The Capitaines and the Chickens

Boudreaux’s been much on my mind of late.

In 2012, not long after I’d written a thing or two about chickens in art and literature, he emailed a suggestion: “Cher, you want the complete chicken experience, come to Cajun country for a real Mardi Gras. They dance for chickens over here.”

As proof, he sent along Pat Mire’s documentary, Dance for a Chicken. After watching the hour-long film with a certain degree of astonishment, I tucked the link into my bookmarks and resolved to make my own run to the Louisiana prairie to witness the celebrations.

A year later, and the year after that, I remembered Boudreaux’s email only after it was too late to make plans. Each year, I watched the film again and thought,”Next year.”

This year, I remembered, and made some inquiries. After a few phone calls, a conversation or two, and a text, I had the name and address of a Church Point family willing to host a visitor from Texas. I called a friend who lives in Louisiana’s bayou country and said, “Pack your bags. We’ve got chickens waiting.”

Traditionally, the Courir de Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras run, is held on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. It did seem curious that Church Point would choose Sunday for their celebration, so I looked into the event’s history.

As it turns out, Elton Richard formally organized the Church Point Courir in 1961. Some time later, he and Senator Paul Tate of Mamou concluded that each town needed its own celebration.  In order to decide which town would celebrate on Tuesday, and which on Sunday, they used a time-honored method: the coin toss. After the toss, the calendar was set. Mamou now holds its Courir on Mardi Gras day, while Church Point events take place on Sunday.

As we made our way toward Church Point early Sunday morning, the combination of dense fog and deserted roads lent an air of unexpected serenity to the scene. No crowds thronged the route, no music drifted through the air. Only occasional groups of horses and riders, a cluster of horse trailers, or the drooping gold, green and purple of a Mardi Gras flag served to suggest festivities yet to come.

The View from an Outdoor Kitchen  (Please click any photo for greater size and clarity)

Still, as we pulled into the drive and greeted our host,  it became apparent that people had been up and about for some time. A few had gone into town for last-minute errands before road closures. Children were everywhere, amusing themselves with scooters, tricycles and a trampoline.

The fragrance of a good hen and sausage gumbo filled the air, watched over by a man who clearly knew his way around an outdoor kitchen.

In time, neigbors passed by for a visit…

…and a burst of color appeared through the fog, as a traditionally-clad Mardi gras reveler headed for the beer fridge.

Mardi Gras costumes, fashioned of colorful fabrics and fabric fringe, include a tall, conical hat called a capuchon, and a mask. The homemade masks, traditionally constructed of wire screen, often sport beards, eyebrows and exaggerated features.

(Please click any photo for greater size and clarity)

Lucius Fontenot, a founder of Valcour Records, says,“The costumes are similar to those of the Mardi Gras in old France. They were a way of making fun of the aristocracy, and the frilly way they dressed at court. Because [the revelers] were peasants, all the costumes were homemade out of scraps.”

Larry Miller, a retired acordian maker from Iota, agrees. “It’s the Mardi Gras of peasants,” he says, “while New Orleans has the Mardi Gras of royalty. The traditions came over at different times, and in different ships.”

Unlike the costumed Mardi Gras (when plural and pronouned “grahz,” the phrase refers to participants in the Courir), Le Capitaine and his co-Capitaines ride unmasked.

The Capitaine “typically is a strong figure of the community — a Sheriff or deputy– and his job is to keep everyone in line,” says Fontenot. “When the Mardi Gras approach the house, the Capitaine approaches the home first, and alone. When the neighbor says it’s okay for the group to approach, the Capitaine waves his flag, and the traditional Mardi Gras song is sung.”

The Capitaines not only maintain order and discipline among the Mardi Gras, wielding a mostly-symbolic whip of braided burlap as needed, they also serve as a liason between the Mardi Gras and the public. There’s no question they can be imposing figures, particularly at first sight.

(Please click any photo for greater size and clarity)

While a Mardi Gras run may seem chaotic, each Courir has its own rules: a code of behavior for participants. Meetings are held during the year, both to learn the rituals and songs and to appreciate the importance of discipline. During the Courir, runners as well as Capitaines monitor one another to ensure safety, if not total sobriety. The list of rules for the Church Point Courir is instructive. The emphases are theirs.

Cajun Mardi Gras Tradition requires  MEN ONLY on the Mardi Gras Run.
NO GLASS Containers Allowed. You will be asked to leave if caught with Glass Containers.
NO WEAPONS. You will be subject to A  Search at any time during the Run.
No Doubling on Horses.
You Must Stay on Public Roads Until Permission is Given to Go Onto Private Property.
Disobeying the Captain, Co-Captains and Law Officers will Result in being ejected from the Run. No Refunds!
Anyone under 15 years of Age must be accompanied by a Responsible Adult.
Everyone is Required to be Fully Masked [or painted face] and in Costume.
Anyone URINATING in Public will be subject to Arrest. Port-A-Lets are provided.
No PROFANITY or Indecent Exposure will be Tolerated. YOU WILL GO TO JAIL IF CAUGHT.
Anyone Seeming to be Out of Control or TOO Intoxicated will be removed from the Run and Contained.
Yes, Sir

The Capitaines also help with chicken control. As the runners collect one of the prime ingredients for their gumbo, the chickens are added to a traveling pen, recorded, and well guarded. Thievery seems unlikely, but on a day devoted to pranks, anything might be possible.

All of this is fine, of course. but the question remains: once you have costumes, chickens, Capitaines and the rest of the crew all in one place, what happens next? Wilson Savoy, a member of the Pine Leaf Boys, describes it this way:

The runners go from house to house and ask permission to enter the yard of the home owner. They dance and entertain the owners and in exchange they ask for anything to contribute to the run, usually ingredients to make a gumbo at the end of the day: rice, chickens, sausage, flour.

