Friday, April 24, 2020

History of New Orleans!

Some New Orleans History 

Jambalaya - Creole vs. Cajun

Today, jambalaya is considered a Louisiana classic. Like many popular recipes,
Jambalaya was created long ago out of necessity. From 1762 to 1767, Spain began the slow
process of replacing authorities in what used to be the French territory of “La Louisiane,” and
a lot more than politics was jumbled in the process. Early Spanish settlers had to learn how to
cook with the ingredients and spices found in this new world. It’s likely that this popular
Louisiana classic was born from the Spanish dish paella, a concoction of fish, meat, tomatoes
and rice. Because saffron, a typical ingredient in Spanish Paella, was not readily available in the
new world, it was replaced with tomatoes. Over time, spices from the Carribean turned paella
into the completely unique yet ever evolving dish, jambalaya. 

There are multiple ways to prepare jambalaya, and they correspond to various cultures’ historical
in New Orleans and surrounding areas. “Cajun” jambalaya is often made with a tomato
base, and likewise, more ingredients found in the country. The word “Cajun” has its etymology in
the word “Acadian,” referring typically to Louisiana settlers from Canada and Nova Scotia. Cajun
dishes including crawfish, and etouffee are often heavily spiced and use the “trinity” of cajun
cooking - celery, onions and peppers. The other large cultural complex of Louisiana, “Creole,”
creates jambalaya with more ingredients found in the city such as butter and cream. It is typically
more refined and European; the rest of Creole cuisine follows with a base of French influence, but
the Creole population is composed of both French and Spanish settlers. 


The Lower Ninth Ward - the unspoken history washed away by Hurricane Katrina

(photo by Julia Holden-Hunkins)

If you take a walk through the ninth ward, it would appear similar to the rest of New Orleans at
first glance. Perhaps there is a little more poverty, and if you looked over your shoulder as you’re
driving in from the French Quarter, you might notice a large cluster of interesting buildings with
solar panels atop their roofs. But unless you happened to stumble upon the
Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum,” a building altogether too small to contain such a rich history,
you might not know a quarter of what’s happened in this place. 

The ninth ward is the largest of the seventeen wards of New Orleans. The wards were drawn in 1852
when New Orleans sought to reorganize from three separate municipalities into one
centralized government. It is the easternmost downriver ward and is divided in half; the northern
part is bounded by Lake Pontchartrain, and the southern part is bounded by the Mississippi River
and has been the home for mostly lower to middle-class African American people. While all of
New Orleans suffered the blows of multiple hurricanes, the lower ninth ward was always the most
vulnerable due to its proximity to the levy. Despite government funds being allocated to rebuild
the levy to protect the lower ninth ward in case of a disaster like hurricane Katrina, the levy was
never secured. When it breached, the environmental destruction devastated the lower ninth ward
financially and culturally. Some people who were relocated were never able to return to their
homes. Efforts to rebuild the lower ninth ward for those families are still in effect today. One such
effort was sought out by Brad Pitt in his “Make it Right Campaign,” where he initiated the
construction of 109 energy-efficient homes. 

Since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 The Lower Ninth ward has been a destination visited by U.S.
presidents such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The rich history is rooted in new
beginnings for escaped slaves after embarking on the underground railroad, and it lives on today
in many forms - one of which being the tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians who celebrate their
history in bold colors and elaborately beaded costumes in the Mardi Gras parades. 


  1. Beads, baby! The history of New Orleans Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras (which translates to “Fat Tuesday”) is most popular  in New Orleans which annually hosts the largest celebration of the holiday. However, the very first Mardi Gras celebration took place in Mobile, Alabama, and it’s roots bury deep into the European traditions of carnival dating before the medieval times. The celebration of a carnival is unknown by historians, however, the celebration is born from Christianity. Lent (a sacrificial Christian holiday) is one of the primary forces behind the necessity for carnivals, which are often baudy celebrations including parading, feasting and elements of circus. The idea was to live largely and indulge before giving up on some of the earthly pleasures for the season of Lent. Sometimes masks were introduced to allow people to discard their everyday persona in order to fully partake in the party spirit. During shrovetide, the days toward the end of carnival, people confessed their sins.

person riding on tractor surrounded by peoples

The first recorded celebration of Mardi Gras in Louisiana was in 1699 in what is now the
Plaquemines Parish. Gradually, the festivities migrated and centered around New Orleans and
celebrated in the form of parades, masking, costuming and cross-dressing. In 1856, 21
gentlemen secretly arranged the first Krewe of Mardi Gras (a pinnacle of the celebrations today)
to be observed in an official parade. That first Krewe was named “The Mystick Krewe of Comus
which continues to be seen today. Now alongside Comus, popular krewes include The Krewe of
Thoth, The Krewe of Bacchus (which historically names celebrities as their “kings”), Rex,
Proteus, Orpheus and Zulu. All of these krewes partake in parades from the beginning of January
until the end of February and ride upon floats, some of which have taken all year to design and
build. Typically, float-riders wear masks and throw gifts to viewers such as doubloons (coins with
some significance to their krewe), cups, shirts and other miscellaneous items.  

In 1875, the state of Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a legal state holiday, and the parades were
held in rain or shine save for a few instances during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.
In 1979, the New Orleans police department went on strike leaving The National Guard to prevent
crimes during the holiday. Although it was more sparsely attended than previous years, there were
less regulations on alcohol and drug use deeming 1979’s mardi gras one of the best in the eyes of
bohemian party-goers. National Guard Troops returned to Mardi Gras in 2005 to assist in crowd
control in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This year hosted floats which satirized the U.S.
Army Corps and The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in their failure to secure
the levees in New Orleans. 

Rex’s inaugural parade in 1892 established the city’s celebratory colors: purple, green and gold. There is
no distinct reason why these colors were chosen, although Errol Laborde theorized their significance was
due to heraldry. However, the Rex organization declared that the colors corresponded to justice, power
and faith. These colors continue to decorate floats, beads, and the notorious king cake which is delicately
folded with colored bread, colored sugar and holds a traditional plastic baby inside. 



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