Monday, February 22, 2021

Spirit Of Fi Yi Yi & The Mangingo Warriors: Increased African Aesthetics In Mardi Gras Indians Suits & Music Instrumentation Part #1

dylanjames67, Feb 10, 2016

Spirit of the Fi Yi Yi, the most African inspired of the many Mardi Gras Indian tribes of New Orleans. Big Chief Victor Harris.
"Fi Yi Yi" is pronounced to rhyme with the first syllable in the word English"fire". "Fi Yi Yi" also rhymes with the English words "by", "cry", "high". etc.   

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series about 
the increased African aesthetics in Mardi Gras Indian suits and music instrumentation.

Part I showcases one video that documents this increased African aesthetics and presents links to two additional YouTube videos of this Mardi Gras Indian tribe. 

Part I also presents two online excerpts about this subject..
Click for Part II of this series. Part II showcases two videos of the Fi Yi Yo and Mandingo Warriors. 

The content of this post is presented for cultural and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all the Mardi Gras Indians. Thanks to all those who are showcased in these YouTube examples and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube examples. 
Disclaimer: This post doesn't mean to imply that Spirit Of Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors are the only Mardi Gras Indians whose suits and music instrumentation reflect increased African aesthetics.

Note added Feb. 23, 2021- If I understand what I have read correctly, The Spirit of FiYiYI is the chief and Mandingo Warriors is the name of the Mardi Gras Indian tribe. That said, both are Spirit of FiYiYi (aka FiYiYI) and Mandingo Warriors are included in the list of Mardi Gras Indian tribes on on retrieved on Feb. 23, 2021  (although that list may not have been correct and probably isn't complete or otherwise correct at this time.)
-end of added note-
In addition to this showcased video, click for the video entitled "42 Tribes Week 7: Big Chief Victor Harris Fi Yi Yi".

Also, click for an August 17, 2021 video for a YouTube video entitled "CELEBRATING THE LIFE OF KIM BOUTTE | SPIRIT OF FI YI YI INDIAN TRIBE QUEEN | NEW ORLEANS CULTURE". Queen Kim Boutte was a victim of a neighborhood shooting. RIP Queen Kim Boutte.

Excerpt #1
New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians: Mediating Racial Politics from the Backstreets to Main Street

Cynthia Becker

African Arts

Vol. 46, No. 2, Performing Africa in New Orleans (Summer 2013), pp. 36-49 (14 pages)

Published By: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center

page 36


In November 2008, the Mardi Gras Indian Victor Harris, from the Spirit of Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors, was invited to display some of his hand made costumes, referred locally as “suits”, in New Orleans first biennial arts exhibit Prospect 1 (Figure .1).  Harris is among the many African American men and women who, on Mardi Gras day, St. Joseph’s Day, and other occasions perform wearing beaded and feathered suits, accompanied by friends and neighbors, and family who constitute the so-called second line.  The catalogue accompanying the Prospect .1 exhibition characterizes Harris’ suit as displaying “a highly personalized style with an African inflection.” (Tancons 2009:59).  Harris’ suits, unlike those of other Mardi Gras Indians who more explicitly reference Native American culture, also incorporates materials associated with African art, such as raffia, kente cloth, cowrie shells, and includes face masks and African-inspired shields.

For all its well-intentioned efforts to focus attention on a neglected art form, Prospect .1, like other catalogues and exhibitions of its kind, failed to historicize Black Indian aesthetics.  For example, there is no discussion of how the suits made by Victor Harris differed from the suits worn by earlier New Orleans ‘ Black Indians.  In the nineteenth century, Mardi Gras Indians, restricted to New Orleans working class African American neighborhoods and never featured in museums, made less ornate suits, using discarded beads, turkey feathers, and fish scales as their primary artistic media (Fig 2).  As racial politics changed and Mardi Gras Indians gradually migrated into the wider public realm, the suits became increasingly more elaborate.  In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, they began to be featured in documentary films and to perform at numerous New Orleans music festivals. By the 1990s, Indians were consciously trying to outdo each other’s creative skills as images of Indians appeared in glossy photograph books and postcards.(See Breunlin this issue, Breunlin and Lewis, 2009). In recent years, some Indians, such as Victor Harris, have displayed highly personalized handcrafted suits internationally and are striving to make a name for themselves as contemporary artists’”… 

Excerpt #2
From New Orleans’s best hidden treasure is its Mardi Gras Indians
By Natalie B. Compton, February 28, 2020
…”In 2018, the Neighborhood Story Project published “Fire in the Hole,” a collective oral history from Harris and other voices within the Mandingo Warriors tribe. The book is one of the only ones to be created by Mardi Gras Indians themselves, and profits from its sales go back to support their collective art.