If a homeowner donates a chicken, tradition dictates that the chicken be alive. That’s where the fun begins. Before the chicken can become a part of the community’s gros gumbo, it has to be caught. Words can’t properly describe what happens next, so I found a little something to help.

After the chickens have been caught, and the Courir moves on to the next home, the fun isn’t over. Following along behind are the Krewes, with their music, art, beer, bead-tossing and invitations to dance. (Did I mention beer?)  One of my new favorite songs is “Eunice Mardi Gras,” by Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin’ Cajuns. Have a listen, while you enjoy the photos.

The Krewe De Bang Bang Bus (Please click any photo for greater size and clarity)
Allons Danser!
Ne need to put down a drink…
Wouldn’t you grin if the fellow on the right draped some beads around your neck? I certainly did.

For those needing a rest from their dancing or bead-collecting, artwork on the passing parade of buses and wagons offered some delightful interpretations of the day’s primary actors.

(Please click any photo for greater size and clarity)

Performance art wasn’t neglected. This live chicken (whose black friend seems to have escaped for the moment) rode quite happily atop the LSU bus. Snapping its tether at one point, it was coaxed back and re-attached, apparently unruffled.

Some of my favorite towns collaborated on this tribute to the area’s history and agricultural heritage. I’ve been to every town except Iota. Next year.

This year’s Big Chicken was white, not yellow. But he still cackled at me…

…and I cackled right back.

In time, riders and wagons supplanted masked and costumed revelers. The slower pace allowed increasing interaction between spectators and participants, as well as time to appreciate the passing horses, donkeys, and the singular-in-every-sense zeedonk.

(Please click any photo for greater size and clarity)

Occasional pauses in the parade’s forward progress also allowed time for kid-and-horse conversation. Only moments after taking this photo, I watched the little blond girl move over to offer the white horse the attention he clearly craved.

Even the smallest — and most ambivalent — got to experience the excitement of the ride.

As the last group of horses passed by and children began clearing the ditches of unclaimed beads, we settled in with our gumbo to reflect. Remarkably, there was no sense of disappointment at the parade’s end: no let-down, no sense that something had been lost.

That lack of disappointment surely witnesses to the power of the Courir as living tradition. Neither spectacle nor ritual re-enactment, neither a Cajun version of New Orleans celebrations nor a poor, rural imitation of city ways, the Courir embodies customs cherished by Acadian settlers and their descendents for centuries.

While its value as sheer entertainment can’t be denied, its greater importance lies in the opportunity it offers for affirming enduring ties of family and tradition. Parades may end, but heritage is forever.

Today, the masked and costumed riders are gone. The beads have been cleared from the roads, and chickens once again forage in peace. Music still echoes through Acadiana while gumbo pots boil, but the extravagance and excess of Mardi Gras slowly are giving way to other necessities of life.

Still, if the parties and parades of the season have gone, the beauty of the Courir remains: a flag of tradition, civility, and commitment to community that waves for us all.

Comments are welcome, always. For my friend Wendy’s account of events, and some additional photos, please click here.

98 thoughts on “The Capitaines and the Chickens

  1. It’s interesting how Mardi Gras or Carnaval as we call it in Panama, changes in different parts of the world. The costumes are so different from ours and the unusual presence of chickens and horses.

    I’m glad you included a bunch of photographs to give us a feeling of the Courir de Mardi Gras in Cajun territory.

    Everyday day we learn something new. Thank you so much for sharing.



    1. It was wonderful fun, Omar. The Twisters would have been right at home. It was a safe, family-friendly environment.

      Now that I’ve had a taste of the differences in celebrations held in New Orleans (or Galveston) and those held in these Cajun towns, I’m curious to learn if there are differences in Cajun and Creole celebrations. It took me a while to understand there are differences in their forms of music, and I suspect cultural celebrations differ, too.

      It’s hard to communicate such a vibrant experience. I didn’t want to overwhelm with photos, but it was hard to make a selection!


  2. That looked like a lot of action! So the next time you go, you need to get a chicken costume. Nothing quite like that in Iowa, although I would say the revelry of the RAGBRAI event is probably just as colorful when they come to town. (annual bike ride across Iowa) thanks for the pics! DM

    1. No chicken costumes for me, DM. Not that I’m chicken, or anything — but I’d rather hang around, visit with people, catch beads, dance, and eat gumbo.

      I’ll grant you RAGBRAI’s a tradition, but I’ll still see your RAGBRAI and raise you one Courir. Remember — I lived in Iowa and was gone from Iowa before there was a RAGBRAI!

      I do remember that Donald Kaul was involved in the beginnings of the event. If he put together a bicycle race as well as he wrote his column for the “Des Moines Register,” it would have been a good one.

      Seriously, whatever it is that gets people together to have fun and enjoy one another’s company is fine by me. Contrary to what some seem to believe, loosening up now and then is good for the soul.

  3. I enjoyed this so much, Linda. Aren’t those costumes something and the chickens are just as attractive, almost too attractive to throw in a pot. :)

    You described it so beautifully in those last paragraphs.
    “.. its greater importance lies in the opportunity it offers for affirming enduring ties of family and tradition. Parades may end, but heritage is forever.”

    I can tell you really enjoyed it.

    1. Bella, I can’t find it now, but I read about a woman who makes Courir costumes for people. Between that and references I found to meetings held during the year, it seems clear that the Cajuns take their Mardi Gras fully as seriously as the Krewes and ball-goers in New Orleans. You don’t start preparing a week ahead of time!

      It is the heritage that’s important. It’s fascinating to me, how the trappings of Mardi Gras can fall a little flat when they’re taken out of the culture and plopped down somewhere else, like Sioux City or Denver. The external elements are there, but the heart isn’t.

      You’ll love this. Our host, Richard (the one at the gumbo pot up above) told me how he asphalted their driveway so the kids would have a place to use their bicycles, scooters and such. The whole time we were there, I watched the kids run free, just as we used to. Not wild — just free. It was one of the best parts of the day.

