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Dead as a doornail - the main street of Mamou, a little town in southwest Louisiana, with a population of 4,000. It's Saturday morning, just before 9. At first sight, the place looks sleepy. The stores are closed. Only the barbershop is open, as it has been every Saturday morning for the past fifty years, but there are no customers so far. You'd think it was just an ordinary Saturday morning, nothing special. But a few people know better - they know that at 9 a.m. in Mamou, Louisiana, things really get going.

Fred's Lounge has been around for fifty years. A legendary bar that opens every Saturday morning at nine o'clock sharp. Then, the band strikes up, the dancing gets started and the beer begins to flow. The sound of the accordeon gets the crowd going, even though it's early. That's just the way things are, here in Cajun Country - a slightly different kind of America. "Let the good times roll", "laisser le bon temps rouler" is the motto. The DJ who broadcasts the show live every Saturday reads the commercials in a mixture of English and French.

The Cajuns, these French-speaking Americans, are proud of their music. "Music and dancing are as much a part of Cajun life as the air we breathe," says a regular customer at Fred's Lounge. Since Fred's death, his widow Tante Sue - as everybody calls her - has been running the lounge. With obvious pleasure and success.

Tante Sue: "Cajun music - there's nothing like it. It just turns your blood to joy. And we all ... in Mamou here we're about 4,000 people and we're all like a big family. We're helping hands; we help anybody in need, it be young or old. They have a misfortune, we're there to help them. And American people usually - you don't even know your next-door neighbour. So there's a difference."

Out of Mamou, out into Cajun Country. This is the southwest of Louisiana and is one thing above all: flat. The land west of the Mississippi Delta is blessed with water, thanks to the great river. Rice-growing plays an important role. A highway on stilts. Interstate 10 wasn't built until 1973. It goes right through the inaccessible Bayous and swamps in which the Cajuns originally settled. The "wet land" follows the Cajuns until their death. The graves in the cemetary in Opelousas are elevated - the ground water is only one meter down.

Ten miles north of Lafayette, out in the country. This is where the Trahan family lives. "Real" Cajuns - you can hear that even from a distance. Twenty-year old Horace Trahan plays "the" Cajun instrument, the accordeon. Horace loves traditional Cajun music, which he learned from his idols. So it's only logical that you'll find only traditionals on his first CD. For a long time, this music was considered old- fashioned and was in danger of being completely forgotten. Horace and his parents are happy about its revival, for tradition and old values play an important role in the Trahan family.

Horace: "I think the young people now, they need to have more respect for the older people because they've been here a lot longer than we have and they haven't been sleeping all that time. You know, they know what they're talking about from experience, the older people. And I think the older Cajun people, they have a respect for older people - and that goes back to 40, 50 years ago, not everybody had a TV, you know. That was a ...? ... that was an extra, you know."

The knowledge of the older people had almost been lost for the Cajuns. Language and music are the pillars of their culture. But for a long time, Cajun was just another word for country bumpkin backwardness. Fortunately, not all the Cajuns were put off by this, but continued to pass on the old French texts and melodies from generation to generation.

Cajun music has always been for dancing. Be it a slow waltz or a quick two-step, on the weekend everyone is dancing to the sound of the Cajun bands.

Cajun life used to be strongly influenced by the extended family. Cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents - all of them sat around one table. To feed so many mouths, someone actually needed to cook full-time. But these pictures are of the past. Most large families split up in the 1950s.

The Trahans are preparing a family get-together with friends in honour of Horace's first CD release. The old tradition of eating, making music and celebrating together has not been lost in this family. Someone cooks for the whole gang - "Crawfish Étouffée", for example, a typical Cajun dish - the guests can dance and the children can sleep in the next room. That's why a party like this is called "Fais do do" - that's French baby talk for "taking a nap".

Horace's father, Helaire Trahan, is called for advice about the Étouffée. Experience is crucial, in the kitchen too.

Accordeon sounds under the Evangeline Oak. This 300-year old tree symbolizes the history of the Cajuns. According to the legend, it was under this tree that Evangeline waited year after year for her beloved husband. The couple had been separated when they were driven out of their home in Acadia, which was in Canada. When, after years of waiting, her spouse finally arrived at Bayou Teche, he was so weakened that he died in Evangeline's arms. The Cajun epic has a sad ending - Evangeline died shortly after her husband. In St. Martinsville, a monument was erected in her memory.

