(Dialogue Magazine) — One of the great and unique traditions in New Orleans is that of the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes. Rooted in the relationship of the African slave and Native American, until recently this aspect of African American and Mardi Gras culture went mostly unrecognized by the national and international media.
One of the most notable of the Indian tribes and musical groups is called The Wild Magnolias. The tribe lost its beloved and longtime chief, Big Chief Bo Dollis Sr., in 2015. He has been replaced by his son, Bo Dollis Jr.
We spoke with Bo Dollis Jr. about the history of the Wild Magnolias and the Mardi Gras Indians.
Dialogue Magazine: Give us a little background on the beginning of The Wild Magnolias.
Bo Dollis Jr.: It originally started as a shoeshine jazz band…a bunch of guys from Magnolia St. although a lot of people think it was named for the Magnolia projects.
DM: How did the Mardi Gras Indians become a part of Mardi Gras and get incorporated into the group?
BD: The Mardi Gras Indians are a tribute to the Native Americans that the slaves escaped to. To get away from their masters. What we’re doing is paying tribute to them.
Back in the old days we couldn’t go on Canal St. or St. Charles so they brought Mardi Gras to the neighborhoods.
The Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls, Zulu, they all came to the neighborhoods.
DM: What are some of the traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians?
BD: The best tradition would be that we make our own suits. Everybody sits down, they bead and sew. That’s the best tradition just to sit there and say I made this and by the time Mardi Gras comes together we’ll have the whole suit together and hit the street. That’s the main tradition that all Indians have.
And then on Mardi Gras Day the biggest tradition is called the Indian Parade.
DM: When did you first begin to participate in the traditions?
BD: Well I started out at the age of nine. I’m 35 and still going.
DM: What is the biggest challenge of taking over for your father?
BD: The biggest challenge I’ve had is people looking for me to be like my dad.
DM: What do you think people will remember most about you father?
BD: That he was a great spirit. His music will be around forever.
DM: What direction are you trying to take the tribe as its leader?
BD: Right now I’m trying to take it to a bigger level.
Make things a little more updated and try to bring all the people to come and enjoy the music. The young and old.