      And yes, ma’am. I certainly did enjoy it. Next year, I suspect the visit’s going to be extended just a bit.

  4. “Pack your bags. We’ve got chickens waiting.” I would have dropped a carton of fresh eggs and dashed out the door!

    I’m home now, and the images did not load. :( That’s ok. The story did, and I look forward to when I’m back in town so that I can enjoy it again, complete with images.


    1. Truly, I pulled a “Z” with this post. I rarely put in so many photos, but I thought about how much I enjoy your multi-photo posts, and went for it. I did have to leave out some gems, but there ought to be enough for you to enjoy — including some beautiful horses.

      Somewhere between Lake Charles and Lafayette, I remembered one of my favorite lines from Woody Allen: “The longest journeys begin with a single step. The best journeys begin with a moment of temporary insanity.” I’d say that’s just been proven right in my own life: again.


    1. Speaking of music, Sue, you might be interested in looking at this new release from Valcour Records. I’ve ordered already.

      My next Louisiana trip is going to be to the Saturday morning jam at the Savoy Music Center in Eunice. It will be a different kind of experience, but I expect it to be just as satisfying.

      Now, take this Creole Stomp as lagniappe!

  5. The pictures and words seemed to indicate a rather wild celebration. I’m not one for celebrations but then if you are born “into” it I suppose that gives the traditional celebration as an excited and expected event that is filled with laughter, food, etc.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed yourself and posted all the photos so that your readers can see what another kind of Mardi Gras is all about.

    1. I wouldn’t call it so much wild, Yvonne, as exuberant. I’m not fond of large crowds, don’t enjoy drunks, and have little time at all for drunken crowds — but there was none of that.

      In fact, I spent an entire day without seeing any trash or litter, without hearing any nasty language, and without feeling like I had to lock my car. All three are part of any trip to my local shopping mall.

      It may sound strange, but it reminded me of the company picnics we used to have when Dad worked at Maytag and I was in school. Everyone knew everyone else, watched out for the ones that were known to drink too much, and were kind to the entertainment acts that were truly bad. There’s something to be said for events that are nice, and Mardi Gras in Church Point was nice.

      I did enjoy it, partly because I felt very much at home. That was nice, too.

  6. So glad you posted a follow up to your previous post! Thank you. It looks like great fun. Your post last week prompted me to write a Mardi Gras post, so when you’ve caught up, go look at Enter Ash Wednesday for a completely different take on the times. So glad you had fun. Yea!!

    1. The more Mardi Gras posts, the merrier, Janet. I did notice your post, and even clicked into it, but I’ve just not been able to get around to commenting as quickly as I’d hoped. Truly, I didn’t expect going through the photos, processing them and posting to take as long as it did. More lessons learned — and more appreciation gained for the real photographers in our world.

      Proof that I had not just a fun time, but a good time? The residual happiness level still is pretty high.

    1. Charles,the whole of Cajun culture seems to be poised for a renaissance. How widespread it is I don’t know, but I heard tales over the weekend of young people talking classes in Cajun French. The musicians, of course, are reinterpreting the works of some real masters for a new generation, and as for the Courir, the institution of Enfants Courirs (Children’s Runs) are a way to engage the kids early.

      Interesting, too, that being allowed to participate in the men’s Courir still is a rite of passage. You can see it in the photo of the Capitaine with the young man, just below the list of rules for the Runners.

      What’s most interesting is that, despite the rules, the traditions, and the requirements, the events aren’t at all closed. It was clear that everyone was welcome: if not to ride, then to party and socialize. Since they were willing to accept a Texan, I’ll bet they even would welcome someone from New Jersey!

  7. I always learn so much from you. I’m so glad you included lots of pictures. We got a real sense of the festivities. I really expected to see you out there shaking your feathers right along with the rest. I never knew there was a royal Mardi Gras and a peasant one. So interesting. Thanks Linda. Loved all the pictures.

    1. What’s even more interesting, Kayti, is that I had to leave out so much. There’s another traditional song that could have been explored. There are women’s Courirs now, too. Some towns have just a couple of wagons and fifty runners, while another town, Eunice, has been credited with anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000.

      And all of these towns have festivals that accompany the runs. In Church Point and Iota, for example, while the riders are out collecting chickens and such, the whole town is dancing, eating, and generally having a rip-roaring good time on the city streets. In short, someone with a little time and a great deal of endurance could spent from Saturday morning until Tuesday night roaming from one town to another, taking in concerts and working off gumbo by dancing.

      Sound like a plan?

  8. You are right, this is very similar to the Rhenish Karneval. No chickens, but many of the traditions are similar even if they have different ingredients. The best thing is that the atmosphere is one of goodwill to all and that enjoyment and creativity are of the greatest importance.

    Thanks for showing me a few pictures of yourself. You look not only very handsome but also very happy.

    1. The two festivals have to be related, Friko. See the “hen-ish” hidden in R-henish? What more proof could we ask!?

      I thought of you when I was researching the various Mardi Gras songs. I finally set aside the one associated with Iota-Tee Mamou, because their tradition differs somewhat, and I wanted to focus on Church Point. But you’ll be interested in this snippet from the song:

      “Les Mardi Gras ayoù viens-tu?
      On vient de l’Angleterre, O mon cher,
      O mon cher,
      On vient de l’Angleterre,

      (“The Mardi Gras, where do you come from?
      We come from England. Oh, my dear.
      Oh, my dear.
      We come from England.”)

      I’m not quite sure how England got in there, since all my sources say the song is rooted in traditional French begging songs, but there you are. Welcome to the Mardi Gras!

      I’m not generally given to posting photos of myself, but when I saw the pair that my friend had taken, I thought I’d add them to the mix. As it happens, when she sent the second one along, she simply put “happy!” in the subject line of the email. I’d say that pretty well sums it up.

