Monday, December 16, 2013

LOUISIANA FOLKLIFE AND MORE ABOUT TRAITEURS

Martin, boy traiteur, illustrated
by Billy Ledet for Martin's Quest
Traiteurs (treaters or healers) are the major characters in three of my young adult novels set here in Acadiana—books I call "The Martin Series" because the name Martin appears in the title of all three volumes. A few days ago, I re-read an article featuring a traiteur in an old issue of Louisiana Folklore Miscellany and decided to go online to see if newer articles about these healers' work had been published in this journal.

Louisiana Folklore Miscellany is the official publication of the Louisiana Folklore Society, an organization formed in 1956 to promote the "study, documentation, and accurate representation of the traditional culture of Louisiana." This publication is a fascinating journal for teachers and writers of Louisiana history. In a 2008 issue, I read an article by Julia Swett entitled "French Louisiana Traiteurs" in which I discovered many parallels of thought that had appeared in my young adult novels featuring traiteur characters, and also in talks I'd given to students throughout south Louisiana about the traiteurs in the Martin Series.

Swett, a graduate of Religious Studies and Cultural Anthropology, respects the work of traiteurs who use faith healing methods and herbal remedies and pointed out that indigenous herbal remedies are frequently used in pharmaceutical drugs. In talks that I delivered, I pointed out the same fact, tracing some of the herbal remedies to those used by native Americans who co-mingled with the Acadians following the Grand Derangement when the French Canadians fled to south Louisiana during the 18th century.

Another facet of traiteur beliefs she talked about, which I had emphasized in my talks about the Martin Series, was the link between healthy bodies and healthy minds and the way a traiteur tries to understand how the patient feels when he begins treatments. In my latest young adult novel, Martin and the Last Tribe, I wrote: "Christ didn't believe that disease was part of the divine order of things...He was aware that resentment, fear, anxiety, hatred, and the like cause disease. When he spoke, he talked about faith, hope, the will to live, and he was always trying to lift the people to a higher state of becoming well..." In another passage of the same book, I wrote: "To me, traiteur work was a way I (Martin, the hero of the Martin Series) could quiet the sick person's mind and come into contact with the part of the self that the person I was treating wasn't aware of... then lead that person to become conscious of what made him sick..."

Swett explained that traiteurs use laying on of hands and prayer, just as clergy do in the sacrament of healing in the Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches, and in the Martin Series, Martin and his grandmother use this method during all of their healing sessions. Interestingly, Swett wrote: "Many healing systems approach the individual body as being continuous or integrated with the social body. When illness manifests in the individual body, it is indicative of a lack of integration with the social body." And in Martin and the Last Tribe, I write, "We did our traiteur work not only to relieve the sick person, but to remind him that he could return to the healthy order of things" ("the healthy order" meaning community or the social body).

For those readers who are interested in Louisiana Folklife and Folklore, I recommend the Louisiana Miscellany and other publications of the Louisiana Folklore Society that are available online. I also recommend the work of the Louisiana Folklife Center at Northwestern State University, which coordinates the Natchitoches/NSU Folklife Festival and is an archival repository for many folklife materials. The Center contains a print library of books and periodicals and still photographic images.

Note:  Covers of Martin Finds His Totem and Martin and the Last Tribe feature paintings by my brother Paul Marquart. 


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