Living Ind

Don't sleep outside without a cover

by Mary Tutwiler

Brothers seek to save relics of a quirky burial tradition The living are fascinated by the dead. Ancient Egyptians left food and drink for the deceased to ease their journey on the ship of death to the underworld. Etruscans buried their dead in sepulchers depicting the earthly joys of life. Rome is honeycombed with catacombs shrouded in the secrets of early Christianity. And here in Acadiana, the early settlers of Mermentau Cove built small wooden houses over their ancestors graves. Why?

That is the question brothers Zach and Jeremy Broussard set out to answer in their documentary, Little Houses: A Small Film about Death.

The Broussard brothers grew up playing in Istre Cemetery as their family went about the rituals that punctuate local tradition: cleaning and whitewashing graves for Toussaints, attending community funerals, and frequently visiting the graves of the departed. The cemetery was filled with a unique feature — small scale wooden houses, detailed with finely crafted windows, doors and  roofs. It was only when they left the small community of Mermentau Cove and went to college, Jeremy for journalism, Zach in film, that they realized how special the little houses are.

Jeremy went home with a camera and began interviewing his grandfather, Lawrence “T’rouge” Broussard. “Our grandfather was such an important part of our lives,” says Zach. “He was an expert storyteller, the kind of Cajun you don’t see around much any more.”

Lawrence Broussard told his grandsons that the Acadian settlers wouldn’t rest in peace exposed to the weather. “Mr. Pierre Henry told his people to be sure he don’t sleep outside without a cover.” The little white house in Istre Cemetery still stands over Pierre Henry’s grave.

But it is one of only three remaining where there once were over a dozen, and the Istre Cemetery Board doesn’t have the money for the sort of historic preservation work that it would take to save the houses.

So the brothers formed a corporation, BENEFILMS, and got serious about completing their documentary about the funerary houses. Five years in the making, Little Houses charts the mission of the Broussard brothers to preserve these landmarks. They were instrumental in having the houses placed on the National Historic Registry. Proceeds from the sale of DVDs of the film will go to support restoration efforts to preserve the small houses.

Laurence Broussard didn’t live to see his grandson’s film. He is buried in Istre Cemetery. But he would have been proud, says Zach, to see the call to action to save the houses that are part of his tradition.

Little Houses premiers Friday, 7 p.m., at the Rice Theatre in Crowley. Tickets include a reception with a live performance by the Lost Bayou Ramblers, whose music is featured on the sound track. Attendees will receive a special invitation and map to the historical marker dedication ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Istre Cemetery. Tickets for the premiere, reception and dedication are $12, $15 at the door. For more information, to watch the trailer and to buy tickets, visit .