HOUMA, La. (WAFB) - Those who grew up in south Louisiana know all about the swamp creature called the Rougarou... after all, if you were bad as a kid, mama would say the Rougarou would come to get you.
Keeping that folklore alive is the annual Rougarou Fest in Terrebonne Parish.
“So yeah, still to this day, I sleep, make sure my feet are covered under the blanket so the Rougarou does not come get my toes!” said Genie Ardoin.
Like Ardoin, ask any adult who grew up in south Louisiana and they’ll tell you the fear of the Rougarou is real!
“This one included! Yeah, of course we all grow up, you better behave or the Rougarou’s gonna' get you, right? And so we behaved because we don’t know what’s gonna' happen when the Rougarou gets us,” said Jonathan Foret, executive director of the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center.
Foret grew up in Chauvin and was definitely kept in line with stories of the Rougarou.
“Most people think that the Rougarou is sort of like a werewolf, so he’s a Cajun werewolf,” Foret said.
Nine years ago, Foret and others came up with the idea of a Rougarou festival as a fundraiser for wetlands education.
“And of course the Rougarou lives in the swamps of Terrebonne Parish, like to the south of us here, and so we felt since he lives here, we could, you know, cash in on the fact that we could have a festival about this charter,” he said.
Normally, the festival would include a ball, a parade featuring the Krewe-Ga-Rou, live music, and more, but this year, they had to get creative with popular elements of the festival, like the witches costume contest.
“They’re a big highlight of the Krewe-Ga-Rou parade, which we do every year, so we’ve done a video of the witches, and it’s sort of this transformational video where you see the lady and she’s just working in her yard or working inside her house and then there’s a broom that passes in, and when it comes back, she’s dressed up in her witch uniform,” Foret said.
During the festival, they even pardon a nutria, which this year, will be done virtually.
“Oh, how can we forget Beignet?” asked Foret. “So he is able to stay alive because all the other nutria, because they’re doing damage to the wetlands, they unfortunately have to be taken out.”
There’s a new feature to the festival this year, and it’s the result of isolation: a haunted yard contest.
“So one of the things that we’re actually kind of excited about is that we’re doing the top ten haunted yards of Terrebonne, and so this is something that we actually think that we’re going to continue doing every year,” said Foret.
Festival organizers are selling to-go lunches every Friday in October this year to help raise money for wetlands education.
“The work of the Discovery Center is to get kids to think outside of the box and think in terms of how they’ll be able to do this work, and again, live successfully for a few more generations as long as we can,” Foret said.
Even this year’s official Rougarou Fest posted depicts the pandemic. The Rougarou is seen hording toilet paper. He has hand sanitizer and a face mask in his coat pocket too. And the flowers he’s standing in are actually the COVID-19 molecules we’ve all seen used as a symbol.
But the Rougarou Fest is more than just a fundraiser for wetlands education.
“One of the things that we think that is very important about the festival is that it keeps a lot of our traditions alive, and so we look at the festival as sort of a trunk of our traditions, and the things that we put in it that we want future generations to carry on with, right?” Foret said.
There are two more Fridays in October in which people can buy plate lunches in support of wetlands education. Visit the Waterlife Museum on Park Avenue in downtown Houma on Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
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