• bayou
    Bayous dot the entire Louisiana coast.

    Photograph by Christina Blanchette, My Shot

    Bayuk
    Bayou is a French version of the word "bayuk." Bayuk is a Choctaw word for "small stream."

    Disappearing Bayous
    According to National Geographic, Louisiana has lost around 4,900 square kilometers (1,900 square miles) of coastal wetlands since the 1930s.

    A bayou is a slow-moving creek or a swampy section of a river or a lake. They are usually found in flat areas where water collects in pools. Bayous are often associated with the southeastern part of the United States.

    Bayous are usually shallow and sometimes heavily wooded. They can be freshwater, saltwater, or a combination of both. This combination is called "brackish water."

    Bayou vegetation ranges from tiny mosses to huge cypress trees. Bayous provide habitat for animals as diverse as shrimp, wading birds, and alligators.

    Bayou Bartholomew is the longest bayou in the world and is located in the U.S. states of Arkansas and Louisiana. It is about 603 kilometers (375 miles) long and contains more than 100 different species of fish. Before railroad lines were constructed in the late 1800s, Bayou Bartholomew was an important waterway for transportation.

    Houston, Texas, one of the largest cities in the United States, was founded near Buffalo Bayou. The bayou is still important to the city because it serves as a drainage basin for extra water during heavy rains. In this way, the bayou protects Houston from flooding.

    Bayou Country

    The bayous of the American Gulf Coast have a nickname: Bayou Country. Native Americans have lived in Bayou Country for more than a thousand years.

    Many Choctaw people, for instance, are native to Bayou Country. Choctaw people relied on the rivers and bayous of the Gulf Coast for shelter and food, such as fish, shrimp, and birds. They developed sophisticated watercraft to navigate between seasonal settlements. Wooded bayous also provided protection during times of conflict.

    Today, many Native Americans retain close ties to Bayou Country. The United Houma Nation, native to southern Louisiana, has the crawfish as its official emblem, for instance. A group of Atakapa-Ishak people live in the "water village" of Grand Bayou. Most homes can only be reached by boat, and the community's most important economic interests are fishing and shrimping.

    Bayou Country is also home to Cajun and Creole cultures.

    Cajuns trace their ancestors to French-speaking people from the southeastern part of Canada called Acadia. (Today, Acadia is a region that includes part of Quebec and Canada's "Maritime Provinces" of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.) In the  mid-1700s, Acadians were forced out of their homes as the British took control of the region.

    Many Acadians migrated to the isolated bayous of Louisiana. Here, they preserved elements of their culture. Today, more than a dozen parishes in southern Louisiana are part of "Acadiana." Cajuns speak a version of French (Cajun French) and have a unique musical heritage drawing on French and Canadian folk tunes.

    Like Cajun culture, Creole culture has its roots in migration and re-settlement. In the early 1700s, "Creole" indicated a European person born in Louisiana, then a colony of France. Soon, Creole was used to describe a mixed-race person from the region—someone with European, Native American and African (often slave) ancestry. In the 1800s, Creoles achieved power and property rights rare for mixed-race people in the rest of the United States.

    Bayou Country's Creole culture is a rich collection of diverse influences. The music most associated with Creole culture is zydeco, a mixture of American jazz, Cajun folk, and African rhythms. Food, such as gumbo, also has African, Native American, and European influences.

    Both Cajun and Creole cultures are defined by the waterways of Bayou Country. The bayous helped preserve and strengthen Cajun and Creole cultures by allowing the groups to interact with their family and maintain a sense of community. Until the 20th century, bayous along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River were vital for transportation, communication, and commerce.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Acadia Noun

    (1604-1713) French colony in northeastern North America.

    ancestry Noun

    family (genealogical) or historical background.

    bayou Noun

    swampy backwater of a river or lake.

    Encyclopedic Entry: bayou
    brackish water Noun

    salty water, usually a mixture of seawater and freshwater.

    Cajun Noun

    people of French-speaking ancestry native to the Gulf Coast region of the United States, mostly the coast of Louisiana.

    colony Noun

    people and land separated by distance or culture from the government that controls them.

    commerce Noun

    trade, or the exchange of goods and services.

    communication Noun

    sharing of information and ideas.

    community Noun

    group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

    creek Noun

    flowing body of water that is smaller than a river.

    Creole Noun

    people and culture of the Native American, French, Caribbean, African, and Spanish settlers of the American Gulf Coast, especially the state of Louisiana.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    drainage basin Noun

    an entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries. Also called a watershed.

    flood Noun

    overflow of a body of water onto land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: flood
    Gulf Coast Noun

    land in the United States surrounding the Gulf of Mexico.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    interact Verb

    to work with or meet.

    isolate Verb

    to set one thing or organism apart from others.

    maritime Adjective

    having to do with the ocean.

    migration Noun

    movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

    Native American Noun

    person whose ancestors were native inhabitants of North or South America. Native American usually does not include Eskimo or Hawaiian people.

    navigate Verb

    to plan and direct the course of a journey.

    parish Noun

    political division, similar to a county, in the U.S. state of Louisiana.

    region Noun

    any area on the Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    slave Noun

    person who is owned by another person or group of people.

    sophisticated Adjective

    knowledgeable or complex.

    swamp Noun

    land permanently saturated with water and sometimes covered with it.

    Encyclopedic Entry: swamp
    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.

    vegetation Noun

    all the plant life of a specific place.

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