Emerging New Orleans Mardi Gras Traditions: The St. Joan of Arc Parade and the Red Beans Krewe, 2010

By Frank de Caro

Figure 1. The St. Joan of Arc parade in New Orleans on Jan. 6, 2010. Photo by Rosan Augusta Jordan.

New Orleans Carnival ("Mardi Gras"1) is, like any great festival occasion, a complex of events, actions and attitudes and hence a phenomenon of intense complexity. Because it is wound up in what participants consider tradition, and tradition is assumed to be "sacred" and "fixed" and relatively unchanging, it has a certain inherent conservatism, and participants often seem reluctant to entertain changes in its character and form. On the other hand, it has persisted over a long period of time (the first parade which played an important role in giving New Orleans Carnival much of its current form took place in 1857) probably in part because this festival occasion has been malleable enough to undergo numerous changes in response to shifting conditions or to the larger needs of the local populace (and, indeed, virtually all traditions do in fact change). That is, Carnival has bent with the times, for example expanding its structures to include more and more people as participants.2 The Zulu organization gave African Americans a venue for parading, an activity at one time limited to whites (although the nature of the Zulu parade, today similar to other major parades with elaborate floats and certain routes, was initially quite different from that of the white parades). Suburban parades and the city "truck parades" provided the means by which middle and working class participants could engage in activities formerly limited to the more socially elite. The Mardi Gras occasion seems expandable, amenable to allowing for a variety of additional forms of active participation.

Many of the most-noted expansions of recent years have involved additions and alterations to the major parading traditions which many people think of as the central Carnival activity: masked krewe3 members riding elaborately decorated floats (pulled by tractors) dispensing "throws"4 to enthusiastic, clamoring crowds, usually with a large krewe ball or party following. The "superkrewes" Bacchus and Endymion came into existence partly to satisfy the needs of out-of-towners and newcomers to New Orleans who sought to ride in the grand parades but who were cut out by the exclusivity of the "old line" organizations. The Muses organization was founded in 2000 as a women's krewe, the latest and most vibrant organization to provide women with parading opportunities originally limited to men. When several old-line organizations ceased parading in response to the passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance in 1992, the Orpheus parade, emphasizing music, quickly was established by singer Harry Connick Jr. and others to fill the gap left by the withdrawal, presenting its first parade in 1994. And the krewe of Chaos came into existence in 2000 to provide parading opportunities for members of those old-line krewes, particularly Momus, that had withdrawn from putting on their own parades.

However, given the carnivalesque nature of Carnival and its associated spirits of satire, disorder, and license to behave in unorthodox ways, there have always been possibilities for creating alternative structures of participation. In addition to individual masking and informal group partying and celebration, there have been alternative parading traditions, notably walking clubs like the Jefferson City Buzzards and Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Walking Club, to note only two of the best known (see Howard 1996, Lind 2010). Both of these groups proceed on Mardi Gras Day itself generally following the main parade route but in only semi-organized fashion which might at times be taken by some observers for casual if costumed5 strolling. The Buzzards were founded in 1890 and Fountain's group marked its 50th anniversary in 2010, but more recently there have been moves toward the establishment of new foot parades with fixed routes, possibly some floats and possibly horses or mules. The Krewe de Vieux parade, established in 1987, for example, processes at night, is made up of smaller, self-contained groups, includes a number of small bands, uses mules or marchers themselves to pull homemade floats, and emphasizes, like several other organizations, satirical themes. Some regard it as having revived and as maintaining the forms and spirit of nineteenth-century Carnival.

New forms of Carnival are, however, constantly emerging. In 2010 the Krewe Delusion was founded by actor Harry Shearer and organized a small parade which followed the Krewe de Vieux on a route through the Marigny neighborhood and then the French Quarter (Reid 2010). And among the newest, emerging manifestations of Carnival are the two organizations which are the primary focus of this article, the Joan of Arc Project and the Red Beans krewe. The first has created a parade which takes place time-wise in an intriguing position in the Carnival calendar, a night-time foot parade also involving one or more horses and riders, participants costumed according to a single historical idea, and particular sensitivity to some New Orleans landmarks. The second operates more in the tradition of daylight walking clubs and shows the influence of second-lines, although with some interesting twists notably in the area of costuming. Although tradition can be a tricky concept (at what point does something become traditional? if repetition is central to tradition, how much repetition is necessary? must the practitioners of a phenomenon think it to be "traditional" for us to consider it in those terms?), both of these new manifestations of Mardi Gras can be seen as at least "emerging traditions" which promise to become more firmly established ones as time goes on. They are still in formative stages and by looking at them we can see something not only of their early history but also something of the processes whereby new components of Carnival form and whereby Carnival is constantly transformed.

