Creole people are ethnic groups which originated during the colonial era from racial mixing mainly between Africans as well as some other people born in the colonies, such as Europeans and sometimes South Asian and Native American peoples; this process is known as creolisation. Creole peoples vary widely in ethnic background and mixture, and many have since developed distinct ethnic identities. The development of creole languages is sometimes mistakenly attributed to the emergence of creole ethnic identities; however, they are independent developments.
Etymology and overview
The English word creole derives from the French créole, which in turn came from Portuguese crioulo, a diminutive of cria meaning a person raised in one's house. Cria is derived from criar, meaning "to raise or bring up", itself derived from the Latin creare, meaning "to make, bring forth, produce, beget"; also the source of the English word "create". It originally referred to the descendants of European colonists who had been born in the colony. Creole is also known by cognates in other languages, such as crioulo, criollo, creolo, créole, kriolu, criol, kreyol, kreol, kriol, krio, and kriyoyo.
The following ethnic groups have been historically characterized as "creole" peoples:
- Afro-Brazilian Crioulos
- Aku Krio people
- Atlantic Creoles
- Belizean Kriol people
- Cape Verdeans (Crioulos)
- Criollo people (European diaspora born in Spanish Colonial Americas)
- Fernandino Creole peoples
- Haitian Creole people
- Afro-Honduran Creoles
- Liberian Creole people
- Louisiana Creole people
- Mauritian Creole people
- also Réunion Creole
- Nigerian Creole people
- Seychellois Creole people
- Sierra Leone Creole people
- Surinamese Creole people
People of mixed Alaska Native American and Russian ancestry are Alaskan Creole, sometimes colloquially spelled "Kriol". The intermingling of promyshlenniki men with Aleut and Alutiiq women in the late 18th century gave rise to a people who assumed a prominent position in the economy of Russian Alaska and the north Pacific rim.
Atlantic Creole is a term used in North America to describe a mixed-race ethnic group of Americans who have ancestral roots in Africa, Europe and sometimes the Caribbean. These people are culturally American and are the descendants of a Charter Generation of slaves and indentured workers during the European colonization of the Americas before 1660. Some had lived and worked in Europe or the Caribbean before coming (or being transported) to North America. Examples of such men included John Punch and Emanuel Driggus (his surname was possibly derived from Rodriguez. Also, during the early settlement of the colonies, children born of immigrants in the colonies were often referred to as "Creole". This is found more often in the Chesapeake Colonies.
In the United States, the words "Louisiana Creole" refers to people of any race or mixture thereof who are descended from colonial French La Louisiane and colonial Spanish Louisiana (New Spain) settlers before the Louisiana region became part of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Both the word and the ethnic group derive from a similar usage, which began in the 16th Century, in the Caribbean that distinguished people born in the French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies from the various new arrivals born in their respective, non-Caribbean homelands. Some writers from other parts of the country have mistakenly assumed the term to refer only to people of mixed racial descent, but this is not the traditional Louisiana usage.
In Louisiana, the term 'Creole' was first used to describe people born in Louisiana, who used the term to distinguish themselves from newly arrived immigrants. It was not a racial or ethnic identifier; it was simply synonymous with "born in the New World," meant to separate native-born people of any ethnic background—white, black or any mixture thereof—from European immigrants and slaves imported from Africa. Later, the term was racialized after newly arrived Anglo-Americans began associate créolité, or the quality of being Creole, with racially mixed ancestry. This caused many white Creoles to eventually abandon the label out of fear that the term would lead mainstream Americans to believe them to be of racially mixed descent (and thus endanger their livelihoods or social standing). Later writers occasionally make distinctions between French Creoles (of European ancestry), Creoles of Color (of mixed racial ancestry), and occasionally, Black Creoles (of primarily African descendant); these categories, however, are later inventions, and most primary documents from the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries make use of the word 'Creole' without any additional qualifier. Creoles of Spanish and German descent also exist, and Spanish Creoles survive today as Isleños and Malagueños, both found in southern Louisiana. However, all racial categories of Creoles - from Caucasian, mixed racial, African, to Native American - tended to think and refer to themselves solely as Creole, a commonality in many other Francophone and Iberoamerican cultures, who tend to lack strict racial separations common in United States History and other countries with large populations from Northern Europe's various cultures. This racial neutrality persists to the modern day, as many Creoles do not use race as factor for being a part of the ethno-culture.
