Courir de Mardi Gras

Courir de Mardi Gras RunnersI’m still so excited from all the happenings that I just don’t know where to start. So many sights and sounds that I want to share with y’all. I guess the best way is to launch right in and start at the very beginning.

As I stated in my “historical” post about the Courir de Mardi Gras last year, I have wanted to witness this traditional event ever since I first heard about it many years ago. There I was, a couple weeks ago, reading a book on a dreary Saturday when none other than fellow blogger, Shoreacres, called.

She said, “Hey! You remember how you said you wanted to go see the Courir de Mardi Gras? Well, I’m going this year, so how about joining me?”

Well, say no more, let me see who can come down and keep the home fires burning while I take off on this long-desired adventure! Shoreacres made all the arrangements, and I packed my camera bag for Church Point, Louisiana, home of a traditional Courir de Mardi Gras (Run of the Mardi Gras).

Early Sunday morning, we traveled the back roads to the outskirts of Church Point to the home of Rick and Earline, where Shoreacres had managed to get us permission to spend the day.  We were told to arrive early because all roads in and out of town would be closed off in preparation for the grand procession. Little did we know just how HUGE an undertaking this was.  

Ricks GumboUpon our arrival, our gracious host, Rick, already had the butane burner going with a huge pot on top; the beginning of his own hen and sausage gumbo. Nearby in a little cage huddled two more hens that would become part of the festivities later on. 

Runner in costumeAround 10:30 a.m. sounds of Cajun music lilted across the pastures; the excitement palpable as we made our way to to road to watch. Streams of people filled the road wearing brightly colored costumes, pointed hats, and masks as they walked, rode on horseback or on open wagons. 

The Cap-ee-tanAmong the revelers, The Capitaines, pronounced “cap-ee-tans”, rode on horseback, clad in grand silk capes, wearing cowboy hats.

Now, here’s how the Courir de Mardis Gras works. Every home that wants to contribute a chicken for gumbo must register first. The procession travels along the rural road, stopping in front of the registered house, gathering ingredients for a communal gumbo at the end of the day.  

Young RunnersWith the long procession stopped, young men in costume dismounted from their horses or got off their wagons and filled the yard.  The Capitaine then raised his flag to signal the releasing of the chickens from the little cage, and the chase was on! 

3 Mardi Gras RunnersThose young men were fearless.  They raced, they chased, they event went into ditches, or coulees.  One of these even lost his shoe and another went face-first into the muddy water.  No chicken was safe from these tenacious fellows!

Runner with ChickenThe runner in dark red eventually caught one of the hens, and Shoreacres noticed him hiding it under his shirt, until someone ratted him out, at which point he reluctantly handed the hen over to The Capitaine!

Captain takes chicken to penThe Capitaine then promptly deposited the unlucky hen into the holding pen . . 

Chicken Penwhere they were guarded by this fellow!

Girls DancingAfter all the young runners, or “Mardi Gras“,  passed us by, next came the homemade floats pulled by tractors or trucks.  Music blared from every float, including everything from the traditional French song, “Les Danse de Mardi Gras” to modern hip-hop!  That was the time for dancing in the streets!

Truck FloatThe float riders threw beads, stuffed animals, tiny footballs, plastic cups and on and on. 

ShoreacresThere were more beads thrown than we could possibly catch, so in between taking photos, Shoreacres and I picked up handfuls of beads from the grass. Doesn’t she look like she’s having a blast?

And just when we thought the parade should be winding down, we looked down the road, and as far as we could see there were more people on horses, people walking or riding on cute little mule-drawn buggies.   

Donkey WagonThe atmosphere was charged with electricity as the parade circled the rural community collecting items for the gumbo before rolling back into the small town of Church Point, where everything would be cooked into a delicious gumbo for all the runners of the Mardi Gras.

The entire parade took about three and a half hours to pass us.  Can you imagine being on horseback all that time?  Can you imagine hopping off a wagon at every stop to chase a chicken for your supper? 

Ricks Gumbo ServedAfter the parade, our hosts fed us delicious bowls of steamy gumbo, rice, potato salad and fresh French bread.  Mais, cher, it don’t get much better than that!

And finally, the last thing that impressed me was the family and friends picking up all the litter. They don’t wait for the “city” to come clean up with garbage trucks and street sweepers like they do in the city. The only thing left on the road were stray strands of beads, which residents picked up later that afternoon.

