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Mardi Gras Indians

May 21, 2010
Indian Scalping White Man

Indian Scalping White Man

According to Wikipedia, Mardi Gras Indians have been parading in New Orleans since the mid-19th century, possibly before. The tradition was said to have originated from an affinity between Africans and Indians as minorities, and blacks’ circumventing some of the worst racial segregation laws by representing themselves as Indians. There is also the story that the tradition began as an African-American tribute to American Indians who helped runaway slaves. The Mardi Gras Indians parade through the city during Mardi Gras and Super Sunday, easily spotted due to their elaborate, bright feathered costumes and intricate bead work.

Woman, Bead Detail

Bead Detail

A friend of mine has a piece from an old costume that he bought from his neighbor in the Irish Channel. It seems a little sketchy to me that he has this hanging on his wall, but I was excited to see and touch this piece of art. I’m guessing this piece was part of the vest or skirt. This particular scene is of a white soldier being scalped as his wagon is up in flames. The Indian is holding the dude’s scalp in his hand, victorious. Pretty sweet.

Being able to touch and study this piece was a treat. Check out the bead detail, how the direction and placement of each tiny bead gives the image depth and movement.

At Jazz Fest on Thursday, I happened to be walking in right as 4 Mardi Gras Indians were parading through the Fair Grounds. I walked along side one of them for 10 minutes as he beat his tambourine and chanted, his bright pink feathers bouncing along the trail. Those are the moments when there is no way I would get out my camera. I’d much rather have the pure experience than a picture.

I’m a little obsessed with the Mardi Gras Indians. I love tradition in culture, and as a crafts-woman, the suits send me over the edge. This site has a lot more info and videos of the Indians in action. And I love the Galactic song, Second and Dryades featuring Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. Pandora will give you a little sample from that link if you click play. And while you’re at it, buy Ya-Ka-Me, the new Galactic Album. It features so many New Orleans artists. It’s been my running music, my sewing music, my driving music. A little Irma Thomas (“Heart of Steel”), Rebirth, Trombone Shorty, John Boutte. Get it.

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