  9. Thank you for sharing this fun — I am way out west following my mom in her RV. — first time back on the road in three years — mom had been sick so I was tagged as the one to hang near her this year. There was nothing of the Fat Tuesday fun out here. I missed it and so enjoyed hearing the sounds and the photos of your blog. –redagainPatti

    1. Patti! What a delight to have you stop by. And what good news — that your Mom is on the road again. I still remember that trip where you ran into some trouble with the RV and more or less limped home. I hope this trip’s uneventful and completely enjoyable. Say hi to your Mom for me.

      I’m glad I could bring you a little Mardi Gras spirit. Even though it was gray, foggy and damp, it was a great time — and so colorful that the lack of sunny skies didn’t make a bit of difference.

      Are you going to make the redwoods again? Are you posting on your blog at all? I’ll make a point to stop by and check. Safe travels!


  10. Of course there are rules, and law enforcement to ride herd on the Mardi Gras (plural). With alcohol on board, things can quickly get out of hand and take a turn for the ugly. In these small rural communities where everyone knows everyone, and human nature can get people crossways with each other, it’s just common sense. As we all know, the combination of men and beer can easily lead to “hold my beer” moments when stupid stuff happens and people can get hurt. The fact that there are children involved only increases the need to make sure the fun stays harmless and clean. I have a feeling that all that chicken chasing helps to burn off some of the alcohol. I also have a feeling that the horses object to things getting too stupid and can put their own damper on things!

    It’s all about having fun and building community spirit. Getting to dress up in funny costumes, dancing, singing, drinking beer and eating gumbo sounds like the recipe for a grand old time. It’s always good to have a chance to let your hair down, sing, dance and carry on, especially after a hard winter. Did you learn your lyrics before you went?

    I have to say, I feel sorry for the poor terrorized chickens. Although their fated date with the pot is inevitable, and they’ll end up there sooner or later anyway, I can’t deny a (brief) spasm of vegetarianism.

    Still, with buses with beer coolers and XXXL sized pots full of gumbo, a good time was bound to be had by all (except the chickens)(and maybe the horses).

    Oh, and where did they come up with a zedonk?

    1. Isn’t that zedonk something, WOL? It was a bit of a show-stopper. I heard someone asking questions of the rider, but by that time they were on the move again, and something else had caught my attention. That was the way it was all day long. The next time I try to photograph a parade, I’m going to know how to use the camera features meant for sports photographers, so I can keep up with the action.

      As for the chickens, not all landed in the cage or the stewpot. There was at least one that got away while we were watching. It headed up into the trees, with a couple of costumed kids in hot pursuit. Our hosts told us there’s another one out there. It’s been living in their woods since making its own escape a couple of years ago.

      I did ask a couple of people about chicken-torture, but it seems that the pursuit’s generally short-lived, and no chickens are harmed in the process. When the chickens escaped their bustop perch, they were back in custody in short order, and didn’t seem any worse for wear. There are some crack chicken-chasers around there. I watched grandma try it once, and she wasn’t nearly so adept.

      I can understand the lyrics to the songs, now, but still can’t sing along. That French goes by pretty quickly! Apparently the real “group sing” involves a different Courir and a different song. But I’ve got a year to figure that out.

      1. My mother’s mother, nee Helmecke, would wade into the flock in the chicken yard, select her victim, grab it by the head and pop it out of this world before it knew what hit it. What an eye opener for a child of 7 or 8 who had hitherto not connected the birds in the yard with the fried chicken on the table which, as everyone knows, comes from grocery stores in neat plastic packaging. She was a rotund woman of consequence in her print dress cut from flour sacking and her black high-topped Keds.

        1. Think of all the kids today who haven’t a clue — not just about chickens, but about milk, carrots, eggs, butter. When I was in grade school, part of our educational curriculum included trips to a dairy farm, churning butter, visiting a meat locker, and so on.

          And I still remember my first trip to a grocery store after I got back from Liberia. I thought, “Good grief. Everything in this country is covered in plastic.” Of course, the market butcher who used a cleaver to whack up a beef carcass into chunks regardless of “cut” was an eye opener for me, too.

          In some circles, flour sacking and Keds still are considered au courant. I like those circles.

    1. It was a comfortable day, Terry, filled with friendly people, unique customs, and good music and food. It was very much a live-and-let-live kind of day, too. If I’d wanted a beer, I knew where to find them. I didn’t have a single drink, because I was driving, but nobody cared. Imagine — going to Mardi Gras, staying sober, and having the best time ever.

      And then there’s this. I heard that the casinos have wanted to move in on the action, presumably to make a buck and gain some advertising. They weren’t there. I didn’t realize until days later that I hadn’t seen a single bit of corporate advertising. That alone is reason enough to go back and support the tradition!

  11. Thanks for this! What fun to join you in this celebration and exploration! I loved your reflections at the end, especially the bit about the ending not being a let down. We had the same experience at the end of our pilgrimage in Norway. It was a completion, a fulfillment, and I think that is related to the ritual character of both.

    They are not just entertainment (although that too is important), but they point to big things that give the little things value. And so a chicken the yard the next day is seen differently because of the courir.

    Marvelous material to think on here. Don’t forget to tweet – if you haven’t!

    1. Allen, I think you’ve hit on something. The ending isn’t a let-down precisely because it isn’t really an ending. The day itself is embedded into a larger tradition, one that brings around the day again…and again, and again.

      I can’t help but think of Christmas. One of the biggest complaints I hear every year sounds like this: “All this preparation, for just one day.” And then there are those who complain about the commercialization. Well, perhaps the frenetic preparations and the consumerism are a result of unmooring the day from its larger tradition. When Christmas has Advent on one side and the twelve days on the other, it shines a little more brightly, like a well-set gem.

      I did remember to tweet! Funny that you should remember that. Maybe I’ll tweet again, just for good measure!

