Archive for the ‘Louisiana’ Category

Marie Laveau (c. 1801-1881), also written as Laveaux, was the most famous voodoo queen of New Orleans. She was at her height from the 1830s to the 1850s and has since become a figure of legend. There are at least eight songs about her, like “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” (1971) by Redbone. She even appears as a character in Marvel Comics (as a white witch in black latex). If you visit her grave and draw “XXX” on it with chalk you can make a wish.

She had a daughter of the same name who looked very much like her. She is known as Marie Laveau II, also a voodoo queen. It is hard to tell where the mother leaves off and the daughter begins. It seems likely the daughter took over in the 1860s.

As a voodoo queen Laveau healed the sick, told fortunes and sold gris-gris, a voodoo charm. For $10 you could buy a love powder. For up to $1000 she would use voodoo to help you win an election. She sported a snake.

Some say her power came less from voodoo or any kind of magic and more from knowing the right things about the right people: she was a hairdresser who worked for the wives of the top men in New Orleans. It seems likely she knew all about their love affairs and business deals – either from the wives themselves or from their servants.

It is hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins with her. In what seems to be the truest story a man came to her desperate because his son was about to be sentenced to death by a judge. He offered to give her a house. A few days later, to everyone’s surprise, the son got off.

She was Creole, one of the French-speaking people of New Orleans, and a quadroon too, meaning she was one-fourth black: her father was a white planter, her mother was half white and half black (and maybe part Native American too).  Laveau was a free person of colour: she could own property but could not marry a white person.

She married her first husband in 1819, Jacques Paris, a free person of colour who fled the slave uprisings in Haiti. He died a year later and she became a hairdresser known as Widow Paris. Her next husband was Christophe Glapion. Because he was white their marriage was a common law one. Some say she had 15 children, but others say that some of those  were her sister’s, also named Marie Laveau.

Laveau was a believing Catholic and even went to mass every day. It was common in those days for people to believe in both Catholicism and voodoo at the same time.

There were sightings of her after she died. Some may have been her daughter, but some took place even after she had died too. Laveau’s ghost is said to appear on St John’s Eve, June 23rd, wearing a handkerchief with seven knots.

– Abagond, 2010.

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Creoles, in the American sense of the word, are the French who founded New Orleans and Louisiana, whether they be white, black or mixed in colour. Many are part French, Spanish, African and Native American. Many light-skinned black Americans with French names are Creoles. Among other things, Creoles gave us jazz, zydeco, Mardi Gras, the paper bag test, the old New Orleans and creole cooking. Audubon was Creole. Beyonce is part Creole.

Creoles are not the same as Cajuns. The Cajuns are French too, but they came to Louisiana later, coming from Canada. They are whiter and more country.

Creole roots go back not to the four Englands that created America, but back to the Caribbean, France and even Senegal in Africa, back even to the Mali empire. They are Latin, not Anglo. That is why the old New Orleans is in some ways more like Havana or Rio than New York or Chicago. That is why it does not seem like such a grey place.

The Creoles were a separate people in the 1700s and 1800s. They were Catholic and spoke French, not English. But these days most have become ordinary Americans.

Where Americans came in two main colours – black and white – Creoles came in three colours: black, white and mixed. Like in Brazil, they did not follow the One Drop Rule. Between the white Creoles at the top and the dark-skinned slaves at the bottom was a broad middle made up of free people of colour.

Most mixed Creoles were not slaves but free. They were shopkeepers, dressmakers, silversmiths and traders. They owned houses and could read. Many had been sent to France to get an education. In war they fought under their own commanding officers. These are the people who would later give the world jazz music.

But they were not completely equal to whites: they could not vote or hold public office; they could not marry a white person or sit in the white part of the opera house.

There were not many white women in Louisiana in the old days. Yet white Creole men thought quadroon women, who were one-fourth black, were very beautiful. Often a white man in his 20s would take a quadroon lover, buy her a house, have children by her and support the family. This was known as plaçage (rhymes with massage). Later in his 30s he might marry white and have a second family. If he did not, then his wealth would go to his mixed children.

Creole law saw slaves as humans while American law saw them as property. Under Creole law a slave could take his master to court or even earn money and buy his freedom.

Napoleon sold Louisiana to America in 1803 to raise money for his wars. It was largely left alone till the late 1800s. Then white Americans started to take over. They brought in their One Drop Rule. Some Creoles stayed and became black Americans or Cajuns. Others moved away, especially to Texas, California and Chicago.

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