Big Chief Tyrone Casby is already preparing the beaded suit he will wear with the Mohawk Hunters Mardi Gras Indians on Feb. 17.
The only tribe on the West Bank, the Mohawk Hunter Mardi Gras Indians have paraded in Algiers since the early 1940s. They were organized in the Oakdale community.
A suit usually takes six to nine months to plan and complete. Each Indian designs and creates his own suit with elaborate bead patches depicting meaningful and symbolic scenes.
“It takes me about six months to make my costume. We parade on Mardi Gras day and St. Joseph night. We are one of the larger tribes,” Casby said. “We have 20 to 25 members.”
While Casby makes his own suit, his wife, Lesa Casby, helps their grandchildren sew and design their suits.
“Oh no, he does his own,” Lesa said.
Casby said he makes a new suit every year so spectators will see something different. Mardi Gras day is the actual day they come out in their full regalia.
The first big chief of the Mohawk Hunters was Casby’s uncle, Frank Casby Sr., followed by Lexus Parker and Leo Roy. In the early ’60s, a resurgence of the Indian tribe was led by Big Chief Sketter Blue, Robert “Robbie” Taylor and Ronald “Buck” Evans. The tradition continued with members Wardell Harrison, Terry Young Sr., Clarence “Killer” Higgins and James “Nut” Wilson.
From 1966 to 1974, Rayfield Parker led the Mohawk Hunters Indian tribe. He later relinquished the tribe to Frank “Summy Summy” Jones, who was replaced by the current Big Chief Tyrone Casby, who has held the position since 1980.
Since the age of 6, Casby has been a part of the Indian culture, following in the footsteps of his older brother Ralph “Tickleman” Casby, who masked as Wildman.
“I was fascinated by the drums, dancing and tambourines that touch my soul and spirit. It’s an urging, a calling,” Casby said.
The Mohawk Hunters group has evolved into a premier tribe and has performed in Sri Lanka, Guatemala and Honduras.
The tribe also goes into the prisons to show inmates how to sew patches for Mardi Gras Indian outfits. “It gives the men a feeling of pride in their sewing efforts, and attaining proficiency in their craft replaced the violence,” Casby said.
Full of culture, decorations and costumes, the Mohawk Hunters Mardi Gras Indians tribe will parade on Mardi Gras, Feb. 17; on Super Sunday, March 15; and at West Fest, April 26. West Fest is the last major Indian parade of the year open to the public. It was started by Casby in 1984.
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Yetoria Lumpkin DeShazier writes about the people and events in Algiers and the West Bank. Contact her at email@example.com or call (504) 367-0905.