It was through Breunlin that I met Harris. On our way to Harris’s home, Breunlin explained that while the ideal would be that a Mardi Gras Indian can sing, dance and sew a spectacular suit, they can still earn respect for standing out in any one of those individual categories.


When Harris created the Mandingo Warriors tribe, in 1984, he broke away from Mardi Gras Indian tradition by creating a suit to identify with his African ancestry instead of using Native American aesthetics. His suits now feature materials like raffia, grass and shells.”….

This concludes Part I of this two part pancocojams post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Here's another online article excerpt about the Mardi Gras Indians. This article includes a reference to Victor Harris' style of designing his Fi Yi Yi Mardi Gras Indian suits:

    From A Commentary: African Cultural Retentions in Louisiana; By Charles Siler, 2001
    "The thread which binds the quilt of Louisiana culture is African. Food, folkways, music, dance, religion, ritual, language, and style of creativity are among the many areas where this influence is evident


    Louisiana's Mardi Gras Indians reflect the influence of the Plains Indians of North America in the generalised style of headpieces, also called crowns that are created. It is in the style of beadwork and suit construction where the African influence appears. The African continuum is illustrated by examples such as the work of Chiefs Bo Dollis (Wild Magnolias), Monk Boudreaux (Golden Eagles) and Larry Bannock (Golden Star Hunters) whose "Uptown style" suits reflect, in their beading technique, Nigerian influences. On the other hand, Chief Allison "Tootie" Montana (Yellow Pocahontas), credited with the development of the "Downtown style" suit, reflects a Bakongo (or Kongo) influence. (Kongo is also the source of the blacksmith and Shango ironworker cults. African ironworkers are responsible for much of the ornamental "lacework" that adorns Vieux Carre balconies.) Chief Montana, known for his sculptured suits, is a retired ironworker.

    Modern incarnations within the Indian masking tradition are reflected in the design work of Victor Harris (Spirit of the Fi Yi Yi). Harris' masking style relates to the Bambara/Mandinka cultural links via their use of animistic design, raffia, and feathers, while still incorporating the sculptured patch structure related to the downtown Indians. Chief Clarence Dalcour of the Creole Osceola and his designer, Alvert Brown, created a style reminiscent of the Haitian Rara flags using sequins and beads in combination to create elaborate two-dimensional designs. The sequin and bead combination is also seen in the Brazilian Samba societies where these items are used in the creation of new costumes for their annual Carnival celebrations.

    The Mardi Gras Indians also retained the Bamboula, which describes a drumbeat and dance. For nearly one hundred and twenty years the Bamboula, associated with Louisiana Congo Square legacy, was kept intact within that tradition.

    In the early 1990s, internationally-famed percussionist Chief Hawthorne Bey visited New Orleans and taught the Bamboula beat to a group of local master drummers. In 1994, the Louisiana State Museum opened the exhibit Capturing the Flash: African American Photographers View the Black Indian Tradition. In a related program, Master drummer Luther Gray gave a presentation/performance of the Bamboula. It was an epiphany. The Indians present knew the beat. Though it had disappeared from the memory of the general populace it had remained in use by drummers and second liners following the Indians. Chief Howard "Smiley" Ricks (Indians of the Nation), a professional percussionist with Dr. John's band, remembered it as the changa or chango beat. Other chiefs present at the program confirmed Ricks' observation.
    Gray, in a recent conversation, added another interesting note: namely that the dance known as the Bamboula is, stylistically, more Kongo derived. This information is coming forth as more people from this region have travelled to Africa and other parts of the Diaspora and are experiencing traditions that are "more than just familiar" to them.”…
    Shango is the name of a Yoruba (Nigeria) orisha (orisa) of thunder and lightning .
    The Yoruba orisha of iron is Ogun.