A howling holiday: the Halloween guide to Cajun werewolves

Watch yourself at night in the swamplands of Louisiana— you may just find yourself in rougarou territory. Photo: Rougaro Festival Banner

HOUMA, La., October 17th, 2013— Deep in the humid southern Louisiana marshlands, where the wilderness remains too dense to explore, legends rise with the swamp gas and mosquitos. As with all cultures, certain tales passed down through generations warn of ghastly monstrosities roaming the small rural towns in search of trouble. 

From Lafourche to Orleans Parish, the story of the rougarou is a classic. Almost everyone, city dwellers and country folk alike, is slightly familiar with the superstition.


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When Louisiana was deemed a new home for the French, the immigrants brought with them their concept of the loupgarou, creatures similar to the werewolves of England. The origins of the Southern beasts are traced back to either the pure blood settlers directly from France or the Acadians, who resided in the Canadian colony of New France until they were driven out to the Louisiana territory by the British. Whether the influx of foreigners brought just the tall tales or the monsters as well remains a mystery. 

In fact, much of the background to the rougarou is a mystery. The legend has altered over the centuries, depicting the creatures as evil spirits, bayou dwellers made of moss, and even shapeshifting cranes. The most common interpretation describes the rougarou as albino dogs and farm animals because wolves are not native to the region. 

The folk lore claims that the beasts are mere mortals by day, thriving in swamp towns with minuscule populations. However, every evening for one hundred and one days, when darkness consumes the communities, the individuals transform into the monstrosities. They will harass lone pedestrians and, in some cases, if a rougarou’s teeth breaks flesh, the curse will shift onto the victim.

In other instances, the unsuspecting passerby will react violently to the hassling and attempt to wound the attacking animal. When a rougarou is injured, it transforms back into its original form and speaks its name to the townsperson. Often times, the plagued town is so tight-knit that the mutant is either an acquaintance, a neighbor, or even a family friend. The human must keep the creature’s secret for a year and a day or else suffer the same fate. 

Rougarou are usually created as a result of encounters with other cursed individuals. Some adages insist that the affliction derives from failed deals with the Devil or jinxes by scorned black witches. The devout Catholics maintain that any member of the faith who disregards Lent for seven years is punished with the scourge. 

The superstition has faded over time and is now typically told as a bedtime fable to naughty Cajun children by their grandparents. However, the monsters are still celebrated annually— since 2012, the Rougarou Festival has occurred in Houma, Louisiana, around Halloween. However, the occasion is less about werewolf awareness and more about supporting the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, an organization focused on preserving the coast. 

This year’s celebration occurs on Saturday, October 26, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Main Street. The festival is packed with a variety of musicians, like Josh Garrett and Chaos of the Cosmos, playing everything from blues to indie rock. A costume contest and a parade will occur later on in the day. The Rougarou Run starts at 6 p.m. For $35, participants can race for their lives, pursued by zombies and monsters for the duration of the course. 

Thrill seekers can actually encounter— and embrace photo opportunities— with the celebration’s official rougarou from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. More information about the event can be found at http://rougaroufest.org or by calling 985-580-7289. 

Houma is located an hour and fifteen minutes outside of New Orleans and two hours from the capital of Baton Rouge. The host city has a range of hotels for travelers to stay the night at, like the Courtyard Marriott at 142 Library Boulevard and the Quality Hotel at 210 South Hollywood Road. Both accommodations and a handful of other inns will offer discounts if the Rougarou Festival is mentioned during booking.

Fortunately, the closest one may get to rougarou territory is at the celebration. Do yourself a favor, though, and don’t stay after dark! 

Where? Main Street in Houma, Louisiana, an hour and fifteen minutes from New Orleans

When? Saturday, October 26, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Contact: Visit http://rougaroufest.org or call 985-580-7289. 

 


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Megan Boyanton

Megan Boyanton is a Mass Communications major and freshman at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She not only writes in the "Out and About Louisiana" column, but hosts a morning radio show on KNWD 91.7 FM "The Demon."

She is an active member of the Phi Mu female fraternity. Raised outside of Seattle, Washington, she has resided in the Deep South for the majority of her eighteen years and has an intense passion for traveling. 

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