St. Joseph’s night, New Orleans–a battle between the Mardi Gras Indian tribes


While sitting on a couch in West Virginia last month, steadily sifting through festival dead ends, broken Google links, outdated news articles, and 404 File Not Found messages, Ross stumbled upon an image of a black man in a blue full body Indian headdress.  The photograph was taken in New Orleans and it was part of an article about “Indian Sunday” where groups of black men and women parade in the streets on the Sunday before the feast of St. Joseph during Lent.  Immediately, we knew this was exactly the kind of event AFP wanted to photograph.  So we called the journalist and she plugged us in with Jermain Cooper Bossier , Kabrisha Gauthier, and the 7th Ward Creole Hunters.


Because we were out catching rattlesnakes we couldn’t get to New Orleans by Sunday when the various tribes around the city come out and “mask” as Indians.  But as we were told, the real action was the evening of St. Joseph’s and so that’s when we arrived.  On this night, tribes from around the city gather on one street corner and face off for friendly and sometimes heated encounters.  Each tribe is expected to have their costumes ready by Mardi Gras and so the term “Mardi Gras Indians” has stuck for this group but the celebration extends past “carnival.”

AMO_Indians 20

The history of the event has its origins in antebellum Louisiana when Native American tribes assisted in slave revolts and supported slaves escaping to freedom.   Indian bloodlines became mixed in the mashup of ancestries that became Creole lineage and tribal culture found its way into multi-ethnic social groups.  In the late 19th century, “Indian Sunday” became an annual event for descendants to honor and celebrate their Indian ancestry and pay respect to the natives who helped to free slaves.  But clashes between tribes could be extremely violent as they embraced tribal warfare tactics.  Now in 2009, the spy boys, flag boys, and wild men who all serve to protect the chief mostly function as symbols of the tradition’s bloody past.  Still, when tribes face off today, encounters are fierce and the challenge to be the bigger, prettier, and more revered chief doesn’t always end amicably.


Just before sundown, we left the 7th Ward with the Creole Hunters and walked 3 miles towards uptown New Orleans where all the tribes were gathering.  With the exception of stopping moving traffic at each crossing, the march was mostly uneventful.

AMO_Indians 03

But when we turned our final corner, the energy radically changed.  Drumming and shouting filled the air, and the streetlights poured down on hordes of colorful dancers.  Spectators gathered on the sides to watch as chiefs went face to face, refusing to back down from one another, yelling out phrases of intimidation.  And almost as soon as we arrived, a fight broke out and we saw one chief spitting blood out of his mouth.  But with cops on hand and older chiefs mediating, the squirmish subsided and the party began.

AMO_Indians 13

It was a night of color and celebration that was truly unique in our travels.  We feel so lucky to have been part of this incredible event and to have been welcomed in by Jermain and his tribe.  The men and women who spend an entire year on their costumes are the reason we were able to take such beautiful images.

Check out the video too.  It’s a little longer than usual, but there was a lot of history we wanted to provide.

Posted by Ross, posted on 03/25/2009 at 12:55am. Bookmark this post.


  1. Posted 03/25/2009 at 8:47am


    These pictures were really interesting. The history of the event feels American yet the photos are almost absurd. Do you know how the costumes’ bright colors and occassional tusks came about?

  2. Posted 03/25/2009 at 12:14pm


    ….Sheesh! We just might have to order more prints! There are just too many amazing pictures to choose from.

  3. Posted 03/25/2009 at 10:54pm


    Amazing pictures – the colors are incredible! The video was great too. I almost didn’t watch it because it’s a little longer, but it was completely worth the time – completely fascinating festival.

  4. Posted 03/29/2009 at 5:49pm


    love the video hope 2 see u guys again and thanx 4 not being scared

  5. Posted 03/29/2009 at 5:51pm


    I hadn’t gotten a chance to watch the video until just now, but it was absolutely incredible. Their suits were so far beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. I’m so appreciative to have gotten to see this even if second hand. Thanks for the hard work, and sharing such beautiful and hidden parts of our country.

