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Mardi Gras Indians Take to the Streets on Super Sunday

Every year on Super Sunday in New Orleans, the Mardi Gras Indians display their suits and parade with their tribes through Central City.

Mardi Gras Indians celebrate Super Sunday (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

*Editor’s Note: While there are no travel restrictions to New Orleans due to the Covid-19, out of an abundance of caution and consideration, Super Sunday has decided to cancel.

In New Orleans, we use a lot of the same words and phrases as other places do— they just don’t mean the same thing. In most places, Super Sunday conjures up the Super Bowl or perhaps any Sunday during football season. If pushed to think of the term with New Orleans in mind, you may think of the Sunday before Mardi Gras. With that last one, you’re getting warmer for sure. Super Sunday is one of the most important days of the year for the Mardi Gras Indians and takes place in mid-March. This year, Super Sunday lands on March 15, 2020.

Mardi Gras Indians form a vibrant subculture of local Carnival traditions. Though their exact origins are hazy— the common belief is that Native Americans sheltered runaway slaves, and Mardi Gras Indian tradition is a way of paying homage. Their practices date to the 1800s. Mardi Gras Indian traditions germinated within the period of Jim Crow and segregation when African Americans were forbade from participating in mainstream carnival organizations. Because of this, unique and territorial tribes emerged from neighborhoods across the city. While for many years, confrontations between different tribes could turn violent, this culture changed, largely due to the efforts of the late Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas tribe. Now, when tribes meet, they perform dances, chants, and other rituals, working to outdo each other.

Mardi Gras Indians converge at Super Sunday on March 17 2019. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Super Sunday is a spectacle. Mardi Gras Indians dressed in their intricate suits parade and perform through the streets and meet other tribes. Throughout the year, Mardi Gras Indians spent countless hours and thousands of dollars creating their handmade beaded and feathered suits, works of art in their own right. Though Super Sunday is celebrated in neighborhoods across the city— in fact, there are approximately fifty Mardi Gras Indian tribes— the largest and most popular celebration takes place in the Central City neighborhood. The parade traditionally begins at A.L. Davis Park on the corner of Washington Avenue and LaSalle Street at noon. The procession is expected to head down LaSalle, turn left down Martin Luther King Blvd until it reaches Claiborne Ave., where it will turn left again to Washington. The parade is expected to make its final turn down Washington Ave. and return to A.L. Davis Park.

While watching the parade, be on the look out for the Spy Boy, the Flag Boy, the Big Chief, and the Wild Man. The Spy Boy leads the procession, often blocks ahead and serves as a scout to warn the Flag Boy of any other Mardi Gras Indian “gangs” he may see. The Flag Boy, a block or two behind the Spy Boy, transmits the Spy Boy’s reports to the Big Chief. The Big Chief, leader of the “gang” and a block or two behind the Flag Boy, takes decisive action based on the Spy Boy’s reports. His decisions are relayed to the Spy Boy through Flag Boy with special signals. The Wild Man clears the performance area for his big chief and the opposing big chief to perform.

Super Sunday in New Orleans with its pageantry, community atmosphere, and deep history, is an experience you won’t soon forget.

Local’s tips: The noon start time is soft. Don’t expect the festivities and processions to start until a little later in the afternoon. Be respectful of the Indians, and only take photos if you have permission and it’s appropriate.

Emily Ramírez Hernández is the child of New Orleans natives whose families have been in the city for generations. Emily's earliest memories of New Orleans include joyful car rides over bumpy streets, eating dripping roast beef po-boys at Domilise's, and catching bouncy balls during Mardi Gras parades with cousins. An urban planner by day and freelance writer by night, when she is off the clock she enjoys biking around town, belly dancing, and catching nerdlesque shows.

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