‘Our cul­ture is dy­ing’: Ris­ing wa­ters men­ace more than land in Louisiana

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Louise St Pierre paints pic­tures of shacks and swamps on the in­sides of oys­ter shells - tiny scenes of Ca­jun cul­ture she sees wash­ing away amid the ris­ing salt­wa­ter and pe­ri­odic floods in­un­dat­ing south­ern Louisiana. “Our cul­ture is dy­ing,” said St. Pierre, who lives in Lafourche Parish, where cy­press trees are hung with lacy strands of Span­ish moss and al­li­ga­tors lurk in bay­ous, the re­gion’s slow-mov­ing swamp wa­ter­ways. “It’s not like it was.”

Peo­ple are mov­ing away from the parish, or county, some 60 miles (97 km) south­west of New Or­leans, faced with grow­ing flood risks and un­able to pay for in­sur­ance, which can reach thou­sands of dol­lars and is re­quired by mort­gage banks in high-risk ar­eas. Since Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina hit in 2005, nearly 10 per­cent of Lafourche’s pop­u­la­tion has left its south­ern­most end that is flood­prone and vul­ner­a­ble to storm surges.

At­tri­tion due to soar­ing in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums is vis­i­ble from the pro­lif­er­a­tion of “For Sale” signs on houses and boats, said Gary LaFleur, a bi­ol­o­gist and fac­ulty mem­ber at the Cen­ter for Bayou Stud­ies at Ni­cholls State Uni­ver­sity in Thibodaux. “No gov­ern­ment is com­ing in and kick­ing peo­ple out, but all of a sud­den the in­sur­ance rates are go­ing up so high that it’s like a slow eco­nomic way of lead­ing to a ghost town,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “Within 50 years the town is gone.”

Lafourche has been home for cen­turies to Ca­juns who are de­scended from French­s­peak­ing set­tlers ex­pelled in the 18th cen­tury from what is now Canada. Ca­jun cul­ture is renowned for its spicy cui­sine and lively tra­di­tional mu­sic. “It’s a life­style, peo­ple, lan­guage - just the way you were brought up by your par­ents and grand­par­ents,” said St. Pierre. Tra­di­tions such as the bless­ing of the fleets in the bay­ous - once an an­nual cer­e­mony for shrimpers and oth­ers - are dim­ming as the ranks of fam­i­ly­owned fish­ing boats dwin­dle, he said.

“When you see one shrimp boat and it’s fol­lowed by five party boats, you think, aww, this isn’t as cool as it used to be,” he said. St Pierre, known as Ms. Louise, sells her minia­ture Ca­jun paint­ings to cus­tomers at craft shows. “They can send them to their nephew in New York and say, ‘Hey, that is a part of our cul­ture. Don’t forget’,” she said.

St Pierre, 65, learned French from her grand­par­ents and meets each Tues­day night with fel­low fran­co­phones, whose num­bers are fall­ing. Fewer than 14,000 peo­ple in Lafourche are na­tive French speak­ers, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est cen­sus fig­ures, down from some 16,000 a decade ear­lier. And St Pierre cooks a mean Ca­jun meal. “I can make you gumbo and jam­bal­aya, and do your etouf­fees and of course boiled shrimp and craw­fish, fried oys­ters,” she said. “And I love al­li­ga­tor tails.” — AP

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