Mardi Gras Indians & skeletons revel at Carnival


Posted on March 8, 2011 at 11:27 PM

Bill Capo / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- "This is the Spirit Of Louisiana," chanted Guardians Of The Flame Big Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson. "Yowwww!"

Just after the first parade rolled on Mardi Gras morning, the Guardians Of The Flame Mardi Gras Indian tribe marched through the upper 9th Ward, from the Big Queen to the Baby Queen, bringing new life to an age old tradition.

"We come in peace, and love always," said Big Queen Cherice. "That the most important thing for us is to uphold the traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians, and our ancestral home, and our West Africa, and celebrate New Orleans!"

Andrew Wiseman came from Ghana for his first Mardi Gras, playing the drum as the tribe's linguist.

"I'm part of it. I'm so proud to be part of it. It is blended with my culture from Africa," Wiseman said.

"In the memory of my grandfather, the late Big Chief Donald Harrison, Sr. Ashe." said Big Chief Brian Nelson.

It is a tribe that believes in tradition, releasing a dove to remember the founder, the late Big Chief Donald Harrison. This year's theme, however, is "At The Crossroads," promising change next year.

When asked what they were going to do next year, Big Queen Cherice responded. "Can't tell you. Well, it has a little bit to do with the Arrechas from Ghana, and the Urobo religion of Nigeria."

"You better get your, your life together, next time you see us, it's too late to cry," cried the Skeleton costumed gang.

In Treme, one of the most interesting and historic groups hit the streets at dawn. The North Side Skull and Bone Gang won't let you forget your mortality, even in the midst of Mardi Gras madness.

"This gang, the North Side Skull and Bones gang started around the year 1818-1819, about the same time this community right here was formed," noted Bruce 'Sunpie' Barnes, North Side Skull & Bone Gang Chief. "Every Mardi Gras, waking up the neighborhood, coming out, bringing the spirits back to the streets, so that people have fun on this day, tomorrow you need to repent."

"Spyboy! Koochimah! Congo Nation!" chanted the First Spy Boy for the Congo Nation.

And in Broadmoor, gray skies couldn't dim the bright colors or high spirits of the Congo Nation Mardi Gras Indian tribe, formed in 1989 by Donald Harrison, Jr., son of the legendary Indian Big Chief.

"Congo Nation represents Congo Square, keeping the traditons of Congo Square alive in New Orleans culture," said Congo Nation Big Chief Donald Harrison, Jr, who said he's been working on his suit "forever."

"I've been up five nights," he said.

It is a uniquely New Orleans tradition, and for Big Chief Donald Harrison, that is what makes it all worthwhile.

"New Orleans transcends. The culture transcends, and it keeps us alive. We live for Mardi Gras. That's what keeps us alive."

"Happy Mardi Gras!"