Certainly Mardi Gras has been rather little studied by social scientists or historians (but see de Caro and Ireland 2003, Draper 1973, Edmonson 1956, Kinser 1990, Mayer 2007, Mitchell 1995 and 2007, Raabe 1973, Williams 1992, Shrum and Kilburn 1996, Pond 2006, Stanonis 2008; Gill 1997, although not the work of a professional historian, provides historical background information and interesting analysis, and Flake 1994 offers much insightful information on Mardi Gras and New Orleans society; various popular histories, such as Tallant 1948, go back many years), and knowledge of the roles played by individuals and small groups in initiating particular constituent traditions is often lost to history,6 but in the case of both the St. Joan of Arc parade and the Red Beans krewe single individuals have had dominant roles in creating those respective events. The Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc7 was founded by Amy Kirk-Duvoisin, while the Red Beans Social Aid and Pleasure Club8 was founded by Devin Meyers, and these individuals have been the main forces behind their respective organizations thus far (though in both cases other people came to participate in significant ways). Interestingly, both Kirk-Duvoisin and Meyers came to New Orleans relatively recently, neither being native to the Crescent City or having grown up with Mardi Gras and its ins and outs, although both of these individuals are well aware of cultural factors important to Mardi Gras and to New Orleans as a place. Certainly in both cases we can get insight into how a single guiding hand can be crucial in shaping the formative stages of a Carnival tradition.

The St. Joan parade, at least as it was observed on January 6, 2010, was small by the standards of some older groups but clearly full of vitality and a striking sight to those rather few people who lined up along its route as spectators. It was led by a banner announcing St. Joan carried by marchers and by a group of bagpipers (Figure 1). A young woman portraying Joan of Arc proceeded on horseback (although several people portraying Joan were part of the parade, including Caye Mitchell, who had ridden as Joan in 2009). Those who walked in the parade were dressed in "medieval" costume and a few pulled a medieval-style cart (made by Delgado College students and now kept in storage for future use). Candles, specially-decorated (with a tag noting the parade as well as a cardboard guard to protect against the drip of hot wax; the intent was to hand out 598 candles to celebrate the saint's 598th birthday so that attendees could participate in a sort of roving birthday cake), were passed out and matches were used to light many of these white tapers, although keeping them lit while parading or even in the slightly breezy night proved difficult. (Kirk-Duvoisin sees both the distribution of matches and a performance by fire dancers before the parade as referencing Joan's execution by burning but as "taking control" of this fact.) The walkers provided the "throws" expected of a Carnival parade (here mostly handed out rather than tossed) to people along the route, such items as miniature images (made by a New Orleans nun) of St. Catherine of Alexandria (one of the supernatural voices heard by Joan of Arc) and ceramic butterflies (Joan's actual banner was said to have been followed by white butterflies; the St. Joan Project wants throws to reflect Joan's story, the times in which she lived or her Catholic or French associations). The parade began at the statue of Sieur de Bienville, the French Canadian founder of New Orleans, located in a tiny park between Decatur and North Peters Streets, where fire dancers performed prior to the parade's formation and departure and a person portraying Bienville gave Joan her sword. It proceeded up Conti Street, then right along Chartres Street, across the cathedral end of Jackson Square, further along Chartres, finally turning right down St. Philip Street to the gilded equestrian statue of "Jeanne d'Arc, Maid of Orleans, 1412-1431" situated on the edge of the French Market between the again diverging lanes of Decatur and North Peters Streets.9 As one participant put it, this was not "a big, raucous Mardi Gras parade," and she appreciated its low-keyness and being able, at the end of the parade, to share with strangers the king cakes she had brought.

Although the landmark French Quarter is hardly medieval,10 its comparative antiquity and French association provided an appropriate-seeming backdrop for all this activity, and by marking the beginning and ending of the parade with two large public statues the group managed to make use of other local landmarks; the meaning of the Joan of Arc statue is obvious, but Bienville was the founder of New Orleans and Kirk-Duvoisin likes to point out that had Joan not saved France, New Orleans arguably would never have come to exist (hence a Bienville portrayer gives Joan her sword, as a symbolic act not an historical re-enactment). A party for members of the Joan of Arc organization followed the parade at the French Market Café. January 6, Twelfth Night, marks the opening of the Carnival season,11 so the St. Joan parade has positioned itself as an inaugural public event of Carnival (the street car-borne "parade" of the Phunny Phorty Phellows on the same night being the only other public marking of the occasion, although many may be aware that the Twelfth Night Ball, private and not open to the public, is being held to mark the occasion and may think of January 6 as the beginning primarily of the Mardi Gras "ball season").

