Celebrating Mardi Gras & Black History

Today is Mardi Gras (French for “fat Tuesday”) is the celebration of debauchery before the beginning of the Lenten season of sacrifice. As it is celebrated in New Orleans, it’s also a fabulous celebration of black history.



NPR ran a story today (h/t Karen Hanson) about the Mardi Gras Indians who have a rich history, dating back to slavery.

Native Americans often helped escaped slaves navigate their way to freedom and sometimes former slaves lived within Native American communities as free people.

The outfits of the Mardi Gras Indian groups, who call themselves “tribes,” are inspired by Native American ceremonial regalia. Members call these costumes “suits,” and it can take up to a year to create the intricate designs out of thousands of sequins, beads and pounds of feathers.  In this way, the costumes are strikingly similar to those on display at the West Indian Day Festival in Crown Heights Brooklyn each summer.

Both celebrations speak to the power of resilience in the face of oppression and the similarities suggest the ways that diaspora shapes culture.  For more about diaspora, check out Theorizing Diaspora (Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).