Louisiana Creole refers to Americans of various racial descent who are descended from the Colonial French settlers of Colonial French Louisiana. The commonly accepted definition today is for the community whose members are a mixture of mainly French, Spanish, African American, and Native-American heritage. Some may not have each ethnic heritage, and some may have additional ancestries. Contrary to popular belief, a Creole does not exclusively pertain to persons of French and African descent.
Historically, Creole was used in early generations to refer to colonists of French descent who had been born in Louisiana and were thus native to the territory, compared to new immigrants. It then meant exclusively people of European descent. It also was used for black slaves who were born in Louisiana as opposed to those born in West Africa and transported from there. French Creole became the term for those of exclusively French descent after there grew a Creole population of mixed ancestry. Today, many multiracial Creoles of partial French descent also call themselves French Creole.
People of relatively pure African-American, French or Spanish descent who have family roots in Louisiana and were raised under the Creole culture also have called themselves Creole. Today Louisiana Creole has come to mean those people of mixed ancestry. Creoles of color had formed a third class between Europeans and enslaved Africans in the colonial and antebellum years.
Cajuns were always excluded from this distinction. They lacked social status in old Louisiana and were of mostly white Acadian background, although some were mixed like Creoles. Due to this, some Cajuns might choose to refer to themselves as Creole also.
During Louisiana's first French government, the French borrowed a term which the Spanish and Portuguese used in their colonies to refer to native-born products and people of the colony. The Spanish term was criollo and the Portuguese, crioulo. The colonial term derived from the Latin 'creare', meaning to rear or create (Brasseaux).
Originally, inhabitants of New World Spanish colonies were distinguished by whether or not they had migrated to the colony (either voluntarily or involuntarily), or if they had been born and brought up or reared in the colony. The Spanish term for the latter group was criado, which later evolved into criollo. Most modern Creoles, both white, black and mixed, have familial ties to Louisiana. Since the mid-19th century, other ethnicities have contributed to this culture including, but not limited to, the Irish, Italian, and German.
A definition of Créeole from the earliest history in New Orleans (circa 1718) is "a child born in the colony as opposed to France or Spain. (see Criollo) The definition became more codified after the United States took control of the city and Louisiana in 1803. The Creoles at that time included the Spanish ruling class, who ruled from the mid-1700s until the early 1800s.
Créeole largely remained an expression of parochial and colonial government use through both the French and Spanish régimes, a period in which Europeans of French and Spanish biological backgrounds, born in the New World, as opposed to Europe, were referred to as Créole (Logsdon). Simultaneously, the people of the colony forged a new local identity; however, it is clear that everyone referred to themselves as French Créeole. Parisian French was the language of early New Orleans. Later it evolved to contain local phrases and slangs. The white French Créeoles spoke Créeole French that was a colonial French.
The black Créoles created a French, Spanish, and West African hybrid language, which is still spoken in central Louisiana today. Créole French is still spoken in New Orleans. Whites of French/Spanish mixture were referred to as French Créoles. The mixed-race or mulatto population was referred to as Mixed Créole and Créoles of color. Black slaves born in the colony were called African Créole or Black Créole.
The transfer of the French colony to the United States in 1803 under the Louisiana Purchase and the arrival of Americans from New England and the South ignited an outright cultural war. Some Americans were reportedly shocked by aspects of the cultural and linguistic climate of the newly acquired territory, and pressured the United States' first Louisiana governor, W.C.C. Claiborne to change it. He swiftly moved to make English the official language. Outraged, Louisiana Créoles in New Orleans allegedly paraded the streets and renounced the Americans' effort to transform them into Americans overnight. In addition, Louisiana Creoles thought many of the Americans were uncouth, including the Kentucky traders who had been arriving for years on flatboats. They also resisted American attempts to impose a binary culture splitting the population into black and white.
Realizing that he needed the local support to make any progress in Louisiana, Claiborne restored French as an official language of the newly acquired state. In all forms of government, public forums and in the Catholic Church, French continued to be used. Most importantly, Colonial French and Créole French remained the language of the majority of the population of the state. New Orleans was a city divided between Latin (Spanish,and French Creole,) and American populations until well into the late 19th century (Hirsch & Logsdon).
Among the eighteen governors of Louisiana between 1803-1865, six were Créole and were monolingual speakers of French: Jacques-Philippe Villèré, Pierre Augustin Charles Bourguignon Derbigny, Armand Julien Beauvais, Jacques Dupré de Terrebonne, André Bienvenue Roman, and Alexandre Mouton.
When Americans began to arrive in number in Louisiana, locals began identifying themselves overtly as Créoles to distinguish themselves from the "nouveaux-arrivés" Americans.
