Acadiana, or The Heart of Acadiana, (Cajun French L'Acadiane) is the official name given to the French Louisiana region that is home to a large French speaking population. Of the 64 parishes that make up Louisiana , 22 named parishes and other parishes of similar cultural environment, make up Acadiana.
The word Acadiana reputedly has two origins. Its first recorded appearance dates to the mid-1950s, when a Crowley, Louisiana newspaper, the Crowley Daily Signal, coined the term in reference to Acadia Parish, Louisiana. However, KATC-TV-3 in Lafayette independently coined "Acadiana" in the early 1960s, gave it a new, broader meaning, and popularized it throughout south Louisiana. Founded in 1962, KATC was owned by the Acadian Television Corporation. In early 1963, the station received an invoice erroneously addressed to the Acadiana Television Corp. Someone had typed an extra "a" at the end of the word "Acadian." The station started using it to describe the region covered by its broadcast signal.
The Cajuns of southern Louisiana are an amphibious people, inhabiting a world of swamps and bayous, as comfortable on the water as they are on dry land.
They chose their watery habitat on purpose. Uprooted first from France and then from Nova Scotia, they were looking for a homeland from which they could never be dislocated again. In the backwaters of Louisiana, they found such a home. If the Cajuns chose their home specifically for its remoteness, modern amenities such as bridges and causeways have changed all that. Cajun Country -- more properly Acadiana -- is a triangle of 22 parishes that extends from the Texas border east to New Orleans. It is an easy jaunt from New Orleans, perfect for a two- or three-day tour, a voyage across time as well as geography.
The word Cajun is a colloquial shortening of Acadian, meaning one of those from Acadia -- now Nova Scotia. In 1755, these French Catholics refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Protestant King of England and were exiled.
The story was immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his epic poem, "Evangeline," the tale of a young Acadian woman who is separated from her lover, Gabriel, in the chaos of the emigration and spends the rest of her life looking for him. Evangeline is still one of the great figures of Acadian culture. While Longfellow ended the tale in Philadelphia, a local version of the legend has Evangeline finally tracking Gabriel to the town of St. Martinville, near Lafayette, only to find that he has married another woman. In her grief, Evangeline dies there, which explains the presence of the Evangeline Oak and the Evangeline grave in the town.
Acadiana extends from Avoyelles Parish in the north, west to the Texas border and south like a great arm reaching under Baton Rouge and New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. To this day, most of the southernmost
parishes of Terrebone and Lafourche are inaccessible by road.
It is difficult to estimate the size of the contemporary Cajun population. Jacques Henry of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, a state agency, said 300,000 of the state's four million residents say they speak French at home. Some 900,000 residents of Louisiana claim full or partial French ancestry. The difficulties are compounded because it is not uncommon for Cajuns to have Irish, Italian or German surnames nowadays, Mr. Henry said. Many Cajuns earn their living as ranchers, raising sheep and cattle; others grow sugar cane, rice and soybeans. In the days of Louisiana's oil boom a decade or two ago, the oil industry and oil-related businesses were the largest employer in Acadiana, but Kelly Strenge of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission said more people now worked either in the medical-services ndustry or in tourist-related service businesses.
Lafayette, lies in the middle of Acadiana, and it is the capital of Cajun Country. Once a sprawling boom town financed by oil money, Lafayette's growth has slowed in recent years. For the tourist, the historic downtown
district with its cathedral, courthouse and early homes provides a sense of the early years of Cajun culture in the area.
For bird and plant lovers are the Jungle Gardens and Bird Sanctuary, developed by Edward Avery McIlhenny, with assorted local plants and birds. Early spring and summer are the times for seeing huge flocks of egrets and herons; ducks and other waterfowl come for the winter. The gardens are filled with camellias, azaleas and tropical plants in season. The Chinese Garden contains a Buddha dating from A.D. 1000.
Vermilionville in Lafayette, a Cajun and Creole village opened in April 1990 and financed by the taxpayers of Lafayette Parish, is done in the style of Colonial Williamsburg and Plimouth Plantation, with people in authentic dress doing the things they would have done in the period, roughly, from 1765 to 1890.
A two-day outing from New Orleans will get you there and back with some sightseeing each day. Three days allow time for exploration farther west into the Lake Charles area and north into Eunice and Opelousas, home of the so-called prairie Cajuns who raise sheep and cattle.
Morgan City, is the location where the first Tarzan movie was filmed in 1917 and the first offshore oil well drilled in 1947.
Avery Island, just outside New Iberia, is one of the true curiosities of the modern industrial age. Avery Island is the only place in the world where Tabasco pepper sauce is made.