Bayou Teche is where French-speaking settlers landed in the middle of the 18th century, after a 10-year odysee right across North America. They were driven out of Canada by the English, out of a place called Acadia - hence the name Cajun. The Spanish, who were Catholic, like the Cajuns, gave them permission to settle here. The church in St. Martinsville became their "home church" in 1765. The Cajuns remained in the area, although it changed hands many times, as the flags on the Governor's House in St. Martinsville show.

Horace Trahan on his way to his accordeon maker. At the end of the nineteenth century, German immigrants who settled in the area helped the diatonic button accordeon gain wide popularity in Cajun music. When delivery of German Hohner accordeons became difficult in World War II, the Cajuns took matters into their own hands.

Junior Martin is one of 25 craftsmen who build south-west Louisiana's most important instrument. Horace wants to have his accordeon fitted with golden keys, for the CD festivities. Junior Martin has been in business for 35 years. Every year he makes about 100 accordeons - $1500 a piece. A lot of the work is done by hand and with great attention to detail.

With the golden keys, the accordeon plays even better. The party has begun. Everybody brings an instrument . The musicians don't need sheet music. In families like the Trahans, everybody knows the songs by heart.

Music and cuisine - these are important elements of Cajun culture. The most important ingredient in Cajun cooking is rice. Of course, the "good" rice, from Louisiana.

The Liberty Rice Mill in Kaplan. This family enterprise has been processing rice grains for four generations. From here they export throughout the world. 240 busy hands work here. This makes the rice mill the second largest employer in town. Rice has been an important economic factor in Cajun Country for 150 years.

This is Glen Ray Trahan - a rice farmer. He grows rice on 3,000 acres around Kaplan. As a sideline, he also has 1,500 head of cattle. The main customer for his rice is the Budweiser brewery, which uses it to replace the traditional hops. Of course, Glen Ray's favourite beer is Budweiser, even though it has little in common with its namesake in the Czech Republic. Glen Ray floods and waters his rice fields with the help of diesel pumps. Water from the Mississippi is distributed throughout Cajun Country by a system of canals and dams. Together with the humid climate, this creates ideal conditions for rice-growing.

Glen Ray is a rice farmer by passion. Rice has been the staple food of the Cajuns for 150 years.

Rice Farmer: "In Cajun culture, rice is very important because we have been grown up on rice. A lot of people eat rice for breakfast - rice gratin for breakfast with milk - you know, a lot of the older Cajun people. The newer Cajun people, the younger Cajun people are gettin' established and they're eatin' a lot more rice because we have it in all our soups, all our jumbolayas, our casseroles and everything. We have a real unique Cajun cuisine which is very ... very ... of course, you can tell that I like it a lot."

Rice didn't come to south-west Louisiana until about 1800, when the construction of the railway opened up the prairies. In addition to having ideal soil and water conditions for rice-growing, there was now also a means to export the "white gold". The immigrants from Acadia, in north-eastern Canada, also became familiar with other plants: sweet potatoes, okra and sugar cane. Cattle breeding was the only thing to which they brought any experience from the cold north.

Today's cowboys work with 750 horse power - out of the air. Fertilizers, pesticides and even the seedlings themselves are sprayed onto the gigantic rice fields. The satellite navigation system GPS allows them to aim very precisely.

Horace's party is by now in full swing. More and more guests are dropping in. In the kitchen, things are getting serious. Now is the time to add the most important ingredient - the crawfish. These sweetwater river crabs are the symbol of Cajun cuisine. Ninety percent of the world's crawfish come from Louisiana - and that's where most of them are eaten. Here, they are being cooked as Crawfish Étouffée.

These are the Bayous of the Atchafalaya Basin. They too get their water from the Mississippi. Orientation is difficult - the landscape changes with the water level. Most people who travel here have lived in the Basin all their lives.

The old Cajuns lived as trappers and hunters in the inaccessible swamps and the Bayous. They were a peculiar and isolated folk. The average American knew next to nothing about them and for this reason, found them uncanny - these odd people, with their incomprehensible language, this old-fashioned French. They chased otters, beavers and even alligators. A strange world.

Crawfishing. The fishermen have been out since 5 in the morning. In the next few days, the two of them have to check up to 2,000 crawfish traps. Depending on the season, a pound of crawfish will fetch between 40 cents and a dollar. On a good day, the crew can earn 700 dollars for their catch. All the fishermen work as independent operators, according to old Cajun custom. When the crawfish season is over, they catch catfish, giant frogs or alligators.

