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The family that masks together …


Three generations of the Cheyenne Mardi Gras Indian Tribe are featured at Jazz Fest (Photo by Diane Grams)

The Cheyenne, an Uptown Mardi Gras Indian tribe typically seen on Mardi Gras in the vicinity of Second and Dryades Streets, were featured at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival last Thursday.

Big Chief Al and his Big Queen Wanda (who is also his wife of nearly three decades) were joined by their children and grandchildren as one of the featured tribes at the annual festival. Their two daughters, a son, four grandchildren and a slew of other tribal members paraded and then performed in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion.

According to Jazz Fest, “The Cultural Exchange Pavilion presents a rare opportunity to learn the history from the community perspective through its educational exhibits, to witness the culture’s artistic method, and to understand the subtle nuances in style between Uptown and Downtown, traditionalists versus innovators.”

Big Chief Al’s family and other tribal members work throughout the year sewing narrative imagery using beads and rhinestones onto pieces of heavy canvas, typical of the Uptown style. The “patches” are then assembled into suits in the month before Mardi Gras and are revealed the first time when they dance out the door of their home to the song “Indian Red” on Mardi Gras day.

Also featured at Jazz Fest were the Ladies of Unity, a Social Aid and Pleasure Club founded in 2007 by Wynoka Boudreaux and Nasha Pleasant, both daughters of renowned Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. The Ladies “second-lined” through the Fair Grounds on Thursday and maintained a booth throughout the weekend in the Louisiana Folklife Village craft fair to demonstrate to youth attending Jazz Fest how to turn ribbons into corsages. Thursday, during the second weekend of Jazz fest, has historically been a day for area youth to attend the fest, and this year was no exception.

The Ladies’ annual “second-line parade” is held in late January, when members can be seen parading in Uptown with their affiliated club, the Men of Unity.


The Ladies of Unity "Second Line" at the Fair Grounds last weekend (Photo by Diane Grams)

Kisha Williams, a Lady of Unity second-liner at Jazz Fest 2012 (Photo by Diane Grams)

Ladies of Unity founder, Wynoka Boudreaux, demonstrates corsage making for youth at the Louisiana Folklife Village. (Photo by Diane Grams)

Dr. Diane Grams, a Tulane University professor of sociology, is working on an ethnography of parading groups in New Orleans.


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