A Note on the Festive, Cultural, and Geographic Range of This Issue
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A Note on the Festive, Cultural, and Geographic Range of This Issue

This issue both shrank and grew from two panels on French and French American festive traditions presented at the American Folklore Society's Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh in October 1996. The original papers ranged far beyond 20th-century Louisiana Mardi Gras to cover genres, times, and locales as distant as the charivari, the 16th century, and Paris and Canada. After Jack Santino, then editor of the Journal of American Folklore, invited us to shape the panels into a theme issue incorporating the discussion generated at the meeting, the focus narrowed to Louisiana. Of the five papers that ultimately made their way through the editorial process, two maintain a sense of the panel's original range by setting Louisiana Mardi Gras within a broader geographic and chronological context: Rocky Sexton and Harry Oster link the rural Louisiana Cajun and Creole Mardi Gras songs to the festive musical traditions of France, Canada, and the Midwest; and Marcia Gaudet draws parallels between the urban Creole performance of Lafayette and various Afro-Caribbean festive practices. Yet in these cases, as in the others, the Louisiana forms of the festival are central to the authors' explorations.

As the contributors refined their focus, they also expanded their papers greatly to include, examine, and problematize specific details and oral testimony, to the point that local knowledge and insider interpretation became the pervasive themes of the issue as a whole. The issue's focus has narrowed not only to Louisiana but, most particularly, to the rural Cajun and Creole communities. Here, Cajun is understood as the White French American population whose ancestry and current cultural practices are largely derived from the Canadian "Acadians" who, once exiled from Canada, began arriving in Louisiana toward the end of the 18th century and whose culture tended to dominate the prairie regions of southwest Louisiana as the population absorbed and was influenced by Native American, Continental French, German, Irish, and Spanish populations, among others. Most of the articless-those of Ancelet, Sawin, and Ware-focus exclusively on Cajun rural festive practices. A common basic form of these Cajun Mardi Gras is described at some length in my introduction.

Sexton and Oster's survey of Louisiana Mardi Gras songs draws primarily on Cajun texts but also cites texts from rural Creole Mardi Gras tradition. Creole is a term used to define a bewilderingly diverse set of populations and phenomena, but here it applies primarily to Louisianans whose culture (and often whose lineage) represents a mixture [End Page 140] of French African American, French Afro-Caribbean, and White French American influences. Several such Creole communities on the Louisiana prairies have mounted Mardi Gras celebrations similar in form to the Cajun rural celebrations. The rural Creole Mardi Gras has attracted far less attention than the Cajun, and, regrettably true to form, the current issue does not contain an article that dwells exclusively on this important festive tradition. Readers interested in Creole Mardi Gras should consult the work of Nicholas R. Spitzer (1986, 1996).

This issue does, however, contain an article on an even less studied celebration, the Creole Mardi Gras of urban Lafayette: Marcia Gaudet's "Mardi Gras, Chic-a-la-Pie" is a valuable assessment that directs greater attention to a neglected tradition. The Lafayette Creole Mardi Gras differs substantially from those described in the introduction and in the other four essays in ways that Gaudet's presentation explains in detail.

Reflecting the predominance of rural Cajun tradition in the essays that follow (and the fact that Lafayette's Creole Mardi Gras has attracted no previous study), the introduction focuses on the Cajun Country Mardi Gras. Unless specifically designated Creole, the Mardi Gras communities described there and elsewhere in this issue are Cajun.

Figure 1. Louisiana Cajun Population Distribution.
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Figure 1.

Louisiana Cajun Population Distribution.

The celebrations described by the seven contributors are confined to a relatively small section of southern Louisiana near the center of the area most densely populated by Cajuns. The accompanying state map (adapted from Ancelet et al. 1991 and West 1986) outlines the center of concentration of Louisiana's Cajun population; although based...