The Education of a Cajun Traiteuse - Faith Healer - Part I

Overcoming the Challenges of Living Beyond Natural Disasters

Instant information and around-the-clock world news being what it is -- Just simply turning on the news on any given day in 2008, will give you at least one story about a natural disaster occurring somewhere in this world. Famines, floods, hurricane, typhoons, tsunami, forest fires, earthquakes and forest fires -- all get our attention for a short while.

Then, the newest news replaces these stories -- and the people living these disasters are sadly, often all but forgotten. Fast forward a few months or couple of years later, the general public hardly remembers the event. However, the one's whose lives were directly affected, may never forget or get over their losses. Indirectly, overcoming the challenges of living beyond natural disasters, can affect generations that haven't even been born yet.

Lately, it seems that there has been so many natural disaters, one right after another. Hurricane Katrina, wildfires in California, the earthquakes in China, civil wars all over the world, and starving children. It's no wonder that two new buzz phrases have become popular -- "Compassion Fatigue" and "Donation Fatigue". Sometimes, it's hard not to harden your heart or be numb to the realities of this world.

Far too often, we see the commercials, read the news reports, get asked one too many times to donate our hard earned cash, at a time when we struggle to take care of our own. Yet, the stories of children buried beneath broken concrete, the gruesome slide shows, the horrifying true stories -- tug at the heart. All hands reaching out with the same request for donations making it s hard not to be tired. It's easy not to "stand in the square of compassion."

Compassion is part of the education of becoming a Cajun traiteuse, so before I tell you the true story about my education as a Cajun faith healer -- step into a student experiment that I found interesting below and try it on for size:

Standing in the Square of Compassion - Looks a Little Lonely

Cajun Traiteuse - Painting by artist - George Rodrigue

Artist: George Rodrigue - Cajun Traiteuse
Artist: George Rodrigue - Cajun Traiteuse | Source

My Education as a Healer

In a single moment in time, your life and the lives of your family members, can dramatically change. This was one of the primary lessons I learned in my education as a Cajun traiteuse. Hardships and disasters -- they've always been a part of the heart in the Cajun soul. Our people suffered far more than most people realize and the true story is seldom told.

Now, my becoming a Cajun faith healer was greatly influenced by two things:

  1. The long term effects of three natural disasters, that over came my Cajun family in the early 1900s; and
  2. Being the great-granddaughter of a Cajun traiteur.

Traditionally, I came by the second influence naturally. The rituals and teaching of a Cajun faith healer are passed down to the opposite gender. My great-grandfather had to pass it down to a female. Originally, I wasn't the chosen one, my mother was (his favorite grandchild). She, being a strong- willed child, wanted no part of old time lessons. Therefore, I came to this via default, mostly because I was sent to my great grandparents during school vacations. These two were more than elderly, indeed, Emile died just a few months short of being one-hundred. Therefore, the things that I learned were not typical of a child of the 1950s or 1960s.

In case you aren't familiar with this cultural practice, the traiteur or traiteuse (female) must be asked to "cure" someone. Normally, the healer won't offer help unless the problem is so severe, that they can't ignore the patient. They never ask for payment, and many refuse to accept gifts in exchange for their services.

Being a treateur is a very lonely and individual endeavor. The Cajun healer has to be able to sense or feel what is wrong with a person. You either are one in your heart or you aren't. You can learn everything there is about the folk remedies, and be useful, but not a Cajun healer.

You have to put every ounce of your energy onto your patient. You have to have great faith in God, as you heal no one, only God can heal. This is where it gets complicated, because all of the folk remedies you've learned from your mentor, also come into play.

Additionally, traditional medicine practiced by real physicians, is also included in the mix. It's a complicated Cajun Catholic thing, that's difficult to explain in English. However, I think if you read all parts of this series, you'll come to understand what I have no words for.

I am the great granddaughter of one Cajun traiteur (faith healer), Emile Evariste Navarre. He had a tremendous influence in my cultural and natural education, even though he died when I was thirteen years old. As a child, he often filled my head full of traditional Cajun and native American "cures." He was grooming me for taking over his clients someday.

