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PHOTOS: Cancelled, Cold and COVID – Mardi Gras 2021 Prevails

Even though Mardi Gras 2021 looked different, you can't keep Carnival out of the hearts of New Orleanians. Here's a look at Mardi Gras Day during COVID-19.

by Matthew Hinton
February 17, 2021

Even though Mardi Gras 2021 looked different, you can’t keep Carnival out of the hearts of New Orleanians. Here’s a look at Mardi Gras Day during COVID-19.

Big Chief Coming Through….

Early that mornin’ a house float came to life on Mardi Gras as Big Chief Dow Edwards of the Timbuktu Warriors paraded around the block of his home on Amelia Street in the Riverside neighborhood in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021. The weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Big Chief Dow displayed suits from his time as Spy Boy for the Mohawk Hunters as his house float. The Krewe of House Floats is an initiative to decorate homes during the Carnival season because of the cancellation and postponement of parades and gatherings for Mardi Gras 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Avoiding a crowd and staying off Magazine Street, Big Chief Dow and his gang / tribe of Black Masking Carnival Indians greeted neighbors from a safe distance while being masked up for the COVID-19 pandemic. @BigChiefDow was accompanied by his War Chief Bennie “Stickman” Russell, pink feathers, 3rd Chief Roderick Mitchell, light pink and purple, Second chief James Payne, white feathers, Gang Flag Milton Wright, green feathers, and wild man Jeffery Vincent, red and black feathers.

Riding High

Tyree Encalade with the New Culture Riderz stands on his horse, Lola, in the Central City neighborhood before the group including members of the Crescent City Cowboys rode through the streets on Mardi Gras, Feb. 16, 2021.

Costume Couture

There were lots of costumes and the occasional float like a land yacht in the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods of New Orleans on Mardi Gras, Feb. 16, 2021. Costumes were still plentiful but socially distant and masked up because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a shot chute on Clouet Street to send small bottles to revelers. Steve Lohman made a toaster out of an Airstream. The Krewe of Dystopian Paradise, a sub-krewe of Krewe du Vieux, kept their distance and kept moving on bicycles. The New Orleans Police Department shut down Bourbon Street and the NOPD occasionally drove up and dispersed large gatherings.

“Let’s go get ’em”

Grammy nominated trumpeter and Spy Boy Eric “Iammusic” Gordon, Jr.  displayed a spear that said “MASK UP” as he met up with a small group Mardi Indians near Hunter’s Field in the 7th Ward, a traditional spot for Black Masking Indians to gather on Mardi Gras Feb. 16, 2021. Other Carnival Indians in attendance included Golden Blades Flag Boy Dan Edwards, in blue and pink feathers, Golden Blades Spy Boy K-Nine, Alphonse Feliciana, and in her first time masking, Yellow Pocahontas Big Queen Dianne Honore Destrehan. Destrehan normally comes out as a baby doll on Mardi Gras but with the tutelage of Yellow Pocahontas Big Chief Darryl Montana she sewed her first suit and it was pretty, pretty. She said her fingers will never be the same after they received numerous pin and needle pricks from sewing the suit. Normally the Indians would congregate under the Claiborne bridge in the Lafitte-Treme neighborhood but the mayor fenced off the overpass because of the concern of large crowds gatherings. The first known Carnival Indian gang started around the 1880s with the Creole Wild West led by Chief Becate Batiste, a Creole who was part Choctaw, French, and African-American. Indian suits often depict stories with sewn beads of Native Americans battling the United States cavalry, cowboys, or conquistadors. Other Indian gangs are more influenced by West African and Afro-Caribbean cultures and their suits can have shells, glass, and geometric patterns, while others like the Yellow Pocahontas have three-dimensional beaded structures sometimes representing animals or other sculptures protruding from the suit.

Sign of the times

On Mardi Gras Feb. 16, 2021. Big Chief Demond Melancon (@qadamawi) installed one of his Mardi Gras Indian suits on a pedestal that formerly held a statue of the traitor and leader of the short-lived  Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. The Davis statue was removed in 2017 having been erected not after the Civil War but in the early 20th Century during the racist Jim Crow era that segregated the South and disenfranchised black voters. The Davis statue was located on Jefferson Davis Parkway in Mid-City but has been renamed Norman C Francis Parkway in honor of Dr. Francis who is the former president of Xavier University, a historical black Catholic University, located a mile from this pedestal.

Guardians of the Flame

Guardians of the Flame Maroon Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson led a procession around Musicians Village in the Upper 9th Ward as she honored the late Guardians Consul Chief Joseph Jenkins on Mardi Gras, Feb. 16, 2021. A tiny Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indian Deliam Frazier, 18 months, made his debut with the tribe. After leaving his former home the Guardians traveled to other neighbors including Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, who waved and sang from a safe distance from his home in the Upper 9th Ward. Harrison-Nelson’s father was Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. of the Guardians of the Flame and a former Big Chief for the Creole Wild West Indians gang. This group is believed to be one of the first Mardi Gras Indian gangs founded in the 1880s by Becate Batiste, a Seventh Ward Creole of African-American, French, and Choctaw heritage. Maroon Queen Cherice honors “Maroons” who escaped slavery plantations in Southeast Louisiana and mingled with local Native American tribes. Her machete is a symbol for the maroons who used it to cut through the brush and for protection.

Matthew Hinton is a New Orleans area freelance photographer whose work has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Best of Photojournalism Awards in 2014 and 2016, and by numerous awards from the Press Club of New Orleans, including the Hal Ledet President's Print Photography Award, the highest honor the Press Club can bestow upon a photographer. Matthew Hinton has previously been a staff photographer at both of the daily newspapers in New Orleans. His work has appeared nationally and internationally through freelance work with the Associated Press and AFP, Agence France-Presse.

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