Angela and Daughter
Our hosts had 4 generations of family at their house for this celebration. Here is their daughter and grand daughter.

It was the most amazing Mardi Gras celebration I’ve ever seen with a totally different “feel” and energy from the Mardi Gras celebrations down in New Orleans. This was a down home Cajun blowout; one to which you would feel comfortable taking the entire family. Oh yes, some of the participants and observers were drinking, but there was never any fear of getting shot, worry about strangers snatching your children, or women baring their breasts!  

So let me suggest that if you’ve always wanted to attend a Mardi Gras celebration but didn’t want to risk life and limb down in New Orleans, make plans to visit Church Point.  You will meet some of the warmest, most welcoming and hospitable people on God’s earth. There are plenty places along the streets of town on which to place your chairs and enjoy a picnic lunch while waiting for the “Courir de Mardi Gras” to go by.  And don’t get in a hurry, because you’ll probably be waiting a long, long time for them to reach you; but I guarantee you, it’s worth the wait!

Now I know the true meaning of “Laissez les bon temps rouller!” These Cajuns truly know how to let the good times roll!  (And then some!)

I’m going to end this with some of my favorite images of the day, using captions to explain each photo.  Hopefully, these photos will further illustrate what an exciting and exhilarating celebration this is.  Remember to click on the image to see a larger version.  If you would like any of these photos, please contact me, and I’ll be happy to help you out!

Stay tuned next week for the animals of the Courir de Mardi Gras!

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  1. Looks like ye had a great time – a salute to Shoreacres for haulin’ ye along and sharing this joyous celebration with us all!
    Great photos, too…the QM loves the “Zonkey”. Oddly enough, we just watche a show that featured a “Quagga” (kwa-ha) which looks a bit like the Zonkey, but is actually a rare pigmentation anomaly in Zebras.
    Apparently one o’ the reasons Zonkeys were bred (back in the 1800s during the Boer War in South Africa), was that Zebra are immune to some diseases (like Sleeping Sickness) that Mules, Donkeys and Horses are not. They are also incredibly strong (like Mules) so that added to the mix for great work animals.

    1. As always, a wealth of information!!! I just know they are the cutest thing ever on 4 hooves! I’m not very good at identifying the difference between a donkey and a mule either, so I hope those are mules pulling those little wagons! I do recognize a burro when I see one, though!

      1. Well a Burro is a Donkey – just the Spanish word for it…though it has come to mean “small Donkey”. The first donkeys to reach what is now the US may have crossed the Rio Grande with Juan de Oñate in April 1598! There is also a species called “Burro Kentucky” – found only in Guatemala & Honduras (in 2005 11 US Donkeys were brought from Kentucky to Jalisco State (Western Mexico) to strengthen the local Burro breeds). When the “Gold Rush” ended, many Donkeys were abandoned and left to roam wild, there are now about 4600 wild Donkeys across 5 states: Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Oregon – they are a protected species.

  2. I just came across this in a description of the history of Mardi Gras…
    Apparently “Shrove Tuesday” was referred to, less politely, as “Belly Day” in France – and with good reason! People in Paris were known to spend a years earnings to feast for one day before the strictness of Lent. This is the menu for a banquet for 300 people in 1832 (as written by Alexandre Dumas): 2 roasted deer, a salmon of 53 pounds, a huge galantine, Bordeaux wine 300 bottles, 300 bottles of Burgundy, 500 bottles of champagne…that’ll certainly fill yer belly!

    1. And that is why the poor, starving peasants went to the homes of the rich begging for food. I guess they knew that the wealthy in Paris were hoarding it, LOL! That’s a lot of wine, my friend!

    1. Kim, you would have especially loved seeing the horses! You will also enjoy the photos of the animals I will post next! I thought of you when I saw a blond-headed woman riding a beautiful Palomino, which also made me think of my friend, Kay, who has always kept horses but doesn’t ride much any more. I think I can say this was a cultural experience like no other!

  3. I have never even heard of a Zonkey. Interesting and I am glad Capt. Swallow explained their beginnings. I have seen a movie before or a documentary on the Courir De Mardi Gras and the costumes and chase of the hens had me laughing then and again now. I would enjoy going to one but, I would have to go alone. Hubby isn’t into any type of event like that.

  4. Don’t the “riders” have to dance before the chickens are released? I can only imagine the shape they’re in by the end of the ride. Not from dancing or riding…from the liquid refreshment. LOL
    Do you know about how many homes participate? To make a community gumbo, they have to have a lot of chickens.

