A Mardi Gras experience as distinct — and almost as indescribable — as its name.
Driving through serpentine and sometimes dilapidated roads in rural Southwest Louisiana, it is often easy to forget your tether to civilization.
If not for the several miles-long line of parked cars — most of which are straddling the fulcrum between shoulder and drainage ditch — ensconced among the countless rice fields and crawfish ponds of the Cajun prairie, you could feel completely removed from society.
Instead it’s Mardi Gras day in Acadiana, and although far removed from the clamor of marching band drums and the sight of outstretched hands begging for beads — rain or shine and hot or cold — an ethereal euphoria begins to wash over your senses as you approach this mystery. “Faquetaique,” a Mardi Gras event named for an Atakapa-Ishak word meaning, “place of footpaths,” features a different kind of begging — begging for and chasing chickens.
“The Faquetaique courir is the best day of the year — every year,” said Carly Viator, New Orleans resident and 2013 broadcasting alumna of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “We put on our masks and escape reality for a while. It is both an act of cultural preservation and an act in some fantastical play.”
At this 11-year-old courir, French for: to run, an iteration of a Louisiana Mardi Gras tradition that traces its roots back to rural and medieval France, all revelers must be in full regalia: in this instance, ornamented and colorful costumes of varying fabrics, a mask and a ceremonial conical hat referred to as a “capuchon.”
Failing to capitulate to these demands and subjugate yourself to the whimsy of the “enforcers” or “La Force,” “Les Capitains” or “Les Villains” may result in whipping, kneeling for “whiskey-boarding” with Jameson or expulsion from the event. First-timers must undergo an initiation, and anyone with beads or jello shots are told to “keep that shit south of I-10!”
With civilization in the rear-view mirror, your only responsibilities are to forget all of your cares and preoccupation with modern conveniences, to stroll around the prairie alongside trailers hauling live bands playing Cajun music and ice chests filled with ethanol-based party fuel, dance and beg for chickens, take boudin-eating breaks in open pastures and display feats of strength and teamwork by climbing a 15-feet-high greased pole to catch a chicken.
At the halfway point revelers stop to pay tribute at the grave of late, renowned Cajun musician Dennis McGee. At the end of the run, gumbo is served as you relax alongside a pond and a makeshift stage for live music and dancing.
Surrounding towns such as Eunice, Mamou, Ville Platte and Church Point have historic runs, but local musicians and brothers Joel and Wilson Savoy wanted to restore the archaic and antique traditions of the true courir on their family’s land between Savoy and Chataignier, outside of Eunice. At its inception, it was word-of-mouth only, but after being featured in 2010 in HBO’s series, “Treme,” the secret came out.
“The Savoy family has a way of bringing us all together to celebrate what is unique about South Louisiana,” Viator said.
Viator’s husband, Kelley Courville, is a Eunice native with a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who grew up attending courirs and knows the Savoy family personally. Viator and Courville have embraced the event as part of their love for their culture and each other.
“The music and love that resonates throughout the prairies of Eunice has brought me back eight years and counting,” Viator said.
Faquetaique is truly unlike anything anywhere else.
Here’s what the courir near Eunice looks like:
Updated: Feb. 29, 2016 3:28 p.m.