Everywhere in the swamps - the decaying wooden platforms of oil-drilling towers. A symbol of the drastic change that came to Cajun life at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1901 oil was discovered in Louisiana. One year later, there were already 76 oil companies digging in the swamps for the "black gold'. This was the end of quiet and seclusion. Thousands of strangers came into the country as engineers and workers. Streets and canals were built. And many a Cajun trapper became an oil worker. "La vie cadienne", the life of the Cajuns, changed for ever.

The Mississippi Delta, the Gulf of Mexico. In the meantime, the oil industry has gone offshore. Hundreds of platforms stand in relatively shallow waters. According to geologists, the Gulf of Mexico holds great promise for the future.

A hard job, but well paid. With the oil industry, money came into Cajun Country. Even with its transfer out into the Gulf, oil has remained a determining economic factor. For every man working on the drilling platform, ten work on land. So the oil industry doesn't have a bad conscience about fundamentally changing the life of the Cajuns. Quite the contrary:

Engineer: "Well, when you look at the Cajun lifestyle prior to the oil industry, you again saw small fishermen - or farm market. What you saw was a technology that came in, providing not only jobs, but also a greater infrastructure for things like education, social services. And again, an area for growth, then for their economy and being able to keep their lifestyle vibrant and alive."

In order for the oil industry to remain vital, that is, to keep oil bubbling up from the ocean floor, totally new paths are being explored. From this platform, they are drilling through a mighty layer of salt.

Salt layer and oil notwithstanding - the weekend is for dancing, music, family and friends.

In the kitchen, things are going into the final stages. Helaire Trahan is called upon. For a real Cajun, food has to be highly-seasoned. But which pepper and how hot - that's a kitchen secret. The seasoning is done with care - after all, there are a lot of hungry mouths to be fed and they're all supposed to like it. Dancing and singing in the kitchen can make you pretty hungry.

To make things easier for cooks like Helaire, Edmund McIlhenny invented a pepper sauce in 1868. His creation quickly spread throughout Louisiana and can today be had the world over - Tabasco. The McIlhenny family made a fortune with their hot sauce. To this day, it is produced behind these very walls.

Naturally, the company keeps the recipe secret. All they will reveal is that the pepper sauce has been produced in exactly the same way for over 100 years and that only natural products go into it. The main ingredient of Tabasco Sauce is pepper, from which it gets its sting. To time the pepper harvest just right, the Tabasco people have a little aid.

Tabasco: "This is called a Petit Baton Rouge. The little red stick is used for measuring the colour of the pepper. When the pepper becomcs this red it is time for picking. And that begins early August and all the way through the first hard frost, which should be in December."

For a few years now, southwest Louisiana has had not only hot sauce but also hot music. Zydeco is the black counterpart to the white Cajun music. Seventeen-year old Chris Ardoin is one of the new Zydeco stars.

Why are there no whites dancing in the Zydeco club? Why are there no blacks dancing to Cajun? Their music has the same roots. The answer is simple. In the South of the South, racism is alive.

Chris' father, Lawrence, is also a musician, as was his father before him. The legendary Amedee Ardoin, also belonged to this family. During one of Amedee's performances, a white girl wiped away the sweat from the black musician's brow. This was too much for some of the guests and Amedee was beaten half to death by drunken whites. Amedee died in an asylum for the insane without ever regaining consciousness. Chris is not too interested in the old stories - he wants to get onto TV and into the charts.

Mass in the parish of St. Benedict in Duson. The gospel choir livens things up in the church, but the mood is muted. In the American South, arson attacks on the churches of black congregations continue. Even in seemingly friendly Cajun Country, people are afraid. Reverend Ron Broussard explains:

Reverend Ron Broussard: "But our area still - this area still, I think, deals with the undercurrents of this slavery mentality, not slavery. Whereby I think, on the surface level, it's still quite appropriate to embrace anyone and everyone and we do that well. Underneath that, however, I think is still the mentality of a superiority kind of a complex that shows its ugly head in many ways, you know - politically, culturally, religiously."

The feast is ready - Crawfish Étouffée, a speciality, and the climax of Horace's festivities. As a Cajun expert has observed: "Food and music are integral parts of the culture, public rituals, which define the daily life of the Cajuns."

The Trahans are proud to be Cajuns. Horace has deliberately learned the old French language and especially the music, as played by the older people. In parting, he said to us, " Through TV, everything in the world is being standardized. MTV, that's boring. The only way for us to have an identity is to preserve our distinctiveness."