The Rougarou: The Wild Man of the Bayous
The legend of the werewolf, member of the pantheon of movie monsters like the Mummy, Dracula, or Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, is found across multiple eras and diverse countries. We know the basic facts: the transformation from human to wolf during the full moon, the transmission of the curse through a bite, the silver bullet that ends a cursed life. Lon Cheney, Jr., who has the distinction of having played all four mythical figures, is best known for the character of Lawrence Talbot, the hapless man who sought in vain to spare his loved ones from the same tragic lycanthropic fate. Long before appearing on the big screen, the werewolf enjoyed a long career in folk tales for generations with many variations.
Growing up in the bayous, I heard a slightly different story about the Rougarou. Is it the same as the werewolf, loup-garou in French? I have my doubts. Coming from Europe, the werewolf encountered other legends in North America of people who could transform into animals. The Navajo and Ojibwa, for example, two geographically distant indigenous peoples, also have legends concerning the transformation of a man into an animal. In the West Indies, the soucoyant, an old lady during the day, gets rid of her wrinkled skin after dark, turns into a fireball, her true form, and sucks the blood of her victims. When I was little, the Rougarou was described to me, according to someone who had seen him of course, as some kind of ogre who could change shape or even make himself invisible. He was over seven feet tall, but with a head too small for the rest of his body. He lived deep in the bayous and loved to eat disobedient children who got lost there. They say he has been there forever and thus no one knows his true age. In this, he is part of other legends about similar creatures whose primary function is to scare children into avoiding dangers that may be encountered outside the home. In a deeper sense, the Rougarou warns people of the negative consequences bad choices can have. In this vein, it is also said that he hunts downs Catholics who disregard Lent. One way to protect yourself from the Rougarou is to put things like rice or thirteen coins on the floor around your bed. The Rougarou will spend the night either counting the grains of rice one by one or starting over the coin count when he reaches twelve. The Rougarou may be evil incarnate, but he is not very smart.
Looked at closely, the Rougarou appears to be a combination of the same influences that form the cultures of Acadiana. The world is a dangerous place where misfortune can happen quickly anytime, especially at night. Solidarity is essential to our survival because things are not always be as they appear.