The YeMaYa parade was started five years ago as a parade highlighting women marching groups from across New Orleans. On Saturday, Nov. 5, the parade moves to the Lower 9th Ward, a place that founder Ann Marie Coviello says will more “spiritually resonate” with the intentions behind the parade, named after the Yoruban sea goddess who is believed to protect women, children and the water.
“We wanted to bring the spirit to the place where water has mattered more than anywhere else in the city, and that’s the Lower Nine,” Coviello said. “It really resonates, to visit the water.”
[jump] This year’s event includes a ceremony of praise, offerings, and blessings led by Sula Evans at the Mississippi River in honor of YeMaYa.
Also new this year is the Slow Danger Brass Band, which will accompany the Ye-Ma-Ya-Yas, a pop-up group of local women vocalists who sing songs and chants to YeMaYa.
The parade begins at 2 p.m. at the Backyard Juke Joint at 5443 Douglass St. (Parade route here.) The joint also is the home of guerrilla librarian, Laurence Copel, who runs the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library and is the founder of the Lower Ninth Ward Book Parade. It will then tumble to Cafe Dauphine, Mercedes Bar and the Mississippi River bank and return to the Backyard Juke Joint.
Coviello is a New Orleans public school teacher and longtime parade marcher who founded the Box of Wine Mardi Gras parade and co-founded the 6t9 Social Aid and Pleasure Club. She came up with the idea for YeMaYa while working on a research project about the role women play in New Orleans walking parades. Eventually, she realized that she didn’t want to write about women parading. She wanted to celebrate them by parading with them.
YeMaYa debuted in November 2011 in conjunction with the fifth annual LadyFest, a nonprofit event celebrating women artists and musicians. The parade featured women’s marching groups on a route through Treme, Marigny and the French Quarter.
The concept resonated with women in Carnival marching groups and social aid and pleasure clubs. More than 25 organizations participated that first year, and many women's marching group in the city has stepped in time with YeMaYa, including The Pussyfooters, the Camel Toe Lady Steppers, The Black Storyville Baby Dolls, Mardi Gras Indian Queens, the Bearded Oysters, Lady Buckjumpers Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Lady Rollers and Jazzy Ladies.
The parade as evolved, Coviello says. Now, instead of a “shake your tail feathers” kind of event, the parade has more intention and spirituality behind it.
“The very original concept was that this parade gave a way to give women parading groups a chance to really be the main event,” Coviello said. “But that’s changed over time. Almost all ladies groups have a lot of exposure now.”
Men are welcome to march in the parade as well. There is no fee to participate but a raffle held on parade day will help support the event. Costumes are encouraged but not required. YeMaYa's colors are blue, green, silver and white.