Facts About The Culture of New Orleans


Photo by Sidney Pearce from Unsplash.com

1. Creoles and Cajuns are two types of people you will find in large amounts in New Orleans. Folks born in the area with French and Spanish ancestry as well as those descended from African, Caribbean, French, and/or Spanish heritage are Creole. Cajuns are the French colonists who first settled in Canada in the 1600s. Originally known as “Acadians,” they were forced into exile after refusing to adopt the Protestant religion in the mid-1700s. Once settled in Southern Louisiana, which was then a Spanish colony, they developed their own distinct lifestyle. Simultaneously, the descents of African slaves and French Creoles from the Caribbean were moving there and the different peoples interacted with one another over the years to form the modern-day Cajun culture.

2. Cajun is one of the most unique cultures and ethnic groups in the U.S.  They have their own distinct Cajun French dialect, societal norms, music, and food.  Some examples include:

- When visiting you might hear words and phrases such as ça chest bon (“that’s good”), cocodril (“alligator”), and allons (“let’s go”).  

- In the Cajun community, a coup de main (French for “to give a hand) is a gathering of folks to assist someone with a time-consuming or arduous task such as a harvest, barn-raising, or assistance for the sick or elderly.

- Traditional Cajun music typically uses fiddle, guitar, and accordion accompanied by lyrics sung in Cajun French. The music of the Louisiana Creoles, the French-speaking black folks of the prairies of southern Louisiana, is Zydeco and has a blues feel to it. 

- An authentic Cajun meal is usually a three-pot affair with one dedicated to the main dish, the second to steamed rice, special made sausages, or a seafood dish, and the third containing whatever vegetable is plentiful at the time.  Crawfish, shrimp, and andouille sausages are staple meats used in many dishes while green pepper, onion, and celery are referred to as the “holy trinity” by Cajun chefs.

3. In addition to traditional Cajun and Creole music, jazz was born in New Orleans and while many think of saxophones, piano, and the double bass when they think of that style of music, it was actually drums that birthed the genre. This is because New Orleans was one of the first places in the country where slaves were allowed to own drums. That, along with a community spirit, was what it took to create this truly iconic American music form.

4. Voodoo made its way to New Orleans in the early 1700s with the slaves brought from African’s west coast. In the new world, it became infused with Catholicism which was the city’s dominant religion and this hybrid is sometimes referred to as “New Orleans Voodoo.” For instance, Legba, the Voodoo deity who controls the gates to the spirit world, becomes St. Peter, who holds the keys to the gates of heaven. Today, an offshoot known as “hoodoo” has evolved. Hoodoo is a non-religious belief in gris gris, or the objects of Voodoo. Hoodoo practitioners and shops will use images of saints, chicken feet, pins, and candles to create spells.

5. Marie Laveau was a devout Catholic and Voodoo practitioner. Folks used to knock on her door at all hours looking for legal help, food, or advice. She was a striking spiritual figure who did wonderful things for her community including adopting orphans, helping slaves gain their freedom, feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners, and nursing patients back to health during the yellow-fever epidemic. She was a skilled naturopath and treated people with massage, teas, herbs, tinctures, and salves.

6. It is believed that Marie Laveau gave birth to 15 children, and many of them died during the yellow-fever outbreak. The first 2 she had with her husband, Jacques Paris, and they did not survive childhood. When Jacques died, she was given the name “Widow Paris,” which would later be etched onto her tomb. That tomb is now a major tourist stop, attracting many who leave offerings for the Voodoo Queen in the hopes she will grant their desires.

7. After the death of her husband, Marie became a hairdresser and the majority of her clients were wealthy white socialites. This allowed her to be privy to rumors and gossip that floated around the French Quarter and this private information heightened her reputation as a priestess with mystical powers.

8. Voodoo means “spirit of God” and believers hold true to this god called the Loa. The Loa are dead ancestors and the messengers of the Creator and influence the living particularly in the areas of love, money, family, happiness, or justice.

9.. Contrary to popular belief Voodoo dolls are not instruments of evil, but instruments of intent.  African shamans used dolls to communicate with the Loa for guidance.  As the practice of using the dolls evolved and mixed with the culture of Louisiana, each color doll took on a particular purpose:

White: positive energy, purification, and/or healing
Red: love, attraction, or power
Green: growth, wealth, money, and fertility
Yellow: success and confidence
Purple: the spiritual realm, wisdom, and/or psychic exploration
Blue: love and peace
Black: used to dispel or summon negative energy.

10. In order to effectively communicate with a person’s spirit through a Voodoo doll, a charm or token such as a lock or hair, photo, or piece of clothing is pinned to it, which is then either held or placed on an altar.  The doll is a tool for focusing prayers, spells, and meditations.  Most rituals performed with a doll are for well-being. The belief that they were used for ill intent comes from the slave days when people did indeed use them as a secret weapon of self-defense against their owners.