January 6, 2016

Chasing Chickens and
Rites of Passage for Young Men

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In the past, I've written about Rite of Passage rituals for boys that have occurred down through time and across the globe. I've described their importance in a young man's life as they often mark the transition from boyhood to manhood. These passage events often include trials of endurance, skills and lessons to be learned, traditional costumes, sacred songs and dance, and occasionally, altered states of consciousness. Often there is a male pack heading off to "man's world" for the man-making work and when it's all over, a triumphant return to a celebratory community of family and friends.

I've learned not to judge these ritual events from the lens of my value system, but rather to look for the ritual commonalities and the many benefits for the participants and their communities.

The Le Courir de Mardi Gras is a traditional event held in many small Cajun communities of southwest Louisiana and it's a Rites of Passage event for many young men. Courir de Mardi Gras is Cajun French for "Fat Tuesday Run," and traditionally, it was a man's world event that precedes the six weeks of Lent with drinking and some pretty rowdy behavior. Today, in many towns, the event has lightened up over the years, and now invites women and sometimes kids. It takes place on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

In the Le Courir, the revelers are dressed in tattered, homemade fringe and calico rags, with their faces covered by hand-painted wire mesh masks. They start the party early in the morning, and then the revelers head out on horseback, on foot, in pickup trucks, or are pulled on trailers. Much like Halloween, they go house to house on a pre-planned route, and at each stop, there's some combination of dancing, drinking, and begging for ingredients for a big pot of gumbo to be enjoyed at the end of the run that evening. That's the nice story.

. . . an initiatory experience for a young man
and why
it's a very bad day to be chicken!

In an article for the myNewOrleans.com blog, writer Chris Rose fills in the rich details including how the day of the Le Courir can be an initiatory experience for a young man and why it's a very bad day to be chicken.

One of the most challenging elements of the Le Courir is catching a live chicken to be used in the evening's gumbo. At the farms along the way the homeowners, who are in on the fun, will do things like release the chicken from their roof top just to make the chase more interesting. Apparently, the competition is fierce. It's said catching a live chicken, while running through a muddy field, when you're wearing a heavy costume, and competing with other mildly drunk males who are after the same prize, is quite an ordeal.

As Mr. Rose states, "Catching a chicken at Mardi Gras is a rite of passage, a badge of honor, a ceremonial initiation into adulthood for young men on the Cajun prairie, like a first kiss or a first car. You don’t want to be a guy who never caught a chicken on Mardi Gras."

In addition to whatever status and bragging rights the victors have at the Gumbo dinner and in the year ahead, the Le Courir is also good for the towns. Because so many of these southwest Louisiana towns have been hammered by hurricanes over the last few years, tearing communities apart, today the revived Le Courir tradition brings back a much-needed sense of history, community, and cohesion.

If a Le Courir event is not your thing and you want to talk about creating Rites of Passage events for a young man or group of young guys, give me a shout. I'd be happy to help you create just the right event. I can say with certainty that any locally appropriate and intentionally created passage experience will benefit the young males, the men and women who make it happen, and your community in general. Chickens are completely optional

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