Who can not be awed by the site of a brilliantly-colored, feather-bedecked and beaded Mardi Gras Indian masker making his way down an Uptown or a Downtown New Orleans street on Carnival Day? Preceded by his spy boy checking for rival tribes, flag boy carrying his tribal flag, and wild man, often carrying a symbolic weapon, each chief steps forward in his glorious suit to lead his tribe, followed by his neighbors, along his chosen parade route.
Aficionados who don’t get to see the Indians on Mardi Gras Day know there are always a couple more sighting opportunities to find groups: on the Sunday nearest to St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) for the Uptown tribes and another Sunday in early April for the Downtown tribes.
But the custom does not end because the East Bank tribes have had their Super Sundays. There is one more opportunity on Sunday, April 21 at West Fest in downtown Algiers. That’s when Big Chief Tyrone Casby and his Mohawk Hunters will strut their stuff on the West Bank as they have for 29 years with the last showing of this year’s suits. After that, it will be back to the sewing table and the creation of next year’s Mardi Gras finery.
For Casby the whole tradition of Mardi Gras Indian masking “is a calling,” he says, something that as a life-long West Banker is important both to his family and to his neighborhood. “I was taught that the Mardi Gras Indians was a community thing and it should remain in your community,” the longtime Orleans Parish School Board administrator and educator adds. “A lot of times I was asked, hey man let’s take the tribe across the river. But I said, nope, I don’t think so. We’re going to keep it here in Algiers.”
At their earliest beginnings, Indian tribes often marked Carnival Day as a time to take revenge on perceived slights, challenging rival gangs with guns and knives. But no more; that changed almost 50 years ago. That’s when the late Tootie Montana (he died in 2005), Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas, acknowledged as Chief of all the Chiefs and the “prettiest” of all the Mardi Gras Indians for his incredible beaded suits, moved the traditions away from violence, elevating this tradition into a unique art form.
Over time, creating the “prettiest” costumes, rather than fighting, became the inter-tribal challenge; something Tyrone Casby says is the best thing to happen to his beloved passion. Now, instead of friction between tribes, there is a greater sense of sharing and camaraderie. So quite likely, his Mohawk Hunters will be joined by colleagues from the East Bank tribes on this special Algiers day.
“For me, it’s more family oriented,” Casby says of his West Bank Super Sunday. “You can come out with your family; do your barbecue; have fun.” And, he says, all are welcome.
West Fest Super Sunday will begin around noon on April 21 at LeBoeuf Street, off L.B. Landry Blvd.,Algiers. Then, after a slightly-less-than-2-mile walk, essentially around Algiers Point, it will end with a family concert inFoxPark,1200 L.B. Landry Blvd.
Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email comments to her at email@example.com.