Write up by Benny White
For those of you who may not know, Super Sunday in New Orleans is an amazingly colorful and cultural event where onlookers are allowed the chance to witness a wonderful tradition that dates back to the 19th century. If you are lucky enough to be in the Central City neighborhood on the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), you will have a chance to witness the participating Mardi Gras Indian tribes strut their stuff with chants, dances, and other rituals. Each tribe (or” gang”) is led by their Big Chief and throughout the day each tribe challenges each other in friendly competition while hundreds of lucky spectators watch. The most popular of the Super Sunday festivities is presented by the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council.
The event originates at A.L. Davis Park (Washington and LaSalle streets). The traditional route is as follows:
- Begins at noon in A.L. Davis Park, Washington Avenue and LaSalle Street
- Starts on LaSalle
- Left at Martin Luther King Blvd.
- Left at South Claiborne Avenue
- Left at Washington Avenue
- Ends back at A.L. Davis Park
You can also find related events from the Tambourine and Fan organization which stages its traditional annual Super Sunday parade at Bayou St. John and Orleans Avenue in the Mid-City neighborhood and at the Backstreet Cultural Museum which is located in the Treme neighborhood, the oldest African American neighborhood in America.
There are currently about 50 Mardi Gras Indian tribes that all originate from Native American tradition. The Mardi Gras Indians’ origins and traditions are known to date back to antebellum times when escaped slaves sought and found a safe escape among the various Indian tribes of the South. During these times the escaped slaves lived amongst the Indians and adapted to Native American customs which were later passed on to future generations.
All Super Sunday Mardi Gras Indian outdoor gatherings and processions are free and open to the public so please be respectful of their wishes when snapping photos because many photographers attend to capture captivating pictures to be later sold worldwide. I have heard that in recent years some of the tribes feel that they should be compensated for the right to photograph them because of the known money that is generated from their pictures and rightly so. Its best to honor their wishes or you might get a Big Chief in your face.
The attire worn by the tribes are entirely hand-sewn and are a mixture of brightly colored feathers, beads, shimmering sequins and rhinestones. The pattern on the front of the Big Chief’s suit and apron depict an illustrated theme, most often relating to a historic or folkloric event.
The Big Chiefs’ suits are only worn during Mardi Gras, Super Sunday, and on occasional special events like JazzFest. These suits can weigh up to 150 pounds and the Big Chief’s headdress alone may weigh 50-75 pounds. Each year a brand new suit must be constructed, again entirely by hand, and the previous suit is deconstructed. No sewing machines or other mechanical devices are used, and the drawings are all done by freehand artists.
So come on out and witness the 2015 event if you get a chance but in the meantime check out these photos for a glimpse of New Orleans history, culture, and tradition.
photos taken by Gerald Craft a New Orleans native and Vietnam war veteran.