NEW ORLEANS – Nearly 30 campers got the chance to learn decades-old traditions and see a Mardi Gras Indian fully dressed Tuesday afternoon.
Bo Dollis Jr, big chief of the Wild Magnolias, visited Upturn Arts Camp as part of their daily guest artist series for the campers. Everyday someone new comes in for the campers to meet, and musicians come on Tuesday.
Although most of the campers are from New Orleans, some of them have never had the chance to see a Mardi Gras Indian up close.
“I didn’t really know anything about them,” said 12-year-old Derin Caglayan. “I just knew that costumes were really expensive to make and they remake them every year. They never reuse an idea.”
Derin got to be the flag boy during the class, as Dollis along with Indians from the Uptown Warriors gang showed campers how they line up to parade down the street. Campers played the role of spy boys, flag boys, wild men, big queens and big chiefs. They greeted each other in the same way Indians would on Mardi Gras Day.
“I think the whole thing is really cool,” Derin said after the class. “But my favorite position is probably the spy boy since they’re the first people that get to show off their team.”
Dollis said that last year when he came to visit the camp, some of the kids were afraid of Indians. At the beginning of the class, he addressed their fears.
“My goal is to not let them be scared of it,” he explained. “Let them pick up a needle and thread and learn the tradition and the culture of New Orleans.”
He also even explained some of the history behind a culture of violence among Mardi Gras Indians.
He told campers about how some gangs used to fight during parades and how many well-known big chiefs like his father worked to stop the violence. He explained that now it’s about showing off your suit and having fun. He also explained suits are too expensive and are too detailed to destroy fighting.
“Everything I been doing lately has been about kids, so I’m trying to start with the kids and stop some of this violence going on,” Dollis said. “Get them interested in Mardi Gras Indians, football -- whatever it is that New Orleans has to offer.”
He also wanted to make sure that future generations can appreciate the culture of Mardi Gras Indians, who take off their masks after gatherings and become everyday citizens like the campers.
“It’s really important to pass down the Mardi Gras Indian culture because it was passed down to me,” he said. “So I have a lot of little kids with me, and a lot of little kids that don’t mask with me, that ask me questions. It’s a tradition that has to keep going.”
Organizers of the class agreed.
“From today’s experience you can take away the music and the culture,” said Reed. “They can take a look at the music and the costumes and get to know (the Indians) role in New Orleans, why it’s important that we preserve the Indians here. So that next time our students see them in the community they can connect even more with these Indians and their style.”