Mardi Gras - Cajun Style
The call arrived late Thursday afternoon. It was my close friend Steve. "Mike, I want you to join me on the Lejeune Cove Courir this Saturday. We've talked several times about having you make the run and I really want you to participate. Besides, Tamra (Steve's wife) is already at work making your costume."Who could turn down such an invitation? As I hung up the phone I realized I knew very little about the custom of begging or the art of chasing chickens. And as I don't speak French, I figured I had best brush up on my Cajun lore and traditions. Thank goodness for the internet and search engines!
Cajun Mardi Gras traditions date back to medieval France where the peasants would dress up in ridiculous costumes celebrating the last day before the Lenten fast that starts on Ash Wednesday. A "capuchon" adorned the head to mock the headwear of the wealthy nobility. These country revelers would then travel on foot or horseback to entertain for donations and beg for food ingredients from their neighbors to create their communal pre-Lenten meal. Throughout rural Louisiana, Mardi Gras revelers wake up early, get into costume, and begin traversing their local community. At each house, they beg for coins and an ingredient for a gumbo. Generally, the homeowner will release a live chicken, which the revelers must chase and catch.
Saturday morning arrived and I met Steve for breakfast. He coached me on what was to be expected and shared additional details about the traditions and customs of a Cajun Mardi Gras. With every word, I became more excited about my first Courir and soon we were on our way to Iota, Louisiana in Acadia Parish. Upon arrival, I witnessed a fabulous and surreal sight: revelers in garish and colorful costumes, horses ridden by satin-caped men and the sounds of zydeco music filling the air. Though the weather was dismal, it failed to diminish the revelry and spirits of the participants. I knew my experience in this ancient tradition was going to be both fun and heart-warming.
I was introduced to the Capitaines and signed the required participant waiver. I was informed this was necessary as the chickens can put up a pretty good fight! We soon gathered on the porch of La Maison Pointe Aux Loups Bed and Breakfast for the dedications, the traditional prayer and blessing in French, one round of the Mardi Gras Song, and a final review of the rules of the run. Boarding the covered wagon the Courir was soon heading out on Highway 91. Approaching our first stop, shouts of "mask up Mardi Gras" rose above the laughter and music. We eagerly watched as a Capitaine rode to the house for consent to visit. Waving his flag we exited the wagon and launched at the home.
The group collected together, knelt down and sang the Lejeune Cove Courir version of "La Danse de Mardi Gras" (The Mardi Gras Song). Then it was time for the antics: teasing the spectators, getting into "innocent trouble" and begging en masse for "tit cinq sous" with fingers pointing to cupped palms. Coins are handed out to the masked revelers or tossed onto the ground, collected, and given to the Capitaines. And of course, no "Courir" would be complete without chasing (and hopefully) catching the chicken. At many of the stops the revelers were offered treats of traditional foods: coffee, beignets (pronounced ben-yay), and links of boudin (pronounced boo-dehn).
The Mardi Gras made numerous stops throughout the morning and early afternoon staying within the LeJeune Cove area and always repeating the traditions of song, begging, antics and a chicken chase. We arrived back, at the La Maison Pointe Aux Loups Bed and Breakfast in late afternoon soaked from the heavy rains. Not having a dry costume to slip into, I missed out on the traditional gumbo and dance which is held in the early evening hours following the Courir. I promised myself that next year I would come better prepared and ready to kick up my feet!
I wish to personally thank Mr. David Simpson (cajunzydecophotos) for granting me permission to use several of his works to illustrate this blog. His photos of the 2011 Lejeune Cove Courir may be viewed on flikr® at: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=lejeune cove 2011