The parade is an end-result (certainly the end-result that will be most visible) of Amy Kirk-Duvoisin's thinking about and organizing around the historical/legendary Jeanne d'Arc, Catholic saint, icon of French identity, and indeed a figure embodying a variety of symbolic possibilities. A native of Ohio, Kirk-Duvoisin came to New Orleans in 2004. Raised a Catholic, she became particularly aware of and interested in Joan at the age of nineteen (the same age Joan was when she was executed by the English). And of course Joan is a very intriguing figure, revered in France as someone who performed the nearly impossible task of rallying that country to defeat the English who threatened the very existence of the French kingdom in the fifteenth century (although sometimes she has been specifically associated with conservative political causes). She is both religious and secular in her importance and can be seen as spiritual presence and national symbol, as a powerful female figure and an embodiment of youthful energy, as well as someone who, in the eyes of many, received divine guidance and fulfilled a divinely-ordained destiny. She accomplished amazing things in a very short time during a rather short life, while her execution/murder by being burned at the stake provided a dramatic if grisly end to her life, at a remarkably early age and in the context of betrayal and the machinations of evil enemies.

Around September 2008, having lived in New Orleans now for several years, Kirk-Duvoisin posted an on-line notice asking if any young woman would be interested in portraying Joan on horseback. Previously she had been thinking about establishing a Joan of Arc festival in New Orleans, which seemed like a good fit for the city, a Catholic city in which saints already are part of the local consciousness as well as a city well aware of its French heritage and one in which a variety of festivals have already proved the popularity of the festival idea. There was the Joan of Arc statue and evidently some people thought that Joan (after all this is New Orleans and Joan is the Maid of Orléans, stemming from her role in the lifting of the siege of that French city as her first great victory) was the patron saint of the city (in fact that niche is filled by Our Lady of Prompt Succor).

However, those locals to whom she broached the Joan festival idea were not sufficiently enthusiastic or supportive.

Then she noticed that January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, sometimes has been considered Joan's birthday (in the early fifteenth century peasant births were not recorded and Joan herself was not even certain of the year of her birth--probably 1412--but one historical document indicated January 6 and some biographers have accepted this at least as a possibility), although her feast day is in May. Knowing this date to be the official start of the Carnival season, Kirk-Duvoisin conceived the idea of a Joan of Arc parade on this, the first day of "Mardi Gras." The idea of a parade appealed to her background in the theater (she is a playwright who has worked in other capacities in the theater world as well), as a parade involves public performance. Additionally, she felt that New Orleanians, although very open to new ideas and possibilities, liked the new to be tied into the old and familiar; connecting the parade and Joan to Mardi Gras brought something new but placed it firmly in the context of already well-established tradition. Plus, although private celebration of Carnival might begin on January 6 (there is, for example, the old-line Twelfth Night Revelers organization and its ball), there was little in the way of public activity to mark the occasion other than the availability of king cakes and the uptown street car ride of the Phunny Phorty Phellows. The French heritage of New Orleans, the Orleans/New Orleans connection, the local Catholicism, the St. Joan statue, the January 6 date, even the local popularity of king cake, the ritual food of Mardi Gras which may involve a playful coronation as part of its consumption (Joan was importuned by her visions to save the King of France, and she did in effect bring about the coronation of Charles VII as king) all tied in with New Orleans and Carnival, whose principal form of expression is the parade. Hence Kirk-Duvoisin's need for a Joan on horseback.

Figure 2. Amy Kirk-Duvoisin in heretic's hat during the 2010 St. Joan of Arc parade. Photo by Rosan Augusta Jordan.

Kirk-Duvoisin notes that she has found New Orleans to be a place in which personal connections are particularly important and in which those connections sometimes seem particularly fortuitous. Reading Kirk-Duvoisin's posting in a Mardi Gras forum that she needed an equestrian Joan, someone who wrote in mentioned a neighbor, Caye Mitchell, who already rode as one of the Lady Godivas, a group of women who ride on horses costumed as the legendary Godiva in the Muses parade (as Lady Godiva was famous for riding naked perhaps costumed is not entirely the right word, but the parading Godivas wear scuba suits which have been airbrushed to suggest naked bodies--and also keep the riders warm on chilly nights--and have other regalia12). Mitchell agreed to be the first Joan (with her fiance, who owned a knight costume, riding with her as the Bastard of Orleans--that is, the illegitimate brother of the Duc d'Orleans and the commander of the royal forces at Orleans who became a key comrade of Joan during the famous siege) for the first St. Joan parade in 2009, and the growing organization of the parade attracted other people to be involved. In fact, the first parade in 2009 (which was compromised by bad, rainy weather) included multiple Joans representing different aspects of Joan of Arc: the warrior Joan in armor on horseback (Mitchell), a peasant Joan (Corinne Bachaud, a McGehee School student), the imprisoned Joan (Australia James, a New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts student who had played Joan in a production of Shaw's St. Joan and who recited an appropriate monologue from the play), and a sainted Joan (Kelley Faucheux), also on horseback and attired in gold like the gilded Joan statue. In 2010 Kirk-Duvoisin herself donned a heretic's hat (the historical Joan wore such a hat after her condemnation and its inscription is known) to portray the Joan accused of (and, indeed, burned at the stake for) heresy (Figure 2).

