Traditional Mardi Gras customs featured in local exhibit
The unique Prairie Cajun Mardi Gras traditions of Western Acadia Parish from the Iota area up to the Jeff Davis Parish line will be featured in a free exhibit slated Thursday, Feb. 13, through Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Bernard-Bertrand House on The Boulevard.
Entitled “Western Acadia Parish Cajun Mardi Gras Traditions” the exhibit will feature 12 tabletop panels which will document the traditional Mardi Gras practices in the western area of Acadia Parish.
The Tee Mamou and Grand Marais near Hathaway are the only two Cajun Mardi Gras groups that have maintained very authentic country Mardi Gras traditions which have been continued for generations within the same families. A sizeable part of the population has continued these traditions in their families since early 1890s.
These two locations were the only two Cajun Mardi Gras groups that were continuous during WWII. All other Cajun groups stopped during the War due to a shortage of young men to do the “runs“. In those heavy rice farming areas, the draft boards would exempt the last son of a rice farmer because the War Department needed the rice to ship to the Pacific Theater for our troops, as opposed to potatoes due to the long shelf life of rice.
This historical exhibited has been funded solely by local Mardi Gras related organizations as well as other private donors; no public funds were requested.
The committee that compiled this exhibit over a period of 27 years of research and collection efforts include Co-chairmen Larry G. Miller and Donald Lejeune, Dr. Rocky Sexton, anthropologist, researcher and content director, Dr. Ray Brassieur, consulting anthropologist, Todd Fruge, Tee Mamou Mardi Gras captain, Chris LeJeune, Lejeune Cove Mardi Gras captain, Paul Miller, Egan Mardi Gras captain, Charlotte Miller, contributing member, and Blake T. Miller, graduate student consultant.
Two of the ancient traditions maintained are: the chain song that few have ever heard as it has not been commercially recorded, and the tradition of “Dead Man Revived” trick which comes from the “Feast of Fools” of the 14th century and yet it is still alive only with the Tee Mamou Mardi Gras,as well as with two more recent local groups, Lejeune Cove and Egan M. Gras.
Two rare traditions have survived in Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations. First, is the 15th Century tradition of begging for “la charite” with one hand extended, cupped, while using the index finger of the other hand pointing in to the cupped hand and asking for something endures even today. Second, but rarer, is the 14th Century tradition of “dead man revived” which comes from the Feast of Fools celebration. This one is where a Mardi Gras, pretends to collapse and die. His fellow M. Gras will attempt various funny resuscitation procedures, all which fail. Then upon pouring a drink (usually alcoholic) into his face, he immediately jumps up, runs wild and shows that he has revived and is newly energized.