    1. Glad you asked. As far as I know, they didn’t have to dance in this one, but that is where the song “Les Danse de Mardi Gras” comes into play; and also I think in old France they either danced or sang or both as they begged for food. About the gumbo, the communal gumbo is for the runners and riders, not for the entire town. I’m pretty sure by the time they got those chickens prepared and the gumbo cooking, they probably didn’t eat until midnight!

  5. I enjoyed you story last year about this particular celebration. I had never heard of this before. This year was even just as interesting. We call the donkey/zebra mix a Z-Donk. Of course that might be JUST a Rankin County thang!!!

    1. Well, Louise, you know more than I do, because I (in my sheltered existence down the bayou) didn’t know there was such a creature as this breed. I like the sound of Z-Donk, LOL!!! It’s 34 degrees on the bayou this morning, and I’m glad I’m not among the Fat Tuesday revelers anywhere right now! Brrrr!

  6. About that “dancing for a chicken” — I found a video from the Tee Mamou – Iota Courir in 2011 (I think) that does show that part of the event. I’ll have it up on my blog eventually, along with the traditional begging song.

    I just had to laugh as I read and re-lived. We have so many of the same photos. I’ve got the same dancers, the same Capitaine, the same chicken guard! I did manage to get one breath-taking photo of a Capitaine with a couple of revelers that’s worth printing out. I have no idea how I managed it — I don’t even remember taking it, or seeing the girls. There was so much going on!

    I did finally remember this morning how I first learned about the Courir. Back a few years, I posted about chickens in an entirely different context. A fellow named J. Boudreaux found my post, learned I’d been to Louisiana, and sent me a video about the Courir. He said I should go, so I tucked the video into my files for future reference. When I looked this morning, sure enough: there it is, buried in the bookmarks. So all credit to J. Boudreaux for starting this whole process off, clear back in 2012!

    Dixie Rose still isn’t speaking to me, but when she wandered through as I was piling my beads into a cut-glass bowl on the table this morning, I informed her I didn’t care. Not one bit. It was worth having her mad for a week to experience all this!

    1. I wondered about Dixie Rose while I was with you and assumed she’d be ok home alone for a couple of days! Cats are pretty independent that way and very outspoken about their unhappiness! She probably doesn’t care that you don’t care! Give her a scratch on the back for me and tell her I said thank you for letting you go!!!

      It all started for me years ago, but the desire was rekindled in 2012 for me, too, when I attended a Women in the Outdoors event in Bunkie. There I met Pam Dufour, who was actually dressed in her colorful costume, which of course, caused me to ask about it. She hangs out at D.I. Cajun Restaurant in Basile after the goings on Mardi Gras day and invited me to go over for their Courir, I’m assuming the Tee-Mamou, Iota. Anyway, she messaged me a couple months ago asking me again if I was planning to come, but at the time, I had no plans! So when you called, you know I was ready as ready could be to mark this off the bucket list! Except now, I have friends who are mad that I didn’t invite them, and they are ready to roll with me next year! I feel a plan in the making already! Great times! Great people! Oh, how they let the good times roll!!!

  7. Glad you got to go BW and enjoy it.That sounds more like my kind of Mardi Gras.We are doing a celebration of Mardi Gras here Saturday,instead of floats we are doing a dressed up golf cart parade and the Nina and Pinta are here docked up through next weekend,perfect timing.Going to decide tomorrow if its going to be gumbo or Termites Jambalaya.

    1. Hey! Those boats were here about a month or so ago. You’re in Florida, right? Oh, well, he’s been perfecting his chicken and sausage gumbo! I’m sure the golf cart Mardi Gras was fun! This absolutely was a great experience!

  8. Just to let you know, we stopped at 4 houses this year where chickens were thrown. Each stop had multiple chickens. We, the runners, are required to dance before chickens are thrown, but by the time we got to your stop, dancing was kind of difficult due to some of the beverages we were forced to drink. Had to save our energy for the chickens.
    Glad you could make it to our “courir” and hope you make it next year. Will see you down the bayou,

    1. Hey!!! How did you find this blog? Forced to drink? LOL! That made me laugh! I didn’t mention it in the post, but I was really looking forward to getting some closeup action shots of the dancing and the chicken chase. Maybe next year? I hope to see you down the bayou, too! Thanks for leaving a comment!

