Creepy swamp tales surrounding one Cajun creature have spooked some families living along the bayous for generations. Legend says the Rougarou prowls Louisiana swamps to hunt down Catholics who don’t observe Lent and children who don’t behave.
What is the Rougarou?
The Rougarou is a beastly, werewolf or dog-like creature existing in the rich Cajun folklore along the swamps and bayous of Southeast Louisiana.
Jonathan Foret, executive director of South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, says the traditional French pronunciation referring to the swamp monster is “loup-garou,” the French word for werewolf.
“Over the years in Southern Louisiana, it kind of morphed into Rougarou, which is also a correct pronunciation for it nowadays,” Foret said.
Foret said he grew up with parents passing down the legend. Now, as an adult, he’s learned even more about the creature while producing the Rougarou Fest that occurs annually in Houma, La. on the last weekend of October.
What’s the legend of the Rougarou?
The most popular legend surrounding the Rougarou serves to warn Catholics who backslide on observing Lent, a time of fasting and abstaining in Catholicism and other Christian religions. Foret says this lines up with the predominately Catholic religion in the area.
“One of the ways that you could become a Rougarou is if you did not observe Lent for seven years in a row,” Foret said.
Another version of the legend was used to make kids behave.
Parents would commonly tell their children, “You better behave or the Rougarou is going to get you,” Foret said.
Renditions of this spooky legend most likely spread from French and French Canadian settlers who eventually made their way into Cajun Louisiana. Over generations the stories may have morphed, but remain versions of cautionary tales.
“Around here the stories are centered around a man in the shape of a dog, or half-man, half-dog,” Foret said.
There are apparently other ways to morph into a Rougarou.
“Another way was if you were cursed by someone, and you could be cursed to become the Rougarou,” Foret said.
To get rid of that curse, you have to get someone else to cut you and draw blood. When that person cuts you the curse would transfer onto them, releasing you of the curse — but then, turning them into the creature.
How can you protect yourself from the Rougarou?
Foret also mentioned two ways people would protect themselves from the Rougarou.
Placing 13 pennies or rocks on your doorstep or windowsill was one tradition to protect your home from the Rougarou. When the Rougarou tries to break into a home, the creature will become perplexed and keep trying to count the items. Since the creature doesn’t know the number 13, the pennies keep the monster at bay continuously counting, until it has to retreat back into the swamps upon sunrise.
“Apparently the Rougarou is not good at math because he can only count to 12,” Foret said.
Another tradition is putting a colander on your doorstep to achieve the same method; the monster will keep trying to count the holes.
Foret said at the Rougarou Fest each year, storytellers keep the oral tradition alive by passing the folklore to the next generation. The unique festival celebrates the folklore of the Louisiana bayou.
“It’s important for the next generation of kids living on the bayou to understand,” Foret said.
Whether you believe in transformations into the Rougarou or not, Foret said he’s not taking any chances. Many Cajuns would also tell you to beware of the Rougarou.