Feb 18, 2010

Mardi Gras 2010 Part 2: Cajun Style!

Last time I promised pictures of the Cajun Mardi Gras as well as Boucherie pictures. I over-did Mardi Gras (because that's what you're supposed to do) so somethin's gotta give, people! The Boucherie will have to wait.

In Cajun Country, Mardi Gras is referred to as the courir de Mardi Gras, which means Mardi Gras run. Instead of marching bands and floats with riders throwing beads like most people think of when they hear "Mardi Gras," this is a much different type of ritual. And it is a ritual.

I'll let The Husband explain since he gives presentations on this topic...

The ritual of the Mardi Gras Courir originated as far back as the Roman Empire and was adapted by Christians to fit in with the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. It was originally a pagan rite to celebrate the coming of Spring, and that makes it fit nicely right before the beginning of Lent. And for anyone who doubts that this celebration can trace its roots back to the middle ages, all you have to do is look at the costumes. Even today, costumes in rural Louisiana still make fun of the three groups that ruled people's lives in the Middle Ages: the nobility, the clergy, and the academics.

Members of a community mask and ride out on horseback into the countryside, pretending to be a band of wild outlaws. Their arrival turns all of society on its head as they stop traffic, interrupt government services, and cause general mayhem. But while they are pretending to be outlaws, these masked riders' intent is far from dangerous.

Most experts see Mardi Gras as a release valve for the pressures of society. By pretending to be outlaws, the members of this community can release all of the stresses that have built up over the past months. And, besides, the true goal of the Courir de Mardi Gras is actually to collect ingredients for a gumbo to which all of the community is invited. The Mardi Gras (a term for both the day and the participants) set out on horseback or in wagons begging residents for ingredients to make a community gumbo. The highlight comes when a farmer donates a chicken or two. The farmer throws the chicken up in the air and the Mardi Gras must chase it down and catch it. In the end, the whole thing is really an affirmation of community at the same time as it allows everyone to pretend to be something they are not.

Examples of traditional costumes
Usually they are brightly colored. The fringe represents the fact that these are poor beggars roaming around in tattered clothing. Small bells are sewn on to create noise when the Mardi Gras moves. The hat, called a capuchon, mocks the tall hats worn by nobility and the clergy.

There are also some non-traditional costumes. This year, I was sad to see so many without masks and capuchons. Cowboy hats and sunglasses don't cut it, people.

But now and then there are some really good non-trads...
I call him Pelvis
This clever guy decided to create a costume from trash he found along the run. He also caught a chicken.

As pretend outlaws, the Mardi Gras love to play tricks on people. They may sweep a girl off her feet and plant her on top of a high post. They may untie shoes or try to tie your shoes together. They may "steal" something out of your hand as they pass by...hold tight to your cameras.

This Mardi Gras decided to play a trick on a child, who runs away.

This Mardi Gras decided to play a trick on me.

The Run
In small communities across Acadiana, Mardi Gras gather early in the morning to go out on the run. It is an amazing procession, watching them head out to the countryside to beg for ingredients for a gumbo.

There is always a Capitaine--the one who maintains order among these outlaws and beggars. He enters private property with a raised flag and asks permission to enter. If permission is not given or if no one is home, the group rides to the next house. If permission is given, the Capitaine lowers the flag and all hell seems to break loose.
The Capitaine keeps the Mardi Gras in line with a whip. It's controlled chaos.

In his book, Cajun Country, Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet explains that the whip is "reminiscent of the medieval processions of flagellants who whipped themselves and each other to purge their past sins..." He also adds that "this practice also has roots in the ancient Roman lupercalia when masked costumes men ritually beat women with animal pelts to insure fertility."

The Eunice Mardi Gras heading out for the day
Led by the Capitaine(s)

Some of the Mardi Gras on horseback.

There is often a bandwagon, or in larger groups there may be more than one spread out through the procession. The band plays La Chasson de Mardi Gras (The Mardi Gras Song) throughout the run. This song tells the story of the Mardi Gras going out on a long journey to obtain food or money for a gumbo.

So all this begging...nothing comes free. The Mardi Gras are expected to perform and entertain. Some towns, such as in Iota, perform some of the rituals for the crowd gathered downtown. This is mostly for tourists I suspect, but older people who can't make it out for the Courir also seem to appreciate it.

Here, the Mardi Gras perform for the crowd in downtown Iota. Notice that this Capitaine keeps close watch and his whip handy.

After a little song and dance, the Mardi Gras start begging. The crowd threw change.

Part of the fun comes when the Capitaine(s) try to gather the Mardi Gras up to move on. Some do not go willingly. That's when the whips come out. Part of this is for show...more entertainment for onlookers. Part of this comes from being masked and being able to escape following every day rules.

Here two Capitaines try to wrangle a few stubborn Mardi Gras.

Chicken Chasing
This is probably the highlight of the Courir. A chicken isn't just given...it's thrown into the air and the Mardi Gras go after it.
Here are some Mardi Gras out in a field chasing after chickens.

After being out on the run all day, the Mardi Gras get back to town around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. They parade down the main street(s).

Showing off a chicken.

He caught one too.

This post is linked to

Memories by the Mile

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1 comment:

  1. Such a cool post! I have never heard of this tradition. It sounds like it could be more fun than the traditional Mardi Gras that we all think of. I love all the pictures and the videos. Looks like a lot of fun:D


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