Mardi Gras Indians probably best represent the complexity of New Orleans culture, a tradition with Native American and African roots that flourishes in a city which more often looks to the Carribean than to North America and Europe for its creative inspiration. A few of the Mardi Gras Indians paraded a few Sundays ago, from Bayou St. John down Orleans to Claiborne Avenue by the Lafitte housing development. Their Uptown counterparts paraded last month in the vicinity of the C. J. Peete housing development. The Indian suits are vibrant works of art, made of complex beadwork and feathers which in bright sunlight are almost blinding in their brilliance.
The tradition is said to harken back to the 19th century, when African Americans began costuming as Indians as a way to honor the Indians who had provided shelter to run-away slaves. The powerful influence of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show could also have had a part.
The day proved that the city is alive and well when it comes to upholding some of its most strongly entrenched traditions.
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