Heart of Louisiana: Dance and Feathers

The tribe, many with Native American names, show off their beaded costumes and pride in their...
The tribe, many with Native American names, show off their beaded costumes and pride in their own unique Mardi Gras celebration.(Dave McNamara)
Updated: Feb. 18, 2020 at 9:15 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - When Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped out some New Orleans neighborhoods, there was also concern that one of Carnival’s most unique traditions might be lost. A Ninth Ward man started his own museum to make sure that didn’t happen, and it’s called ‘The House of Dance and Feathers’.

It’s one of the most colorful and vibrant of New Orleans neighborhood traditions, the Mardi Gras Indians. The tribe, many with Native American names, show off their beaded costumes and pride in their own unique Mardi Gras celebration.

Ronald Lewis started his own backyard museum, to tell the history and preserve the culture of the black Mardi Gras Indians.

“That was a political statement in a sense because we were slaves and free people of color and nothing in African history they allowed us to do, so we adopted the Native American imagery, like saying, okay, I can’t be me, but I can be the fella’s who’s free,” Lewis said. “I gave it the title of culture education center and that was educate the world about what we do and our contribution to the great New Orleans Mardi Gras culture.”

Lewis says much of the motivation for his museum came from Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of his Lower 9th ward neighborhood, but even with family homes washed away, and people displaced from the city, the Indian tradition survived and was back on the streets just six months later.

“But what I figured out that when the New Orleanians was in places that they didn’t want to be, they were still able to find beads and stuff and work on suits to occupy their self and time. So, by the time they came back in 2006 they had made beautiful Mardi Gras Indian suits,” Lewis said.

Lewis says he has no idea how many items are in this museum, but these are all artifacts that either he collected or were donated to the museum since Hurricane Katrina.

Every inch of this museum is filled with artifacts, beaded costumes, head-dresses and umbrellas from second lines, images of skeletons – the skull and bones of Carnival. The sought-after ladies’ shoes from the Krewe of Muses, and painted masks and costumes from Cajun celebrations. Lewis loves to share the artifacts and the stories that go with them.

They enhance the story in the House of Dance, where people will get a chance to touch their work, feel their work, see the love that we put into it.

That’s New Orleans. We love being all in, we love taking basic stuff take basic stuff and bringing it to life.

And Lewis is ‘all in’ with his love of Mardi Gras and its neighborhood culture and he now spends his time sharing that passion with anyone who wants to visit his 9th Ward museum.

If you are interested in touring the House of Dance and Feathers museum, it’s best that you call ahead and schedule a tour. For more information, visit the House of Dance and Feathers website here.

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