Louisiana’s most stunning plumage was found far from the Avery Island bird sanctuary this weekend.
Instead, it was found in Central City in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon as Mardi Gras Indians tribes from across the region gathered at A.L. Davis Park for the Mardi Gras Indian Council’s annual Super Sunday celebration.
Spicy, savory and smoky smells wafted through the neighborhood thanks to a collection of food trucks, carts and grills serving up dishes such as funnel cake, snowballs, crawfish, pigs feet, barbecue and yaki meat to hungry revelers.
Even before setting foot in A.L. Davis Park, visitors could hear the sounds of 106.7’s Charles Leach, better known on the air waves as “DJ Captain Charles,” who served as DJ for the afternoon.
Shortly after noon, costumes that had been set out for display found their places on the bodies of Wild Men, Spy Boys, Big Chiefs, Queens and others when the tribes donned their full regalia and took to the Central City streets.
Music, tambourine shakes, lovable and loud boasting and the gangs’ own renditions of songs such as “Shoo, fly, don’t bother me!” then resonated through the neighborhood.
While the temperature climbed throughout the afternoon, tribes marched on largely unperturbed.
Even the youngest and tiniest of Indians — such as the Red Flame Hunters’ Jabier Percy, 9, and Jaquith Percy, 7 — mustered brave and stoic warriors’ expressions for the throngs of camera-wielding neighbors who crowded the route to snap photos.
Jaquith, in fact, burst into a big smile just after posing for a tough-guy photo as he said gleefully about his plan to be a Big Chief one day.
Of course, some little ones skipped the stoicism entirely and were just all smiles instead. Breanna Smith, Lil’ Flag Queen of the Wild Tchoupitoulas tribe, for example, said her favorite thing about being an Indian is, simply, “smilin.’”
Another young man, Tyrell Williams, 7, Spy Boy with the Red Flame Hunters, said he just likes to dance.
And many Indians agree that their annual masking efforts are of greatest benefit to exactly those individuals — the kids.
Dow Edwards, Spy Boy with the Mohawk Hunters, said he most values serving as a role model to young people in the community.
“It’s helping one kid at a time,” Edwards said. “When little boys look at (the suits), they’re not sure that they could bead that.
“After I show them that they could … it’ll ultimately convince them that they can be a lawyer like me, too.
“And it takes ‘I can’t’ out of the vocabulary of a child.”
Wild Man George Quinn of the Golden Blade tribe agreed that young people are a cornerstone of the Indian tradition.
“It’s more important for the kids, to give them some idea about the black Indian culture,” he said of passing the Indian tradition along.
Dedication to culture and hard work certainly seems to be a unifying factor amongst the tribes.
“What I like about (Indian masking) the most is that when you parade, you bring it from infancy up to a finished product,” Kevin Turner, Gang Flag with the Wild Magnolias, said.
“You do your drawings first, then you start beading. But it really doesn’t come to life until you put it on. Once you put it on you can feel the spirits from all the ancestors — it’s a real experience. I don’t do it just for the pageantry, I do it for the passion.”
Anthony Davis, of the Golden Blade tribe, said that even though his wife does get angry at him for staying out late working on costumes, “after it’s all over, we can go and — the whole tribe — go and sit down as a family and really enjoy ourselves.”
So, though patterns and beads and feathers are shed and changed on new costumes each year, it seems clear that the most beautiful aspects of Indian tradition — such as reverence for family, community, charity and education — will never change.