The Mardi Gras Indian tradition has been one of the more interesting (and aesthetically pleasing!) parts of New Orleans culture I’ve had the pleasure of discovering in my time here. A nod to the special relationship that was cultivated centuries ago between Native and Black populations in the area (as local Indians were known to provide refuge to runaway slaves, and were often enslaved themselves), there are now around forty ‘tribes’ from all parts of the city. While they do participate in actual Mardi Gras parades, there are also ‘Super Sunday’ events in the Spring dedicated solely to the Indians.
In these parades tribes act out what years ago sometimes transpired as true altercations and acts of aggression: Spy Boys and Flag Boys alert the Big Chief to the presence of a rival tribe through special calls and gestures, and the Big Chiefs size each other up accordingly. Nowadays the standoffs are of a more friendly nature, culminating with an affirmation of how ‘pretty’ the Chiefs are in their intricate, heavy suits.
I admittedly had only the prominent storyline of Big Chief Lambreaux from the David Simon show Treme (required watching for any New Orleans transplant!) as background on the Indians before attending these events. This had given me at least some appreciation for the time, skill, and dedication that go into the fashioning of the suits (not to mention how seriously the tradition is taken by those who participate), but seeing so many in person, whooping and chanting and marching to the beat of any number of drums, was really a treat. Read more on the Indians here or here.
For good measure: