|Depiction of Evangeline and Gabriel. (Wikipedia)|
Evangeline and Gabriel never consummated their marriage. They were expelled from Acadie on their wedding day because they were French-speakers who refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown and forsake their Catholic faith. So, like the 11,500 caught up in the various waves of expulsion (1754-1763), they left Acadie (Canada's present-day Maritime Provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) for either France or the 13 colonies across the border in the States. Evangeline sailed on one ship, Gabriel on another.
Evangeline eventually found refuge in South Louisiana and devoted herself to finding Gabriel. Their plight came to represent The Great Expulsion (Le Grand Derangement) to succeeding generations of Cajuns in South Louisiana (but without which there wouldn't be a Cajun culture in South Louisiana, one of history's double-edged swords.) The Cajuns found a sympathetic environment among earlier Catholic-French settlers in South Louisiana and prospered. (Most consider Cajun French to be a dialect of French or patois'.)
In 1847, as a tribute to their suffering, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about the fictional couple in his epic poem, "Evangeline". The poem, written in dactylic hexameter, became his most successful work and acquired a world-wide readership. The name Evangeline is from the Latin word evangelium for 'gospel'.
"Evangeline" reflects much about the Cajun culture - its determination and perseverance; its gentleness and sensitivity; its love of family and commitment to faith; its vulnerability and innocence.
One of the tributes to Evangeline's heartache is the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, the oldest state park in Louisiana, in St. Martinville, Louisiana, near Bayou Teche (which you and I visited under "B is for Bayou".)
The park contains the "Evangeline Oak", the legendary meeting place of Evangeline and Gabriel. They eventually meet, but the ending reflects a melancholy streak that runs through the Cajun culture. Although toe-tapping music and a love of parties/get-togethers characterize much of the Cajun culture, in truth, many of their quieter songs are lamentations of suffering and unrequited love, for example.
(My grandmother, whose first language was French, made the songs come alive when she'd translate them for me. Unfortunately, she had to translate when my father, her son, wasn't around as he didn't want us to speak the language, a reflection of the times. He later said it was the worst mistake he made as a parent. Too late. The damage was done. One of the reasons I transferred from university in Lafayette to LSU after my freshman year was because most of those around me spoke Cajun French and I didn't. LSU turned out to be the right home for me, but I think I'll always carry a tinge of regret learning Cajun French was forbidden.)
A popular Canadian remembrance site for the epic period when the Acadians migrated is the Evangeline Trail in Nova Scotia.
"Evangeline" is a must-read in South Louisiana schools (although many 'cheat' as the poem is so long.) If you would like to read the epic poem for free, please go here. (The poem has mostly 5-star ratings on Amazon.)
|Evangeline Oak (courtesy of historic site)|
|(Courtesy of Festival)|
|Dolores Del Rio as Evangeline and Roland Drew as Gabriel in the 1929 movie version.|