Since moving here in 2009, I’ve attended at least 60 parades, seen hundreds of costumes, heard SO many bands and experienced many versions of New Orleans culture, but nothing has impacted me like the beauty of the Mardi Gras Indians. After nearly a straight month of Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s parades, the season crescendoed for me with the incredible sights and sounds of the plumed Indians and their attending bands. We’re deep into “you had to be there” territory, but I’ll do my best to capture it.
Unlike last year, I knew what to expect this year, but like the Cafe du Monde beignets that are better than you remember every time you eat them, the Indians are jaw-dropping every time you encounter even one so to have the streets fill with them… it’s like a rainbow come to life, like art personified. No wonder they’re fighting for the rights to photos taken of them. Luckily for us, this St. Joseph’s Super Sunday parade welcomed cameras.
There were some who were shy, covering their faces, but most proudly displayed their incredible suits. The men and families who parade in the over 40 Tribes work the entire year on the concepts, beading and feathering of their suits. They spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on the intricate details all in hopes that we will find them “pretty.” Mission accomplished. I was drowning in pretty.
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux led the way for the Junior Buckjumpers and the Young PinStripe Brass Band. Next, the Spy Boy checked out the path and signaled to a Flag Boy who relayed the message to the Big Chief Fi Ya Ya. The Single Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club marched accompanied by the Stooges Brass Band. More Wild Men, Spy Boys, Flag Boys and Big Chiefs spilled onto the street. Plumes everywhere. A band chanted “Ooh Na Nay” with a beat as old as the human heart. Another added our area code, 504, to the chant. We are inordinately proud of our area code here.
There was a posing area and I easily found one of my favorite Indians from last year (who I incorrectly identified as 9th Ward Tribe but saw holding a Red Hawk flag this year). His royal blue plumes were replaced with deep burgundy ones and a new beaded tableau played out across his chest and legs. Two small children stood nearby in white, like baby birds whose richly colored feathers would grow in with age.
As a crafter myself, I would love to sit for hours and examine the exquisite workmanship of the suits. As a student of the culture, I’d love to understand all the markings, the stories the suits tell. It’s like they’re wearing semi-interpretable dreams, full of symbolism and fraught with meaning but only fully understood by the mind that imagined it.
I also saw a Baby Doll! Originating either in Storyville in the 1890’s or by Treme Brass Band’s Uncle Lionel’s mother, depending on who you ask, the grown women dress in ruffles and bloomers sipping baby bottles rumored to carry spiked milk. The tradition began to die out and has only recently been revived.
My words are paltry and the photos can’t capture the feeling of the plumes tickling my legs but pictures (and video) are worth thousands of words.
Click the icon in the lower right to watch the video full screen.