This was interesting considering he had moved thousands of miles from any bayou and his patients were either Hispanic or Navajo workers on the ranch.

To the Hispanic workers, he was referred to as a "Curandero" in hushed whispers. Among the Navajo, the local native healers would often consult him and trade healing secrets, or ask him to accompany them.

Always after admonishing me, that it was our prayers that contained the real powers or cures, he would tell me over and over,

"Prayers are the whispers in God's busy ears. It is He and He alone who can heal all that ails man."

I loved him, but as a child, a lot of his teachings were very hard to understand. Always a skeptical student, certain folk remedies didn't live up to my standards -- especially ones, like burying a potato to cure a wart. Nor, was I fond of being made to wear rhubard root necklaces. Likewise, collecting spider webs to make a poltice for wounds, wasn't anything a little girl necessarily wanted to do either. LOL

Sometimes, it's not easy being Cajun. My gron-grandpere was part of a dying breed, even back in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in 1863, he was born in a time before hurricanes had names. He was born in a time before there were any true warnings of an impending hurricane (unless you counted the ones provided by mother nature). He was born in a time when people tied themselves and their loved ones to trees to ride out the storm. He was born in a time when there were no safe shelters.

Lastly, he was born in a time when if a natural diaster did occur, there was no one, especially your government to rescue you. No one to help you start over, unless you were lucky enough to have compassionate extended family, in a financial position to help.

His greatest teaching was about the consequences of how a person handles any disaster, and how the decisions you make in times of trouble can change the lives of not only your immediate family in the here and now -- but for generations to come.

You are about to hear the true story of one Cajun faith healer and his family as they assimilated into American culture. Their losses and their gains were the foundation of my education as a traiteuse. I'm telling it in the manner that Emile taught me, in English sprinkled with Cadien -- for that was his speech pattern. I'm telling it in story form, for oral history is how he taught our Acadian, Native American, and Cajun history. I'm telling you this, because it applies to our world today now more than ever.

All Cajun healers have a specialty. Mine, is sharing what I know to let others help themselves. It's really all I have to give. It is the secret ingredient of my powers.

Emile Evariste Navarre & Hirma Mary Robichaux

75th Wedding Anniversary of Emile and Hirma Navarre
75th Wedding Anniversary of Emile and Hirma Navarre | Source

Surviving A World of Feux-folets -- Phoenix, Arizona - 1962

"I was born in a place the Chitimacha called TCHAKAOULA in 1863. Chacahoula is located on the Bayou LaFourche in Terrebonne Parish, L'ouisiane." - EMILE NAVARRE

 Feux-folets used to be found only in the bayou country, particularly in the swamps and cypress forests of Emile's birthplace, Chacahoula, Louisiana. Today, however, they had been summoned fifteen hundred miles to the far away state of Arizona. They had been lured from the swamps to the desert by special request of a ninety-nine-year-old, despite his blindness of more than eight years. He did not have to see them, to know that their glowering lights were busy in his room.

Since arriving at Boyds Nursing Home, Virginia sat beside him, lost in a life span of reminiscence of her childhood with him. She was overwhelmed by her awareness of the inescapable fact that he was dying. She felt guilty knowing that for more than a year, she hadn't taken the time to come to see him. This fact alone made her head hurt. Throughout her life, he had given her so much of himself. Yet, now she numbly sat, unsure she had anything left to give back to him in his last hours.

In past visits, he had always recognized his p'tite fille - granddaughters' voice instantly. However, this visit was different. His recognition of her was not immediate, nor constant. Noncle Claude had told her Emile's mind operated better some days than others. Today, was not one of those better days.

Lost

As Virginia listened to the din of his roommate's television, Emile began babbling to no one in particular. The newscaster seemed to be in agreement with her grandpere's mumbling opinions about being lost in a world of les feux-folets.

