Follow Kenny from the levees of New Orleans to the whirling chaos that is the Pagan festival circuit and beyond. Musings, rants, and just plain Pagan talk.
Here are a few of my photos from last Sunday's Mardi Gras Indians celebration here in New Orleans. For complete coverage of the event, see my other Blog here. Also see Lauren's Witches & Pagans blog post on the Indians, in A Pyrate's Perspective.
Mardi Gras Indians are a New Orleans tradition in the African American community. The tradition combines elements of American Indian culture, Afro-Cuban drumming, Mardi Gras celebration and African American culture, posturing and sensibilities.
Mardi Gras Indians are the oldest continuing parade in NOLA, dating back to a decade after the Emancipation. Under Jim Crow laws, African Americans were not allowed to parade on Mardi Gras day itself, so the Indians began parading on Saint Joseph's Day, March 19.
There are perhaps forty tribes of Mardi Gras Indians in the New Orleans area: each tribe has a Big Chief, and one or several Queens. Above and below, Big Chief David of the Wachitaw Tribe, and his two Queens. David invokes the spirit of the White Buffalo when he marches, and asks the Ancestors to keep him strong during the all-night march on Saint Joseph's Night. Queen Rukia, at left below, calls upon her totem spirit, the Monarch Butterfly.
Each suit takes thousands of hours to make. All bead work is hand sewn. A suit can weigh up to a hundred pounds. Each year, the suit is destroyed, and a new suit is made.
Music is an essential part of Mardi Gras Indians culture. Most songs are call-and-response chants, accompanied by tambourines, drums, cowbell, and improvised instruments like tin cans and bottles. The song that starts each Saint Joseph Night, and is sung by each tribe, is Indian Red, a prayer for the tribe and the neighborhood.
Indian culture is multi-generational, and is passed from parent to child. This girl will grow up and, hopefully, become a Queen.
Anyone familiar with the song Iko Iko knows the lines "My Flag Boy see your Flag Boy/Way down on the Bayou/My Flag Boy see your Flag Boy/Gonna set your flag on fire." The Flag Boy signals the tribe when another tribe is approaching. In the old days, encounters could be hostile and violent; today, all tribes have put aside their conflicts for the good of New Orleans, and all of the 40 or so tribes meet peacefully on the Sunday closest to Saint Joseph's Day. Above is the Flag Boy of the Mohawk Hunters.
The Wild Man dresses in skins, antlers, horns and bones. He clears the way for the Big Chief, and calls out the Indian credo: "Won't bow! Don't know how!" He honors the ancestors of the Mardi Gras Indians, calling upon all Indians gone before.
"Ayah! Coodi-Fye-O!! Indian Red, Indian Red." (Indian Red, song of the Mardi Gras Indians). From New Orleans, a look at the beautiful, sacred, amazing tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians.
Merry Oestara to all!
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