What is the difference between Creoles and Cajuns and how did the terms originate in Louisiana?

In 1762, King Louis XV of France gave Louisiana to his cousin, King Charles III of Spain.

The new Spanish aristocracy called the French-speaking people who lived there Criolla, the Spanish word which means “from this place.”

Originally, it referred to people of European descent only. Eventually, the original Creoles began using the phrase negres Creoles to denote their slaves. Later, Creoles de couleur became used to describe free African Americans who were born in the city.

All of this got more confusing as the tight-knit, French-speaking population interbred across color lines and became neither completely white nor black. This led to a caste system based on who was what percentage of what race.

A racial naming system developed that required tracking ancestry back eight generations and totaling the racial makeup of each of your 128 great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents. No, we’re not kidding.

If all 128 of these ancestors were white, you were considered white.

However, if even one of them was non-white, you were considered non-white. Within that designation was an even more absurd series of graduated distinctions. For example, if 127 of your ancestors were white, you were considered sang melee.

If 120, mamelouque. If 112, octoroon. If 96, quadroon. If 64, mulatto. And so on, all the way to negro for those who had zero white ancestors.

Luckily, Cajuns are much easier. Because they were considered white-trash newcomers, there were no caste distinctions made about them.

In fact, many were forced into the swamps and backcountry as the Creoles took over their land during an economic downturn in the late 1800s.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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