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Louisiana had a strong and varied Native American presence for many centuries before it was colonized. The original European settlers of Lafayette and the Louisiana territory were French colonists who had been forcibly evicted from the French territories in Maritime Canada after the British seized the territory in the mid-1700s. They became known as the "Cajuns," a variation on the "Acadians" they had been known as while living in present-day Canada.
These people brought their culture and survival skills with them, but the climate was radically different for them, as were many of the food sources - not to mention the swampy terrain. Over the ensuing decades, the distinctive "cajun" culture and cuisine was born out of what was originally an effort to simply survive and find food in the swampy, watery landscape. The area around Lafayette was originally called "Vermilionville," but was changed in honor of America's great French ally in the Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette.
The Lousiana territory was briefly held by the Spanish in the late 1700s and some of this culture can still be found today, most prominently in and around New Orleans. In the early 1800s this region was among the many area purchased from France by the U.S. In the 1800s, many parts of Louisiana, including the Central part around Lafayette, were home to many large plantations, with slave owners building large fortunes and producing various agricultural crops. Along with the Cajuns, African Americans have also made tremendous contributions to the culture of this region. The Civil War brought devastation and long-lasting poverty to many parts of the state.
Well into the 20th century, Cajun culture remained so pure and unchanged simply because the swamps, endless waterways and wetlands and relative lack of infrastructure made it fairly difficult for residents to interact with the rest of the country, and for visitors from the outside to come and explore Cajun country and interact with its residents. Much of this started to change around World War II, as young men from the area headed out in great numbers to join the service. Along with tourism and some remaining fishing and crawdad/shrimp gathering, oil and gas have largely replaced agriculture as the dominant industries in the Lafayette region.
The term "Acadiana" which describes not only the region, but more importantly, the people that make up this region has a rich history as well. Click here for the colorful story on how "Acadiana" came into fruition.