President Kennedy was once again facing the press on the still escalating Cuban crisis. It occurred to Virginia that Castro was similar to one of Emile's feux-folets. He too, appeared to be a false guiding light, leading the Cubans and perhaps the rest of the world, into a hopeless world of evil and suffering. Men such as her husband had halted in their tracks at Castro's communistic threat. They were the hysterical minority who had felt that disturbing gut feeling that the more sensible majority ignored on a more conscious level.

Was armed conflict just hours away? Virginia certainly didn't know.

"Perhaps, we live in a world of many feux-folets," she quietly mused, knowing her statement would fall on all too agreeing ears had Emile been fully conscious.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Legend of the Feux-folet

In Cajun legends, Emile's feux-folets were once very bad men who had become possessed by the Devil. Their job on earth was to find other people who could also be turned into feux-folets. They appeared as Devil lights, whose sole purpose was to tricher - trick you.

If you were traveling in Louisiana, they would appear before you as a guiding light. They looked like balls of fire drifting up from the ground. They bounced off fence posts, sometimes lingering to play with the airy arms of Spanish moss hanging in the trees. Occasionally, they would even hurtle right at you. If you followed one, you could be sure it would purposely lose you in the swamp. Then, you would never be able to get to your destination.

As a child, Virginia would sit on Emile's knees as he commanded her to look closely at his Arizona version of them. He would gently cup her head in his hands, pointing her attention to the distant lights beyond the porch.

"Ga! Ga! - Look! Look! They are starting to dance around! Ga la bas! - Look there! See how they jump up in the air, zigzager . . . . zigzager . . . . Zigzagging all over the place!"

All the time, he was bounding her in a crazy jig on his knee.

"Yes, mon chere ti chou - my dear one, the feux-folet is after us all. However, you can turn the feux-folet away if you pray, because Dieu - God is stronger than Diable - the Devil," he would sternly caution.

Remembering those warnings, Virginia smiled to herself. Emile's personal feux-folets were sure to vanish. His faith in God was as clear as the black and white picture of President Kennedy now appearing on the news. His faith was so strong, it was still the one thing that Virginia counted on.

"I just wish I could be so sure prayer would make our world's feux-folets go away," she signed as she hesitantly picked up Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Reviews said it was a good satire on the dehumanization of Western society, but she was having difficulty getting into it. To her, it appeared as disordered as everything else in 1962 did.

An incomprehensible war raged on in Vietnam. Even the so-called popular "soup can art" of the times seemed confusing to Virginia. It was beyond her grasp how anyone could consider a picture of one hundred cans of soup - art. She felt as though the world had spun out of control, just as her own life had, in small almost indefinable ways.

Twisted Mashed Potato Mambo

The First Reverie - A Twisted Dance

Over in the corner of the room, Virginia's daughter was practicing the "Mashed Potato," a variation of the popular "Twist" dance steps. Virginia wondered what Emile would think if he was conscious. In his day, everyone danced as couples. Now, one could only wonder what kind of dances were to come in the future. She put her book aside and consoled herself thinking about last night's move, Who Shot Liberty Valance?

"At least I can still go to the movies and understand the plot," she whispered to a now quiet Emile.

Holding her beloved grandpere's hand, she too drifted off. Cote a cote - side-by-side, two sleeping souls, both content with sleep laden memories, laced and embellished with dreams. Both preferring to stay in the doucement - slow Cajun two-step dance of their collective memories. In a world not of their own choosing, slumber was their only deliverance. There, they could continue a sweet enticing promenade, over the reality of doing the current popular twisted to music belonging to others.

Tempe, Arizona - 1930s

Virginia's dreams led her back to the cattle ranch where she grew up. She had followed her grandfather out to the flagpole and watched him raise both flags. Today was not a holiday. For as far back as she could remember in her young life, she had watched this morning ritual. Without thinking, Virginia gave voice to her thoughts.

Virginia whined, "Pepere, I don't see why we have to raise flags in front of our gate every day. No one else has them."

Emile scolded Virginia, "It is very important for you to remember who you are and where you came from, chere ti chou. You are not just Virginia Navarre, born in Arizona. You must never forget that. Look at the bottom flag, the one Memere made.

"You are an heir to a family whose flag declares our identity and origins for the entire world to see. That flag is like the wooden and iron placards that hang over the entrances to our neighbor's lands, bearing the cattle brand of their particular ranch.

First and most important, just below our surname in the center, Memere placed an outline of the state of L'ouisiane. Then, she positioned a wolf beneath a lone tree enveloped by a starry winter night on the right-hand corner of the blue background. This is her tribute to our Huron nation ancestor, Catherine Annennontak.

Along the left side of the flag, she appliqued three silver fleurs-de-lis' on a dark blue stripe, right beside the word "Acadia." This is to remind of us of our French origins and heritage. Lastly, she embroidered the words, "J me rappelle" - I remember" at the bottom. This is a cause que - because she especially wants "you" to remember all that we have taught you."

Louis XI - Fleur d'lis in art
Louis XI - Fleur d'lis in art | Source

The Baseball and the Bat

"Above this flag, flies another proud flag, whose red, white, and blue smile upon these symbols. You must tell everyone you meet, J' suis Acadienne. J'suis Cajinne. Yo soy Acadiana. I am Acadian. I am Cajun.' Just like our two flags tell everyone what kind of people live here on this ranch."

Virginia hung her head in silence at his proud explanation. Only eight years old at the time, she couldn't picture herself telling anyone about being Cajun. To freely admit her ethnic heritage wasn't going to help her situation.

Already, the other kids in school didn't accept her. Her darker more pronounced facial features caused the teachers to study her closely and whisper. Her Anglo looking classmates teased that she belonged in the "Indian school." Even the Mexican students eyed her suspiciously. The fact that her father was both Deputy Marshall and the Truant Officer, didn't help her popularity either. Only the Navajo boys of the seasonal workers on the ranch would play with her. Virginia sighed, kicked the dirt, and sulky-like said to herself, "I know they only play with me because I own the baseball and the bat."

Virginia and Her Cousin Were Sent to the Indian School

Front of Memorial Hall at the Phoenix Indian School, located at 300 E. Indian School Road in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. Built in 1922, the hall and other buildings at the school compose the Phoenix Indian School Historic District, which is list
Front of Memorial Hall at the Phoenix Indian School, located at 300 E. Indian School Road in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. Built in 1922, the hall and other buildings at the school compose the Phoenix Indian School Historic District, which is list | Source

White Children & Indian Children Did Not Go to the Same Schools in Arizona

NOTE: In the 1930s and 1940s white Americans wanted Indians to be like them. They wanted their children to be Christians and above all, speak English.

The Arizona government put Indian children in boarding schools to learn English and American ways. If they spoke their own language, they were severely punished.

Because Virginia and her cousin, spoke Cadien French and had black hair, dark olive complexions, and brown eyes, they were removed from the white school and sent to a nearby Phoenix Indian School. Punishments for speaking their language was the same as it was for the Indian children -- kneeling on hard kernals of corn on their knees for the sin of accidentally forgetting to speaking English, when asking to go to the bathroom.

Arizona Irrigation Canal

Poston, Arizona.  Overlooking a typical Arizona irrigation canal.
Poston, Arizona. Overlooking a typical Arizona irrigation canal. | Source

Old Time Ways

Virginia knew when he sat down on the bank, that her earlier comment about the flags had him all worked up. Pepere was an old-timer. He was even more old-timey than his seventy-eight years, in the ways of his thoughts and feelings.

The hot breath of the desert heat gave testimony to his tiredness, betraying the number of sunsets that had passed during his lifetime. Sunsets were how the old man insisted on counting his days, not in years. If asked, more than twenty-eight thousand sunsets had already been given to him and him alone.

Pepere looked at Virginia thoughtfully. He believed in the old Cajun ways that his children no longer practiced. Moreover, a cause que - because of them, he still thought it was a mistake to have moved so far away from Bayou Lafouche.

Pepere and Virginia headed out to a nearby cotton field. Inspecting it was Emile's daily custom. Standing on the side of the irrigation ditch, he paused in the unrelenting sunlight. The ditch overlooked a knee-high see of white cotton bouls perched upon now rigid brown stems. Heat blanketed the desert like an unwanted heavy quilt on a hot summer night. No hope could be held for any sort of cooling breeze for the remainder of the day.

