seychelles, the term 'creole' includes people born there of all ethnic groups.[4] In Mauritius, on the other hand, the term excludes people of primarily European descent.[4] In all three, 'creole' also refers to languages derived from French.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "First Generations: Women in Colonial America", Carol Berkin
  4. ^ a b c Robert Chaudenson (2001(of translation)). Creolization of Language and Culture. CRC press. p. 11. ISBN 9780203440292. 

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