Kirk-Duvoisin's husband, a New Orleans native, urged her from an early point to get local schools involved (in France schoolgirls are much involved in the annual May 8th parade which celebrates VE Day but which includes a Joan connection and is indeed celebrated on the day the Siege of Orleans was lifted), and the group's Joans have tended to be high school students. In fact, the St. Joan Project group has instituted a 250-word essay written by students as a means of selecting Joans. Although originally there was interest in selecting Joans from girls who spoke French and had other interests in French culture, the essay asks students to write about how they see themselves as being like Joan of Arc. They still should be students of French and able to speak some French, and the St. Joan group does continue to consider New Orleans' historical connection to France and French culture to be something of importance to the parade and to the St. Joan organization (the French consulate in New Orleans initially took a wait-and-see attitude toward the St. Joan group and its activities but has since warmed to the idea; a newsletter published by the French Embassy in Washington has profiled the parade, as has the magazine France-Amerique). Indeed the group has been concerned with retaining historical accuracy and retaining Joan's historical interest. For example, bagpipers really did precede Joan at Orleans in 1429, Scotsmen who had joined the French to fight against their mutual enemy, the English. For the first parade costumes were improvised with people drawing material and inspiration from various sources (including the New Orleans familiarity with costuming techniques and the tendency for New Orleanians to own costumes and parts of costumes), but the group has a costuming consultant, Antoinette de Alteriis, and has run costume workshops and additional effort was made for the second parade (although of course those persons costuming are inevitably limited by available materials). As with other facets of the parade, the group has stressed historical authenticity in costuming, although achieving the "spirit" of medieval costume is important (and the costumes of Joan's many peasant followers were relatively simple). People involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, who have considerable interest in reproducing medieval-style costumes, have begun to show an interest in the parade, and the organization has attracted people who enjoy dressing for Renaissance fairs and similar occasions. A few costumes are owned by the krewe, although costumes are mostly the responsibility of individual members.

Kirk-Duvoisin thinks that the St. Joan Project has attracted a considerable variety of people, including (but by no means limited to) artists and the literarily inclined, history buffs, people intrigued by Joan's story, Francophiles and people associated with the Alliance Francaise, French teachers, a handful of people named Jeanne who feel a connection with "their" saint, and Catholics. The St. Joan Project has taken care to point out that the group is secular in nature and it has maintained a certain distance from religious adherents of Joan, but it has inevitably attracted people interested in St. Joan for religious reasons, whether the very devout (in a city with many serious Catholic practitioners and conservative strands of Catholicism) or people who may no longer attend church but who retain certain psychological ties to Catholicism such as a devotion to saints. (Interestingly, two other Mardi Gras groups of fairly recent vintage, both Fat Tuesday walking groups, are named after saints, St. Anne and St. Cecilia.) The group and parade also appeal to some as a Mardi Gras activity in which their children can be involved. One of the several Joans told me that she considered it "an honor" to have portrayed the saint. Interest in participating in the group has been almost exclusively local, although the Bienville House Hotel, which has been supportive of the St. Joan Project and made free meeting space available, offered special rates for anyone coming from out of town for St. Joan activities, and a group of people from a United Church of Christ church in Madison, Wisconsin, who discovered the parade while in New Orleans in 2009 volunteering for post-Katrina reconstruction work, have become an important, well-costumed component of the group.