If the American Civil War promised rights and opportunities for the enslaved, it caused anxiety for the free persons of color. Under the French and Spanish, Louisiana was a three-tiered society, similar to that of Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, and other French and Spanish colonies. This three-tiered society allowed for the emergence of a wealthy and educated group of mixed and black Creoles. Their identity as free people of color, or Gens de couleur libres or personne de couleur libre was one they had worked diligently towards and guarded with an iron fist. By law they enjoyed most of the same rights and privileges as whites. They could and often did challenge the law in court of law and won cases against whites (Hirsch; Brasseaux; Mills; Kein etc.). As they knew that the United States did not legally recognize a three-tiered society, they were threatened by the American Civil War. The potential of the end of slavery posed a considerable threat to the identity and position of the free people of color. Following the Union victory in the Civil War, the Louisiana three-tiered society was dismantled.
In efforts to maintain their social and political identity, the former Gens de couleur libres began to use the term 'Créole' much in the same way that the white elite did beginning in 1803. The Gens de couleur libres were native speakers of both Colonial French and Louisiana Créole.
Isle Brevelle, the area of land between Cane River and Bayou Brevelle, encompasses approximately of land, 16,000 of which are still owned by descendants of the original Créole families. The Cane River Créole family surnames include but are not limited to: the Métoyer, LaCour, Cousan, Coutée, Monette, Balthazar, Sylvie, Moran, Rachal, Conant, Beaudion, Darville, LaCaze, Pantallion, Mathés, Mullone, Severin, St. Ville, Llorens, Delphin, Sarpy, Laurent, De Soto, Christophe, Mathis, Honore, Chevalier, De Sadier, Anty, Dubreil, Roque, Cloutier, Le Vasseur, Mezière, Bellow, Gallien, Conde, Jones, Marinovich, Wilson, Porche and Dupré. (Most of the surnames are of French or Spanish origin).
Louisiana Creole cuisine is recognized as a unique style of cooking originating in New Orleans, which makes use of the same Holy trinity (in this case chopped celery, bell peppers, and onions) as Cajun cuisine, but has a large variety of European, French, Caribbean, African, and American influences.
Gumbo is a traditional Creole dish. It was created in New Orleans by the French attempting to make bouillabaisse in the New World. The Spanish contributed onions, peppers, and tomatoes; the Africans contributed okra, where the dish gets its name due to the popularity of the vegetable in the stew; the Indians contributed Filé, which is ground sassafras leaves; and later on the Italians blasted it with garlic. The Germans contributed potato salad as a side and even started the practice of eating gumbo with a scoop of potato salad in it. The Germans also dominated the french bread industry in New Orleans and brought the practice of eating gumbo with buttered french bread. The French gave the roux to the stew and spices from the Caribbean, and over time it became less of a bouillabaisse and more of what is called gumbo. It is a stew consisting of, but can vary depending on the family, seafood gumbo(shrimp, crab, sausage, and oyster) or chicken sausage gumbo(chicken, sausage), and all contain the "Holy Trinity" and are served over rice. It is often seasoned with filé by Cajuns and Creoles all over Louisiana.
History reveals that "Gumbo" (Gombô, in Louisiana Creole, Gombo, in Louisiana French) was the word used in West and Central Africa for the okra plant. Okra is from the regions of Africa, and parts of the Middle East and Spain. The use of the word gombo was used to name the stew, due to its popularity to thicken the mixture before the roux came along. Thus, the stew was named Gumbo, because of the French accent used after first hearing Africans call Okra "Gombo," as in a shortening of the word kilogombó or kigambó, and guingambó or quinbombó, in West African.
Jambalaya is the second in line of fame of Louisiana Creole dishes. It finds its origin in the original European city sector of New Orleans (the French Quarter, or Vieux Carré, in colonial days), combining ham with sausage, rice and tomato. Today, jambalaya is prepared two ways: in New Orleans and its immediate environment, in parts of Iberia Parish, as well as in parts of St. Martin Parish, jambalaya is red, and has for its base tomato, but owes it's color more to the use of shrimp stock. Cajuns, generally speaking, prepare a "brown jambalaya", which is roux based with tasso. Jambalaya can combine chicken, sausage, fresh shrimp tails; or chicken and tasso.
Jazz, born in New Orleans sometime around the turn of the twentieth century, is the first local Black Creole music to be popularized.
Zydeco (a transliteration in English of 'zaricô' (Snapbeans) from the song, "Les haricots sont pas salés"), born in Cajun and Black Creole communities on the prairies of southwest Louisiana in the 1920s is considered by many, if not most, as the Black Creole music of Louisiana. Zydeco purportedly hails from "Là-là", a genre of music now defunct, and old south Louisiana jurés. As Cajun French was the lingua franca of the prairies of southwest Louisiana, Zydeco was initially sung only in Creole or French. Later, creole-speaking Black Creoles, such as the Chénier brothers, Rosie Lédet and others, added a new linguistic element to Zydeco music. Today, most of Zydeco's new generation sings in English or Cajun French with a few in Louisiana Creole French.
Zydeco is related to Swamp Pop, American Blues, Jazz, and Cajun music. An instrument unique to Zydeco music is a form of washboard called the frottoir, or scrubboard, a vest made of corrugated aluminum, and played by using bottle openers or caps down the length of the vest.