New Orleans Part II: Mardi Gras Indians

January 20, 2011

We saw several Mardi Gras Indians sing and dance during our trip to Nola, including Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, but unfortunately the recordings I made are poor quality.
So instead, below are some recordings from the Wild Magnolias and the Wild Tchoupitoulas.
This is yet another amazing, unique-to-New Orleans custom that throws into relief just how culturally exceptional the city is. In this particular case, it’s the mix of Afro-Caribbean and Native American traditions within the context of Mardi Gras, a celebration brought by French settlers that had developed in France with the growing popularity of the Venetian Commedia dell’arte.
Go here for a fascinating history of the Indians. It traces the origins of slave-indian relations as a mutually beneficial form of resistance to the colonial plantation system, then sheds light on the black indian “tribes” in the 19th and early 20th centuries that engaged in ritualized warfare amongst one another (which brings to mind the Bolivian Tinku post I did), and how all this has now evolved into the ritualized dances, elaborate costumes (that cost at least $10k to make), and customs of today with spy boys, flag boys, wildmen, first, second and third chiefs, queens, and finally big chiefs encountering one another.
Theories abound on the etymology of the words used in Mardi Gras Indian songs (read this fascinating article). Particularly interesting is the theory on the origins of Iko Iko, the most famous Indian-inspired song (the lyrics of which are audible in many other Indian tunes). According to one Ghanaian scholar, Iko Iko comes from ‘Ayeko Ayeko’ meaning ‘well done’ or ‘congratulations’ among the Akan and Ewe people of modern day Togo, Ghana, and Benin, both of whom had people wrenched away during the slave trade and brought to Haiti and other places. This is fundamental as many Haitian émigrés landed in New Orleans during the tumultuous years surrounding the Haitian Revolution, and had a huge impact on the lower Mississippi cultural landscape (check this book out for more info).

The music you are about to hear was recorded in the 70s and features Mardi Gras Indians of the time and various famous New Orleans recording artists such as the Neville Brothers, Snooks Eaglin, and more.

(My Big Chief Has A) Golden Crown – The Wild Magnolias

Brother John – The Wild Tchoupitoulas

Indian Red – The Wild Tchoupitoulas

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One Response to “New Orleans Part II: Mardi Gras Indians”


  1. […] percussion were all plugged in and tuned up. The dancing reminded me of a mix between New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians and traditional Bolivian dancing, plus explosive epileptic-like fits. Just wait for the beat to […]


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