From the moment I heard about the “Mardi Gras Indians,” I knew I had to see’em.
And I’m glad I did, because photos can’t capture it.
Mardi Gras Indians are dressed in meticulously handmade costumes, covered from head to toe in feathers and beads.
The Mardi Gras Indians only march on two major dates, the first being Mardi Gras, the second being St. Joseph’s Day (basically the Italian version of St. Patrick’s Day…but you wear red instead of green. Also, you eat breadcrumbs which represent the sawdust of canonized Joseph the carpenter).
Having missed the Indians on Mardi Gras, we watched the calendar and looked forward to St. Joseph’s Day, our only other opportunity while we were in New Orleans.
These fantastically feathered fellows marched down the street, chanting and dancing to drum rhythms.
Each Mardi Gras Indian Tribe has its a hierarchical pageantry with Chiefs, Spy Boys, Flag Boys and Wild Men.
Their costumes often hide layers of elaborate designs, some emblazoned and concealed on their chests until they lock eyes with you and decide to let you see their secret.
Like magical birds, they raise their enormous wings and reveal a tapestry made from tiny glass beads.
The Indians make their own costumes and traditionally burn them after one use (that’s my attitude towards leotards).
Who are the Mardi Gras Indians? According to MardiGrasNewOrleans.com:
“Typical Mardi Gras organizations will form a “krewe.” A krewe often names their parade after a particular mythological hero or Greek god. The ranking structure of a Mardi Gras Krewe is a parody of royalty: King, Queen, Dukes, Knights and Captains… or some variation on that theme. Many more established Krewes allowed membership by invitation only.
Few in the ghetto felt they could ever participate in the typical New Orleans parade. Historically, slavery and racism were at the root of this cultural separation. The black neighborhoods in New Orleans gradually developed their own style of celebrating Mardi Gras. Their “Krewes” are named for imaginary Indian tribes according to the streets of their ward or gang.
The Mardi Gras Indians named themselves after native Indians to pay them respect for their assistance in escaping the tyranny of slavery. It was often local Indians who accepted slaves into their society when they made a break for freedom. They have never forgotten this support.”
It was a remarkable sight to see the Indians parade through the neighborhood.
There were tens of thousands of people following along and watching in the streets, many of them with cameras, standing right in front of me, while I also tried to snap a piece of the glory.