Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mardi Gras History in New Orleans

By Nicole Wilkinson

By Nicole Wilkinson
Right after Huricanne Katrina, I had the opportunity to travel with the head of the Jazz Department of NYU and 12 students to New Orleans to learn of the culture and music of this old French town. One of the stops we made on the trip was in a very poverished area. On site was a museum that housed the different costumes from neighboring tribes that participate in the Mardi Gras Parade.

Many years ago due to segregation, it was almost impossible for African Americans to participate in the parade, so by wearing masks and covering their bodies, they represented the 4 parts of town and became known as the Parade Indians. Though they use to come out and settle violent scores between neighboring ghettos, today's parade is much different. Today these tribes have Dukes, Kings and Queens as well as their traditional Indians.

Mardi Gras is no longer a day to "settle scores" among the Mardi Gras Indians. Violence is a relic of the past. It is now Mardi Gras tradition and practice for the Indians to simply compare their tribal song, dance and dress with other tribes as they meet that day. Each Indian has invested thousands of hours and dollars in the creation of his suit, and is not willing to risk ruining it in a fight. This tradition, rich with folk art and history, is now appreciated by museums and historical societies around the world. It is a remarkable and welcome change from the past.

So while you are watching clips of the parade from your local news channel, realize that Mardi Gras isn't just about king cakes, sazeraks, po-boys, beads, and burbon, but also about tolerance; racial tolerance that focuses on the beauty of the African American/Creole community.

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