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February 22, 2010


Unexpectedly, an exhibit at the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes has spawned the first international exchange of Acadian culture between Acadians from New Brunswick’s Acadian peninsula and Acadians from the state of Maine.

The Archives’ exhibit of Mardi Gras Remembered, which opened last weekend, is the beneficiary of several “grosses têtes:” papier mâché sculptures that have been a tradition with French festivals for centuries. The sculptures are courtesy of Le Festival acadien de Caraquet, from the village on the Acadian Peninsula in northern New Brunswick.
A highlight of the exhibit is Lili Tintammare: Giant of Acadia, a sculpture “born” and “baptized” last August 15 (the Acadian national holiday) in Caraquet. Lili made the five-hour, 250-mile (400 kilometer) trip to the Archives in the back of a van, late last week. It is her first trip outside of Caraquet.
From medieval times, the giants of western Europe were born of communal and religious processions. The giant figures depict scenes of the Bible, stories of legend, and stories of the cycles of Charlemagne. Later, they changed their emphasis, and began to take on the significance of a region, city, or neighborhood. Through that adaptation, the processional giants have taken on greater importance and have become mainstays of carnivals and festivals.
Le Festival acadien de Caraquet’s Executive Director, Daniel Thériault, was on hand at the opening of Mardi Gras Remembered to help cement Caraquet’s new contact with UMFK’s Acadian Archives, and also with the organizers of the 2014 World Acadian Congress throughout the St. John Valley.
“We are glad to collaborate with the Mardi Gras exhibit here at UMFK, and to make connections with this part of Acadia,” Thériault said. “It is in the best interest of both regions to make contacts for the benefit of each.”
Thériault said the collaboration is particularly important now, as the area prepares for the 2014 World Acadian Congress.
Many individuals wonder why we celebrate Mardi Gras. The story is dynamically told in a new exhibit entitled Mardi Gras Remembered at the Archives. The exhibit runs through the end of April.
The exhibit is filled with amazing masks, many with the traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras colors: purple, green and gold; colorful costumes; and displays representing Le Carnaval de Québec in Canada; Carnaval de Rio in Rio De Janeiro; Carnaval de Nice, France; Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana; Cajun Mardi Gras; Carnival of Venice, Italy; and Mardi Gras in the St. John Valley.
Each display traces the ancient origins of Mardi Gras to the present day. Visitors also may view a video filmed during the Carnaval de Québec.
According to Lise Pelletier, director of the Archives, “The exhibit is a great opportunity to honor an Acadian and Catholic tradition and to educate people about a tradition that was very prevalent in the St. John Valley for centuries.
The exhibit has an appeal for people of all ages, from fun activities to thought-provoking videos about ‘Mardi Gras Made In China,’ and segregated Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile, Alabama,” Pelletier adds.
Assisting Pelletier in arranging the exhibit were Anne Chamberland, administrative assistant at the Archives, and work study students Sierra Daigle, Marie-Pier Daze, Tiffany Martin, and Kristin Theriault.
While you are at the exhibit, you may listen to Valley people talk about how they celebrated Mardi Gras: girls and boys, men and women would wear their clothes inside out, done a mask, and go from door to door asking for treats. Revelers had to change their voice and their walk so people could not guess who they were. Then the evening would progress into a dance and a party, the last chance to indulge before the lean period of Lent.
Working with the Archives staff and work study students on the exhibit were UMFK Professor of Education, Dr. Doris Metz, and her students, as well as Priscilla Daigle and her students, who developed age-appropriate educational activities for everyone.
The origin of Mardi Gras and Carnival
Mardi Gras, or Carnival, derived from the Latin expression carnis levare meaning "farewell to the flesh," and has existed for more than 2,000 years. It was a non-religious event before being adopted by the Catholic Church.
Carnival starts on January 6, the Fest of the Epiphany, and ends the night before Ash Wednesday. It is followed by a 40-day period of fasting and abstinence known as Lent. Under ancient customs, Carnival was a time of abandon and merriment. Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated in numerous cities and towns around the world.
For more information about Mardi Gras Remembered, please contact Anne Chamberland at 834-8631 or Lise Pelletier at 834-7536.
Teachers interested in planning a field trip to the Archives should make a reservation, and also learn how this exhibit fulfills the requirements of the Maine State Learning Results.