  6. Posted 04/11/2010 at 6:38pm

    April Jennings-Gabriel:

    I have known Jermaine most of my life and I am so proud of him for becoming Big Chief. I am so happy that some of the most influential and beautiful parts of our history here in New Orleans have been shared with the rest of the world. This is something about New Orleans that most outsiders are not familiar with and yet is a tradition as old as our city. Thank you for making people aware of our more positive attributes.

  7. Posted 06/18/2010 at 3:43pm


    If it were not for the HBO series TREME, I would not have any knowledge about the black indians of New Orleans. The costumes and traditions are very unique and we need to know just how history, tradition, and cultures are a very major part of that city.
    I looked up Black Indians on line and found this site.

  8. Posted 07/23/2013 at 1:57am

    Emil Stilts:

    Hi actually fantastic study.
    I ought to admit aim pretty new to using WordPress well basically very new. Just starting to receive the hang of it. Reading your article has been quite informative. I have to admit still not totally 100% percent clear in my head. So have just put your blog on my desktop so I’m able to go straight to it and have another search later.

  9. Posted 07/30/2013 at 2:59am

    Normand Clavette:

    Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive learn something like this before. So good to find any individual with some original ideas on this subject. realy thanks for beginning this up. this web site is one thing that’s wanted on the web, somebody with somewhat originality. helpful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

  10. Posted 08/01/2013 at 5:20am

    Ofelia Salatino:

    There are certainly a number of particulars like that to take into consideration. That is a nice level to carry up. I offer the ideas above as normal inspiration however clearly there are questions just like the one you carry up the place a very powerful factor will probably be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged round issues like that, however I’m sure that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Each girls and boys really feel the affect of only a second�s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.

  11. Posted 08/02/2013 at 2:19am

    Arnoldo Laubscher:

    An fascinating dialogue is value comment. I feel that it’s best to write extra on this matter, it won’t be a taboo topic however usually individuals are not sufficient to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  12. Posted 08/04/2013 at 2:09am

    Harris Lokey:

    I�d need to examine with you here. Which isn’t one thing I normally do! I get pleasure from studying a submit that can make folks think. Additionally, thanks for permitting me to remark!

  13. Posted 08/08/2013 at 2:04am

    Elvis Renouf:

    After examine a couple of of the weblog posts in your web site now, and I really like your approach of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark web site listing and will likely be checking again soon. Pls try my site as properly and let me know what you think.

  14. Posted 08/08/2013 at 2:29am

    Noelle Ivory:

    That is the fitting weblog for anybody who wants to find out about this topic. You realize a lot its almost exhausting to argue with you (not that I actually would needHaHa). You definitely put a brand new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Nice stuff, simply nice!

  15. Posted 08/10/2013 at 4:28am

    Latoria Sawaya:

    I used to be very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks to your time for this wonderful learn!! I definitely having fun with each little little bit of it and I’ve you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you weblog post.

  16. Posted 08/18/2013 at 2:33pm

    Reuben Seremet:

    I have recently started a site, and the information you provide on this web site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  17. Posted 04/04/2014 at 2:30pm

    birth injury and the law:

    Hello, yeah this post is truly nice and I have learned lot of things from it concerning blogging.

  18. Posted 05/09/2014 at 12:22am

    Kurt D. Lee:

    Unbelievably beneficial points you have said, thanks a lot for adding.

  19. Posted 07/26/2014 at 10:03am

    need a job:

    Hi mates, good paragraph and nice urging commented here,
    I am genuinely enjoying by these.

  20. Posted 09/03/2014 at 12:44am


    Hi to every one, since I am actually eager of reading this website’s post to be updated regularly.
    It includes pleasant stuff.

  21. Posted 09/11/2014 at 7:29pm

    cheap corporate gifts:

    One thing that you can do to bring a union to your company,
    particularly to the corporate level, is by sharing unique corporate
    Christmas gifts. Home Depot’s largest store is located in Anaheim,
    California. You can get all sorts of gifts like coffee mug,
    pen, pen stand, mobile stand, wall clock and many other things.

  22. Posted 09/16/2014 at 3:55am

    daily news:

    whoah this blog is fantastic i really like studying your articles.
    Keep up the good work! You understand, many individuals are searching round for this info,
    you could aid them greatly.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *