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Jockomo - The Native Roots of Mardi Gras Indians


The Native Roots of Mardi Gras Indians

By Shane Lief & John McCusker
Hardcover : 9781496825896, 192 pages, 63 b&w and color photographs, October 2019

The first exploration of three hundred years of intertwined Native American and African American cultural practices in New Orleans


Jockomo: The Native Roots of Mardi Gras Indians celebrates the transcendent experience of Mardi Gras, encompassing both ancient and current traditions of New Orleans. The Mardi Gras Indians are a renowned and beloved fixture of New Orleans public culture. Yet very little is known about the indigenous roots of their cultural practices. For the first time, this book explores the Native American ceremonial traditions that influenced the development of the Mardi Gras Indian cultural system. Jockomo reveals the complex story of exchanges that have taken place over the past three centuries, generating new ways of singing and speaking, with many languages mixing as people’s lives overlapped.

Contemporary photographs by John McCusker and archival images combine to offer a complementary narrative to the text. From the depictions of eighteenth-century Native American musical processions to the first known photo of Mardi Gras Indians, Jockomo is a visual feast, displaying the evolution of cultural traditions throughout the history of New Orleans.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Mardi Gras Indians had become a recognized local tradition. Over the course of the next one hundred years, their unique practices would move from the periphery to the very center of public consciousness as a quintessentially New Orleanian form of music and performance, even while retaining some of the most ancient features of Native American culture and language. Jockomo offers a new way of seeing and hearing the blended legacies of New Orleans.


"A valuable resource for anyone seeking to further understand one of New Orleans’s most vibrant and complex cultural practices"

- Stacey Leigh Bridwell, OffBeat

"Jockomo: The Native Roots of Mardi Gras Indians is an invaluable addition to the body of work examining the sources for one of the most vital cultural expressions in New Orleans."

- Robert H. Cataliotti, Living Blues

"Lief and McCusker have produced a book that celebrates the tradition from the perspective of insiders and outside observers without privileging either side to the detriment of the other—a diplomatic feat of the first order. This book is a masterpiece and will revolutionize the field."

- Bruce Raeburn, curator emeritus of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University and author of New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History

"By contextualizing the Mardi Gras Indian tradition and deepening our knowledge of its origins, the authors provide us with an exemplary case study of cultural innovation, resilience, and adaptation."

- Daniel H. Usner Jr., Holland N. McTyeire Professor of History at Vanderbilt University and author of Indian Work: Language and Livelihood in Native American History

"The authors masterfully lay out a historical account of the origins of New Orleans Mardi Gras and the participation of the Indians and other black masking cultures."

- Dow Michael Edwards, aka “Spyboy Dow,” retired partner in the law firm of Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC and member of the Mohawk Hunters Mardi Gras Indian tribe