If you were to find yourself in an Acadian community on the 15th of August, you will hear a very distinct declaration. It doesn’t come out in the form of words or song or some form of visual communication. And yet it is as clear as day and grabs your attention. It is a Tintamarre.
The word tintamarre means to make noise or a racket, almost obnoxiously so, without care. In the case of the 15th of August, National Acadian Day, we make ourselves known with our tintamarre. We clang pots and pans, honk car horns, hoot and holler, to make as much noise as we can to let people know that we are here, that we exist, no matter where we are.
That question of where we are is perhaps the most interesting one of all. Acadians are a diasporic people, meaning that we were dispersed. We exist all over the place, in various communities and enclaves. And in the case of Acadians, the act of dispersal is arguably the key to identity.
Explore the history of Le Grand Dérangement in Tyler LeBlanc’s Acadian Driftwood. LeBlanc traces the diverse fates of his family, scattered across two continents, by piecing together archival documents.
In A Taste of Acadie, Melvin Gallant and Marielle Cormier-Boudreau gathered and adapted more than 150 recipes for today’s kitchens from across Acadie.
Written by Antonine Maillet and translated by Wayne Grady, La Sagouine follows the rants and reminisces of a charwoman telling the story of Acadie through her own recollections.
That dispersal is rooted in a very particular time and place. The abridged version of what became known as Le Grand Dérangement (The Great Upheaval) started in 1755, when Acadians were forcibly removed by the English, their lands and titles revoked for refusing to promise fealty to the British Crown. The British, who had recently won claim to the regions now known as the Maritime provinces, would send the Acadians off on ships that would travel much of the eastern seaboard, and beyond, to both dispose and disperse them. Eventually, some of them would return to this region, albeit in very different locations than originally. The land that they knew as Acadie was no longer called such, but they were still Acadians, no matter where they ended up.
There is a particular thing that happens in communities and cultures that exist as diasporas. We expand our sense of identity to where, how, and when we live our lives. Cultural markers and signifiers (whether they be language, food, dance, music, or even a sense of collective trauma) become both essential and plastic. They fit where they need to fit. Names change from LeBlanc to White, or Maillet to Myatt. One region may not eat like the next, or season their food in the same manner, taking on highly regional influences from the communities that surround them.
Languages are both preserved and adapted in distinct manners, with variations like chiac in Moncton and acadjonne in southwestern Nova Scotia. Both are rooted in 17th century French phonetics and grammar – along with smatterings of First Nations vocabulary – but have adapted to 20th and 21st century codes and currents. Even when language fails to continue through the generations, there is still a distinct tether laid there, grounded by family or community.
We Acadians continue to communicate what being Acadian is, the definition morphing through the years. And although our existence is deeply rooted in the violent dispersal that forged this diaspora, we no longer need to hold on to it to validate our existence. We see it, acknowledge it, and integrate it into our identity, rather than let it define that identity. Who and what we are is expressive and expansive.
L’Acadie no longer needs to be defined as a specific place, a place that hasn’t existed for over two hundred and fifty years. We don’t all live in the Maritimes, some of us are in Québec, Maine, Massachusetts, Louisiana, France, and even England, and have been for centuries. Although we were originally a French-speaking people, Acadians don’t always (nor need to) exist in French-speaking communities (or families), let alone be told how to speak French. We express ourselves clearly, with conviction and clarity. We don’t need to be tethered to Catholicism, colonialism, heterocentrism, ruralism. We just exist, as we are. And we will let you know we are here, gladly.
Simon Thibault is a writer, editor, and journalist. His first book, Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food, was shortlisted for the Taste Canada Awards. He currently works as Goose Lane Editions’ Non-Fiction Acquisitions Editor.