Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gettin It Right

Well after some of my latest screw-ups I was happy things worked out well for us in New Orleans. We were going to see the Mardi Gras Indians (check this link for lot’s of info on Indians) parade and didn’t have much information on just when and where to find them. I had read about them a little bit this Mardi Gras season and learned that they, there are two groups that parade as Indians, parade for the last time of each year on a day referred to as Super Sunday. This is the Sunday before St. Joesph’s day. There are the uptown Indian gangs and the downtown Indian gangs, and what I read is that they both parade that day. We figured we would see the downtown gangs, since knew the neighborhoods downtown better than uptown.

I must admit, it’s been a long time since I have been to NOLA and really didn’t know either part of town that well. Things didn’t get off to the best start. We got to the airport in NOLA and found out the rental car was gonna cost $110.00 instead of $65. We didn’t let this bother us and set out to find the Indians. We had read that the downtown parade would start around Louisiana st. and Bayou St. John. We had looked at a map before we left and could not find where these two streets intersected. We could find Louisiana st. but not Bayou St. John. Well after driving around for a while in the area where we thought we might find the downtown Indians, we finally stopped and ask a guy at a gas station if he knew where we might find them. In a beautiful New Orleans accent this guy said “day gonna be right dare at da Bayou”. The Bayou, that’s what they call that canal full of water running right through the middle of this neighborhood. And it ran right through Louisiana st. So St. John Bayou is a Bayou, not a street. Hello.

Well we felt good, if not a little stupid. We were where we were supposed to be, we just didn’t know it. The guy at the gas station said they would be there around noon, which was exactly the time right then. So we hung around and drove around and just could not find them. We found the Parkway Bakery and went in and had a po-boy and some bloodies. We ask our waitron and she knew nothing of the Indians. What are we gonna do? How can we find these guys? Then It happened, I saw the light go off above Stacey’s head. We had driven past the Zulu’s club house and noticed they were having some kind of event. Stacey said let’s go ask the Zulu’s they gotta know where the Indians will be.

So we did and they did. No downtown parade today, no reason why, just no parade today. They would have it later in the year. If you read up a little on these Indian gangs you will learn they are more of a renegade group than the Mystic Fish. These guys parade when and where they are good and ready.The guy at the Zulu clubhouse did tell us the uptown parade was happening today and how to find them. So after a few wrong turns we hit Orleans ave. and could tell by the crowds something was about happen. We parked, got out of the car and went about one block and there they were, in all their glory.

We saw one at first, he was surrounded by a few kids beating on tambourines. He was making his way slowly up the street. We followed, Stacy taking photos the whole time. One by one more Indians appeared. Each Chief had folks with them to help with their huge costumes. These Indians Chiefs spend the whole year sewing all these feathers and beads into a beautiful full body suit. They are covered from head to toe. Next year they make a new suit for that Mardi Gras season.

As we walk up the street more and more Indians show up. Their spy’s or flag boys start to appear as well. Spy’s and flag boys are part of each gang. Their job is to go ahead of their Chief’s, find the Chief from another gang and set up a stand off between the two. The story is that long ago the Chief’s would actually fight and someone would get hurt. Knives were often used. Over the years some of the Chief’s worked hard to stop the fighting and now they fight with words and no one gets hurt. This is a photo of one of the flag boy’s.


Well this was only the beginning. The streets were full of spectators and Indians. The Chief’s love to have their photo taken and will happily pose for you, but when two Chief’s are ready to stand off and “talk pretty” to each other you better get out of their way, if ya don’t you will get pushed out of the way. I learned this the hard way, more than once.

Just when we thought this was about all they did, gather, have their photo taken and have a stand off, the parade began. Out of nowhere a small band started blowin horns and beatin drums and then they were off. Slowly, one gang at a time they start a procession up the street. Stacey and I joined right in and walk with them. We are in the street, learning and singing the chants of the different gangs. One gang member will sing a line and the rest of the gang will answer. Such as, “the Golden Blades are the very best gang” and the rest of the gang would answer “shoe fly shoe”. I got no idea what that means I just sang along with them.

We did this for more than three hours. We would run ahead, stand on the curb and watch them come up the street, at about every corner a new gang would join. We would get photos of the Chief that had just joined the parade and run ahead waiting for the next gang to join. Before we left them I would guess more then twenty gangs had joined the parade.

It was a beautiful sight to behold. I plan on not missing Super Sunday for a long time to come.

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