How Can You Know Where You Are Going?

"If we were back home and these were the old days, I would not have to tell you who your people are. You would know everyone. You would know that many of your people were in L'ouisiane since before 1719, and on this continent hundreds of years longer. Here in Arizona, I must give you the names of my parents, grandparents, and my great-grandparents. Here, I must explain what each of us has done in our lives. This is the only way I have of letting you know who and what you are."

"C'est dit - It is said, If you don't know who you are or where you came from, how can you know where you are going?"

Sighing he continued, "There is no reason you should already know any of this. Sadly, even your father and his brothers seem to try to forget or deny who we are, or where we came from." He shook his le poing - fist at the air. Then, seeing her puzzled expression, he rested her head against him. He stroked her hair and shaded her eyes from the ever witnessing sun with his tattered caspeau de paille - straw and palmetto frond hat. The hat, made for Emile by a dear cousin back in Louisiana, was something he treasured. Just holding it suggested to him the magnitude of all that was truly important.

"Mon chere . . . . As much as I try to remind my sons . . . . I grow afraid that they, you, your cousins, and your children's children will not be taught enough to be proud of who you are. We are in-between worlds here. We are still Cajun. We are still les recoltiers - farmers and les vachers - cowboys, but this is not where Dieu intended us to be planted. We are just like the Egyptian cotton in the field before us. It is not native to this land and neither are we."

Quick Cadien/French (Cajun) Glossary

The Facts About Our Spoken Language

The Cajun language was a spoken language, therefore no correct spellings are standard for our indigenous words. When the words are truly French, we use them.

There are differences between the words chosen in Cajun and how a French Canadian, or someone from France would chose to convey the same meaning. Many of our words were borrowed and adapted from other cutlures that lived among us.

The Cajun language is not 17th century French, as some would claim. There are three different kinds of French spoken in Louisiana -- Creole, Negre, and Cajun. Cajun is not bad French, no more than it is a dialect of foreign French.

Additionally, our language is rich with many alternate words. A mosquito can be a moustique, a cousin, or a maringouin. All three words work for us.

  • A cause que - because
  • A c't' heure - Now
  • Caspeau de paille - straw and palmetto frond hat
  • Chere ti chou - My dear one
  • Cote a Cote - side by side
  • C'est dit - It is said
  • C'est ma faute - It's my fault
  • Le coton fournit bien -the cotton grows well
  • D'apres moi - in my opinion
  • Dieu - God
  • Diable - Devil
  • Un fillette - a little girl
  • Etre broque - broke
  • Feux-folets - false guiding lights or will o' wisps
  • Fleurs d'lis - French national symbol
  • Ga la bas! - Look there!
  • Grandpere - Grandfather
  • Je me rapelle - I remember
  • J' suis Acadienne - I am Acadian (female).
  • J'suis Cajinne - I am Cajun (female).
  • Jouer a la plotte - playing baseball
  • Lache pas la patate - Literally, don't drop the potato but the expression means "don't give up"
  • Labas au diable bouille - God forsaken place
  • Le poing - fist
  • Le bon Dieu - the good Lord
  • Memere - Mother (which is how Emile referred to his wife)
  • Mouchere - Hankerchief
  • Pepere - Papa (which is what Virginia called her grandfather)
  • Prendre la mauvaise route - taken a wrong road
  • Les recoltiers - farmers
  • Ti-fer - Cajun musical instrument (triangle) often used in funerals
  • Traiteuse or Traiteur - Faith healer
  • Tricher - trick or fool
  • Tue-corps - backbreaking hard work
  • Les vachers - cowboys
  • Zigzager - zig-zagging
 

A Mere Plant

"A long time ago cotton was a small tree that thrived for two years or more. A c't'heure - Now, it has been reduced to a mere annual plant. Back in L'ouisiane, cotton is of a variety known as Sea Island Cotton' or Poulnot." Its leaves are lobed, smoother, and the flowers are yellow, instead of white. More important, its staple is longer and its seeds are free from lint after ginning. In L'ouisiane we could say, 'le coton fournit bien' - the cotton yields well.

