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All Saints’ Day Traditions
Peter M. Cousin, Sr. was born in 1927 in Lacombe. He listed his ancestry as Creole, Cajun, and Choctaw. He said that he was a descendant of Francois Cousin, one of the early European settlers of Lacombe in the 1830s. He spoke some French and Spanish, in addition to English. For many years, he was a builder in New Orleans, but he soon after retired from the construction business and worked for St. Tammany Parish's Assessor's Office.
He was an expert on the history and traditions of the area, especially such traditions as "La Toussaint," which is the traditional French Louisiana ritual honoring the dead on All Saints' Day. Mr. Cousin also made his own filé from sassafrass leaves that he picked from a tree in his yard. He was very interested in his Native American heritage and its lore. He made replicas of palmetto mosquito whisks and the pine tapers that were once used as torches by the Indians.
In preparation for All Saints' Day, Lacombe families gather in local cemeteries to beautify the graves of loved ones. They cut the grass, whitewash graves, and paint fences. Candles and flowers are placed around and on the gravesites. The graves are then blessed by a priest. As night draws near in, the sight of hundreds of candles flickering in the dark is a moving and remarkable one. Although the tradition of "La Toussaint" is a Catholic one, Mr. Cousin said that other religious groups in the area have also begun to clean their cemeteries on All Saint's Day.
Cemeteries in the Lacombe area are located on or near bayous and easily accesssible to boats. Before roads were built in the area, bodies had to be transported by boat to the cemetery. According to Mr. Cousin, the tradition of candle decorated graves began with the use of torches of pine knots used to light the way. Mr. Cousin took care of two family cemeteries, and he restored some of the old graves in his family's cemetery near Bayou Lacombe. This cemetery has the grave of Pere Roquette, an early Catholic priest in the area.
Mr. Cousin was active in preserving and educating others about his cultural heritage. He participated in a narrative session on All Saints' Day traditions at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and worked with other community members to develop a cultural museum in Lacombe.
Updated December 1, 2016 by Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Center Staff