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Photos: Skull & Bone Gang wake up Treme for Mardi Gras

For over 200 years the Northside Skull and Bone Gang has woken up Treme residents for Mardi Gras. The skeleton gang led by Chief Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes is meant to remind people of their mortality and to live a moral life to avoid becoming Skull and Bones.

by Matthew Hinton
February 26, 2020

For over 200 years the Northside Skull and Bone Gang has woken up Treme residents for Mardi Gras. The skeleton gang led by Chief Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes is meant to remind people of their mortality and to live a moral life to avoid becoming Skull and Bones. Starting before dawn at the Backstreet Cultural Museum on Feb. 25, 2020, the four skeletons come out the museum’s front door.

Then a fifth stilt-walking skeleton seems to magically appear from within the crowd.

Sunpie knocks on people’s doors and sometimes invited inside to wake up other people and is even offered a beverage or two. The group states that it is the oldest Mardi Gras Black Indian gang or tribe in America, with an African Creole tradition dating back to 1819, and that they are descendants of the slaves and Native Americans. Though they have similar ancestry, they are distinct from the feather-suited Mardi Gras Indians gangs and tribes that are thought to have originated later in the 1800s. Voodoo Queen Kalindah Laveaux and her sisters also accompanied the Skull and Bone gang this year.

Tremé / Lafitte
Getting there
Tremé / Lafitte, New Orleans, LA, USA

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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