Contemporary usage has again broadened the meaning of Louisiana Creoles to describe a broad cultural group of people of all races who share a colonial Louisianian background. Louisianians who identify themselves as "Creole" are most commonly from historically Francophone and Hispanic communities. Some of their ancestors came to Louisiana directly from France, Spain or Germany, while others came via the French and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Canada. Many Louisiana Creole families arrived in Louisiana from Saint-Domingue as refugees from the Haitian Revolution, along with other immigrants from Caribbean colonial centers like Santo Domingo and Havana. The children of slaves brought primarily from Western Africa were also considered Creoles, as were children born of unions between Native Americans and non-Natives. Creole culture in Louisiana thus consists of a unique blend of European, Native American and African cultures.
Louisianians descended from the French Acadians of Canada are also Creoles in a strict sense, and there are many historical examples of people of full European ancestry and with Acadian surnames, such as the influential Alexandre and Alfred Mouton, being explicitly described as "Creoles." Today, however, the descendants of the Acadians are more commonly referred to as, and identify as, 'Cajuns'—a derivation of the word Acadian, indicating French Canadian settlers as ancestors. The distinction between "Cajuns" and "Creoles" is stronger today than it was in the past because American racial ideologies have strongly influenced the meaning of the word "Creole" to the extent that there is no longer unanimous agreement among Louisianians on the word's precise definition. Today, many assume that any francophone person of European descent is Cajun and any francophone of African descent is Creole—a false assumption that would not have been recognized in the nineteenth century. Some assert that "Creole" refers to aristocratic urbanites whereas "Cajuns" are agrarian members of the francophone working class, but this is another relatively recent distinction. Creoles may be of any race and live in any area, rural or urban. The Creole culture of Southwest Louisiana is thus more similar to the culture dominant in Acadiana than it is to the Creole culture of New Orleans. Though the land areas overlap around New Orleans and down river, Cajun/Creole culture and language extend westward all along the southern coast of Louisiana, concentrating in areas southwest of New Orleans around Lafayette, and as far as Crowley, Abbeville and into the rice belt of Louisiana nearer Lake Charles and the Texas border.
Louisiana Creoles historically spoke a variety of languages; today, the most prominent include Louisiana French and Louisiana Creole. (There is a distinction between "Creole" people and the "creole" language. Not all Creoles speak creole—many speak French, Spanish or English as primary languages.) Spoken creole is dying with continued 'Americanization' in the area. Most remaining Creole lexemes have drifted into popular culture. Traditional creole is spoken among those families determined to keep the language alive or in regions below New Orleans around St. James and St. John Parishes where German immigrants originally settled (also known as 'the German Coast', or La Côte des Allemands) and cultivated the land, keeping the ill-equipped French Colonists from starvation during the Colonial Period and adopting commonly spoken French and creole (arriving with the exiles) as a language of trade.
Creoles are largely Roman Catholic and influenced by traditional French and Spanish culture left from the first Colonial Period, officially beginning in 1722 with the arrival of the Ursuline Nuns, who were preceded by another order, the sisters of the Sacred Heart, with whom they lived until their first convent could be built with monies from the French Crown. (Both orders still educate girls in 2010). The "fiery Latin temperament" described by early scholars on New Orleans culture made sweeping generalizations to accommodate Creoles of Spanish heritage as well as the original French. The mixed-race Creoles, descendants of mixing of European colonists, slaves and Native Americans or sometimes Gens de Couleur (free men and women of colour), first appeared during the colonial periods with the arrival of slave populations. Most Creoles, regardless of race, generally consider themselves to share a collective culture. Non-Louisianans often fail to appreciate this and assume that all Creoles are of mixed race, which is historically inaccurate.
Louisiane Creoles were also referred to as criollos, a word from the Spanish language meaning created and used in the post-French governance period to distinguish the two groups of New Orleans area and down river Creoles. Both mixed race and European Creole groups share many traditions and language, but their socio-economic roots differed in the original period of Louisiana history. Actually, the French word Créole is derived from the Portuguese word Crioulo, which described people born in the Americas as opposed to Spain.
The term is often used to mean simply "pertaining to the New Orleans area," but this, too, is not historically accurate. People all across the Louisiana territory, including the pays des Illinois, identified as Creoles, as evidenced by the continued existence of the term Créole in the critically endangered Missouri French.
