United We Dance
Thanks to HBO’s Treme, one of New Orleans’ lesser-known traditions, the Mardi Gras Indians, got the spotlight it deserves—although no one really knows how the custom of African Americans dressing up as Indians to dance through the streets got started. Legend says that Native Americans helped hide escaped slaves and sometimes adopted them into their tribes, and it’s also true that long after slavery ended, black New Orleanians weren’t exactly welcomed into the city’s old-school krewes. However it began, dozens of “tribes” spend much of the year sewing, by hand, elaborately beaded and feathered costumes to wear on their parades—whose dates, times, and routes are still kept secret. If you don’t luck into seeing one during Mardi Gras, stop by the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Treme—retired costumes are on display there—or watch Treme (you can stream it still] for a fictional, albeit authentic, look at the Mardi Gras Indian culture…and one of the best TV shows ever.