SANKOFA'S PLANTATION DATABASE

Laura Plantation

Location: Vacherie, St. James Pa., LA
Constructed: 1805

History: 3,000 years ago the Gulf of Mexico was pushed back from this area by the rich alluvial silt of the Mississippi River, Not long afterwards, nomadic bands of native Amerindians wandered through in annual migrations. Because this particular plot of land sits high above a geologic fault line, native settlements took root here by the early 1700s. By the 1780s, a large Colapissa ceremonial center was located here. The village named "Tabiscania," or "long river view," was still nestled among Cajun Farms when, in 1804, the Laura "Big House" was erected "with Indian huts surrounding it." Considering the natives to be Frenchmen, the French did not force them off the plantation. Instead, they lived on the fringes of European economy and settlements, with the last , full-blooded native Colapissa remaining on the property until 1915.

The first human cargo pushed off the docks in New Orleans arrived in the 1720s: slaves from French Senegal. For the next 60 years, these Muslim slaves were joined mostly by their fellow tribesmen from the SeneGambian basin. Captured for their agricultural and construction skills, their work created the colony and influenced all segments of the newly forming Creole culture, best seen today in cuisine, music, family centered traditions, architecture & life-style.

This sugar plantation started in 1805 with 7 slaves (6 west-African and 1 Amerindian). By the start of the Civil War, 185 enslaved workers were employed on this farm. Descendants of these very slaves live near the Laura Plantation to this day.

From the 1750s, several Frenchmen tried unsuccessfully to make a go of this property. In 1785, Spain ceded the land to 4 exiled Acadian (Cajun) farmers who lived here until 1804. With help from Thomas Jefferson, the land was granted to a French veteran of the American Revolution, Guillaume Duparc, who died soon afterwards. Four generations of women in his family ran the growing sugar plantation until Laura, the great-grand daughter of Duparc, sold it in 1891 to the family of Florian Waguespack, who were Creoles of German descent.

THE SENEGALESE ORIGIN OF "BR'ER RABBIT"
In the 1870s, Alcée Fortier, a young neighbor of Laura's, visited the workers' cabins at this site and at nearby plantations. As a teenager, Fortier began to collect the stories from former slaves, just as they told them to their children, all lively accounts of Compair Lapin and Compair Bouki, the clever rabbit and the stupid fool. In 1894, Fortier, the president of the American Folklore Society and Dean of Foreign Languages of Tulane University, published his stories, entitling them "Louisiana Folktales."

One year later, Fortier's friend and colleague in Georgia, Joel Chandler Harris, published stories that he had heard in English, tales told by former slaves in Georgia and the Carolinas. To great success, Harris published "Tales of Uncle Remus", including his "The Little Tar Baby." Ever since, English-speakers would know Compair Lapin as that rascal: Br'er Rabbit.

Fortier recorded 2 main characters in his tales: Lapin & Bouki. Lapin is French for Rabbit. Bouki is a Wollof word, the language spoken in Senegal in west-Africa, and means "stupid hyena." In the 1720s, when the first slaves arrived in Louisiana, Senegal was the homeland for almost all of these captives. For the next 60 years, Senegalese slaves formed the core of the African experience in Louisiana. Then, in the 1780s, the slave trade shifted to the English colonies, again bringing slaves out of Senegal. During all these years, the Senegalese slaves, whether in Louisiana or on the East Coast, were handing down the same tales of the rabbit and hyena to their descendants.

Today, in Senegal, Wollof-speaking children learn French in school. Third-graders there are taught from one textbook, written in 1953 by a local teacher, Leopold Senghor, who took stories children already knew in their Wollof language and translated them into French. Senghor was, for years, President of Senegal, and the stories he recorded 50 years ago about Leuk, the clever rabbit, and Bouki, the stupid hyena, are the same, almost word for word, that Fortier collected in the 1870s.

For hundreds of years, in many countries, these same tales have been handed down, some calling the rabbit Lapin or Malice, Brother Rabbit or Br'er Rabbit or, for unknown ages before, Leuk. Recalled by young and old, rich and poor, enslaved and free, these storied are, today, among the most widely known folktales in the world. It is this shared cultural treasure that visitors re-discover a Laura Plantation and the shared heritage that Laura celebrates during its annual Br'er Rabbit Folk Festival.

Associated Surnames: Duparc, Gore, Locoul


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Associated Black Slave Names

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