By Glenn Jones
2012 – Present – Big Chief Devin “OX” Williams
Due to our press time, it was necessary to conduct this interview before Mardi Gras. We met with Chief Williams on a rainy day, perfect for sewing, especially close to Mardi Gras morning. It is from this location where he will stand in front of his tribe and nation to sing their prayer, “Indian Red”, for protection and safe travels. After the ceremony, Chief Williams will lead his tribe to meet other tribes, friend or foe.
When we first stepped foot onto the porch, we were met by Travis Williams, older brother of Chief Williams, who wears many crowns in the tribe, yet doesn’t mask. Travis plays a myriad of key roles such as visionary illustrator, suit designer, consiglieri, griot, secret service agent, and basically “The Plug” you don’t want to mess with. Mom, Chiquita Williams, and daughter, Imani Williams, represent the heart and soul of the sewing team. Unified Nation is a young, progressive tribe with family values at its core. At first glance, the Tribe resembles a burgeoning seedling, coming out of the ground preparing to bloom. Unified Nation Tribe has well-established roots, steeped in wisdom and bursting with vibrancy.
Big Chief Williams is by far the youngest Chief we had the honor of learning from that received lessons directly from Legendary Chief of Chiefs Tootie Montana. Chiefs’ cousin Stacy and Noonie Man Baptiste were spy boys for Monogram Hunters. Stacy is credited with being the first Black Masking Indian he saw at the age of 7. To this day Chief says he still remembers that Yellow Suit. His Grandmother made him wait till he was 10 to join the Yellow Pocahontas.” That’s what makes me so dangerous. Tootie taught me how to really dance to the beat. When you Indians dance you’ve gotta dance to that beat, you’ve gotta do the tambourine beat with your feet. When he taught me that, it was the best time in my life as a youth”. Chief Williams has a multitude of close cousins and distant relatives with a masking background and spent 10 years with the Yellow Pocahontas Tribe led by Big Chief Darryl Montana. In the 10th grade just two months shy of Mardi Gras, Chief Williams made a suit and started the Trouble Nation with Big Chief Marquis Tero and original Chief the late Big Chief Emmanuel Hingle. I asked Chief Williams why they started a tribe in 1999 at such an early age and he said, “There was a low in the game and we really wanted to mask, but nobody was masking. We were wild. We tore the 7th Ward up me and Marqui.” Older now, Big Chief has his own tribe and preserves this Black Masking Culture by embodying the lessons he received from wise elders while growing through a fiery trial of errors. This year in the Tricentennial of New Orleans and with five years as Big Chief under his belt Chief Williams is anxious but poised to come out strong.
Q) In this culture what is sewing for you?
A) Sewing is relaxing. Some people do sequins and some people do beadwork. I feel like sequins are cool but they’re not really culture. Native Americans you don’t ever see them doing sequins, they do all beads, and even African tribes it’s all beads. People criticize me for my beadwork and I ask them, “do you see what I’m doing? This is awesome!”. Sewing keeps you out of trouble, keeps you inside, and I love to teach people how to sew. If I teach somebody, even if they don’t choose to mask, they can still help me sew.
Q) What is the Spirit of your Tribe?
A) I have that Spirit right now and I’ve been having that same Spirit since I first masked, since I first hit the floor in an Indian Practice. When that spirit hits you like I said it always hits me the same way, and either I’m gonna be wild or I’m just gonna be calm but I’m behind that mask and you never know what you’re gonna get.
Q) How important is the music in Black Masking Culture?
A) Music is very important. If you don’t have a second-line you might as well stay inside, you need that. My little cousin, his name is Isaac Williams, he’s been beating the bass drum for me since he’s been five and he still does it. When he beats that drum, it’s going like Donkey Kong then. When he’s putting it on, I get tears in my eyes, because it’s about to go down and I know everybody behind me is beating their drum…got me nervous talking about it.