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African American Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras

African American Mardi Gras Traditions

Although modern Mardi Gras festivities have become increasingly integrated since the 1960s, the African American community of New Orleans has long nurtured a number of distinctive Carnival customs. The largest African American krewe of Mardi Gras is the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club Inc., which presents one of the premier attractions of the Mardi Gras season. Combining Mardi Gras revelry with features reminiscent of an elaborate minstrel show, the Zulu parade is especially boisterous. Many Zulus march in blackface (black makeup traditionally used in minstrel shows) and wear grass skirts as they distribute gold-painted coconuts to crowds of observers.

Another important African American Carnival tradition is the annual appearance of the Mardi Gras Indians, groups of black men who dance through the streets in costumes inspired by the traditional clothing of Native Americans. Each member of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe creates his own costume, usually incorporating colorful feathers and intricate beadwork. Most scholars believe that the Mardi Gras Indian tradition began in the late 19th century. In the past, rivalries between tribes sometimes led to violent confrontations. Today, such conflicts have given way to a competition among the Mardi Gras Indian tribes for the most elaborate costume.

By Brent Lanford, B.A., M.A., © Microsoft® Encarta®



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