Legend has it that Mardi Gras Indians originated as a show of respect for the neighboring Native American tribes that sheltered runaway slaves. Comprised of working class men and women, the Indians sew their own beaded costumes all year in preparation for Mardi Gras. Weighing up to 130 lbs and standing as tall as 10 feet, the costumes are different each year.
But also, underneath the Indian imagery, intermixed with it, is African imagery and chants. As one big chief said, the costumes were also a way to celebrate their African heritage in a hostile culture. Mardi Gras has a long tradition of this, from the Indians to the gay ball culture, anything is possible when everyone is in masks.