There was a time when a bride would ride to her wedding in a horse and wagon, especially in the rural farmlands of Louisiana’s Creole country. And there were a few other unique traditions that were part of those ceremonies.
reliving a louisiana creole wedding tradition
The horse and buggy are part of a celebration of a simpler time when a bride, groom and families would travel to a rural wedding in a farm wagon, not a limousine. Elton Sam and his bride India are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows. They are also remembering their Creole heritage, promoting the customs handed down from their ancestors in Creole communities near Opelousas, Louisiana.
The marriage reenactment takes place on the grounds of the Creole Heritage Folklife Center. Director Rebecca Henry has staged these traditional creole buggy weddings for the past 12 years. I asked Henry to tell me about a Creole wedding and what makes it different from today’s weddings. “Simplicity for one thing,” Henry says, pointing out that they were inexpensive events. She adds that permission to marry also required a number of approvals, “You had to ask the young lady’s dad, the mom, the grandmother, the godmother, the uncles,” she explains. “You had to get all their blessings.”
A preacher repeats the wedding vows that Mr. and Mrs. Sam took 30 years ago. “Once again, I pronounce you husband and wife,” he said.
creole buggy wedding featured on tv
The ceremony is also a teaching moment as Elton and India Sam reflect on their 30 years of marriage. They are interviewed about their 30 years of married life. “What is the secret to enduring love in a healthy marriage for that long,” they are asked. Elton replies, “First thing is just trying to communicate. She would always say communication is the key.” India responds with one word, “patience”.
jumping the broom at a creole wedding
After exchanging vows, the couple demonstrates an old Creole tradition of jumping the broom. Henry explains that jumping the broom was to consumate the marriage in times of slavery, “because it was unlawful for black people to marry”. And another tradition involves cutting the cake where both husband and wife have a knife. “Whoever goes down first,” Henry says, “is supposed to be the boss of the house.”
living a creole tradition
India Sam stands with her longtime husband wearing a white lace dress with brown western boots. This wedding is a different experience for her. “I was reared by my grandmother and so I always heard of how things were done,” she explains. “But of course in 1993, they weren’t doing those traditions anymore.” For her husband Elton, whose nickname is ‘Cowboy Preacher’, he says the fun part was riding in the buggy, “and reenacting everything of the oldtime people.”
feasting with friends
Friends and family mingle after the ceremony. They fill plates with traditional creole food including smothered okra, boudin, and sweet potatoes. “What is culture if we can’t live it,” Henry says. It’s a celebration of a rural Louisiana tradition and of a man and woman who can reflect on the joy and success of 30 years of marriage.
finding louisiana creole in opelousas
A small museum in the Louisiana city of Opelousas introduces visitors to Creole. Rebecca Henry, who founded the Creole Heritage Folklife Center, explains that finding Creole is all about connecting with the lifestyle of ancestors. Click here to see the story.
Learn more about the Creole Heritage Folklife Center in Opelousas.
The Creole Heritage Folklife Center is located at 1113 W. Vine Street, Opelousas, LA. Phone: (337) 945-5064.