PEOPLE OF THE BAYOU: Cajun Life in Lost America by Christopher Hallowell

PEOPLE OF THE BAYOU: Cajun Life in Lost America

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To the extent that this small book is actually about the people of the Mississippi delta, it's trifling stuff--a day or so with a nutria- and muskrat-trapping clan, an oysterman who traps muskrats off-season, an old couple who hew to the old ways (pirogues instead of outboards, etc.). And to the extent that it's specifically about Cajun folkways, it's spotty and meager (some history, a dance-gathering, a local Mardi Gras) compared with William Faulkner Rushton's The Cajuns (p. 248). But there are large and small pockets of interest here that have only incidentally to do with the vanishing remnant of Cajuns or bayoufolk (not necessarily the same thing). By way of explaining how the voracious nutria has become a threat to the continued existence of the marsh, Hallowell tells the story of the Avery Island salt dome, which once supplied the entire Confederate Army; of Avery son-in-law Edmund McIlhenny and the development of Tabasco sauce, which re-established the family fortune after the Civil War; and of his amateur-naturalist son Edward, who introduced the pesky nutrias--which in turn were saved from extinction when the price of their pelts rose in the late 1950s. In a similar retrospective vein, he detours through an early land boom--the marsh would be drained to repossess the topsoil carried down the Mississippi!--which made high-paying tenants of the trappers; and relates how, in a turnabout, they became ""showpieces of public relations"" when the oil interests took over. Also laced with irony is Hallowell's account of the current attempt to revive the French language--with native speakers--among the hapless Cajuns, ""who can only assume that being a Cajun is still bad and that the French [they speak] is not a language to be proud of."" Something of a kaleidoscope then, that never comes into focus, but best when Hallowell foregoes shirtsleeves sociology and does some straight reporting.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1979
ISBN: 1589801121
Publisher: Dutton