That was because just one acre of it produces the finest quality of more than eight hundred pounds. Here in Arizona, in order for cotton to just survive, man must pump water in. There is a difference between surviving and thriving. You see, even though Arizona has the required number of six months of warm growing weather, Dieu never intended for cotton to prosper here. Here, we must plant in poor sandy soil that produces stubby low quality cotton of either Webber or Mexican Durango varieties. We're lucky if we get two hundred and fifty pounds of cotton per acre."

"Look at the color of the soil. Color is a good indication of the value of soil. A black soil is nearly always fertile. Dark-red or bright red soils are nearly always productive, although the lighter the red, the less productive. Reddish-yellow in color means a little less productive than red soil. Plain yellow color is a sign of poor land. Dark gray soils are fertile, light gray soils are generally unproductive. White soils are positively poor. The light gray soil in front of you, only produces because of irrigation and constant attention. Without that extra effort, there would be no cotton in Arizona."

Tempe, Arizona

Just Where Do We Belong?

D'apres moi - In my opinion, Cajuns can endure here in the desert or anywhere they might be forced to live, just like the cotton plant. Like the cotton which only blooms for one day, there may be a day or two when we are even happy for a short while. However, unlike the cotton, we do not flourish, not even with Dieu's help. It's hard to be Cajun, with no other Cajuns around to be Cajun with. How can we flower, when our own people are so very far way from us?"

Momentarily forgetting Virginia was by his side, tears came to Emile's eyes as he asked God the one question he'd asked countless times before, "Just where do we belong?"

Unacknowledged, but certain he was not forsaken, he whispered, "I know in my heart it is not here. I believe it is back in L'ouisiane."

Then returning his gaze to his granddaughter, he spoke once again. "I am an old old man, who already hears the far off foot-twitching fiddle and ti- fer chanky-chanking funeral music in my head. I cannot rest until I am sure you hear my words. Words . . . Mere words, when you would rather be jouer a la plotte - playing baseball." Emile spoke these words entirely in Cadien, which only underscored the sadness of his tone.

Both Emile and Virginia lapsed into silent thoughtfulness. As usual, each instinctively understood the other's musings. Sometimes the weightiest words between them were the unspoken. Virginia frowned. She hadn't meant to upset him and the thought of this distressed her. Yet, she also knew without asking that he'd already forgiven her.

Seeing her grimace, he thought, "She's just un fillette - a little girl. I have so much more I need to teach her. I can only pray Dieu will give me enough sunsets. I must try to be more patient with her."

As if by some secret unseen gesture, they simultaneously stood up and began to walk back toward the house. As they sauntered in the morning heat, Emile began to remember how it came to be that he had left the land that he loved. He began to softly cry again, muttering . . . "C'est ma faute! It is my fault! Many lifetimes of tue-corps - body killing hard work - all for nothing. Everything is gone."

Newsclip: Boll Weevil Disaster of 1903 Wipes Out Cotton Crops in Louisiana

Cotton Boll Weevil - This insect devastation swept the cottom farms of the nation for years. Later, it was admitted that it could have been prevented for less than $20,000.
Cotton Boll Weevil - This insect devastation swept the cottom farms of the nation for years. Later, it was admitted that it could have been prevented for less than $20,000. | Source

The Disasters of 1903, 1909, and 1915

Emile had never truly accepted his permanent move to this hot and arid land twenty-two years earlier. Sometimes during daydreams, but usually only late at night, he permitted himself to dwell upon the series of calamities that had befallen his family. It had all begun when he had been persuaded by his wife's brother, Henry "Bud" Robichaux, to temporarily leave Louisiana and come to Arizona.

It hadn't taken much convincing on Bud's part. First, there had been a financial disaster when a boll weevil infestation attacked his cotton in 1903. The memory of that misfortune still gave him nightmares. In them, he was chased by tortured hallucinations of the small insects, the size of houseflies, with their long curved snouts punching holes in his life - just as they had done to the cotton blossoms in order to lay their eggs.