  12. Awwww, I’m not one for the giant crowds of Mardi Gras, but such fun! Those costumes and dancing… Pure joy! My mother used to ride her horses with me in her belly… Then as a toddler and young’un, just like one of your pictures. So wonderful!

    1. When we finally left the home where we’d spent the day, we discovered where the real crowds were — in town, waiting for the parade. Still, as we tried (unsuccessfully) to find a way through town (we had to go around), it was clear that the down-home feel prevailed there, too. It was crowded, but it wasn’t New Orleans. At least, I don’t think it was. Next year, I’ll find out more about that.

      No wonder you love the outdoors as you do. You started really, really early!

      1. Hee, everything you say parallels what my guy says about Nola – so wonderful! We’re debating going for my big day, St Patty. Apparently it’s great fun there , just a bit less hectic.

  13. What a great fun there… As always, so interesting ro read you and yes, I haven’t known this festival before. I loved all the photographs, Thank you dear Linda, love, nia

    1. Words are great, Nia, but sometimes they seem to just beg for photos. I still remember those beautiful photos of the wedding preparations you shared with us.

      The Courir de Mardi Gras was great fun, and I’m glad you enjoyed seeing it!


  14. What a glorious read! We have nothing like this, so I doubt it came from England! We do roll cheeses down hills, and toss pancakes whilst racing, but I know of no horse-riding-chicken-chasers!

    The nearest event would be our Nottinghill Carnival – costumes, music, dancing, food and fun. I watch it on the TV, but have never experienced the atmosphere. But unlike your small town community where everyone is known, in Nottinghill there are tens of thousands of strangers.

    I am so glad you enjoyed it, and the photo your friend took of you shows just how much fun you were having!

    1. You’d be surprised at the linkage, Sandi. I started reading last night, and discovered that begging rituals (which the Courir actually is) are widespread. Other examples are La Guillonée, Christmas caroling, mumming, Halloween, and Hogmanay. You’ve written about that — I remember the first-footing. And look at this:

      “Many of these customs continue today, especially in the older communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. On the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, the young men and boys form themselves into opposing bands; the leader of each wears a sheep skin, while another member carries a sack. The bands move through the village from house to house reciting a Gaelic rhyme. The boys are given bannocks (fruit buns) for their sack before moving on to the next house.”

      So there we are.

      When I got to the last verse of the song I mentioned to Friko, I was surprised by these lyrics:

      “Greetings to the master and mistress
      We ask you for a little something.
      We ask you for your oldest daughter.
      We’ll make her do a nice thing.
      We’ll make her warm her feet (by dancing).”

      I thought immediately of “Here We Come A-Wassailing”:

      We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door;
      But we are neighbours’ children whom you have seen before..

      We have a little purse made of ratching leather skin;
      We want a little sixpence to line it well within…

      God bless the master of this house, likewise the mistress, too;
      And all the little children that round the table.”.

      Thank goodness I’ve got a whole year to figure out the relationship!

      Nottinghill sounds like New Orleans.I think it was Lucius Fontenot who made the point that, the larger someting like Mardi Gras becomes, the more diluted the tradition. It’s not just that celebrations in New Orleans, Galveston, and Mobile are bigger, they’re truly different in some (many?) respects.

      That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s a reality that needs to be taken into account when choosing where to celebrate. The “Yachty Gras” that takes place here has as much to do with Mardi Gras as McDonald’s chicken nuggets have to do with hen and sausage gumbo.

  15. Wow, this took me back to our Louisiana days! While we never experienced a Cajun Mardi Gras celebration, we did experience some of their other traditions, such as crawfish boils, and the dancing. There’s always dancing. And there’s always a reason for a party.

    You are so right about people celebrating Mardi Gras out of context of the region. Yes, it’s still a party, but the heritage isn’t there.

    Splendid post, Linda! I enjoyed it immensely.

    1. Susan, I just noticed yesterday that the big billboard’s gone up for our area’s annual crawfish festival. I’ve never been to any of the big ones in Lousiana, like Breaux Bridge, but it was interesting to see the area around Eunice and Church Point filled with crawfish farms.It won’t be long before their trucks start rolling in from if they haven’t already.

      As for always a reason for a party — here’s one of my favorite videos of what I call essence of party. He’s even got his MawMaw’s spoons!

      1. I have to say that I’m not a big fan of the whole crawfish. Every time I would pinch those darned heads the yucky inside stuff would squirt all over my glasses! Haha! And there’s just too much work to get that little itty-bitty piece of meat. I do love crawfish etoufee, though. :)

    1. On the other hand, Gallivanta, there may be some truth to the rumor that a chicken was heard to say, “I regret that I have but one life to give for that gumbo pot…”

      As for the beads, I think for the time being they’ll stay in one of my antique bowls atop a little cabinet. Wouldn’t you want these around as a cheerful reminder of such a good time?

  16. It looked like everyone was having a great and colorful time. You are included. We get around to the various communities and notice there are parties, celebrations, festivals, all kinds of names for ways to get the neighbors and families together. Some are quite large and require a lot of logistics and planning. Others are events that just seem to come together. Everyone seems to know what is needed. They show up and there is a party.

    My folks small town has Sodbuster Days.

    1. Jim, you’ve reminded me of one of our neighborhood “festivals” from my high school years.

      It was about as small as you could get, involving maybe a dozen families, and wasn’t precisely family-friendly. Well, at least the kids couldn’t drink. But every year, on the first perfect weekend of summer, my dad and his friends would pull out lawn chairs, put them on someone’s driveway, and proceed to hold the annual Martooni Festival. Whether they drank actual martinis, I can’t say. But they loved the name, and the conviviality.

      The women usually found themselves a patio or screened-in porch, and had their version. I always thought Mom was drinking grapefruit juice. She was — with the addition of some vodka and salt. Remember the song, “Let Me Be Your Salty Dog”? That was her drink of choice.

