Heroic Cajuns! La marine Cajun

Several hundred years of colonial era French and Franco-Americans are living among the affected populations, located along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas. Our hearts go out to these flood devastated people.

Cajun Country book jacket

Cajun Country is a historic retrospective, a description about the history and traditions of the Louisiana and Gulf Coast Acadians, known as “Cajuns”. 

Of course, our hearts and sympathies extend to all those who are suffering as a result of the Hurricane Harvey’s horrific damage and the relentless aftermaths, including devastating floods.

For many, the Cajuns are helping with heroic rescue efforts.

Among the thousands of tragic stories associated with Harvey’s devastation are, also, the bravery of local people, who are among the rescuers. Particularly noteworthy is the “Cajun Navy” (La marine Cajun).

In fact, it’s probably impossible to know how many lives were saved by the “Cajun Navy” (as well as other rescuers), who helped with personal watercraft.

Obviously, human suffering was mitigated by the evacuation of hundreds (probably thousands) of people, who continue to be helped by this group of volunteers. In fact, the “Cajun Navy” has its roots in the aftermath of the 2005, hurricane Katrina devastation, when New Orleans was faced with an overwhelming weather disaster.

The Cajun Navy consists of a group of Louisiana natives, some of them flood victims themselves, who have banded together as volunteers, to create a rescue armada to help neighbors, friends, strangers and pets trapped by floods..

Cajuns are known for their independence and resilience.  After all, they are descended from hearty origins. Many of their ancestors arrived in the Gulf Coast with small waves of refugees. They were among the victims of Grand Dérangement, or the displacement of the Acadians, during the 1755 mass deportations, by the British, when they were forced out from Nova Scotia.

Just who are the “Cajuns”?

A concise history of this ethnic group was described in a succinct series about the cultures of the American South, in a volume titled “Cajun Country”, by Barry Jean Ancelet, Jay Edwards and Glen Pitre.

This cultural summary was published in 1991, by the University Press of Mississippi. It’s a historic description of the Cajuns, including the culinary and the story telling traditions of the Acadian populations in Louisiana and the people of French heritage living along the Gulf Coast.

In fact, the French history of Louisiana began in 1682, when the explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle (1643-1687) claimed the banks of the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico, in the name of King Louis XIV, of France.  French settlers who eventually settled the area were originally called “Creoles”, according to the account of the book’s authors, because the word originally meant simply “local, or home grown, not imported”.  Later, when Africans arrived, their offspring also became known as “Creole”. A century later, when the Acadians were exiled by the British, in the aftermath of 1755, they brought to the Louisiana region a “tenacious sense of ethnicity created in French Acadia (Nova Scotia)”, wrote the authors.

Historians have documented how the Acadians, who resettled southern Louisiana, between 1765 and 1785, fully intended to reestablish their broken society there. Of course, they immediately encountered the French Creoles, who had been in the colony since its founding in the 1600’s, and had also developed their unique sense of identity. In Louisiana, the Acadians eventually interacted and intermarried with their neighbors. This blending process continued and eventually produced a group called the “Cajuns” (as close as English speaking Americans could come to pronouncing “Acadians”).  Cajuns have French last names, but also they have other names like “de la Houssaye” and “du Boisblanc”.

Probably, the Cajuns have learned the value of self reliance as a result of their history of survival, during stressful times, when displacement and social upheaval impacted their well being.

In Louisiana, the New Orleans newspaper “Times Picayune” reports: “As Harvey floods rise in Texas, Cajun Navy is ‘on the way”.

“Although unofficial and organized through several online groups, the Cajun Navy is composed of grassroots volunteers who came to be known by a collective name after the Louisiana Flood of 2016 prompted hundreds of leisure boat owners to band together and perform search and rescue operations,” reported by Wilborn P. Nobles III.  Now, this band of rescue heroes has earned it’s own special identify, rooted in their brave French heritage.

Merci beaucoup à la Marine Cajun pour votre bravoure.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.