Map of AcadianaRacoon

1. Calcasieu 2. Cameron 3. Jefferson Davis 4. Evangeline 5. Acadia 6. Vermilion 7. Avoyelles 8. St. Landry 9. Lafayette 10. Pointe Coupée 11. St. Martin 12. Iberia 13. St. Mary 14. W. Baton Rouge 15. Iberville 16. Assumption 17. Ascension 18. St. James 19. Lafourche 20. Terrebonne 21. St. John the Baptist 22. St. Charles



Acadiana is the name given to the traditional twenty-two parish Cajun homeland, which in 1971 the Louisiana state legislature officially recognized for its unique Cajun and Acadian heritage (per House Concurrent Resolution No. 496). Despite the frequent association of Cajuns with swamplands, Acadiana actually consists mainly of prairies, marshes, and wooded river (or bayou) lands.

The term Acadiana was coined by accident around 1963, when KATC-TV 3 in Lafayette, owned by the Acadian Television Corporation, received an invoice bearing a typographical error: someone had mistakenly added the letter "a" to the end of Acadian, forming Acadiana. Noting the error, the station’s manager found the new word catchy (particularly as it seemed to combine the words Acadian and Louisiana). KATC began using the new word to describe the region covered by its broadcast signal. The word soon took on a life of its own, and came to describe most of south Louisiana.

As evidence of its popularity, a survey of a recent phone directory covering forty-seven communities in south-central Acadiana shows that over two hundred fifty businesses use the word in their titles. Acadiana often is mistakenly applied only to Lafayette Parish and several neighboring parishes, usually Acadia, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Vermilion parishes, and sometimes also Evangeline and St. Mary; this eight-parish area, however, is actually the "Cajun Heartland, USA" district, which makes up only about a third of the entire Acadiana region.

Sources: Ancelet et al., Cajun Country; Dormon, People Called Cajuns; Dunning, "‘Cajun Heartland, USA’"; "Steno's Error," Acadiana [KATC newsletter].

Acadians are the ancestors of present-day Cajuns. In the seventeenth century they settled in what are today the Maritime Provinces of Canada (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), then called Acadia, or Acadie in French. Although the colony was founded in 1604, the French government neglected it until the 1630s, when the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye affirmed French control.

In July 1632 three hundred French settlers arrived in Acadia to carve out frontier homes near the community of Port Royal. Fifty-five percent of these Acadian "first families" hailed from the Centre-Ouest region of France (Poitou, Aunis, Angoumois, and Saintonge); of these, eighty-five percent came from the La Chausée area of Poitou.

These families included Doucet, Bourgeois, Boudrot (Boudreaux), Terriault (Theriot), Richard, LeBlanc, Thibodeaux, Comeau(x), Cormier, Hébert, Brault (Breaux), Granger, and Girouard.

Most of these and later Acadian settlers derived from Old World peasant stock, shared similar cultural traits, and on the frontier developed a common Acadian identity.

According to historian Carl A. Brasseaux, the Acadian pioneers were characterized by individualism, adaptability, pragmatism, industriousness, egalitarian principles, and an ability to pull together when threatened. They also possessed extended families, and distinctive language and speech patterns. The Acadians were also typically non-materialistic, seeking only economic independence and a decent standard of living through an agrarian way of life. Some ethnic diversity did exist among the Acadians, however: a few were of English, Scottish, Irish, Spanish, Basque, and even American Indian origin. Those of French origin, however, dominated the cultural landscape, and as intermarriage occurred the Acadian population quickly became homogenized. Studies indicate that between 1654 and 1755 the Acadian population grew from 300-350 colonists to about 12,000-15,000 (despite a fifty-percent child mortality rate).

By the mid-eighteenth century thousands occupied not only the Acadian peninsula, but also the Chignecto Isthmus (connecting the peninsula to the Canadian mainland), Ile St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island), Ile Royale (now Cape Breton Island), and the coastal region of present-day New Brunswick. In 1710 Acadia passed from France to England as a prize of war, and for the next forty-five years the Acadians lived in relative peace under British administrators.

In 1755, the British expelled the Acadians by force in what came to be known as Le Grand Dérangement ("the Great Deportation"). Contrary to popular belief, the British deported only about 6,050 Acadians by ship, the remainder seeking refuge in nearby territories. Regardless, some sources claim that about half the pre-expulsion Acadian population died during the expulsion. After years of wandering, about 2,600 to 3,000 Acadians (roughly 15 to 25 percent of the pre-expulsion population) sailed to Louisiana between 1765 and 1785 to begin their lives anew. On this subtropical frontier, the Acadian exiles and their descendants intermarried with other ethnic groups (mainly French, Spanish, German, and Anglo-American settlers), and in the process evolved into a new ethnic group: the Cajuns.

Other Acadian exiles found refuge in present-day Canada and abroad; those in Canada still describe themselves as Acadians. The word is used less commonly in Louisiana because of the popularity of Cajun, which generally is not considered synonymous with Acadian. In addition, it is believed that some 20,000 persons of Acadian ancestry reside in the New England states (1980 estimate), particularly Maine, which directly borders Canada’s Maritime Provinces. It is estimated that today there are between 700,000 and 1,500,000 Acadians worldwide (including Cajuns).

Sources: Ancelet et al., Cajun Country; Brasseaux, Acadian to Cajun; Brasseaux, "Scattered to the Wind"; Domengeaux, "Native-Born Acadians"; Dormon, People Called Cajuns.

© Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
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