Photos by Zave Smith
J is Joyce Montana. Ms. Montana is the widow of Tootie Montana, the big chief of the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian tribe. Tootie’s costumes, like all the Mardi Gras Indians costumes, were handmade and took at least a year of daily effort to create.
K is for Krewe. It’s an organization that puts on a parade and or a ball for the New Orleans Mardi Gras season. Krewes are also social groups that communicate and interact all year long.
L is for Lundi Gras Celebration. An outdoor daytime event during Mardi Gras, it’s held at Woldenberg Park on the Mississippi River the day before Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras Day). Musical guests and some of the major characters from Zulu show up to take pictures, like Mr. Big Stuff and the Zulu king and queen, positions which people have to campaign to be elected to.
M is for Mardi Gras Indians. In the Mardi Gras tradition, these are African-American revelers who dress up for Mardi Gras in costumes influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel. Far from just playing games of dress up, these “tribes” are an integral part of the community—so much so that becoming one of the primary characters (like big chief) is considered as much a social pedigree as, say, being elected to local office. The Mardi Gras Indians don’t walk in the parades but instead have their own celebrations in neighborhoods around the city.
N is for Nagin. At Gallier Hall, we were seated right behind Ray Nagin, who was the mayor of New Orleans at the time. Nagin enthusiastically announced every float as it came rolling by. Truly, Mardi Gras is a city-wide affair.
O is for Orpheus Ball, aka Orpheuscapade. It’s a black-tie affair held inside the New Orleans Convention Center, which is where the Krewe of Orpheus ends its parade. The Krewe of Orpheus was cofounded in 1993 by Harry Connick Jr. and his father, and their star power means that they get lots of celebrity requests to participate every year. To wit, the cast of Reno 911! had a float to themselves in last year’s parade.
P is for parades. I never knew that multiple parades travel different routes though the city. Some happen during the day, some at night, and most Krewes have arranged it so they are the only parade to occur on a given day. The Zulu parade begins early in the morning and is the only one to start and end in a predominately African-American neighborhood.
Q is for the queen of Zulu. One of the many characters elected annually by Zulu to represent them. The Zulu queen and king make their public debut amid spectacular pageantry and dancing during the annual Zulu Ball, which attracts literally thousands of attendees every year.