      As for sodbusters, some of our fringe relatives moved up to Canada and tried that for a while. There’s been disagreement over the years about who’s who in the photo, but what’s certain is that our kin, at least, decided to bust sod a little farther south and moved back home.

      1. Great picture of the machine. They were monsters or dinosaurs.

        When I was very little, our family of 9 kids, my uncle and their 4, a cousin down the road with 5 or 6, would gather for the 4th of July. Firecrackers and roman candles were going off all over. After dark, there were aerial rockets. It is a wonder someone didn’t lose an eye or worse.

        I’m sure some adult drinking was going on. I was too young to be aware and too busy lighting the lady finger firecrackers. They could go off in your hand and not hurt. Sting yes.

        1. We had lady fingers, too — and sparklers, which were my favorite. I always liked the metal spinner sparklers, too. I went looking and found one on ebay that works — but I’ll not be paying $30 for that bit of nostalgic fun!

  17. I was so fascinated by this that I read it twice! The photos are spectacular and so was the music — smart to put them together like that! It really gave me the sense of being there!

    But the whole thing was fascinating — the rituals, the clothing, the music, festivities and food — definitely not your mother’s Mardi Gras — this is so much better. I’ve never been big on the typical NOLA events — they seemed a little seedy. This just seems fascinating and fun!

    As always, your background really makes a huge difference in appreciating it all. I knew none of this. I’m sure it would still be a blast and a half without knowing a bit about the history — but it’s all the richer because of it.

    One of the things I loved about this was the “rules” that you listed. I think that’s one of the things that makes this the kind of gig that is totally fun for everyone because they will feel safe and can just enjoy. And I also loved that you showed YOU, too! It was fun to see you having fun (and I loved your high-color clothes — all my favorite colors; I would have worn exactly the same thing!).

    One of the best reads I’ve enjoyed lately. Thanks!

    1. What amazes me, Jeanie, is how much more I’ve learned about the traditions since coming home. I already had set aside another Courir for its own post next year — now I have a related one in the files for the New Year.

      As for color — check out my beads. Aren’t they pretty? When I was in grade school, my dad took me to a carnival, and one of my souvenirs was an old-fashioned strand of green glass beads. These look much the same — simple, shiny, colorful, and not cluttered up with all the crap they hang off Mardi Gras necklaces these days. They’re the Coco Chanel of beads, instead of Lady Gaga.

      I love the rules. And I must say, none of the runners seemed to be having any less fun because of them. I mean — when you can chase chickens, drink beer on horseback and watch guys dressed in clown suits dive into ditches full of water, what’s not to like?

      As for those high-color clothes — those were purely accidental. I took three tops and jackets: one set for warm, one set for cool, and one set for really cold. I ended up wearing a sweater for warm and a jacket for cool, and that’s how that combination evolved.

      I’ve been thinking about giving Shutterfly a try. Maybe those beads would be a worthy subject.

  18. I’d say you had a wonderful time! You even made movies! I never paid attention to the details about the costumes and I really enjoyed learning some of the background.

    The western/cowboy gear tells me this area has ranching? Cattle? Beautiful horses (thanks for those shots!). And, obviously, skilled riders.

    I agree that the point of the event was family and friends. They know how to have a good time down there. Chicken-throwing aside, a good time for all! And you look like you could not be happier!

    1. I really don’t know much about Louisiana agriculture, other than that their primary crops are sugar cane, rice, soybeans, and cotton. But yes: there’s been cattle ranching in the state since early settlement, and the heart of it seems to be around the Mamou Prairie and towns like Opelousas. An article I read said that Vermilion, Cameron, and St. Landry parishes have cattle operations, and I remember seeing signs for St. Landry Parish while I was driving around.

      The horses were varied, and beautiful. I laughed when I got home and looked at my photos. I think I had more of the horses than of the costumes, and many of them didn’t get into the post. Here’s another with a western flavor, and one of a team pulling a wagon. Church Point has a buggy festival every year, too — that ought to be just as interesting.

      It was a great time. It occurred to me that despite having business on your mind, you ought to check to see if any festivals are happening during your upcoming trip. You can tell a lot about a community by the way it has fun.

      1. Thanks for the extra photos. I knew there had to be cattle around there somewhere…I usually do check for festivals and events, but rarely does my schedule match up. Farmers Markets are nice, too.

  19. You’ve captured the traditions spectacularly, Linda! Enjoyed reliving this lively day through your post. I guess it might be Tee-Mamou in Iota next year for you? I already have 3 girlfriends signed on to go with me to Church Point next year, but I really think Jeremiah would enjoy this tremendously.

    1. Wendy, I’ve always been a both/and sort sort of girl, rather than either/or. Next year, I can imagine a Saturday-Tuesday trip. I enjoyed Church Point so much I want to go back, but I’m also interested in seeing what some of the other towns have to offer.

      You’re exactly right that Jeremiah would love the day. There’s no question about that. Whether I can persuade anyone here to go with me seems an open question, but if you need someone to eat crawfish with you, I’ll be available!

      I found a reference to the blackface for Foamheart — it seems some of the roots actually are in Scotland! I’ll try and find it again, and bring the link by for you.

      It just tickles me to death that I found something in Louisiana you hadn’t yet experienced. It was wonderful fun!

  20. Ohhh, looks like you passed a good time! I’ve always wanted to attend this form of Mardi Gras! I attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, and had many boarders from around the area of Church Point and Mamou. I was from a quite active Mardi Gras family in Houma, so I wasn’t able to attend. Now, I have it on my bucket list. A host family was the perfect way for you to experience it. Wonderful photos to accompany your story. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Becca, this is getting more and more interesting. I found this about Grand Coteau:

      “n 1821, Mrs. Charles Smith, widow of a wealthy planter in Opelousas, donated land, a two-story building, and funds to pay for the travel expenses of two nuns from St. Charles, Missouri. The two nuns of the Religious of the Sacred Heart founded a convent and a school that became the Academy of the Sacred Heart.”