About the time, he recovered all they had lost, the hurricane of 1909 struck. Next, the devastating hurricane of September 1915 finished him off financially. It left him so far into debt to the local bank, that he could no longer afford to rebuild.

At the time, both his brother-in-law and his oldest adult son, Claude, were already in Arizona working for the Southern Pacific Railroad. In addition to working for the railroad, Bud owned a one hundred and sixty-acre farm and an ice plant in Chandler. Too young to retire from the railroad, it happened in 1918, that Bud needed someone to oversee the farm where he raised cotton. That way he could concentrate on his other business. Etre broque - broke and with no other options to support his family, Emile gladly accepted this responsibility.

At first, Emile thought he might be able to return to Louisiana after a few years. However, by the time he had saved enough of his share of the profits, his younger sons, Leonce, Lloyd and Vernon were young adults. They no longer wanted to go home or farm, and Emile was too old to begin again without the help of the physical strength of their youth.

Emile had left Louisiana grieving for everything and everyone they'd left behind. Even back then, he suspected that following Bud to Arizona was akin to following a feux-folet. In the beginning, he alone carried the deepest foreboding that they had prendre la mauvaise route - taken a wrong road and might never return to the bayou.

At first, what he felt went far beyond words. Even before he could try to define it to his wife Irma, his suspicions were real. He knew from the start this move to Arizona would defraud them of more than they ever hoped to find. No reassurances from her or anyone else, could put to rest this present fear. His anxiety was one that in time would prove to be realistic.

Newsclips: September 29th 1915 - Louisiana Hurricane

September 29th, 1915: A violent hurricane reached New Orleans. The then, 10 foot high levee protecting the city began to be questioned as not being high enough, after the passage of this storm (Orleans Levee District).

The pressure fell to 28.01" on a ship in the New Orleans harbor. Burrwood's winds gusted to 106 m.p.h.. New Orleans saw winds as high as 98 m.p.h.. Franklin had 14.43" of rain during the storm, while New Orleans saw over 8". Over 50% of U.S. Highway 90 along the Mississippi coast was destroyed.

Storm surges up to 12 feet ran ashore the northern coast of Grand Isle. The New Canal lighthouse was heavily damaged as winds of 130 mph raged, and the pressure fell to 28.11"....which at the time set a record for the lowest pressure measured on land in the United States. Ninety-nine out of 100 buildings were destroyed in the town of Leeville.

Thirteen million dollars of damage, $5 million in New Orleans alone, were caused and 275 people died. Many of those who perished refused to leave low lying areas in advance of the storm, despite ample warning.

Elsewhere in Louisiana:

Over 300 people drowned below Montegut - 4 can be identified as white, none of the others have been identified and are assumed to be Indians. The Indian settlement was about 10 miles below Montegut, called by the Indians - Taire-bonne - (Terrebonne) is now in swamp and can only be reached by boat. This hurricane caused the survivors to move to higher ground.

Don't Give Up!

Although back in Louisiana he had seen others give up in defeat to Mother Nature and move on after the hurricanes - it was a shock to him that they too became one of the families who did so. "Lache pas la patate - Don't give up," Irma had said, when he was finally able to give voice to his fears. "We are not the only one the hurricanes ruined. Many families had less to start over. There is no reason to be embarrassed, it's never been easy for our people. As they get older, maybe our sons will grow tired of the desert and long for L'ouisiane again. If not, perhaps le bon Dieu feels Arizona is the place where we belong. At least here, we have no storms so violent they rip off the very roof over our heads. Here, there are no howling winds to blow torrents of rain day and night."

The great American west, particularly Arizona, was the promised land in the eyes and minds of Emile's sons. Yet, with this move, every dream of generations past had slipped through their hands, dissolving into the desert sand surrounding them. They were unspoken multi-generational hopes completely lost. The kind of vision of the future handed down through the subconscious, from one generation to the next. Emile now knew it was too late to change what he had done. The responsibility for the end of the dream was his to bear alone.