Though the St. Joan Project was inaugurated as part of Carnival, Kirk-Duvoisin and others clearly see it as transcending Mardi Gras. In 2010 they produced a fete several days before the parade, primarily a conference at which panelists explored different aspects of the St. Joan phenomenon along with a costume-making workshop. And on February 6, before the debut in the Super Bowl of New Orleans' beloved Saints football team, the group was part of a pep rally for the team in and around the French Market (for which Kirk-Duvoisin happens to be the Director of Marketing). Blair Davis, 2010's armored Joan, reappeared in costume to lead a procession of Saints supporters to the Joan of Arc statue, and later in the day members of the Joan of Arc organization came to present offerings to the saint at the statue asking for her intercession ("interception") for the team (Figure 3). In 2009 they took part in Bastille Day celebrations at the French Market. In May of 2010 they joined with the Louisiana Renaissance Fair for a music and costume party at Deutsches Haus (including Renaissance dance and medieval costume-making workshops). On St. Joan.s feast day that same month they had planned a jazz funeral and prayers asking for her intercession for the hurricane season and summer, shifting the prayer to account for the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and joining the protest against the oil company BP after their own ceremony. Clearly members are interested in a broader view of Joan (and French culture), not just Joan as the focus for a Mardi Gras parade. According to one Joan portrayer this activity "is not just about a Mardi Gras parade but honoring a sister city and Joan." Given New Orleans' obsession with Carnival, it seems likely that the St. Joan of Arc parade will, assuming that it continues, be the main aspect of the St. Joan Project in the city's consciousness. Yet what will happen to any tradition is unpredictable, and the St. Joan parade and its related events, ideas, and associations may develop in various ways. Continuance is always an issue with Mardi Gras organizations, especially smaller ones, and over the years once-thriving organizations have sometimes disappeared. Adaptation to change can be a key to survival, and the centrality of one or a few personalities in guiding an organization can also be a significant factor.

Figure 3. The Joan of Arc statue with a flag supporting the New Orleans Saints football team. Photo by Rosan Augusta Jordan.

The future of the Red Beans krewe may be no more predictable than that of the St. Joan group, but this organization might simply possess fewer symbolic ramifications and less scope for functioning in ways outside the actual Mardi Gras context.

The Red Beans krewe (officially the Red Beans Social Aid and Pleasure Club, though the group is not as of this writing incorporated as such and the group is only organized in the loosest sense, although it has a dues structure) was like the St. Joan Project founded by a single individual who has thus far been the dominant force in how the group has developed. Devin Meyers is a native of South Carolina who moved to New Orleans only in 2007. Meyers had visited New Orleans earlier, after Hurricane Katrina, to work as a volunteer, primarily doing photographic work for several organizations, including a Mardi Gras Indian group. He had long-standing interests in cultural matters. He came to live in New Orleans full time in July 2007 and as Halloween of that year approached was giving thought to his costume for that holiday. He came up with the idea of a suit decorated with red beans, a costume which attracted a certain amount of attention as he walked around the city, and he would go on to organize the krewe which is distinguished by its decorative use of beans and rice on costumes. Meyers had become fond of eating beans when he lived in Brazil, where both red and black beans are a food staple, and he was well aware that red beans and rice were an important feature in New Orleans and Louisiana cuisine as well. He had seen second-lines,13 he was familiar with Mardi Gras Indian traditions and with the rich local history, particularly exemplified by the Indians, of putting much hard work into creating a costume to be worn only once or a few times. By Mardi Gras 2008 he had in mind creating a "cultural phenomenon" that incorporated some of these elements and which paid homage to earlier second-line and Indian traditions, and the Red Beans krewe and its parade came out of that. By 2008 he was recruiting friends for the group (using, in the way of his generation, a power point presentation among other tools). He decided that the group would walk on Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras,14 because there was relatively little else going on that day in the way of Carnival activities (although many people have the day off from work) and because Monday was traditionally the day of the week on which red beans and rice were served in New Orleans households.15

Figure 4. Devin Meyers in costume for the Red Beans krewe's second-line in 2010. Photo by Rosan Augusta Jordan.

The first Red Beans second-line in 2009 included about twenty participants, whereas that of 2010 was larger, with over forty people. On February 15, 2010, the marchers gathered slowly outside a grocery store in Faubourg Marigny, the neighborhood down river from the French Quarter, where they had originally intended that the group's king would purchase red beans as a ceremonial act (although this plan was abandoned when the store declined to loan a shopping cart for the parade). Then, accompanied by the Treme Brass Band, the group second-lined through the Marigny and on into the French Quarter, wheeling a shopping cart which carried supplies, led by Meyers whose costume evoked in part a drum major's (probably because of the hat he wore) and who moved in an appropriate dance rhythm just in front of the band (Figure 4). It was also accompanied by New Orleans musician Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, who had been declared the krewe's Grand Marshal for Life and who performs at the group's annual party. For 2010 the group had printed and distributed small cards giving the time, date, and route of the parade (although the route was only fixed for Marigny with the Quarter route being improvised, the card indicating that the termination point would be Frenchmen Street back in Marigny, a street lined by popular bars and music venues). The group was made distinctive especially by its costumes, clothing of various kinds featuring decorative motifs created through the use of beans and rice (Figure 5). Within the similarity of beans and rice grains as decoration, the costumes covered a considerable range of styles, from (despite the chilly day) the nearly naked (with strands of beans for cover) to Baron Samedi-like black formality with elaborate skeletal outlines (Figure 6). Many of the costumes displayed an insouciant sense of fantasy, not portraying alternative identities so much as an amorphous wispiness. Though leader Meyers assumed a proper second-line movement style, the rest of the group displayed a variety of walking styles.