      1. Just to clarify for everyone else — Lee, above, is the runner in the turquoise pants in one of the photos above.

  9. In the old days, when I was in school a frat brother from Rayne introduced me to this in Church Point. Later I also got to see it in Eunice. While my Dad was working there. Much of this lore was not heald private but if you were not part of the community there really no need to bring it up. With the resurgence in all things coonass over the last 10/20 years tourist now show up, but still not like in NO. Why? Well unless you live in Mamou you wouldn’t know the day or the route. These were normally rural community events.

    In the olden days the home which wanted to be approached (Usually part of the older establish families, or thier next generations wanting to continue the tradition), contacted the Krewe to ensure the stop.

    At each stop, the captian first progressed and called out the family to ensure they were still wanted. Then he would allow the krewe members to “entertain the house” by whatever means necessary. Songs, horsemanship, dancing, poetry, whatever the could do to bring a smile to the rural families. When he head of household informed the Captain they had been entertained, the Krewe re-mounted, and the memeber approched and recieved what food the family could give for the communal pot. A handful of rice, a link of sausage, and onion, whatever they could get as a reward.

    The food stuff where then taken to a common area and usually cooked into a gumbo or jambalaya or whatever possible. This insured that all families had a very good meal before Lent began. Remember this is just before spring and the canned and smoked products were running very short for all households.

    The Chicken, it was one of the highest rewards. The homeowner would bring the chicken on the front porch and THROW it high and far. “Scared like a chicken” Chickens freak out easily thereby making the ensuing chase all the much more enterataining. Remeber not only was a chicken a big meal for a family, but most of them were hens also gioving up the egg production.

    Again today normally this all takes place on the Saturday before MardiGras, because today it is more easily acessible to the people. Whereas it was in past done on Mardi Gras. The night of the gumbos, no person was turned away and as with all good cajun affairs dancing, drinking and a general good time broke out till the crack of dawn.

    The drawn wagons were used to carry the krewe’s equipment and the gathered goodies and candy and favors would be passed out to the kids.

    A friend told a few years back, since there was no females allowed in the krewe’s, strickly men’s territory, there had been a all woman’s krewe established, but Thats all I ever heard of it.

    There is a load of lore as well as common sense in the old traditions, most of it gets passed up today. With the resurgence maybe the old storys will last a little longer. Although I fear not. I hear that the krewes this year for the first time in a long long time actually dwindled instead of having people standing in line for permitts, some parades were even cancelled due to lack of interest.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your memories about this rural event. The secret is out, now, and I saw quite a few news stories about Courir de Mardi Gras in several communities this past week. I found out yesterday that a reality TV show called Trip Flip was filming at the house before the one where we were standing, and that explains why they spent so much time next door and didn’t stop to catch the chickens at our host home. I was very disappointed that I didn’t get to see that and photograph the goings on up close and personal. Maybe next year! I did get to see some video footage of the yard next door and how they danced, etc. We still saw plenty of sights and had a great time!

  10. LOL… You also learn your very first year about masks. Full face masks look cool but if you happen to drink all day you breath gets pretty rancid by the after noon. That is only one of the reasons for the recourrance of black face paint. Most revelers in the cities use the 1/2 mask covers the face from the forehead to the nose with maybe a cloth hangie flap to the chin, but the 1/2 flap is also restrictive. LOL

    Amazing the small things you remember.

    1. Someone down here asked me about black face paint, but I had not heard of it nor did I see any of it on these revelers. He said that white people painted their faces and black and vice versa. What do you know more about that?

  11. Olden Day before the NAACP/ACLU when folks were just folks and there was no politically correct Black face was very common at MardiGras. It was equivelant I guess to the sexual reverses at Mardi Gras today, or I assume so.

    It was supposedly a way to make a change in one’s perspective. On Mardi Gras the rich and powerful would dress in the black face and rags and spend the day supposedly carefree.

    Now the blackface is usually refered to as a Krewe Zulu thing where those non-black members paint thier face.

    I have even read somehwere that in the 1800’s white land owners would trade for the day with one of their slaves and swap clothes as well as color.

    Heck I have even heard that the blackface was a way that the blacks during the “Klan Days” would know that it was not a klan raid.

    Lots and loads of supasitition, to me its just a way to hide one’s identy. Before the N.O. city safety board (The city council actuallt), made the Flambeau lights illegal, or the real ones anyway, it took a black or more usually a black face to carry and wieldd them.

    Take your choice.