Thinking about the journey that left them labas au diable bouille - in this God forsaken place, he could not help but wonder what he had done to deserve this? Somehow, it had come to be that at the end of his life's journey, he had become a prisoner. A prisoner of progress, the tender ties to his sons, and the growing dependency age had placed upon him.

I'll Meet You in the Gumbo Tomorrow Night!

Domestic hens (Gallus gallus), unknown breed
Domestic hens (Gallus gallus), unknown breed | Source

A Secret Language

Seeing his tears, Virginia reached up and gave him her strongest bear hug. Knowing it would both appease him and postpone her dreaded bedtime, Virginia pleaded, "I'm sorry Pepere, tell me a story tonight about L'ouisiane before I go to bed."

Emile wiped his eyes with his mouchoir - handkerchief and took her hand. "We'll see . . . Come, we'd better get back to the house before Memere blames me for you not feeding the chickens."

On the way back to the house, Virginia skipped ahead of Emile, singing her favorite Cajun song, parts in English, parts in Cadien. The combination of the two tongues made her feel like they spoke a secret language together. Even Emile had to grin at the glee in her voice as she sang:

"The rooster and the chicken had a fight.

The chicken knocked the rooster out of sight.

The rooster told the chicken, "That's all right. . . .

I'll meet you in the gumbo tomorrow night."

In Every Faith Healer's Medicine Bag

Common Blackberry (Rubus Fruticosus), showing the ripening fruit, at an early August stage.
Common Blackberry (Rubus Fruticosus), showing the ripening fruit, at an early August stage. | Source

Cajun Traituese Secret Tip for Blackberry Remedies

One of Emile's most guarded remedies was the use of the common wild blackberry. He considered it to be a miracle drug. We used blackberry roots for treatment of diarrhea, sore throats, and open skin sores or ulcers.

Often he would make a blackberry leaf tea. It was never to be given to a pregnant woman. The prescription was to drink one cup several times a day in between meals. Memere's blackberry jam was given to children with diarrhea. He also used blackberry wine for serious cases of diarrhea accompanied by a sore throat (but I observed that it was always when he was self-medicating or trying to heal another man).

Warning!

These are simple old time folk remedies and I make no guarantee as to either their effectiveness, or their safety. Information provided is strictly for general knowledge. Consult your physician before deciding, if these remedies or any other such treatments are right for you.

Chachahoula, Louisiana

The First Recollections in the Land of the Ouendanke

Check back for Part II of this story -- where Virginia learns about her Native American heritage and the role it plays in Cajun traituese beliefs.

"To us your French family were the 'morning light people,' but others called you different names. To the Iroquois you were, 'He who makes axes.' To the Delaware you were 'The persons from the sea.' I guess this is no different, than the many names the white man had for our people. Our tribes true name is "Ouendanke," but your French family called us unknowingly, an insulting name, the "Huron."

CATHERINE ANNENNONTAK

 

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Comments 5 comments

AcadianDriftwood profile image

AcadianDriftwood 4 years ago

I found your hub through this and LOVE everything on it! Thanks for this. I am learning things about my own heritage I didn't know.

I plan on adding some stuff to my hub in the New Year


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Tynera! You can email me through hubpages.


Tynera 5 years ago

To tell the truth I actually heard this on Swamp People, but for school I'm doing a paper on Cajun healers. If and once I get this paper on the run, I would possibly like to talk to you, maybe like over email or something ( and I know I can't give my HTML in comments ;; we'll have to figure out something! ) If you want to help :) Just a few questions....tis all!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks frogyfish! I personally got a kick out of the mashed potato girls. Suspect we all inherited a lot of fortitude from Emile.


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 6 years ago from Central United States of America

Such an informative depth of thought, history and description. Cuban crisis video brought memories of when my older brother was there as a pilot. The mashed potato girls were fun. But I really perked up at the Cottonfields music. That was good after the sorrowing of Emile and his regrets. We all have something to overcome, and you did a wonderful job of accomplishing it!

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