2012 Isleño Festival
In early 2012, I started hearing about an area of Louisiana history that I wasn’t really aware of. Although it is common knowledge that the Spanish were one of the early colonizers in southern Louisiana, what I didn’t know was that some of the earliest Spaniards were originally from the Canary Islands. Los Isleños is the name given to Spanish citizens of the Canary Islands that immigrated to Louisiana in the late 1700s. They immigrated to Louisiana before most mainland Spaniards and have had a large impact on the multicultural mix that makes contemporary Louisiana culture so unique.
On March 18, 2012 I visited the Isleño Festival east of New Orleans in the town of St Benard, Louisiana. The festival has many similarities to typical festivals in Louisiana. There are craft booths, the music stage, the food tents but, being a heritage fest there was more.
The first thing I saw when entering the festival were recreations of traditional Houma huts. The huts were built on a bare bone wood frame and overlain with layers of palmetto fronds to create a pretty neat structure. I went inside one and the temperature was cool but allowed fresh air inside.
The next interesting exhibit was a row of traditional Isleño houses. The houses were generally built off the ground and reminded me of normal architecture that I’ve seen around New Orleans from the same time period. The rooms were square and each room led into the next with a kitchen and laundry room near the back.
This lady wove pine needles and grasses into very intricate baskets and was demonstrating her work. Pretty Impressive.
Craft exhibit booths were interesting and featured traditional Isleño crafts such as paddles, decoys and boats.
Trapping was a big part of the early settlers’ daily life. There was a Trappers Cabin and a few taxidermy exhibits.
The food. There was the usual festival food. Hamburgers, hotdogs, funnel cakes and then there was the Spanish section. We got a selection of paella, bacon wrapped plantains and fish croquettes although there were more options including meat pies and charbroiled oysters.
There was also a stage with music and danging, including a group of costumed dancers.
Overall, it was a great festival. I hadn’t been to this part of Louisiana since my youth when I went fishing with my grandfather out of this area. The live oaks draped in Spanish moss overlooking the festival really captures the essence of festivals in Louisiana.
- Visit on March 18, 2012