Figure 5. Costumes featuring various designs made of red beans and rice. Photo by Rosan Augusta Jordan.

The costumes of the group have taken on particular importance for the group's members. Each member makes his or her own costume (Meyers estimates that the group is half men, half women and also that about forty to fifty hours are required to make a "suit"). Although members do work on their costumes individually at home, communal costume-making sessions are an important element of the group dynamic. Between Halloween and Mardi Gras the group meets every Wednesday (as of this writing at Meyers' house where he currently has a long table which is the focal point for the work); then Sunday sessions are added as Mardi Gras nears; the number of members attending the meetings varies. In this the krewe resembles the Mardi Gras Indians, who not only put great effort into making their own costumes but who often work in groups, and Meyers is well aware of this similarity and sees the Red Beans krewe as emulating the Indians in this regard (although he acknowledges that the Indians see themselves as having a spiritual dimension which the Red Beans group does not beyond a certain "good feeling"). Not only did Meyers act as a photographer for one Indian "tribe"16 for several years but he has had close associations with families active in the Indian tradition and so has first-hand knowledge of the Indian subculture and sees the Indian families as a "point of inspiration." He wants the Red Beans members to put considerable personal effort into their costumes, which if individually different have the unity provided by the beans and rice as decorative materials (with their working as a sort of substitute for the feathers and glitter used by the Indians); this distinguishes the group from many walking clubs and requires a level of commitment to the group and its activities; indeed, at the costume-making session which I attended, members arrived and immediately sat down to work.

The group buys ordinary packages of beans and rice such as are used for household consumption. These are affixed to clothing which might consist of old jackets and such, whether from a member.s retired personal wardrobe or given to a member by someone else or bought for the purpose, or might be specially made out of material as a costume, whether for the occasion or left over from some other occasion such as Halloween. The beans and rice are put on by use of hot glue guns, and some members also use bay leaves, a food item used in cooking red beans, as well as non-food items like spangles. This makes for an especially ephemeral sort of costume (not only are the beans and rice themselves perishable but they tend not to stay on the garments for very long), requiring that new costumes be made annually. In this need to regularly make and remake costumes Meyers also sees a similarity to Indian costuming. Individual members create their own designs (at least one member starts from sketches), so that each costume is rather different within the use of similar decorative materials and may be more or less elaborate. For 2010 Meyers, for example, created a jacket which included an alligator head, the beans affixed to a cardboard base that allowed for an open gator's mouth. And in 2010 the krewe's 2009 king organized a subkrewe of members decorating costumes with skull motifs in the manner of the Mexican dias de los muertos tradition. (The organization does not at this point in time have subkrewes in the same sense that Krewe de Vieux is made up of independent groups; the king had announced to all members that they could join his "subkrewe" simply by creating a costume with the "day of the dead" theme.) The beans, some of which may be spray painted gold or other colors, are not difficult to work with (the rice is more difficult) and possible innovations in 2010 include soaking the beans to make them soft enough to be sewn. Members may also make throws using beans, and in 2010 handed out glue guns as throws characteristic of the group. In 2009 the Southern Food and Beverage Museum presented an exhibition of Red Beans krewe costumes as examples of food-related ritual clothing.

Figure 6. Baron Samedi-like costumes at the Red Beans krewe's 2010 second-line. Photo by Rosan Augusta Jordan.

Meyers notes that the group seems to be evolving its own traditions as time goes on (use of the word beaners to distinguish themselves, specialized conversations about glue guns, the selection of the group's Princess, who may be man or woman, on the basis of that person's being the group's "most ridiculous" in terms of costume and "persona"). The Princess, King, and Queen are annually selected at the party which precedes the parade (there is also a photo shoot of members in costume on the Sunday just before Lundi Gras), in part on the basis of costumes most liked by the group (Meyers sees inspiration for this in the Indians. emphasis on the importance of the "prettiness" of costumes and the competitiveness that evokes). Some members tend to be a little secretive about the costumes they are working on, certainly an attitude well within the traditions of the Indians and of Mardi Gras in general with its secrecy regarding such matters as krewe affiliations and the selection of kings and queens.

