By Glenn Jones, Oba Lorrius, Tamara Singleton
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines an American as A native of America; originally applied to the aboriginals, or copper-colored races, found here by the Europeans; but now applied to the descendants of Europeans born in America.
Louisiana is home to some of the oldest Black Aboriginal Tribes in North America such as the Chitimacha, Choctaw, Houma, Washita, Atakapa, Natchez, Tunica, Chawasha, Adai, Doustione, Natchitoches, Yatasi, Acolapissa, Mugulasha, Okelousa, Wuinapisa, Tangipahoa, and others known for some of the earliest civilizations and earthworks such as Poverty Point built between 1650 and 700 B.C. which is recognized as a world historic site.
In Southeast Louisiana, the aboriginals led the French colonists towards high ground through what we know today as Bayou Rd across the Esplanade Ridge. Jean Baptiste Bienville began construction on what the world knows as the French Quarter March of 1718 three hundred years to present day New Orleans.
After almost two decades of painting their faces red for battle, the Chitimacha, entered a treaty with the French in 1718 to end the colonial quest of land acquisition and American Aboriginal Slave driven war that began in 1706. The French were unable to keep the Chitimacha from escaping to their homes in the surrounding region, so in 1719 with the rising demand for slaves with specific skills such as agriculture, architecture, and textiles, the French brought enslaved people from Africa to Louisiana. Nearly all the Africans brought to French Louisiana came from Senegambia/Congo because they were skilled in growing rice from swamps, processing tobacco, and thriving in environments like New Orleans.
Africans escaping the trauma of slavery ran to the safety of the American Aboriginals that are native to the New Orleans territory. In 1724 the Code Noir (Black Code) was ordered by Louis XIV of France to restrict the activities and religious freedoms for people of color. Anyone colored was forced to be Roman Catholic and restricted from participating in cultural ceremonies like drumming, dancing, and masking.
In 1791 slavery reached its boiling point on the island of Haiti. The melting pot of aboriginals and Africans on the small island made history by defeating the French, Spanish, and British in a battle to successfully bring an end to slavery and send a message of unity and freedom around the world. In 1804 Haiti became the first independent Black nation in the Western Hemisphere. In 1811 near present-day LaPlace, Charles Deslondes who is believed to have arrived in Louisiana from Haiti led the largest slave insurrection in the history of the United States. The resistance of these tribes throughout our Tricentennial history created the cultural appropriation barrier necessary to preserve the Aboriginal Cultures Native to New Orleans. The mixing of the American Aboriginal and African Diaspora Culture is the gumbo that we enjoy today as Black Masking Culture, Second-Line Culture, Brass Band Culture, etc.
The name Mardi Gras Indian was given by descendants of French colonists who organized the Mardi Gras celebration. Mardi Gras began in 1858 and was officially desegregated in 1994. Once the Mardi Gras laws changed to include people of color, aboriginals known for their elaborate hand-sewn ceremonial suits, were included and branded the Mardi Gras Indians. In the early days of Mardi Gras, people of color were restricted to be the Flambeaux, a group of aboriginals and slaves that carried dangerous giant torches so festival goers could see their favorite floats at night.
The robust Black Masking Culture that New Orleans feeds to the world was established through great struggle and sacrifice. The torch has been carried a great distance by culture bearers like Allison Marcel Montana better known as “Tootie” who is honored as the Chief of Chiefs of the Yellow Pocahontas Hunters, dubbed the Renaissance Man of the Black Masking world. Amongst other life lessons, Tootie shall be remembered for inspiring tribes far and wide to embrace and harness their creative abilities through the obedience of sewing. On June 27th, 2005 Tootie Montana gave his final breath addressing the New Orleans City Council on the City’s treatment of Black Masking Indians. Jerome “Big Duck” Smith of Tambourine & Fan and Fred J. Johnson Jr. the former Spy Boy of the Yellow Pocahontas Hunters who stood alongside Tootie are keeping the torch of Tooties message lit.
Culture is the customary beliefs of a racial, religious, or social group. Tradition is the handing down of beliefs and information by word of mouth from generation to generation. Week 2 of our Big Chief of the Week Series, Big Chief Walter “Sugar Bear” Landry said it clearly, “tradition varies, but culture stays the same”. Week 30 of our series we learned through Big Chief Shaka Zulu of Golden Feather that Masking Culture is celebrated by indigenous people on five of the seven continents. This wisdom further validates our likenesses as a people globally, unified in our historical resistance to tyranny and celebration of our preserved culture.
To ensure that our culture is preserved, the Inaugural Black Masking Cultural Festival and Feather Fundraiser were created. Both events take place on March 15, 2018. In association with the French Market Association, Data News Weekly, and Cumulus Broadcasting we are presenting the Black Masking Festival at Crescent Park Pavilion from 3p to 7p. The festival is dedicated to the legacy of the active 42 Tribes we have been documenting and sharing this past 32-weeks through www.bnola.love making a better Nola. This is the first time in North American History that a cultural festival is dedicated solely to the historical contribution of our Black Masking Culture bearers, their local fame, and global acclaim.
BNola in conjunction with Better Family Life(501c3) brings the community a one of a kind festival including 3 Black Masking Tribal processions with Brass Bands and Traditional Drumming. Red Cheyenne, 7th Ward Hard Head Hunters, Big Chief Shaka Zulu of Golden Feather, roots music sensation Love Evolution, and more, hosted by Platinum Recording Artist: Fiend Mr. International Jones.
The celebration continues the evening of March 15th from 9p to 1a at Tipitina’s where we will be hosting the Feather Fundraiser. All proceeds from the Feather Fundraiser are dedicated to purchasing feathers to donate to active Tribes so that they can continue to mask regardless of economic constraints. Headlining the Feather Fundraiser is Cyril Neville with performances by Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. & The Wild Magnolias and 79ers Gang featuring Big Chief Jigga & Big Chief Romeo. International Recording Artist Yahzarah St. James coming off tour with Lenny Kravitz will bring the spirit of the Queens to the stage.
Special appearance by David Carter, ex-NFL player turned Plant-Based Food Enthusiast. In Mr. Carter’s journey to veganism, he connected with his indigenous roots and its intimately bonded culinary culture. Mr. Carter will speak on the indigenous foods that were eaten by the early aboriginal civilizations of Louisiana and how those diets correlate to a plant-based diet.
The community’s participation in the Black Masking Cultural Festival and Feather Fundraiser Concert is vital. Come celebrate the culture this community has cultivated over the 300 years of this cities existence.