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Last Saturday, we attended a celebration party in South Louisiana, also know as “Cajun Country”.  For those who are  not aware, Cajuns are an ethnic group consisting of the descendents of Acadian exiles. They make up a large portion of the state of Louisiana. Cajuns trace their origin to Acadians who were French colonists who settled in Acadia, what is now Nova Scotia and the other Maritime provinces, plus parts of eastern Quebec and northern Maine in the 17th century.

But how did they get to Louisiana?

The Acadians lived on the border of land between French and British colonies and were involved in multiple conflicts between those two powers. The British conquest of Acadia finally occurred in 1710. Over the next forty-five years the Acadians refused to sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to Britain. Beginning in August 1755,  was the Great Expulsion , le Grand Dérangement,  where approximately 11,500 Acadians (three-quarters of the Acadian population in Nova Scotia) were expelled, their lands and property confiscated, and in some cases their homes burned. Thousands were transported to France, others throughout the Eastern seaboard colonies, and still others made their way to Louisiana.  Many intermarried with other ethnic groups such as Spanish, Italian, German, Native American, and French Creoles.

The majority of Cajuns reside in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, which includes 22 parishes.  One of those is the parish where we traveled, St. Martin. St. Martinville is the parish seat and is the home of a distinct connection between Acadiana  and Acadia. It is the site of the famous Evangeline Oak, made popular because of the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. The poem follows an Acadian girl named Evangeline and her search for her lost love Gabriel, set during the time of the Expulsion of the Acadians.

Tragically, the poem ends years later, Evangeline,  a nun in Philadelphia, is tending to the sick and dying and finally reunites with Gabriel whereby he dies in her arms. In 1907 , an alternate version of the story, Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline, written by Judge Felix Voorhies of Louisiana was published. In his version, the lovers,  renamed Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux, are reunited under an oak tree in St. Martinville. When Evangeline finds out her fiancé has fallen in love with another woman, she goes mad and dies. Not exactly a happy ending either.

“Near to the bank of the river, o’er shadowed by oaks, from whose branches / Garlands of Spanish moss and of mystic mistletoe flaunted”

“Gabriel truly is near thee; for not far away to the southward/ On the banks of the Teche are the towns of St. Maur and St Martin”

“Beautiful is the land, with its prairies and forests of fruit trees/ Under the feet a garden of flowers, and the bluest of heavens/ Bending above, and resting its dome on the walls of the forest/ Those who dwell there have named it the Eden of Louisiana”

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"Our opinions do not really blossom into fruition until we have expressed them to someone else.” Mark Twain

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