True Cajun Mardi Gras traditions come alive in the Louisiana countryside.

Mardi Gras
You never know what you'll see in Mamou.

For newcomers to the raucous Fat Tuesday Courir de Mardi Gras in the town of Mamou, the early-morning scene is almost startling. With the yippee-on-horseback spirit let loose on the country roads, you half expect Cajun ghosts to rise up from the crawfish ponds and dance a jig. But as Evangeline Parish native Junior Thibodeaux says in his Acadian lilt, "MAH-moo? Mamou is Mardi Gras."

And Mardi Gras, no matter where you enter the joie de vivre, requires the same open-mindedness as Pamplona's running of the bulls or the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities in Mexico. The Courir de Mardi Gras, which also happens in nearby towns―Eunice, Iota, and Basile―plays out like living history in one of America's most singular enclaves of culture: Cajun country. In Mamou, more than 100 local men, ages 16 to 60, ride house to house on horseback in lively garb and glint, just like their fathers and their fathers' fathers did decades before. As the tradition goes, rider captains cloaked in purple capes lead the clip-clop of horsemen on a backroad pilgrimage; along the route, locals offer ingredients for a celebratory gumbo.

Pre-Lenten revelry on the journey is the norm. Most men wear masks, and although the mirth is contagious, the sheriff-like captains set a tone of organized chaos during the parade. Throughout the front yard exchanges and the chicken chases that follow, the costumed participants dance and holler and backflip while a tractor-drawn seven-piece Cajun band plays familiar accordion-heavy tunes. It's a progressive glee distinctive to this region and bordering on decadent mayhem. Still, as Junior says, it is a time-honored tradition, and in a world sliding away from rich customs, there's nothing quite like the Cajun courir.

Eunice Does Mardi Gras
Visit Eunice, just 10 miles south of Mamou, for a four-day family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration. Cajun and zydeco bands perform on downtown stages all day, while the crowds enjoy an enormous king cake. Don't miss the truck parade, when Eunice's revelers return to town after their morning of merriment. or (337) 457-2565.

For more information on the February 24 Mamou Courir de Mardi Gras, call the Mamou City Hall at (337) 468-5317.