Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Mardi Gras in Cajun country can be worlds part. Parades, floats, beads, marching bands and even spectators are traditionally not part of the rural Courir de Mardi Gras in southwest Louisiana.
Filmmaker Pat Mire’s 1993 documentary, Dance for a Chicken: The Cajun Mardi Gras, depicts the Courir de Mardi Gras’ ritual and tradition. In communities such as Tee Mamou, L’Anse Maigre, Basile, Church Point and Iota, colorfully costumed, masked celebrants ride on horseback into the countryside in search of ingredients for a community gumbo. They dance, sing and beg for the gifts they receive. Often, the riders must chase and catch the gumbo stock.
The roots of Courir de Mardi Gras extend to Roman festivals and pre-Christian Europe. Despite being a free-range party on the prairie, the celebration represents the egalitarian redistribution of wealth. In Mire’s Dance for a Chicken, an earnest capitaine tells his krewe of beggars the rules: “When you get to a man’s house, do whatever you have to do to get his chickens or his sausage or rice or his money—anything we can do to get the goods for the supper.”
Joel Savoy, a member of Eunice’s Savoy family of Cajun musicians, organized the Faquetaique Courir de Mardi Gras in 2006. Savoy wanted to stage a Courir de Mardi Gras that closely follows tradition.
“I couldn’t find the Mardi Gras experience I was looking for anywhere else,” Savoy said. “There were things about the other rural courirs that turned me off. Many of them had grown so large that they had lost most, if not all, of their traditional values. I wanted my friends, especially those who came to visit from out of town, to have a meaningful experience at this age-old event.”
Faquetaique Courir de Mardi Gras requires every participant to a wear costume. “And if you’re going to play music, it’s damn sure going to be French music,” Savoy said. “I also wanted it open to everyone who was looking for this same experience. Women, children, tourists. Anyone, as long as they got on board with our rules.”
Beads and spectators, ubiquitous elements of Mardi Gras parades throughout Louisiana, are not allowed at Faquetaique Courir de Mardi Gras. “Other than our few rules, our event is a pretty classic Courir de Mardi Gras,” Savoy said. “And it’s a community event. That sounds hard to believe, because it’s more than 700 people these days. But I guarantee you that nearly all of the participants are connected to me within one degree of separation. We have folks, lots of musicians, especially, who join us from all around the world. It makes for a delightfully wacky day.”