Lexicon of the Big Easy

Due to its multi-lingual history (and the presence of a faith with which many people are unfamiliar), New Orleans has its own lingo.

bokor: A vodoun priest or magician who practices black magic. Houngans can be bokors, but such is not common.

Cajun: A Louisianan descended from French-speaking Acadia (a corruption of the word “Acadian”); also describes other rural settlers, as well as food or music.

Code Noir: The “Black Code” adopted by the French in 1724 governing the conduct of free-people-of-color and under which conditions slaves were freed.

Creole: A free person of Spanish, French or African descent born in Spanish America; originally used in reference to whites alone, but grew to encompass others after the Civil War; also used to refer to food or music.

Grand Dérangement: Literally “forced migration;”; the massive dispersal of over 10,000 Acadians following the 18th-century wars between England and France.

gris-gris: A term for all sorts of charms, talismans, and other mystical items of vodoun.

hounfour: Inner sanctuary or altar room for the practice of vodoun, sometimes dedicated to a specific loa. Alternately, a more general term for any vodoun temple.

houngan: A priest of vodoun, fully initiated in all the rites and mysteries of the religion.

krewe: A club that sponsors festivals and events (ersatz Old English “crew”); among the Damned, also a type of coterie composed entirely of local neonates.

lagniappe: Literally, “a little something extra”; any small gift from a local.

loa: Spirits of divine origin that serve Bondye (God). They expect to be worshiped and respected but can be imposed upon to grant favors in return.

mambo: Initiated vodoun priestess; female equivalent of a houngan.

mulatto: The child of a black parent and a white parent.

peristyle: The building or outdoor area where vodoun ceremonies are held; often, but not always, bordering or very near the hounfour.

quadroon: A term referring to a person who is one-quarter black.

veve: A symbolic design representing one of the loa. These are used as both the focus of rituals and as a temporary altar. They can be found written or inscribed on various surfaces but are usually constructed with flour that is poured on the ground during rituals.

vodouisant: A believer in vodoun; a worshipper of the loa.

Lexicon of the Big Easy

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