      So what? you say. Well, it just so happens that St. Charles, Missouri was founded by French-speaking Canadians. A close-by community, Sainte Genevieve, is one of the two remaining places where the French begging song related to the Mamou Courir song, still exists.

      The French version, “La Guillonée,” was once found in northern parts of Lousiana, but has disappeared. Only “Le Chanson de Mardi Gras” remains in Mamou-Iota. It took me a while to catch on to lthe difference between “La Dance de Mardi Gras” and “Le Chanson de Mardi Gras.” Fascinating stuff.

      Anyway — I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I’m especially glad you added that tidbit about Le Grand Coteau. I’ve spent nearly all of my time in Louisiana south of I-10. Clearly, there’s another world north!

  21. What a splendid, vibrant celebration, so colourful and steeped in history and culture. I loved the costumes, especially the dashing Capitaine, how handsome he looks in his blue and gold cloak.
    I found myself staring at that donkey/zebra!!!
    I must say I’m sorry for the chickens though, being a veggie I would have been trying to catch them to rescue

    1. There were a lot of people staring at that Zeedonk, snowbird. I couldn’t believe it myself. I’ve seen photos of zebras that have been crossed with horses, but I didn’t realize they also can be bred to donkeys. And this is the first time I’ve ever seen one up close and personal.

      I think my favorite photo of the entire series is the last one. All of them are great for showing events of the day, but there’s just “something” about it. It’s almost as though Le Capitaine and the girls are fading back into the fog, not to be seen again until next year.

      As for the role of the chickens — it was clear that, however freaked out they were about being chased, they were treated well. As the ones who’d been caught were plunked into the holding pen, they didn’t seem any worse for the wear, and settled down pretty quickly.
      And it was clear that the people handling them knew how to do it. I wouldn’t have had a clue.

  22. It amazes me those poor chickens didn’t die from fright, seeing a herd of masked strangers running at them! What a fascinating story, Linda, and I thank you for telling it (and the pictures, of course, because we all know stuff this surreal needs visuals, ha!)

    I’ve heard of a zedonk, but seeing one in living color is another thing entirely. For real?? Someone must have been three sheets to the wind to have determined that species needed to exist!

    LSU, of course, is one of our arch-rivals — just seeing that bus is enough to send a die-hard Rebel like me into spasms, ha! Obviously, I don’t venture across state lines unless I have to!

    You’re right, this is waaaay different from the Mardi Gras celebrations I’m familiar with!

    1. Debbie, you’re right on target when it comes to my decision to add so many photos. If Boudreaux simply had told me about all of this in the beginning, I might have believed him, but I might not have. The film he sent made it believable — if just a little improbable — so I decided plenty of photos would be good.

      I learned just tonight that the zeedonk isn’t a test-tube creation. Zebras will mate naturally with horses and donkeys: hence, the zeedonk and (of course) the zorse.

      I forgot about LSU/Ole Miss! Just for you — another photo of the LSU chickens and their keepers atop their bus. I’ll say this — when those two chickens snapped their tethers and flew, they were back in custody in a hot minute. The guys climbed back on top of the bus, smoothed the ruffled feathers, and all was well. What a day!

  23. lucky me.. i am in town and the images loaded! they’re fantastic! i am marveling at the folk art —- love it all!

    hurried, as i’m here to schedule a doc’s appt then scram home… i’m better but want to see a specialist so that this ‘allergy’ doesn’t keep happening. z


  24. You have found the mythical place – like Brigadoon in the fog. Ahhh. Sigh. So much more my speed than NOLA (we lived there a while).

    I found this statement very important. “its greater importance lies in the opportunity it offers for affirming enduring ties of family and tradition. ” So many of our traditions have been dropped or morphed by diversity or commercialized. I found your comments to Sandi about the linkages back to other celebrations intriguing – I’ve noticed tiny similarities once in a while…like memories of a song sung long ago.

    Very very cool adventure. Grounding somehow. Yes, a place to be.

    1. I don’t think mythical’s the right word, Phil, but I can’t do any better. I was trying to think of an analogy today, and found myself pondering traditional blessings of the fleet, where boats are decorated and crewed by working fishermen and their families, and the blessing’s important because they’re heading out to sea and very well might not come back. Like those blessings, the Courir isn’t a production put together for tourists or meant for commercial gain. It’s real, in a way even beloved celebrations like Dickens on the Strand just can’t be. For old-timers, the rodeo might come closer.

      So many of the traditions I loved, like Santa Lucia were grounded in family and the Swedish community. Now the family’s gone, and Swedish means Ikea to most people, it’s just not the same. Every year, I’ve intended to post about Lucia, but it comes and goes before I do. Maybe I can pull a Courir with is this year, and remember to put something together in November!

      1. Maybe Blessing of the fleet in small out of the way places. I remember Lucia crowns of candles as a little kid in small churches/homes of neighbors. That’s what “Swedish” meant then. You are right. Traditions have been lost or changed to major shopping days for mattresses or monthly holiday home decor. This Houston Rodeo thing isn’t close to the Fat stock show where ranchers looked at new breeds to improver herds or dirt clods hit you in the face as the entertainers/star galloped around the ring, then took time to shake hands with every single child hanging over the rail. The Courir is real – long may it stay undiscovered. Sigh.

        1. Well, yes. And that’s the rodeo I was thinking of: more county fair than George Strait concert. And Blessing-as-done-in-Palacios more than drinks along the Boardwalk.

          As for remaining undiscovered — there was some reality show filming at the place next to where we were. What could be better than sitting your rear end down and watching the Courir on tv, at home, with maybe some ordered-in pizza?

