One of the most dazzling elements of the Mardi
Gras celebrations, the Mardi Gras Indians receive the attention and respect of
carnival-goers for their elaborately beaded costumes and entertaining dances.
But what few realize about the groups is that the parading is more than just
for show. Costuming, dancing, and all of the rituals of these groups are acts
of cultural preservation that date back more than a century. In his new book,
Michael P. Smith addresses the sociological issues surrounding the mislabeled
and rarely understood Maroon groups now known as "Mardi Gras
Indians." His textual analysis of the culture examines its African origins
and how the participants help to develop the African-American cultural
identity. He looks at how some African-Americans resisted efforts to suppress
traditions that are re-emerging in modern society.
Researched and documented by generations of oral and written history, this
work clearly outlines the mistaken identification of the Mardi Gras Indians as
just an entertainment element of the carnival season. It also shows the vital
role this traditional culture plays in the community, much as the black
Spiritual Churches do, in preserving an authentic base for the unique cultural
heritage of blacks in New Orleans. This work illustrates how the Mardi Gras
Indians are a part of the New Orleans second-line tradition.
A dynamic element of this book is the collection of more than one hundred
color photos. These prints capture the striking beauty of spectacles with a
purpose far greater than entertaining. Combined with authoritative text by
Smith, the visual images round out this examination of the roots of the Mardi
Gras Indians and current practices of the whole range of African-American
cultural societies and parading groups in the Crescent City.
Michael P. Smith is a native of New Orleans and an award-winning
professional free-lance photographer. His special respect for the musical and
cultural history of New Orleans has earned him the general trust of various
ethnic groups he has documented and written about. Smith's work has been
presented in the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in
Washington, D.C., and numerous other museums in America and Europe. He has
received two Photographer's Fellowships from the National Endowment for the
Arts, and his prints have toured worldwide under the auspices of the United
States Information Service. He is also the author of New Orleans Jazz
Fest: A Pictorial History and Spirit World: Pattern in the
Expressive Folk Culture of African-American New Orleans .