Whether your Louisiana vacation is a three-day weekend, a weeklong leisure adventure or free time tacked to a business trip, enjoy this crash course in Cajun culture and history so you can revel in seeing, doing, hearing and tasting those things found only in Louisiana.
Cajun is a derivative of Acadian. The Acadians were French colonists who were expelled from Nova Scotia and French Canada in the 1700s by the British. The largest concentration of fleeing Acadians found home in flat, grassy prairies, swamps, bayous and marshlands in south Louisiana inland from the Gulf of Mexico. They adapted to the topography by farming crops such as rice and sugar cane, and lived off the region’s bounty of animal crops, ranging from wild game and Gulf seafood to alligators and crawfish.
Three centuries later, the Cajuns still call the area we refer to as Cajun Country or Acadiana home. Cajun culture remains surprisingly intact, readily identifiable and easy for a traveler to find. Many residents still speak fluent French as a second language. The region’s two indigenous music genres—Cajun and zydeco—can be heard nightly at venues in larger cities such as Lafayette, Lake Charles and Houma as well as in small outlying and in-between towns. Indigenous Cajun cuisine can be tasted any time of day in and between those locales.
Here are seven opportunities to experience Cajun culture and history between the food and music experiences during your time in Louisiana.
- The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette has exhibits and artifacts focusing on the entire history and culture of Cajuns. It also offers a theater that shows films on Cajun subjects. The Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice and the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux focus on the geographic sub-regions reflected in their names. The Prairie Acadian Cultural Center offers frequent craft and cooking demonstrations, while the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center offers guided boat tours on Bayou Lafourche and open jam sessions with local musicians.
- The Bayou Terrebonne Waterlife Museum in Houma. This museum, with a charming back porch overlooking the bayou, focuses on the southernmost sub-region of Cajun Country, with special emphasis on its connection to the seafood industry.
- Acadian Village and Vermilionville in Lafayette. Both communities are reproduced Cajun colonial villages with costumed re-enactors performing daily tasks from the era.
- The Acadian Museum in Erath. This museum discusses Cajun history but delves deeper than the Louisiana story with exhibits that include the history of Acadia, a colony of New France in northeastern North America, in the early 1600s.
- The Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville. The memorial has a 30-foot-by-12-foot mural depicting the arrival of the Cajuns in Louisiana. Artist Robert Dafford is said to have used descendants of the region’s first Cajun families as models when he created the mural.
- The Louisiana State Museum. There is an exceptional exhibit on Cajun Country’s courir de Mardi Gras tradition at The Presbytere, a Louisiana State Museum property on Jackson Square in New Orleans. And another great stop for Cajun history and culture outside of the region is Capitol Park Museum in downtown Baton Rouge.
- The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu in Lake Charles. Cajun Country has a rich Mardi Gras history, and exhibits at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu in Lake Charles include one of the largest collections of Mardi Gras costumes in Louisiana.