Definition Of A Mask
Here is an interesting Mardi Gras mask story from Louisiana, USA. Who are the Cajuns? You will be surprised to hear that the word "Cajun" is a shortened version of Acadian. The Acadians were farmers from France who settled in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine from 1623-1750’s.
In 1755, that area was controlled by the British who demanded conversion to Protestantism and loyalty to the British crown. The citizens who resisted were seized, their land confiscated, and the Acadian Dispersal began.
Have you guessed? Yes, one of the locations was New Orleans. New Orleans was controlled by the French aristocracy…princes, dukes, and other landed gentry. They drove the new arrivals, the Acadians, into the swamps where their ancestors still live and are known as the Cajuns.
The Cajun Mardi Gras masks and traditions are very different from Mardi Gras celebrations in other places, even New Orleans!
In Cajun country, during Mardi Gras (means fat Tuesday) the men dress up in the costumes you see here and ride on horses from farm to farm gathering live chickens, rice and okra to bring back to the town hall where there will be dancing and feasting on the gumbo until lent starts at midnight.
In some towns, women have been allowed to ride since the 1970’s.
After much primary source research (interviewing people in Louisiana) discussion, the author believes the costumes are making fun of the fancy French people in New Orleans. The costumes make the princesses very ugly- even with bells on their noses and hair on their faces and dressed in rags…because the French princes and dukes in New Orleans were no longer rich!
I wondered, as many others do, if the design of the hat (capuchon) might have links to the Klu Klux Klan. I received a letter from Vaughn Glasgow, Director of the State of Louisiana’s State Museum.
Mr. Glasgow states, "It is interesting to note that the Cajuns have been using the capuchon for Mardi Gras since the sometime in the 18th century. This fact, of course, places the Cajun usage of the capuchon well before the founding of the KKK (1866)."
"Many of the traditional costumes are derivatives of the costumes worn in early rural France during the Mardi Gras celebration. The costumes directly mock the nobility, the clergy and the educated; celebrants wear miter hats, mortarboards and capuchons, which were initially designed to mock the tall pointy hats worn by noble women."
More information? Keywords for web search: Try the Cajun towns of Mamou or Opelousas or Eunice or Basile Cajun Mardi Gras, Capuchon.
Back To Unit 4 Splash Page