Beyonce’s new visual album Lemonade is chock full of images begging to be unpacked, from the Yoruba face paint to the baseball bat named Hot Sauce to the brief shot of a kintsuji bowl. You could write a think piece on every frame of Lemonade and it almost still would not be enough, writes Lainey of Lainey Gossip. One such image arrives about frothy five minutes in: For almost 40 seconds, a figure slowly around a dining room table as she shakes and hits a tambourine. She’s dressed head-to toe in white, decked out in feathers, intricate beadwork, and a hat the size of a small human.
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This scene may seem like another example of the visual mystery that Lemonade is lush with – she might be a ghost, she might be delivering a blessing. For individuals versed in New Orleans culture, this, like much of the pictures in the album, is familiar: the young woman around the table is a Mardi Gras Indian. Mardi Gras Indians are groups of African Americans, referred to as Tribes and organized by neighbourhood, who dress up and parade during Mardi Gras, St. Joseph’s Day and Super Sunday. Tradition holds that their hand sewn costumes are worn for only one season, plus they may take a year or more and thousand of dollars to make.

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The times and places of the parades vary, so unless you are part of the community, it isn’t easy to predict when they will be around. When different tribes meet each other in the streets, there is usually some kind of power play: Years ago, they’d physically fight each other, but today they participate in faux battles which include dancing and chants. There isn’t consensus on exactly where the tradition stems from. One common belief is that local Native American tribes sheltered runaway slaves, and the two cultures merged. Some Mardi Gras Indians claim direct Native American ancestry.

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