creole

creole (crēˈōl) [key], Span. criollo crēōlˈyō [probably from crío = child], term originally applied in West Indies to the native-born descendants of the Spanish conquerors. The term has since been applied to certain descendants in the West Indies and the American continents of French, Portuguese, and Spanish settlers. The creoles were distinguished from the natives, the blacks, and from people born in Europe. A sharp distinction of interest always lay between the creoles, whose chief devotion was to the colony, and the foreign-born officials, whose devotion was to the mother country. Never precise, the term acquired various meanings in different countries. It has biological and cultural connotations. The term was early adopted in the United States in Louisiana, where it is still used to distinguish the descendants of the original French settlers from the Cajuns, who are at least partially descended from the Acadian exiles. The word is also commonly applied to things native to the New World, such as creole cuisine and creole horses. The term is also used in places distant from the Americas, such as the island of Mauritius, but there it has lost much of its original meaning. The picturesque life of the Louisiana creoles has been ably depicted in the works of Lafcadio Hearn, George Washington Cable, and Grace King.

See F. J. Woods, Marginality and Identity (1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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