After a 2 week rain delay, the Mardi Gras Indians finally celebrated Super Sunday in full regalia. Festivities began in A.L. Davis Park with music, dancing and plenty of food. Our ribs hot-off-the-grill were delicious and the Lady Buckjumpers had gorgeous cupcakes for $1. We had some first-timers with us so we took in the tribes arriving and laying out their suits as well as instruction and storytelling from Spy Boy Dow of the Mohawk Hunters Tribe. I enjoyed sharing some of the history and traditions as well as the legendary story of Chief of Chiefs “Tootie” Montana.
For those who haven’t heard it, “Tootie Montana started making his own Mardi Gras suits at the age of 10. With his 3-D innovations of the beading, he was ‘the prettiest.’ He rose to the title of Big Chief ‘Tootie’ Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas tribe and became known for his battles of craftsmanship rather than violence. As a result, he was crowned the first and only Chief of Chiefs.
After years of run-ins with police and permit offices over the Indians’ right to parade, the Big Chief took his battle to the New Orleans City Council where they were holding a review of complaints of misconduct by police during Mardi Gras. He was speaking for his people, discussing his 52 year history as an Indian when he died, right then and there, of a heart attack. His funeral was one of the largest second lines in the history of the city and he is considered a martyr by many still seeking equal permitting for Indians.” (I wrote this in 2010 and the permitting issues have since been resolved).
The Super Sunday parade began with TBC and other brass bands, the Young Men Olympians, the Lady Buckjumpers and Junior Buckjumpers. Then members of many Uptown and Downtown tribes filled the street with beaded and feathered works of art. There are many reasons to go to Super Sunday, but the awe-inspiring beauty of the craftsmanship and creativity of the suits is chief among them. The suits weigh up to 100 pounds, cost up to $9000 and take up to a year to make. I’ve compared them to rare flowers that only bloom once a year and I’ve done my best to use words to capture their exquisite and elaborate “panorama of ‘pretty.'” Pictures are worth a thousand words but they don’t even begin to convey what it’s like to hear the drums and chanting, to watch the tribes play out their mock battles, to see sun glinting off elaborately beaded tableaus or watch a breeze move through the colorful plumes.
When I attended my first Super Sunday, I lamented that although I was told I was 1/16 Cherokee, I knew nothing of that heritage, the customs, the language, the food, the values and traditions that governed my great-great-grandmother’s life. I wondered if she would be happy to see that her mix-race children went on to share the “American Dream” or weep for all that wasn’t carried forward. I’ve since learned that it’s possible that my foremother may not have been “Indian” at all, but a young black woman passing as Cherokee – a “Mardi Gras Indian.” I may never know whether part of my blood was native to this land or dragged here in chains, but Super Sunday celebrates a shared heritage between these cultures.
There are so many reasons that I love my city and so many can’t-miss events here but, in my book, the Mardi Gras Indians parading on Super Sunday is the “chief of chiefs” of events here. We ended the afternoon with a trip to Hansen’s for sno-balls. The line was long so our first-timers were curious why we were waiting so long for some sugary ice. As hard as it is to explain what a Mardi Gras Indian is, the only way to describe a sno-ball is by what it’s not. A sno-ball is NOT a snow-cone, shave ice, gelato, Italian ice, sherbet, Icee, Slurpee, or ice cream. The best I can do is to say it’s like actual powdery snow with flavors you have to taste to believe.
I had the cream of almond with sweetened condensed milk on top. Then I got to try bites of the pineapple, peach and blueberry flavors (all much more subtle and realistic than you might imagine – not all all like children’s candy) and a new favorite – satsuma (think tangerine or clementine but more tart). Leo DiCaprio used to eat a blueberry/satsuma/(and something I can’t remember) sno-ball most days on the set of Django Unchained. I teased him a lot about his blue tongue (what are big sisters for) but I now see he was onto something! I might take a short break from my normal standard of nectar creme to try satsuma with chocolate or strawberry or coconut.