  25. Interesting piece, as always Linda. I wish I could have been there and witnessed the celebration. I’ve chased a few chickens and they are hard to catch. I can’t imagine what it might be like after a few beers, unless, of course, it was the chickens drinking the beer. :)

    Also fun to see the photos of you. I don’t remember you including any in the past. I like being able to apply a face to your blogs. –Curt

    1. I have a photo on my About page, but never have been inclined to post more. When Wendy emailed the photos she’d taken,though, I decided they were worth posting. If nothing else, they help to prove that all of this truly did happen!

      As for the chickens, it did cross my mind that Burning Man might be able to use something like that one riding the horse at the front of the bus. Build it 40 feet tall and put a beer in its hand, and — oh, wait. It does have a beer in its hand!

      1. And, oh wait, Burning Man does have a huge rooster mutant vehicle, with a great rooster head. :) And the only live animal I ever found hanging out at the Center Camp Cafe was a live chicken. –Curt

  26. What glorious, riotously coloured anarchy – but bounded by firm rules, no doubt a good part of the reason for the success and fun of the occasion… Don’t you look cheerful!!!

    1. I was cheerful, Anne. It was a wonderful time, with really nice people. There was music everywhere, good food, and camaraderie. I especially enjoyed the children, and their enjoyment of the day. If we had more such days in our lives, perhaps some of the problems that surround us would be eased a bit. Who knows? Maybe we even could say that the culture that celebrates together can solve problems together. I wonder.

  27. Such a wonderful trip. You have taught us so much in just one post, so much that I just had to explore online the bed and breakfasts located at and around Church Point. You had me at “Pack your bags. We’ve got chickens waiting.” Your pictures certainly capture the fun.

    I would love to visit during the time of the “courir” (or, any other time). I think Rick who graduated from high school in Northern Louisiana, my brother and sister-in-law whose son graduated from Loyola, and my mother might be game for such a trip. I will certainly tell them.

    1. It’s such a rich area, Georgette, with so much to be enjoyed — even on a weekend when there aren’t any festivals.The history, the food and the music always are available.

      In Lafayette, Vermilliionville is a nice stop. They have music at scheduled times, and dancing. The Acadian Village is interesting, too. Breaux Bridge has Café Des Amis, and if you’re there at the right time, it’s not far to Lake Martin with its rookeries — egrets, herons and spoonbills. Oh, I could go on and on. I do love the area.

      Two names to remember: Pouparts Bakery in Lafayette and Poche’s meat market in Breaux Bridge. Trust me. :-)

  28. What a WOW of a celebration – colour, gumbo, chickens, beads, dancing, horse riding, exhuberant good fun, and never getting out of hand. You had a whale of a good time too. Watching, listening and reading, I felt that i was back in the middle ages, at one of the village fairs. Great post, Linda.

    1. The Middle Ages is exactly where this is rooted, so your feeling was right, Mary. You might have noticed in the video that there are men wearing mortarboards and mitres as well as capuchons — all meant to poke just a little fun at the institutions of the day. And some of the conical headdresses apparently were meant to poke a bit of fun at the ladies, too, and the hennins that they wore.

      The last thing I expected was to end up exploring medieval fashion when I came home, but that’s the beauty of real tradition — it’s fun for the present, and a door into the past.

  29. As a staid New Englander, I have to say that all that revelry looks like loads of fun. Lots of people letting loose and enjoying themselves…including our correspondent. I am not much of a partier, but were I there, who knows?
    I am glad that you remembered and were able to attend and enjoy yourself.

    1. It was wonderful fun, Steve, and a strange combination of laid-back-ness and frivolity. You could have fixed up a chair at the end of the driveway and just watched, or taken your camera and roamed around. I’ve never been wholly comfortable taking photos of people,but there were so many people who didn’t object to having their photo taken, it was easy as pie.

      Not only that, the Sunday festivities may have had fog and clouds, but it was warm. By Monday and Tuesday, it was raining and cold, so it all worked out beautifully.

  30. Seeing the brands of beer they choose makes me smile. Way back in 1984 a friend and I drove from Mobile to New Orleans on a late-night impulse. We wanted some Dixie beer. Not long after crossing over into Louisiana we pulled into a gas station for beer. But all we saw were the usual fare–Miller, Budweiser, etc. So we asked the attendant if they had any Dixie. He responded in a Cajun accent so thick we had trouble understanding him, “Folks round here don’t like it too much.”

    We found some in New Orleans. Likely the natives laugh at the tourists who drink it.

    I really enjoyed this post. I was completely unfamiliar with these traditions. It’s good to see them surviving, albeit fueled by Bud Light. :)

    1. And now I’m smiling, remembering the runs people used to make from Iowa to Colorado in order to bring back trunksful of Coors beer. I can’t remember why it wasn’t sold in Iowa — whether it was a too-high alcohol content or just a marketing decision — but of course scarcity made it more valuable. As far as I can remember, it wasn’t any better than any other brand.

      Another memory: the worst beer I ever drank was Liberia’s Lone Star. (How’s that for coincidence?) It’s most remarkable feature was that glycerin was an ingredient. Thank goodness the Lebanese usually had Heineken in their stores.

      As for understanding Cajun dialect, it can be a challenge. When I was learning to sail, one of the hardest things I had to do was learn to understand the tug captains, many of whom were Cajun. They were nice, and patient, too. That helped.

      One thing that’s helped preserve these traditions is the communities’ refusal to allow the casinos to move in, with advertising and such If that were to happen, it wouldn’t be long until the celebrations would mimic American strip centers, and look just like what goes on a couple of miles from here at the fishing-village-turned-tourist-attraction. Even with Mardi Gras, it seems smaller is better.

    1. It was wonderful fun to attend, Otto, and just as much fun to share it with everyone. I’m not sure how much fun the chickens had, but on the other hand, maybe in the chicken world being chosen for the Courir is a great honor and much to be desired!

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