Members of the group (who tend to be in their twenties and some of whom have come to New Orleans recently, attracted by its current reputation as a magnet for the youthful) have said that they appreciate the social aspects of the krewe, appreciate opportunities for meeting a wider circle of people and for regularly getting together with creative, "artsy" people. They may see it as a means for creative expression. Meyers sees it as combining several elements of New Orleans culture (a city, he says, "great for oddball ideas") and New Orleans parading and second-line traditions. Certainly the symbolism of red beans and rice as a quintessential New Orleans dish ties the krewe into the local consciousness and rather deftly uses food to express local identity (perhaps all the more important for the group's members who have come from elsewhere and find themselves in a place not always easy to fathom or fit into). Meyers himself likes the hodgepodge nature of red beans and rice the dish, as representing the hodgepodge of people in the krewe. Surely food, in a city obsessed by food and a city with a famously well-developed local cuisine, is a particularly fitting symbolic arena for a group tying together a variety of older local traditions to create its own and to connect with a place that has a unique sense of itself (for other comments on food symbolism and local New Orleans identity see de Caro 2009). The referencing of older traditions and local ways of life may be particularly important to relative newcomers to New Orleans who are coming to terms with this place and its often quirky culture. Indeed, involvement in Mardi Gras may itself serve as an important entry point into local life and local belonging for newcomers.

The St. Joan Project and the Red Beans krewe are, obviously, quite different from each other even if both share genesis in the whirl of Carnival events and history and tradition. The Red Beans parade seems much in the tradition of Mardi Gras walking clubs (with some inspiration from second-lines); the St. Joan parade, despite its secular nature, has almost the air of a religious procession, a spirit largely foreign to Mardi Gras despite its religious roots (foreign to the drinking and ceremonial nudity at least associated with Mardi Gras in the popular consciousness [see Shrum and Kilburn 1996 and Mayer 2007] or even to the more innocent parade throws and ladders used for children's parade viewing). The Red Beans group draws heavily on the New Orleans past, while the St. Joan Project references much wider historical and cultural roots. While the "beaners" enact their basic ritual and its supporting traditions almost exclusively within the Carnival context, the followers of Joan of Arc look beyond to conferences, Saints rallies, and speaking French. Each group seems to be attracting rather different local followings and members. Yet one cannot avoid seeing similarities as well, as each group invents itself. Both exist outside the context of the grand, float-dominated parades (and thus are aspects of the more "grass roots" Carnival organizations founded recently, sometimes by more bohemian or neighborhood-oriented or arts-associated people who have created such occasions as the Box of Wine parade, which in 2010 followed the more mainline Thoth parade, and the St. Anne activities on Mardi Gras Day). A certain unity in costuming is important to both groups, whether it's beans and rice as decorative materials or medieval-style garb. Both attempt to tie into significant aspects of New Orleans culture, whether the Indians, social aid and pleasure clubs and second-lining or French history and heritage. And certainly both play with important local symbols: the Red Beans members have made local food, in turn representative of local identity, central to their costuming and their own name and identity; the members of the Joan of Arc Project use an historical figure representative of the city's French heritage and details of her life and image to tap into a range of ideas.

In the past Carnival traditions have come and sometimes gone, such that Carnival, despite the conservative power of tradition, both innovates and lets innovations pass away. It may be the ability of the St. Joan and Red Beans groups to adopt and adapt important local symbolic meanings that will ensure the success, persistence, and further development of each organization and its emerging tradition. And it may be that, as a member of one of the groups expressed it, this sort of "very grass roots" Carnival development will be "vital for the survival of Mardi Gras" in the Crescent City.17 In the meantime it is instructive to look at the first two years of these groups for a sense of how Mardi Gras takes shape as it transforms, how particular groups and individuals influence the transformation, and how and why those people who participate join in.18 The St. Joan group has attracted people with a variety of interests, including the saint herself, French culture, and the trappings of medieval society, providing an occasion for expressing some of these interests. The Red Beans krewe has, among other things, given newcomers a chance to band together with locals to pay homage to local traditions and lifestyles, whether second-lining or Creole cooking. Mardi Gras, perhaps the great metaphor for New Orleans and a key formative element for local culture, fittingly enough provides the context for both groups and shapes the basic forms chosen for the expression of their interests.


1. Mardi Gras is, of course, a single day, the Tuesday ("Fat Tuesday") before Ash Wednesday, the day in the Christian liturgical calendar which marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent leading up to Easter. In New Orleans the entire season beginning on January 6 and leading up to and including Mardi Gras is Carnival. However, in actual usage the Carnival season is sometimes popularly called Mardi Gras or the Mardi Gras Season. In this essay I use the terms somewhat interchangeably.

