Mardi Gras Indians – a New Orleans Treasure!
In this episode Mark explores the history and traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians. We give you the run down on who they are, and what they do. We discuss their significance in New Orleans and the tremendous effort they put into their craft. We also give you the inside knowledge you need to see the Mardi Gras Indians when you visit New Orleans.
All this and more on today’s show!
Resources for Discovering More about the Indians
To learn more about the Mardi gras Indians, consider a visit to the following museums during your next trip to the Crescent City:
The Backstreet Cultural Museum
1116 Henriette Delille Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
Telephone: (504) 577-6001
The Backstreet Cultural museum is located in the Tremè, immediately behind the French Quarter. Just across the street from the museum is St. Augustine Church, the oldest African American Catholic parish in the United States.
The museum houses one of the most important collections of Mardi Gras Indian suits to be found. More significantly, it is run by Mr. Sylvester Francis who is the real jewel of the place. You’ll go to the museum to see the suits, but you’ll learn even more by visiting with Mr. Sylvester and hearing his stories.
The House of Dance and Feathers
1317 Tupelo Street
New Orleans, Louisiana
Telephone: (504) 957-2678
The House of Dance and Feathers, located in the 9th Ward, is dedicated to preserving the culture of the Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs, and Skull & Bone Gangs. Mr. Ronald Lewis is the curator – the museum is in his backyard and is open by appointment, so please call ahead.
A visit to this museum is an experience well worth the short drive across the St. Claude bridge and over to the Lower 9th Ward. Mr. Lewis has assembled an amazing collection of suits, photographs and other memorabilia in this small museum.
However, like a visit to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, the real value is in spending time with Ronald, hearing his stories and learning from each other. A sign in the museum reads, “Although you’ll arrive a stranger, you’ll certainly leave as a friend!” I can attest to the truth of that sign!
Do yourself a favor and get over to Ronald’s museum. On the way over, stop and have lunch at Café Dauphine. If it’s a Friday afternoon, head over into Arabi afterwards (just down the road) and enjoy happy hour at 40 Arpent Brewery, which we discussed in episode #12, all about craft beer in New Orleans. Ask for Michael, tell him Mark Bologna sent you, then walk across the street and take in the views of the Mississippi River and the skyline of the Crescent City.
If you’re not going to make it to New Orleans anytime soon, check out Ronald’s book The House of Dance and Feathers. Written with Rachel Breunlin the book is filled with stories and photos from Ronald’s collection. It will give you a great look into the people and the history of the Indians, in even more detail than we discuss on the podcast.
Where to see the Mardi Gras Indians?
Traditionally, the gangs of Mardi Gras Indians can be found on Mardi Gras morning, of course, if you know where to look. You also have to be in the right place, at the right time. If you can’t get down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, how about St. Joseph’s Day? The Indians are out in force on St. Joseph’s night. You can also find them on one of the Super Sundays held in March and April, and at Jazz Fest.
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Until next time, laissez le bon temps rouler!
LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this episode. Thanks to you I became familiar with the Mardi Gras Indians and now I am fascinated with them. After listening to your podcast I went to the Backstreet Cultural Museum and thoroughly enjoyed it and seeing all the costumes up close and personal ….and while there learned of a second line the next day that we were able to take in in the Treme….so authentic and wonderful. Thank you soooooo much for sharing this part of NOLA culture with your listeners….next visit going to the House of Dance and Feathers as I want to meet THE man.
Thanks so much Linda! Backstreet Cultural Museum and the Mardi Gras Indian culture is something I think everyone should see when they visit New Orleans.