The Lejeune Cove Mardi Gras 2014
03/04/2014 12:13PM ● Published by Curt Guillory
Mardi Gras entertaining the crowd.
Gallery: Lejeune Cove Mardi Gras 2014 [7 Images] Click any image to expand.
This is no typical late winter Saturday however. The Lejeune Cove Mardi Gras had been running the courir all day, and tonight was the celebration at its end. The traditional communal gumbo and dance which results from a day of begging, dancing, and entertaining the community for offerings.
In years past their offerings would have found their way into that huge pot of gumbo. More recently however the ingredients are donated beforehand, so that any and all money raised goes into the coffers of a local organization to do good works throughout the year for those who are less fortunate. And while that part of Le Courir de Mardi Gras may have changed, the spirit of equality, charity, and good will has not.
Making our way down the winding gravel road leading to La Pay e Bas camp ground we soon see the cars parked along both sides of the road. There is a good turn out as usual. We find a place to park close to the entrance that someone surely must have overlooked. We’ll take it thank you very much.
As soon as the car door opens, the sounds of the accordion and fiddles greet us. A smile finds its way to my face as we walk through the gravel towards the pavilion. “This is going to be a good night.” I think to myself as the music gets louder with each step. The Lafayette Rhythm Devils are playing, and it’s all traditional Cajun music. If you close your eyes and open your ears 100 years ago is right in front of you. They sound great!
Off of the gravel and onto the concrete as we wait in line to enter, saying hello and laughing with those we know. I pay our fee to enter, and we make our way to a table our friends have claimed for the evening. After a few hugs, kisses, and “hey ya’lls” a trip to the bar is in order. A couple of beers, diet cokes, and waters later I’m back at the table asking, “When’s the first run?” “Soon” is the answer.
The “run” I’m referring to is when the ones dressed in costume, known as Mardi Gras, come parading into the pavilion dancing to the beat of a familiar song which always precedes them. They will dance with the crowd, act a little crazy, sing their chant, and then leave. Well some of them will leave willingly. The remaining will have to be removed be the Capitaines. Those are the men with the burlap whips and vests on.
In the middle of all of this craziness the Mardi Gras beg for money to be added to the day’s haul. The money, usually coin, is thrown on the ground so that the beggar now has the task of crawling around on the concrete floor, among dancing feet, to find it, providing even more entertainment.
Until the time of the run, we spend our time laughing, visiting, and catching up on the recent events of small town, country life. A look over the crowd and one can see smiles a mile wide, and generations of people participating in this ancient tradition.
There are babies dressed in costume being held by their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors. There are teens walking with other teens checking their phones for messages completely unaware that they are participating in a 700 year old tradition while glancing down at a modern miracle of science in their palms. The contrast is striking, but they are here and that is good.
There are young adults in full swing, celebrating the peak of their youth. They are loud, vibrant, willing. They do not realize that they are the backbone of this whole tradition, because they are its immediate future. But they are here, and that is good.
There are the middle agers like me. Reveling in another year to celebrate. Knowing full well what they are a part of. They help to keep the peace, share stories of last year, and talk about how hard it will be to get out of bed tomorrow morning. They smile and laugh knowingly. They are here and that is good.
There are the elders. Time has left its mark on their faces as their wrinkles crease over and over again with each broad smile. Understanding full well the weight of the event that is in front of them, they tell their stories. The old people are telling stories and the young people are listening….the young people are listening. And with those bent ears and raspy voices the circle of knowledge is complete. They are here and that is good.
It doesn’t take a great deal of understanding to realize that this tradition, like many others, is always a generation away from disappearing. At this moment, I can think of nothing more tragic, but I am hopeful because they all are here and that is good.
The accordion squeals out a familiar note that brings a hush to the crowd. It’s the beginning of The Mardi Gras Jig. The run is starting and we are all stretching our necks, standing on chairs and tables to get a good look.
Here they come. The Mardi Gras colorful costumes and grotesque masks paint a line two abreast through the crowd. They reach the dance floor in front of the band and circle around and around. Whoop! Can be heard over and over again. It is what they say. The Mardi Gras do not speak as not to be recognized.
The Negresse and Negreé are well represented, and while this may seemingly be the most controversial part of a Courir de Mardi Gras, it is only so for those who either do not understand their role, or refuse to understand it. For those two people represent the highest social status of the group. It may seem like comedy, it may even seem insulting. It is neither.
A song or two for the Mardi Gras to dance, beg, and entertain and the music stops. They gather in the middle, bent on one knee. There they chant their chant and pray their prayer. It is an ode to years past in French that explains why they are here, and what they are doing. They don’t all know the words, but they should.
And with that the band leader tells all of the “good” Mardi Gras to leave the pavilion. Some leave, others don’t. They hide, climb, and seek refuge in the crowd. Now the Capitaines must drag them out.
One by one the Mardi Gras are found, grabbed, and drug out by as many as five Capitaines. They don’t go quietly or easily. They grab onto whatever, and whomever, they can to stay. Then come the whips.
Each Capitaine has a burlap whip that he carries around with him. Most of the time he swings it ceremoniously. At times like this however, each blow drives home the message that it’s time to go. The Mardi Gras howl as their backsides are struck. The crowd winces and laughs. I lean over to my friend and say, “He’ll be going after that one.” My friend laughs and nods.
Exhausted and spent the Capitaines have once again cleared the pavilion of Mardi Gras from the floor to the rafters. The dance can now resume.
It’s hard work all of this celebrating and tradition. For the Mardi Gras and the Capitaines alike the morning will bring many headaches, bruises, and sore muscles. Strong coffee and aspirin will be the order of the day.
It is at that time that I realize just how unique this is. Nowhere else in the world but Acadiana is this tradition practiced. I know just how lucky I am to participate, and I feel the responsibility to support this tradition for as long as I am able. That same responsibility is shared in some fashion with all who are here.
We are Cajuns. Allons Cajuns!! Allons Mardi Gras!!