Since Mardi Gras
is right around the corner, and we are talking about Black History
---it seems fitting to
talk a little about the Mardi Gras Indian tradition in New Orleans and Louisiana. Still thriving, the Mardi Gras Indians
are an important part of the Mardi Gras tradition and are said to have originated from the alliance between runaway slaves and the American Indians who provided a safe haven. It is also said that the African and Indian cultures found a natural affinity for each other as oppressed minorities within the early American settlements. The "Indians" incorporated African and Native American traditions in dress and rituals. Later on when Caribbean influences came to New Orleans, that flavor was also added to the mix.
The tribes of "Black Indians" which grew in Southwest Louisiana were defined by region and neighborhood and they became very territorial. To protect their status as the "reigning" Tribe in the neighborhood very often meant violent showdowns. In the early days of the 20th century, the focus of the "tribes" became less about territory and "turf wars" and became more about status defined by the better and more colorful suits and headdresses
, as well as the songs and dances. The "battles" that the various tribes would do in the neighborhoo
ds were about garnering respect for the amazing costumes and the dancing.
It was an ominous thing to see a group of Indians outside about to do battle with each other, and generally folks ran away. But nowadays, people flock to see the colors and hear the chanting, and to watch the "Big Chiefs" do battle. A Mardi Gras Indian Chief's suit can weigh up to 150 pounds
, and he makes his suit each year with the help of his family. The tribe works all year to create a BETTER suit than the year before.