Though different from most Cajuns in that he had blond hair, Papite was typically Cajun. The word Cajun is merely a corruption of the more elegant "Acadian," but the appellation is considered somewhat of a slur, and one should never call an Acadian a Cajun to his face. Only the bayou folk and their relatives may use it.
The Acadians' banishment from Nova Scotia has been dramatized in Longfellow's narrative poem Evangeline. These were Papite's ancestors, who settled, after much wandering, in the bayou country.
They hunt and fish and trap, raise cattle and grow vegetables, which they peddle to middlemen. Acadians run the shrimp boats; they are skilled oystermen, crabbers and guides. Their favorite dish is undoubtedly gumbo, which they make from shrimps, crabs, beef or chicken—but most often from crawfish, for not only is the little crustacean a delicacy, but it is always at hand in every bayou, pond, river or ditch.
"M'sieu," Papite said, "if we go to the fais-do-do tonight we must catch up some crawfish to take with us. Everybody takes something to a fais-do-do."
The young Cajun reached under the small stern seat of the pirogue to pull out two lengths of twine, two tow sacks and a coffee can filled with one-inch chunks of salt pork. He grinned and explained. "Always I carry the crawfish bait and lines wherever I go."
Handing the articles to me, he pointed the nose of the little boat toward a nearby slough. Along the banks of this slough were many small chimneylike mounds of mud we both knew to be crawfish holes, or nests. Papite stooped, expertly whisked up one crawfish that had been crawling on the ground.
He threw it into one of the sacks, and we hastily rigged our lines by tying a piece of salt pork to each. For about three hours we averaged a catch every few seconds, until both sacks were filled with three-to-four-inch crawfish.
Usually fais-do-dos are indoor affairs, but this one was staged under a grove of wide-spreading oaks, not far distant from Tante Th�r�se's house. There the earth had been packed and smoothed for an all-night jamboree. Pits had been dug for cooking and grills set up.
It took three pirogues and two bateaux (wide, flat-bottom boats) to transport Tante Th�r�se, her spouse and her 14 children—and us—to the festival.
When we arrived the fais-do-do was well under way. Young couples were dancing on the packed earth, and dozens of older Cajuns were sitting about on camp chairs and benches gossiping and laughing. Others were tending the cook fires and provisions. Over one fire sat a great galvanized-iron washtub of boiling salted water, into which two men were dumping live, washed crawfish. Papite, after introducing me all around as his Cousin Devereux from Houma (family names are seldom mentioned), added our two sacks of washed crawfish to the boiling water—after carefully removing any dead ones.