A Small Slice of Cajun Culture

Louisiana Bayou

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Travel.com

A Small Slice of Cajun Culture

By Earl Perkins | published June 1, 2014 |
Thursday Review associate editor

If you ever find yourself lost in the Louisiana Bayou and suddenly you see a sign that says Houma, you might want to take that road.

Somewhere southwest of New Orleans—kind of on the road toward Lafayette—you'll discover a place where the locals commonly compete for the title of world oyster-eating champion. The parish is named Terrebonne, which means good land, but it's actually a great land if you're looking for an authentic Cajun experience, according to the Associated Press.

Almost 15 years ago, Werlien Prosperie decided his heritage was slipping away, so he opened the Jolly Inn—the only Cajun dance hall in an area that used to be packed with them. It's a wood-walled establishment, but not in the tradition of bar fighting, chicken wire and filthy floors. Your family-friendly entertainment is a fiddle-accordion-washboard band that plays anything from the Cajun waltz to the Cajun shuffle.

"The younger children knew nothing of this, and the middle-aged people weren't enthusiastic," Prosperie said. "It's a beautiful culture, and I wanted to restore it."

When you finish dancing the night away, you might want to get out and enjoy what's left of the old Cajun way of life. You can go kayaking with alligators in Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, sleep on a houseboat in Henderson, eat tons of local seafood and finish the day off with a swamp tour.

"Go up and down the bayou and see the shrimp boats," said Prosperie. "We still live off the land here."

French-speaking Cajuns with gator-trapping skills abound, so there's no shortage of characters to show you the ropes and spin yarns about real Louisiana history. You could do worse than hunting down Ron "Black" Guidry, who runs large swamp tours (30-plus passengers) in soupy waters west of town. He'll guarantee you'll spot an alligator, then, he breaks into speaking French, before grabbing a battered acoustic guitar and serenading you with Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)."

"If someone wants the true Cajun experience, you have to go to the most out-of-the-way places you can find," he said. "I used to play music in those places. Man, they're all gone."

If you want to slow down and relax in the area's backwoods, you can hunt down David Neblig over in Point-Aux-Chenes. Neblig, 55, and his son, Alvin, 35, will be thrilled to help you fish and get lost in a marsh near the end of the Earth.

"If someone gets stressed out, they just come out here and catch a fish or two," he said. "There's a lot of work going on down here but a lot of pleasure, too. It's all good, man."

Writer’s note: I travelled to this area on vacation last year, and by some freak of nature I went to this place one night.  I don't know how a reporter for the Chicago Tribune ever found it.