MADAWASKA, Maine — There’s going to be a little Cajun spice in this year’s Acadian Festival kicking off today with opening ceremonies and historical re-enactments next to the St. John River.
Some years back, Ray and Brenda Trahan of St. Martinsville, La., discovered the Acadian connection between the Francophones of the St. John Valley and the Cajuns of the Southern bayous.
Today, thanks to the efforts of the Trahans, the two towns are linked by a “twinning,” or “friendship,” agreement signed by their respective municipal officials in 2006. The couple also plan their fourth trip to the Valley to participate in the festival.
“We first found out a lot about the Acadians of the St. John Valley and saw they had a festival up there,” Ray Trahan said from his home in Lafayette earlier this week. “We gave them a call, made some connections and talked about the twinning agreement.”
Trahan and his wife — both Louisiana, or Cajun, Acadians — are actively involved with historical and cultural activities in their area.
“My wife is the curator and tourism director for the town of St. Martinsville,” Trahan said. “When she wanted to do a festival down here she notified me that she volunteered me as the chairman.”
Much of the St. Martinsville festival is patterned on what the Trahans saw and experienced during several visits to Madawaska.
“We were very much impressed by what we saw at the Acadian Festival,” Trahan said. “Our festival is now in its sixth year.”
Among the ideas the Trahans took back to Louisiana was the Madawaska tradition of re-enacting the landing of the first Acadians on the spot locally believed to be the site of the original landing.
“We saw that re-enactment of the landing and decided to adopt that,” Trahan said. “Now every year we select two families to come up the bayou in traditional pirogues in period costumes.”
As in the Madawaska event, the family representatives in Louisiana are met with a ceremony on the shore that includes delegates from past reunion families.
“It’s caught on real good,” Trahan said. “We also do a lot of cooking right there with traditional food like jambalaya and boudin [blood sausage], plus a lot of cooking out on the streets.”
Unlike Madawaska’s multiday event, the St. Martinsville festival is a one-day affair.
Trahan said the trip back to the Valley this week is a time to connect with friends made during past visits and to talk about the future of Acadians and Cajuns globally.
Last summer Lafayette, along with Quebec City, lost a competition to host the 2014 World Acadian Congress to the northern Maine-western New Brunswick-central Quebec region.
While the Louisiana contingent holds no ill will toward its northern cousins, Trahan said his group is planning a sort of world congress prequel with the 2011 Great Acadian Awakening in Lafayette.
“We really want to talk to people in your area about the World Congress and about the Great Acadian Awakening,” Trahan said. “We want to invite everyone to come down in 2011.”
The idea behind the Great Acadian Awakening, Trahan said, is placing the spotlight on celebrating and preserving the language and culture of Acadians.
“With hurricanes and now the oil spill in the gulf, we are losing a lot of coastline where our ancestors settled,” Trahan said. “People are finding it hard to work the traditional jobs of fishing and shrimping, so they have to move inland to find other work and that means living in places where French is not spoken, and before you know it they are not speaking French.”
Trahan said that Parisian, textbook, Canadian, St. John Valley and Cajun French are all valid dialects of the language and a French speaker from one area can certainly communicate with one from another.
“I go to France and speak my Cajun French and can be understood,” Trahan said. “What better second language can you have than that of your ancestors?”
With that in mind, Trahan said, the invitations to the Great Acadian Awakening are going out worldwide.
The event will include an academic program, cultural events and traditional entertainment.
“We do want to try to make it as educational as possible.”
In the St. John Valley, organizers of the 2014 World Acadian Congress are thrilled with the offers of support and help from the Louisiana Cajuns.
“They were so happy for us when we won the bid to host the congress,” Louise Martin of the Maine Acadian Heritage Council, said. “They have been so gracious and so wonderful.”
The fact that Madawaska and St. Martinsville are linked with an official agreement only serves to help the cultures of the two communities, she said.
“The twinning was their brainchild,” Martin said. “But everyone up here thought it was such a great idea.”
The Trahans are scheduled to make a presentation about the Great Acadian Awakening from 11 a.m. to noon Friday at the Madawaska High School library. The event will be open to the public.