Collections: John Laudun - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Mundane and Spectacular Events among the Cajuns and Creoles of Louisiana (2005, 2007)

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Two masked Mermentau Mardi Gras dance during a house stop in Mermentau Cove, Louisiana, 2007. Image © John Laudun.

The footage in this collection is from two particular events that occur within the lives of Cajuns and Creoles who live in rural areas of southwest Louisiana. The first event is of a Creole woman, Mrs. Enola Matthews, making soap. The second event is the 2007 running of the Mermentau Mardi Gras. Both events were documented on video as part of "Louisiana Folk Masters," a larger project documenting active folkways of the area.

While soap-making has largely tapered to a rather small pool of practitioners in the U.S.A., who practice it either to connect with the past or to reclaim their connection to such manufacturing, Mrs. Matthews did it because it is what she had always done—she was 89 years old at the time of the video documentation—and because her niece, Darlene Collins, had asked her to teach her. Like other events of this kind, the making of something becomes the venue for wider discussions of life and for telling stories that illustrate it. By the end of the soap-making process, Mrs. Matthews was drawn to telling a few folktales, the long lineage of soap-making readily allowing her to reach back to her own childhood. Both events were documented using two cameras, a Canon GL-1 that largely remained on a tripod and a smaller hand-held Sony HC-20. The intent was to provide analysts and viewers with the conventional "A and B rolls."

The "courir de Mardi Gras" (Mardi Gras run) is a rural festival form that runs parallel to the more widely known urban Mardi Gras form. The country Mardi Gras, as it is often called in Louisiana, consists of a group of participants, each "a Mardi Gras" or a "soldat" (soldier) who are led by a "capitaine" (captain) to visit houses, among other dwellings, in a particular area. Each visit is called a "stop," and at each stop participants "run" the household: singing or chanting a song, performing various ludicrous exploits (e.g., chasing a chicken), and interacting with their audience. In the process, the Mardi Gras creates community at two levels: by folding themselves in with their hosts at each house they visit and by the territory they mark off as they make their way from house to house. The Mermentau Mardi Gras marks off an area known as "the Mermentau Cove." Renewed in the early 1990s, the Mermentau Mardi Gras has established itself as a run willing to play with the very edges of the traditional form, some of which can be glimpsed in the new forms of dance they perform.

This collection is currently in production and is not yet available to the public.

Image © John Laudun

John Laudun is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Louisiana where he teaches folklore studies at both the graduate and undergraduate level. He has published widely on verbal and material folklore in such journals as Southern Folklore, Journal of Folklore Research, Midwestern Folklore, Folklore Forum, as well as African American Review. He has been a Jacob Javits Fellow and a MacArthur Scholar, and he has received grants from the Grammy Foundation, the Louisiana Board of Regents, and the University of Louisiana System. He is currently at work on a book about the invention and development of the crawfish boat, a craft capable of traveling on both land and water.

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