Heart of Louisiana: Cajun Healer

Published: Feb. 12, 2014 at 3:13 AM CST
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CATAHOULA, LA (WVUE) - She's a 70-something French-speaking great-grandmother with an interesting resume. An award-winning singer-song writer, tractor-trailer truck driver, and a Cajun faith healer.  FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us into the Atchafalaya Basin to meet Helen Boudreaux in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

French traditions run deep in the small communities along the Atchafalaya Basin. It's where Helen Boudreaux grew up in a French-speaking sharecropper's home.

"My mama and her sisters, they sang when I was little," she said, before breaking into song in French.

And that was the beginning of Helen's musical journey. Helen's interest in music and in speaking the English language came from listening to the family radio on the farm where she grew up in the small town of Catahoula.

"Then I really learned how to speak the language and knowing what English was when Hank Williams started singing on the radio," Helen said. "And I loved music back then."

By age 17, Helen was writing her own songs. She quickly learned that it involved more than making words rhyme.

"You have to have a story," she said.

In the 80s, Helen took to the highways driving tractor-trailer rigs from coast to coast, a 10-year journey that took her through all but two states.

"The highest thing we had in Catahoula was the levee," she said. "But I drove across big, beautiful mountains."

Helen's life took another interesting turn that involved an old Cajun tradition.

"Here they call a … faith healer," she said.

She was given a gift of prayers and chants from her aunt.

"She asked me one day, she said, 'Elaine' - that's my name in French – 'Elaine I want to give you my prayers.' And I really didn't know what that was, you know, I had heard about it, I had heard about it all of my life but I had never been kind of involved in it, you know," she said.

Nervous at first, Helen said she began offering her prayers to people with various ailments - pain, bleeding, shingles.

She speaks in French and then translates: "Out Jacob who walks in the sea, makes a little man a fire, go no closer or no further, the pain stops here," she said. "You see? That's for shingles."

The words are mixed with the Catholic sign of the cross.

"So whenever I pray on somebody, I tell them they have to thank God for healing," she said. "I am not the healer. Traitors are not the heater, god is the healer."

Helen maintains a collection of chants passed on to her from the elders in the French community.  And just like her songs, Helen is willing to share her gifts if anyone asks for them.

Helen Boudreaux has recorded three albums of her original music, and has been honored with several awards from the Cajun-French Music Association. For more information, click here.