This week on American Routes Shortcuts, in honor of the harvest and hallows, we travel down the bayou in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, to visit wood carver and Houma Indian Ivy Billiot. Ivy learned the Houma tradition of basket weaving from his father, and although the wood is scarce these days, Ivy still crafts hunting blow guns, violins, and painted carvings of animals. He tells host Nick Spitzer about his relationship to the natural and supernatural worlds.
Ivy Billiot: I got ways of communicating with animals and creatures and stuff, I just don’t know. When I go fishing, I just tell those fishes to open their mouths so I can take the hook out and the fish open his mouth and I take the hook out and he go “uh-uh” and he take off!
Nick Spitzer: What are your favorite birds to carve?
IB: The redwing, I like those red winged blackbirds. The red on there is like a red velvet, it’s like a velvet cloth. And the gold that’s on them, the white there? It’s like some fur on the red winged blackbird.
NS: Have you ever eaten the red winged black bird?
NS: ‘Cause a lot of people do eat those, you know.
IB: Yes, uh-huh. But my momma said not to kill those kinds of birds and I didn’t you know. And the mockingbird, she didn’t want us to kill no mockingbirds neither, she said that was a sin, that was the lord’s bird.
IB: I can listen to the bird and I can almost tell you what he’s saying. I had one of ‘em on the fence right there, he was talking to me one morning, I used to tell him good morning every morning, you know? And one morning, he turned around, he was chirping, he said, “don’t you talk to me like that.” I said, “what!?” I grabbed the rock and I threw it! I said I’m gonna get you in the pan, that’s what I’m gonna do with you! I heard him talk just like a person, yes.
NS: You know a lot about the animal world, tell me a little about that spirit world, I was thinking of what we call in French the Loup Garou - in English they call it the werewolf - have you ever known about the Loup Garou?
IB: A Rougarou is somebody who turns into an animal or another creature you know? My daddy said they had one down in Grand Calliou, a man, he used to walk Grand Calliou with him sometimes, you know meet him down the road. They thought he was just a regular man that was on the side of the road, so they walk with him you know? He get to a certain point, the next thing you know it was a dog that was walking with him. And sometimes it was a cow or a bull, you know? and then he just disappeared you know, brrumpshh!
NS: When you’re talking about the Loup Garou, or Rougarou as you say, how does somebody turn form a person to an animal? What causes that to happen?
IB: Too much religion. Too much religion. Believes to much in prayers and all that. And the demons and all that. You know, the lord took this planet from the animals and we still got that animal deal inside of us.
NS: So do you think there’s RouGarou around today in Houma and this area?
IB: I’m quite sure.
NS: What do you think is the future of life here on the coast, South Louisiana, for the Houma people?
IB: I don’t know. It seems like they say within a few years, Houma’s gonna be underwater. I don’t know. Next hurricane…
NS: Katrina was pretty rough here, but the one that was really harder on this area came after Katrina.
IB: Yes, we had it bad over here.
NS: Comment s’appelait l’ouragan?
NS: Yeah, what happened in this area from Gustav?
IB: High water, wind. They almost didn’t have nothing down there. It devastated the road, the highway was out. They said the levees failed, but I don’t think it’s the levees that does that. The God don’t need those levees to stop that water. It’s gonna come from another direction. They gonna find out exactly what the God can do.
NS: Ivy Billiot, thanks for visiting with me here
IB: I sure appreciate it
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.