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A look at Fire in the Hole and Indian Super Sunday

12th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Victor Harris, the Spirit of Fi Yi Yi, found his spiritual calling on awakening one morning after a night of despair. In 1984, he, along with his longtime friend and assistant Collins “Coach” Lewis, was ousted from the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian gang, then led by Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana. He had happily been “running” flagboy with the tribe since 1965. As he tells in the newly published book, Fire in the Hole – The Spirit Work of Fi Yi Yi & the Mandingo Warriors, he woke up with the name Fi Yi Yi on his lips and soon he repeatedly started shouting, Fi Yi Yi!

It is one of many personal moments in the book, a collaborative visual ethnography produced in cooperation with the Neighborhood Story Project and the Backstreet Cultural Museum. Harris delves into his involvement with the Black Indians as do the members of his gang, the Mandingo Warriors, assistants, friends and followers. What makes the book so intimate is that the stories are told in his and their own words. Often it’s as if the “speakers” are sitting in a room all together sharing their remembrances much as African griots might do.

“The spirit of my African ancestors had come to me.” Harris relates on his outlook and ultimately the design of his magnificently unique suits. “ ‘You no more Indian. You are a Black man. You are an African man.’ I wanted to identify with my people. Africans painted their faces and they wore masks.”

Though the colors of Harris’ suits change through the years – his first suit was black – they all reflect the stylistic African essence. Many of his suits and accessories include shells and dried grass complete with full facial masks. Those worn by Fi Yi Yi from the years 2006 to 2017 are remarkably captured by the gang’s official photographer Jeffrey David Ehrenreich and begin their own chapters followed by close-up shots of the remarkably detailed beadwork.

Harris often talks of those who helped him create the designs and sewed and beaded his suits as well as those who aided him in other ways, with many of them adding memories of their own. One of those is the aforementioned Coach Collins, who got his nickname from the time he and Harris coached football out at Hunter’s Field. Coach, who was talented with a needle and thread and who passed away in 2011, was deemed the Commissioner of the Chief’s Sewing Table and the Ambassador of the Mandingo Warriors, offers some very insightful comments. “I never did want to be no Indian,” he says. “Sometimes it is better to be a kingmaker than a king.” Master designer Jack Robinson, who now heads the table working ceaselessly behind the scenes to create Fi Yi Yi’s innovative and imaginative suits, vividly recalls honing his skills on his arrival at Harris’ table.

Readers learn that it was Harris and circumstances that were the impetus for the creation of the Backstreet Cultural Museum, the now-famous institution founded by Sylvester Francis in the Tremé neighborhood. In 1990, Harris was running late in his sewing and Francis reluctantly helped out. “I don’t know how to sew,” he says, “I don’t know how not to push the needle too hard.” Francis tells the story about how he later saw the piece of the blue suit he’d been working on out in Harris’ backyard and asked him if he could have it. That was the first Black Indian adornment Francis obtained. Harris would be the first Indian to bring a suit to the “official” museum when it moved to the former Blandin Funeral Home.

In the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, Fi Yi Yi & the Mandingo Warriors, will hit the streets on St. Joseph’s night, Monday, March 19. They will also be celebrating the new book, Fire in the Hole with a book signing at the Backstreet Cultural Museum. The gang will leave at 5 p.m. from 1431 Annette Street accompanied by baby dolls and members of the North Side Skull and Bone Gang, a brass band and more. It will make its way to the museum, 1116 Henriette Delille Street, via North Robertson St. and Gov. Nichols Street. Following the signing party, the Black Indian gang will continue its traditional roaming. “Who they talk about?” “Fi Yi Yi!”

Uptown Indian Super Sunday

The Mardi Gras Indian Council presents Indian Super Sunday, uptown on March 18, 2018. It differs from the Black Indians’ St. Joseph’s night activities in that it is an actual parade with a start time and route rather the arbitrary roaming of the gangs who meet each other on the street. An advantage of the parade format for observers is that they get to see close-up many, many Indian tribes from all over the city in one day. The Super Sunday festivities begin at A.L. Davis Park at 11 a.m. where there will be entertainment all day with music by artists including BRW, Regeneration Band, Richell Cooks and GB Productions LLC plus deejays Captain Charles and Jubilee.



The parade begins at 1 p.m. next to the park on LaSalle St. and makes a circle route to end where it started. Beyond the beautifully Indians, the parade will also feature the Hot 8 Brass Band, the Young Men Olympian. Benevolent Association and the Lady Buckjumpers Social Aid & Pleasure Club.

The year’s event will honor Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles and political and community activist Jerome Smith.

This article originally published in the March 12, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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