Mississippi Gulf Coast has a significant population of Creoles—especially in Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula, and surrounding areas. Here, Creole is used to describe descendants of French or Spanish colonists with a mixed racial heritage—French or Spanish mixed with African American or Native American. The area was first settled by French colonists. In 1720, the capital of French Louisiana was Biloxi, MS. A community known as Creoletown is located in Pascagoula, MS – with its history on record. Many in this location are Catholic and have also used Creole/French and English languages.
The crioulos of mixed Portuguese and African descent eventually gave rise to several major ethnic groups in Africa, especially in Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe, Equatorial Guinea (especially Annobon Province), Ziguinchor (Casamance), Angola, Mozambique. Only a few of these groups have retained the name crioulo or variations of it:
- the dominant ethnic group, called Kriolus or Kriols in the local language; the language itself is also called "Creole";
Former Spanish colonies
In regions that were formerly colonies of Spain, the Spanish word criollo (implying "native" or "local") historically denoted a class in the colonial caste system, comprising people born in the colonies but of totally or at least largely Spanish descent. The word came to refer to things distinctive of the region, as it is used today, in expressions such as "comida criolla" ("country" food from the area).
In the latter period of settlement of Latin America called La Colonia, the Bourbon Spanish Crown preferred Spanish-born Peninsulares (literally "born in the Iberian Peninsula") over Criollos for the top military, administrative, and religious offices due to the former mismanagement of the colonies on a previous Hasburg era.
The word criollo is the origin and cognate of the French word creole.
The racially based caste system was in force throughout the Spanish colonies in the Americas, since the 16th century. By the 19th century, this discrimination and the example of the American Revolution and the ideals of the Enlightenment eventually led the Spanish American Criollo elite to rebel against the Spanish rule. With the support of the lower classes, they engaged Spain in the Spanish American wars of independence (1810–1826), which ended with the break-up of the former Spanish Empire in the Americas into a number of independent republics.
Racial mixture in the Spanish Philippines occurred mostly during the Spanish colonial period from the 16th to 19th century. The same Spanish racial caste system imposed in Latin America extended also to the Philippines, with a few major differences.
Persons of pure Spanish descent born in the Spanish Philippines were those to whom the term Filipinos originally applied, though they were also called Insulares ("islanders", i.e. Spaniard born in the Philippine islands) or Criollos ("Creoles", i.e. [Philippine-born Spaniard] "Locals"). Persons of pure Spanish descent, along with many mestizos and castizos, living in the Philippines but born in Spanish America were classified as "Americanos". The Philippine-born children of "Americanos" were classified as "Filipinos". During this era, the term "Filipinos" had not yet extended to include the majority indigenous Austronesian population of the Philippines to whom Filipinos has now shifted to imply.
The social stratification based on class that continues to this day in the Philippines has its beginnings in the Spanish colonial era with this caste system. Officially, however, the Spanish colonial caste system based on race was abolished after the Philippines' independence from Spain in 1898, and the word 'Filipino' expanded to include the entire population of the Philippines regardless of racial ancestry.
In many parts of the Southern Caribbean, the term Creole people is used to refer to the mixed-race descendants of Europeans and Africans born in the islands. Over time, there was intermarriage with residents from Asia as well. They eventually formed a common culture based on their experience of living together in countries colonized by the French, Spanish, Dutch, and British.
A typical creole person from the Caribbean has French, Spanish, British, and/or Dutch ancestry, mixed with sub-Saharan African, and sometimes mixed with Native Indigenous people of the Americas. As workers from Asia entered the Caribbean, Creole people of color intermarried with Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Javanese, and Hmongs. The latter combinations were especially common in Guadeloupe. The foods and cultures are the result of a creolization of these influences.
"Kreyòl" or "Kweyol" or "Patois" also refers to the creole languages in the Caribbean, including Antillean French Creole, Bajan Creole, Bahamian Creole, Belizean Creole, Guyanese Creole, Haitian Creole, Jamaican Patois, Trinidadian Creole, Tobagonian Creole, and among others.
People speak Antillean Creole on the following islands:
- St. Lucia
- St. Martin
- Trinidad and Tobago
The usage of creole in the islands of the southwest of the Indian Ocean varies according to the island. In Mauritius, the term Creole refers to colored people who have the ancestry of Africans with some French and Indian blood. The term also indicates the same to the people of Réunion and Seychelles.
In all three societies, creole also refers to the new languages derived from French and incorporating other languages.
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