[Image Courtesy of Pelican Publishing] 

Louisiana Story Hour: "Uncle Arnel and the Swamp Witch"

17:15 April 13, 2020
By: Kim Ranjbar

If you're fascinated by children's tales, or if you just want to read a great local story to your kid, Uncle Arnel and the Swamp Witch by Allison Hoffman Lane offers a good glimpse into Louisiana folklore, one as rich as a good pot of gumbo.

While lightly researching local folklore didn't result in any tales of a "Swamp Witch," there were online references to the swamp witch in the 1985 movie "Legend" and a song called "Blackwater Hattie" with lyrics that told the tale of a swamp witch that actually helped the community with her magic as opposed to tormenting anyone who got in her way.

"Talk of swamp witch Hattie will lock you in when the sun goes down;
Rumors of what she'd done and rumors of what she'd do,
Kept folks off the track of Hattie's shack, in the back of the Black Bayou."

-"Blackwater Hattie" by Jim Stafford

Uncle Arnel and the Swamp Witch is about a young Cajun girl named Marie who "believe(s) in tradition" and the lore of the swamp witch that her family has passed down for generations. In the tale, Marie and her Uncle Arnel are exploring the bayou when they accidentally bump into the witch.

The witch who "moved with an eerie motion" and seemed to be floating with the movement of the fog, locks eyes with her Uncle Arnel and works a curse on him calling out "Pauvre ti bête," or "Poor little thing". When Marie and Uncle Arnel wake, they find that they are only 12 inches tall! They go through adventures to find their way back home only to discover the curse had spread to the whole family and everyone was miniaturized. In true Cajun fashion, they blessed their life such as it was and decided to "Laissez le bon temps rouler". The message of unerring perseverance to take life as it comes seems to be the accepted mantra of people who live in Southern Louisiana, regardless of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

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