South Louisiana is about to embark on a nine-day celebration of Acadian heritage, with events from Lake Charles to Loreauville tied to the arrival of Acadians 250 years ago.
The Grand Réveil Acadien, which begins Saturday and continues through Oct. 11, commemorates the arrival of nearly 200 Acadians in 1765 in New Orleans.
They would settle in what was then the Attakapas-Opelousas Territory, now the parishes that make up the Acadiana region, giving birth to a unique culture that continues to thrive in south Louisiana.
“Joseph Beausoleil Broussard led a group of about 200 Acadians to New Orleans, and they settled the Attakapas region near Loreauville, hence the beginning of the Acadian culture as we know it,” said Randy Menard, president of Louisiane-Acadie, the nonprofit group that organized the nine-day celebration.
French for Great Acadian Awakening, the Grand Réveil Acadien was created to “wake up” Louisianians to their culture, Ray Trahan, former president of Louisiane-Acadie, said during a news conference Tuesday to announce the event.
There’s a growing interest among younger generations of Acadians to learn the French language, play traditional music and preserve their heritage, organizers said.
“I think Lafayette has embraced the culture because it’s a matter of pride,” said Philippe Gustin, director of Lafayette’s international trade division, Le Centre International de Lafayette. “We need to show our pride by attending Grand Réveil Acadien and speaking French. Even if you know only one word — use it.”
The first Grand Réveil Acadien was held in 2011 and timed two years after the World Congress of Acadians, or Congrés Mondial Acadien. Although the last Congrés was held in 2014, Louisiane-Acadie decided to move up its celebration to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Acadians’ arrival in southwest Louisiana.
Forced from their homes in what is present-day Nova Scotia, thousands of Acadians dispersed across the East Coast, to the Caribbean or crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
Broussard’s group wasn’t the first Acadians to settle in Louisiana, but it was the largest, Menard said.
“A year before, there was a group of 20 that settled in St. James Parish,” he said and added that Broussard and his group of nearly 200 settled along the Bayou Teche.
“In 1785, seven ships from France arrived to meet all their relatives who were here already,” Menard said.
Trahan said the first Grand Réveil Acadien drew people from across the United States, Canada and France.
“There are pockets of Acadians throughout the United States,” Trahan said. “A lot of us don’t know about them and a lot of them don’t know about us.”
The largest concentration of Acadians are still found in south Louisiana, said Warren Perrin, a local attorney and cultural advocate.
Perrin, who has authored several books on Acadian history, will give a lecture on the Acadians as part of the opening ceremonies for the Grand Réveil Acadien on Saturday at the Lake Charles Civic Center.
On Oct. 9, a full day of panel discussions and workshops focused on the Acadian history and language is planned at the Cajundome Convention Center.
The celebration closes Sunday, Oct. 11, with a 9 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist featuring the French-Canadian choir Neil-Michaud. After the Mass, a “tintamarre,” or community parade with noise-makers, family banners, flags and costumes, is planned from the church to Warehouse 535 on Garfield Street for a Fête du Grand Réveil with music by La Récolte, Jambalaya and Sweet Crude.
Events especially for youth are part of the nine-day celebration, starting Sunday with the “GRA Halloween Party” at Acadian Village and also a paddling trip and a French block party at Carpe Diem! Gelato in downtown Lafayette.
The events also likely will draw tourists here for the annual Festivals Acadiens et Créole — a celebration of Acadian and Creole music, food and culture held Oct. 7-11 in Lafayette.
To view the full schedule of Grand Réveil Acadien events, visit www.louisiane-acadie.com.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.