Kenny Klein with Stapler

Kenny Klein with Stapler

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Indian Red! Part one: Suiting Up.

While the rest of the U. S. was getting drunk on green beer last Sunday, we here in New Orleans...well, lots of us got drunk on green beer. But we also had my favorite parade day of the year: Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday.

Above: Chief David of the Washetaw tribe. was not convenient for me to have St. Patrick's Day and Super Sunday on the same day. That green flash was me, leaving the parade and peddling like mad to get to the next gig. But I did it, and survived.

For any of my readers who don't know, Mardi Gras Indians are the oldest parade tradition in New Orleans, and dates back to a time after Emancipation when African Americans paid tribute to the local American Indians who aided escaped slaves and hid them from white slave hunters (there was a big bounty for "returning" escaped slaves...even those actually born as free people). Under Jim Crow laws, African Americans could not parade openly on Mardi Gras day, so Saint Joseph's Day became the traditional day for Indians. On the Sunday nearest to Saint Joseph's Day, the Indians gather in LaSalle Park (just four blocks from my house) and parade through Central City. (On Saint Joseph's Night, which, as I write this, is tonight, each tribe parades through their own neighborhood: Lauren and I will be joining the Washitaw tribe in the Treme).

I came up Washington Avenue just as the Wild Tchoupitoulas tribe were "masking" or "suiting up," the process of donning the one hundred pound suits that take all year, and thousands of hours, to create. It was an awesome spectacle to witness.

Above: Big Chief and his daughters prepare to suit up.

Dressing an Indian Princess... Indian culture is passed from generation to generation, often from parent to child.

Above, Chief staff in hand, and ready to go...

Next the Spy Boy appeared. The Spy Boy is the member of the tribe who watches for other tribes approaching: other tribes may be friendly or hostile. If an approaching tribe is hostile, the Spy Boy will signal the Flag Boy, who will alert the Big Chief. Here on Washington Avenue, while the other members of the tribe are suiting up, the Spy Boy grabs some love and admiration...

Now the Spy Boy is joined by the Wild Man: his job will be to part the crowds so that the Big Chief and his retinue can come through. He also shouts the credo of the tribe, which always includes the phrase "Um Bow! (Won't bow), Don't Know How!"

Below: A detail of the Wild Man's suit. Yes it's creepy...that's the idea.

Wild Man and Little Queen.

Above: Second Chief Floyd and Queen Kim.  Queen Kim was dancing when I arrived, waiting to suit up. The only time Queen Kim stopped dancing all day was to have photos taken with members of the crowd.

Lauren had wandered off to find Washitaw, the tribe she would march with, and after Wild Tchoupitoulas was ready to go, I left the scene there and started up the street to see other tribes. I found several other tribes, including the Golden Eagles, suiting up:

Even for an Indian, a cell phone is a necessity. 

I found Lauren with  the Washitaw, a newer tribe who had broken away from Yellow Pocahontas a few years ago. Their suits are simply amazing! Perhaps the most beautifully detailed I have ever seen, and that's comparing them to some stunning work by other tribes.

Big Chief David above, with details of his suit below.

Below: Queen Rukia, whose totem is the Monarch Butterfly, and who dances like...well you guessed it The butterflies on her suit are spectacular. 

I also saw the tribe below suit up: I believe they are the Morning Star Hunters... sometimes one has to collect that information by word of mouth, and there is room for error (I apologize if I am naming this tribe incorrectly).

Suited up, each tribe was ready to march. I'll write more in a day or two, with Part 2, The Parade: I have a LOT more photos to edit...

[Afterward, late on Tuesday night: After writing this, I marched with the Washitaw for four hours, covering about eight or ten miles through the Treme, the Ninth Ward and the Bywater. It was amazing. Chief David took us to a seniors home, where his sister lives, and invoked the spirit of the White Buffalo to bring the seniors health and spiritual peace. We sang and marched, sang and marched for hours, gaining more and more marchers behind us. I just came home to rest a moment: the tribe is still singing and marching.]

From Mardi Gras Indian Super Sunday, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all...well, explaining part one at least.  


  1. Hey Kenny I loved yours and Lauren's posts on the St Joseph's Night parade and your great pictures. I told Lauren i would like to reblog it and want to ask you if i could use one of your photos on my post, giving you credit for it of course. Thanks for all the great Mardi Gras pics too.

  2. Sure, as long as you credit me, use whatever you like. I would be thrilled if you would give a link to this blog, or to my site. . Thanks!

  3. Thank you.