By Van Roy
It’s Lundi Gras in Avoyelles Parish, where revelers from the village of Moncla, east of Markville, have assembled to celebrate Fat Monday, the day before Mardi Gras. This community has celebrated this tradition for decades, complete with royalty swathed in velvet and threads of gold, sweet potato dances, gumbo and the sounds of a fiddler the New York Times called “bigger than life.” His name is Gerard Dupuy, affectionately referred to as the “Stump Jumper,” and he is a native son of his beloved Moncla. When he perches himself on his hand hewn sycamore stump this Lundi Gras night, the dance floor fills and the merriment begins and you know you’re in the midst of a cultural crusader.
“Who would have ever thought this boy from the bayou would ever be mentioned in the New York Times? It was a grand compliment,” he states, enunciating “grand compliment” in his distinct Cajun French.
Though he didn’t start playing the fiddle until forty, the gift came naturally to Dupuy, a retired educator and instructor of adult education at Angola. Like his father and both grandfathers before him, playing the fiddle was in his blood. Soon, he was carrying his wooden stump, made from a tree on his property, anywhere people would let him play. To this day, it’s not uncommon to see this colorful and talented musician following the dearly departed, much like a second line brass band would do in New Orleans. But his appearances extend far beyond the Avoyelles Parish line.
His cousin, the noted Cajun musician, Bobby Michot, from Lafayette, invited him to tour France, a trip that only solidified the passion he has for his French culture, language and music. “I’ve played on the streets of Paris, in villages, at small bars and cafes, any where Bobby could get us in,” often times playing in exchange for lodging and food.” Many people we met in France have come to visit us in Louisiana.”
In recent years, Dupuy has been featured six times on Cajun Pawn Stars and the History Channel, appearing alongside the legendary Jo-El Sonnier. He has been photographed by widely published and exhibited professional photographer, Henry Horenstein, of the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2014, he was one of the subjects featured in the 78 Project Movie, a compelling music and historical documentary by filmmaker Alex Steyermark that profiled regional artists performing while recording early traditional songs directly onto 78rpm lacquer discs. The documentary is available on iTunes, though one can view Dupuy’s segment on YouTube.
“Our language is dying. This is why I do what I do, to preserve and promote our rich heritage and language. Do you realize that the French that we speak is a hybrid of tongues unique only to us and not spoken anywhere else in the world? It’s not simply French, but a mixture of French, Native American, African and even Spanish and is a language that naturally evolved by our settlers trading and blending with these different cultures.”
This May, Dupuy and his trusty stump will be travelling to Charleston, South Carolina for a Crawfish Festival. When asked how the stump will get all the way to Low Country, he laughs and says, “We’ll be riding with the crawfish they have coming from Scott, Louisiana.”