A day in the tribes of the Yellow Pocahontas and the Fiyiyi

I honestly thought having lived in New Orleans for almost two months now, I was prepared to take photos of almost anything that would come my way. But, as it turns out, I was utterly wrong. I had no idea how hard and tiring shooting the Mardi Gras Indians was going to be.

If not for the leg work mainly Chris had to do to set the grounds for interviews with the Indians, and getting all the right permissions from the tribe chief to be able to snap that shot when the time would come, the whole adventure was indeed very hard for the whole running around in circles up and down the 7th Ward trying to catch the whole atmosphere and the chanting bunch behind their spy boys with the right light in pitch dark, all in one click.

And I was only shooting for IberPress, while Chris was doing so for the New York Times once again. I mainly assisted him for the first part of the day and late afternoon. But, once night fell upon us, I decided I could not longer hold my index finger in place and only help Chris setting up his lighting. So, I started clicking away myself. I can’t deny I was mostly challenged by the very dark background that revealed just about nothing. Yes, the costumes very colorful and all, but their flamboyancy and their prettiness just got a little lost in the very black backdrop.

In any case, so much for the shooting, the whole experience of following these primitive-like tribes around their neighborhood participating with them in waking up the Yellow Pocahontas sprits within them, was nothing I imagined doing once I first signed-off to come down to Nola with Chris six months ago. I caught myself dancing and chanting “Let’s go get them..” or “We are the Yellow Pocahontas…” a couple of times. And, other than laugh at myself for a second, I continued the ritual with them, feeling part of such esoteric event shamelessly.

What is indeed better than getting accustomed to the local rituals and feeling part of a tradition that dates back 250 years ago, when your family lineage is so far separated from theirs that your cultural background of an Italian Jew transplanted in the U.S. by chance is not nearly as interested as their Native American roots dipped of Native American blood and feathers from the age of slavery onward!? I simply, loved it and I did not mind sweating and literally running for hours to catch up with them for the best full-frontal pictures I could take (they move very swiftly and try to keep up a fast pace to catch the other tribes).

But, the Yellow Pocahontas were not the only attraction Friday night. Once they encountered the FiYiYi, my attention was in fact completely diverted to the purple four-member family. Not so much for their different colorful outfits and their catchy umbrella, but for the fact that the little girl in the group was the heart and soul of the whole parade. She was just so into the whole tribal dancing that seeing her shaking the tambourine while fencing her way through the crowd made me want to jump up and down following the percussion more than I thought it appropriate for the situation. Yet, again…I did not cared and so I began to danced with them despite my heavy camera and flesh strapped around my neck (so glad nobody took a photo of me this way, I would not have want any visual proofs of culpability–Dancing while working, are you CRAZY?!)

In any case, this was all that happened during St. Joseph night. Or, at least, all that I witnessed happening during it. Now, I wait until Super Sunday, coming up this weekend when all the uptown Mardi Gras Indians (these two tribes I presented above, were the downtown ones) will dress-up in their costumes and parade around once again. I can’t wait for more tribal dancing and primitive chanting to spice up my New Orleans adventure. Forget Mardi Gras, this is so much better that any bead-throwing floats ever! Not to mention, their costumes are just so much more elaborate and refined than anything else I have ever seen parading by in the French Quarter.

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