In Louisiana, the term traiteur (sometimes spelled treateur) describes a man or woman (a traiteuse) who practises what is sometimes called faith healing. A traiteur is Native Creole healer or a traditional healer of the French-speaking Houma Tribe, whose primary method of treatment involves using the laying on of hands. An important part of Creole folk religion, the traiteur combines Catholic prayer and medicinal remedies. They are called to treat a variety of ailments, including: earaches, toothaches, warts, tumors, angina, and bleeding. In the past, they substituted for trained physicians in remote rural areas of Acadiana. Most traiteurs consider their healing abilities a gift from God, and therefore refuse to accept payment in exchange for their services.
Traiteurism is a very old tradition that is dying out, and very few traiteurs now exist. Traditionally, the rituals of the traiteur are passed down to the opposite gender. So a male must pass it down to a female, and vice versa. The traiteur must be asked to perform the treatments and will rarely offer them outright unless the need is great, and they can not ask for a payment of any kind, although it is acceptable to accept gifts for treating a person. However gifts for a true traiteur are never required.
In Southern Louisiana, the co-existence of conventional medicine and traiteurs offers patients a range of resources for treating illness. Traiteurs and their patients do not view the two systems as conflicting. For example, if treating someone with a Coupe-de-Soleil, or sunstroke, one would perform the ritual, then have the patient drink as much water as they could while lying down and then wiping the patient with a towel dampened in cool water. When a traiteur becomes ill, he goes to the doctor, yet he also employs week-long ceremonial candles (which are highly commercialized), Catholic Novenas (a Catholic rite involving nine days or weeks of recitation of a series of prayers), native traditional herbs, and perhaps a visit by another traiteur to get well. Some will use herbal remedies if they are known, the herbal remedies begin to cross over into voodoo being that both originated with the Creole people. Switching from one healing system to another is common among these practitioners and their patients, whose religious syncretism is matched by syncretism among medical systems. Another example of this fluidity is evident in the language with which the patients label their illnesses. Lousay A., a healer, is shown at his weekly home "clinic" hours one Saturday treating patients. One woman describes her condition as la mal angle, Louisiana French for shingles, while another woman explains that she has herpes zoster," the medical term for the virus. Even in language, the traditional and the biomedical is heard to exist side by side without conflict.
The rituals involved with traiteurism are simple and time-honored, and they are careful to not transgress the teachings of the Catholic Church. The methods of the traiteurs are purported to be able to work on a person regardless of faith, should one be so moved as to ask for a treatment.
In popular culture
- In the Band of Brothers episode "Bastogne", Cajun medic Eugene Roe tells fellow medic Ralph Spina that his grandmother was a traiteuse. This detail was invented for the show and has no basis in the real Eugene Roe's family history.
- A video game of the same name is being created by Raconteur Games, though it does not specifically focus on Cajun folklore.
- Acadian to Cajun: Transformation of a People, 1803-1877. Brasseaux, Carl A. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1992.
- The Cajuns: From Acadia to Louisiana. Rushton, William Faulkner. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979
- Cajun Country. Barry Jean Ancelet, Jay Edwards, Glen Pitre, et al. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.