Why are my uncles and cousins drunkenly wrasslin’ over a pineapple, I found myself thinking not very long ago. And why is my other cousin dancing with a mop while standing in a laundry basket?
Most of my family lives in South Louisiana and they’re Cajun through and through. Even when the crew from Ville Platte invades Face Book en masse, as they’ve been doing in the last couple of months, they bring their style to social media.
Recently, I was alerted to some wedding photos of a cousin. Most of them were about what you’d expect: the bride in a dress, the groom in a tux and everyone else ranging from jeans to Sunday best. There was laughter, crying and even photographic evidence of keg stands.But there were a few photos of grown men fighting over what looked like a pineapple. And they weren’t just tugging back and forth. In one shot, they’re on the ground wrasslin’ for it. In another, one of the men is taking a bite out of the damn thing–yes, through the rind of a whole pineapple.
And then there were the photos of my cousin–the groom’s older brother–dancing with a mop in a laundry basket. What the holy hell was going on at this wedding? What was I missing?
Today, one of my aunts called to see if I was anywhere in the vicinity of Binghamton, getting myself shot by an enraged Vietnamese-American. I was not. Binghamton’s three hours or so away from the City (before any New Yorkers say, “Well, duh,” quick answer this: How far is Opelousas from New Orleans? That’s what I thought.)
I thanked her for her concern and, since I had her on the phone, I said to her, as politely as possible, “What the hell were those lunatics doing in those wedding photos?”
She said, “What, drinking from the keg upside down?”
“No,” I said. “I know what a keg stand is. I’m talking about the damn pineapple. Where does that tradition come from?”
I fully expected it to be some weird Louisiana tradition. We’ve got a lot of them–from “pocking” Easter Eggs to hiding pickles in Christmas tress. While Cajun culture is largely based on the French exiled from Nova Scotia by the Brits and plenty of folks outside the state are aware (if a little confused) by the parallel Creole culture (Spanish/French/African in Louisiana’s case), what’s often forgotten is all the other influences in the state: German (hence the pickle in the tree), Italian, Irish, Croatian and, yes, Vietnamese. (Egg “pocking” has been seen in France, Lithuania and among the Pennsylvania Dutch, so God knows where we got that from.)
So, the pineapple? Turns out it’s a tradition that goes all the way back to three weddings ago, when one of my crazy-ass uncles and one of my crazy-ass cousins noticed a pineapple on a table and decided to throw caution to the wind and play Drunken Cajun Rugby with it. “Now, every time there’s a party and there’s a pineapple, they start fighting over it.”
A tradition is born!
And dancing in a laundry basket with a mop? Turns out that is a bonafide tradition (but the basked it usually replaced with a bucket). When a younger sibling is married off before the older sibling, the older sibling is publicly humiliated at the wedding reception by being forced to stand in a bucket and dance with a mop. Like most cherished traditions, it’s a completely rational thing to do.
Cajuns know how to have fun with each other, too. It is a custom that if a younger brother or sister marries before the older one, then the older one must dance with a mop or broom while everyone watches. In the little town of Mamou, they even have to dance in a tub of water with the mop.
Ville Platte, where most of my mom’s family lives, isn’t Mamou, but it’s right next door. It’s all coming together now.
By the way, for you money grubbing brides-to-be, you may want to steal one Cajun wedding tradition: the money dance. After the bride and groom finish their first dance and then dance with their parents,
To get a dance with the bride or groom, it is traditional to pin money on the bride’s veil or on the groom’s suit. This is an excellent way to make sure they have some money to start their life together.
Also, according to Ken Wheaton’s Big Book of Wedding Traditions, no wedding is complete unless Clarence Carter’s “Strokin'” is played.