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The Amazing Crawfish Boat

The Amazing Crawfish Boat

By John Laudun
Series: Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World Series

Hardcover : 9781496804204, 240 pages, 35 illustrations; 10 maps and figures, March 2016

The true story of how a network of Cajun and German farmers and fabricators invented a traditional amphibious boat


In any given year, the Louisiana crawfish harvest tops 50,000 tons. The Amazing Crawfish Boat chronicles the development of an amphibious boat that transformed the Louisiana prairies into alternating fields of aquaculture and agriculture. In seeking to understand how such a machine came into being, John Laudun describes the ideas and traditions that have long been a part of the Louisiana landscape and how they converged at a particular moment in time to create a new economic opportunity for both the rice farmers who used them and the fabricators who made them.

Walking fields with farmers and working in shops with fabricators, Laudun gives readers a rich portrait of the Louisiana prairies and the people who live and work on them. The Amazing Crawfish Boat seeks to unearth the complex mix of folk cultures that underlie a variety of traditions that are now seen as native to an area populated not just by Cajuns but also by Germans and other groups. Over the years, this diverse mix of cultures has produced an astonishing set of artifacts that demonstrate not only their ability to adapt, but their ability to innovate, and the crawfish boat is a great example of such creativity produced by individuals deeply embedded in their culture and place.

While the lives of artists and scientists have been examined for what they tell us about innovation, The Amazing Crawfish Boat seeks to address creativity as part of a larger cultural complex of ideas and behaviors. To ascertain this inventiveness, Laudun examines the historical and cultural trends that led to this creation, drawing from archives, oral histories, and ethnographic accounts. He investigates the shops and sheds where farmers and fabricators work, revealing the immense imagination and intelligence that lie behind the bolts, welds, and hydraulic lines that hold the boats together and, in so doing, hold a way of life together.


The sense of real life that rises from every page of this book shows John Laudun's keen observation, probing intelligence, and broad philosophical sensitivity. Responsible member of a close community and affectionate student of its history and culture, he tells a story as fascinating as any fairy tale: Louisiana farmers collaborated and competed in developing an unpredictable, incredibly ingenious, and yes, amazing machine. Until reading this book, no reader cared to understand what a crawfish boat is or how a pyramid mesh trap is made, let alone tolerate a textbook-deadly topic like the introduction of rice to Louisiana. These factual curiosities become palatable history because John Laudun emphasizes the local--the saturation of landscape in people's consciousness. His contribution to the present state of material culture studies is his narrative, telling stories from the first page to the last. Creativity, we discover in his book, grows out of the local--the intimate relationship between human beings, technology, and landscape. Like John McPhee at his best, he connects the designing and crafting of objects and processes to a deep understanding of American society and its institutions.

- Lee Haring, folklorist specializing in theory and narrative, especially in the islands of the Indian Ocean

Laudun has done an excellent job of describing the landscape, the intimate relationship between farmer and field, and the broad assemblage of people involved in the creative development of this one particular innovation—the amazing amphibious crawfish boat.

- Material Culture Review

The Amazing Crawfish Boat is a work of keen-eyed observation, an attempt to see clearly how a group of men, often overlooked and sometimes derided, works—and how they express their intelligence through labor.

- John T. Edge, Oxford American

The Amazing Crawfish Boat is a fascinating history of the crawfish industry and the boat that is used to farm and harvest its crop. John Laudun writes eloquently about both the men who design the crawfish boat and those who use it to 'glide upon the water and scoop up a bounty. ' His tribute to a boat that can travel through water and on land is a classic folklore study.

- William Ferris, author of The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists