The Mardi Gras American Indian culture is one of the lesser-known elements of New Orleans life, but it’s been part of the African American experience in the city for well over a century. How it began remains the subject of debate. (“Masking” as an American Indian was said to honor them both for their assistance to runaway slaves, and for their fierce resistance to European settlement.) The astounding feathered and beaded costumes are each painstakingly handmade by those who wear them only two or three times a year—usually on Mardi Gras Day and often on Super Sunday, which is the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day. Ever year Indian chiefs make a new suit; some of the once-used suits end up at the Backstreet Museum in the heart of Treme. Stepping through the door is a bit like walking into a Technicolor Oz, with education.
See the Participant-Created Backstreet Museum
With costumes, artifacts, photographs, and films on local African American culture, Backstreet is a great example of a participant-created museum. Founder Sylvester Francis knows more about Mardi Gras Indians and second-line parades than anyone. This appeared in the August/September 2015 issue. As told to Jill K. Robinson.
My Treme: Backstreet Cultural Museum
“A real treasure in Treme is the Backstreet Cultural Museum with its beautiful collection of artifacts, costumes, films, and other memorabilia that explore New Orleans’ African-American culture. There are Mardi Gras Indian costumes and displays on jazz funerals, second line parades, Baby Dolls and Skull & Bone gangs In fact, this past Mardi Gras morning I was dancing outside the museum with members of the Northside Skull & Bones as they blessed Carnival by stirring the spirits, thus warding off sickness and injury and ensuring a safe celebration. I am honored to call New Orleans my new home and fully enjoy all the unique culture, history, and traditions it has to offer.” Abigail Gullo Bar Chef SoBou restaurant Check out Abigail’s NOLA: http://www.neworleansonline.com/followyournola/1155
Visiting the Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans
I went to this local museum after seeing it in the background of a documentary about New Orleans. It’s located in the Treme neighbourhood, and details the culture and traditions of African Americans in New Orleans including the Mardis Gras Indians, and Social Aids and Pleasure Clubs. For anyone visiting New Orleans this is an amazing museum to visit, and it will show you there is much more to this city that Mardis Gras and Bourbon Street. The museum is locally run by Francis Sylvester from his home, and so calling ahead for hours of operation is best. (504) 522-4806. Admission is $8 and well worth every penny. You can find a full review, and more photos from the museum at the link below.