Every year at Carnival time, the Mardi Gras “tribes” of New Orleans–the Wild Tchoupitoulas, the Yellow Pocahontas, and Big Chief Bo Dollis’s Wild Magnolias, among others–deck themselves out in spangled, multicolored Indian costumes and take to the streets. The practice, which dates back to the 1880s, is thought by some to have originated as a festive tribute to Louisiana’s native people, who befriended runaway slaves and sometimes fought alongside them in rebellions. Whatever its roots, the “Black Indian” subculture–a loose mixture of African, Caribbean, and Native American iconography, with both gritty backstreet machismo and a profound spiritualism–remains one of the Crescent City’s most vibrant traditions. Some of its rougher edges have been smoothed: in the old days an intertribal encounter on Fat Tuesday might have led to bloodshed, but these days the Big Chiefs and their troops–which include a Spy Boy, a Wild Man, and other designated roles–usually limit their combat to the arena of song and dance. Their chants are an important element of New Orleans R & B; “Iko Iko,” for instance, is based on them. Dollis and his Wild Magnolias are among the best known of the active tribes; their recorded output, beginning with 1970’s riotous “Handa Wanda,” has played an essential role in preserving the tradition. Through the years they’ve added some studio instruments–horns, keyboards, guitars–to the basic lineup of handheld percussion, but they’ve retained their raw, raucous exuberance. Special guest Monk Boudreaux has performed and recorded with the Magnolias for more than 25 years but still leads his own Golden Eagles every Mardi Gras. Friday and Saturday, 7:30 and 10:30 PM, FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo by Michael P. Smith.