Acadians, more commonly known as Cajuns, have had an enormous impact on the culture of Louisiana. Acadians are descendants of French settlers who, in the late 16th century, settled in the northeastern region of North America. When they were forced out by the British, most of the Acadians migrated to southern Louisiana, inhabiting the mosquito-infested swamps, bayous and prairies that nobody down there wanted. They became known as Cajuns, a corruption of the word Acadian, and you can learn all about them and their fascinating way of life by visiting the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux, one of the six sites of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve.
As soon as I walked in, I was warmly greeted by one of the park rangers who run the museum. (Admission to the center and most of the programs is free, but donations are appreciated.) He suggested that I begin my journey by watching one of the instructional films offered at the Center. It was a great recommendation, because after viewing a film about the history of the Acadians, I felt I was much better equipped to appreciate the fascinating exhibits, artifacts, and demonstrations. You’ll learn all about the early Cajun people: how they worked and played, their humble clothing and furnishings, their religious and family traditions, their foot-stomping music, and their world-renowned cuisine, including a few of my all-time favorite dishes, jambalaya and gumbo. I don’t know about you, but if food and music were all they contributed to the culture of Louisiana, that would be more than enough. But, as I learned, there is so much more we can thank these people for.
If you really want to get a feel for the Cajun way of life, then plan to visit on a Monday because from 5:00 pm – 6:15 pm, you’ll get to experience a Cajun music jam. Bring along your fiddle, accordion, guitar, washboard, triangle or spoons and join in, or just hang out and enjoy the many different styles of music this region is famous for.
Guided walking tours of downtown Thibodeaux are available every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 2:00 pm. On this leisurely one-mile walk, you’ll get to explore the local architecture and cultural landscapes of rural Cajun Country. There’s also a nice gift shop at the museum, with all kinds of interesting items and souvenirs.
If you go in the spring or fall, the museum offers boat tours narrated by the rangers. You’ll float down Bayou Lafourche which, in these parts, is known as “the longest street in the world” because of the towns and homes situated along its banks.
I found it illuminating learning about our Cajun brothers and sisters at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center. And even though their way of life was incredibly challenging and hard, they not only survived but endured, and today Cajuns and their unique culture are known and beloved throughout the world.