2. Tom Ireland and I have argued elsewhere that this has been an essential element in the maintenance and development of New Orleans Carnival; see de Caro and Ireland (2003).

3. An organization which produces parades and/or engages in other Carnival activities is commonly called a krewe (pronounced like crew). The term was first used by the Mistick Krewe of Comus, the earliest Mardi Gras organization, and was evidently invented as a quaint archaization of crew.

4. Throwing, tossing, or otherwise distributing souvenirs to parade spectators is a prominent feature of New Orleans Mardi Gras (and other) parades. Strings of beads, specially-made plastic cups, and the aluminum coins called doubloons have been among the most popular and common of such "throws," but other items are also used.

5. Mardi Gras of course involves a great deal of costuming, although the extent and quality of the practice has varied over the years. Locally the term masking has been used to mean costuming, with or without the actual use of a mask, although masks are popular. And some locals, notably the Mardi Gras Indians, will refer to a Mardi Gras costume as a suit. In this essay I mostly use the terms costume and costuming.

6. Recorded history, that is. Of course memories of group founders and other participants may continue among group members. Often enough, however, these memories are never recorded or made available to a wider public. The recording of such information would be helpful to understanding the history of Mardi Gras.

7. The Joan of Arc organization is officially registered as a 501c7 organization as the Joan of Arc Project but including the Joan of Arc Parade and Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc. Thus it is something of a hybrid, partly a Mardi Gras krewe, partly a group of people interested in Joan.

8. The term social aid and pleasure club has been primarily used to refer to African American organizations which were formed to both give moral and financial aid to members and offer occasions for celebration, such as parades. Although the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club famously parades as part of Mardi Gras, most such clubs maintain parading schedules outside the Carnival season. Although these organizations are historically mostly African American, the Red Beans group is largely white in the composition of its membership, the name serving as a homage to the older clubs, the group representing some adaptations of features of the older social aid and pleasure clubs and their second-line parades. Certainly the Red Beans group does not operate in the same cultural milieu as the older clubs, and it parades in what can be considered primarily "white" space. Regis (1999: 472) notes "the proliferation of staged "second-lines." for purposes of tourism and entertainment. The Red Beans group clearly is not presenting a "staged" second-line but rather attempting to create for some local residents a link to the older popular tradition; for further discussion of the term second-line, see n. 13.

9. This statue is said to have been a gift from the people of France to the citizens of New Orleans in 1972. In fact it was given to New Orleans in 1956 by Robert Whyte of New York but at the time the city could not afford to erect it. The French donated funds for a base and installation, and it was finally put up in 1972 at a spot designated Place de France near the old Convention Center at the foot of Canal Street (the statue was on Convention Center Boulevard). (Citizens of New Orleans had donated funds to restore a statue of Joan in Orléans after World War II.) When the Center was torn down for the new casino the statue was moved to its present location, designated New Place de France in 1999. It is said to be a copy of the equestrian Joan of Arc in Paris by Emmanuel Frémiet, located at Place des Pyramides and commissioned by Napoleon III in 1874. However, Frémiet became convinced that the proportions of the original statue were wrong (particularly the scale of horse to rider) and made revisions to the statue when the French city of Nancy requested a copy; he was duly criticized by those who thought that no changes should be made to a work of art once it had been made public. When the city of Philadelphia requested a copy of the statue Frémiet sent the original Paris statue there and replaced it in Paris with one based on the Nancy revisions. There are also versions of the statue in Portland, Oregon, and in Australia. So far as I can determine, the New Orleans statue is based on the Paris statue as revised for Nancy. Some New Orleanians jokingly refer to it as "Joanie on the pony."

10. Of course there are those who like to point out that the French Quarter as it exists was not even constructed during the period of French colonial rule, much of the area having been destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in the later eighteenth century during the Spanish colonial period. This seems, however, an irrelevant objection to the name of the neighborhood given a variety of other historical factors.

11. Possibly because as Twelfth Night it marks the end of the Christmas season, and Christmas (as celebrated, for example, on the English plantations of the Caribbean) was formerly carnivalesque (a feature which carried over to the plantations of the South). Hence there was a natural segue from this to the Carnival season. There is some disagreement as to whether, because of earlier calendrical customs, January 5 or 6 is Twelfth Night, but January 6 is accepted in New Orleans.

12. The Lady Godiva equestrian club exists under the auspices of a larger equestrian group, the New Orleans Posse. The Lady Godivas--there are sixteen members in March 2010--ride under the Godiva "persona" only in the Muses parade, although the group rides dressed as pirates in a family-oriented Mardi Gras parade and also in Halloween attire in the Krewe of Boo parade in October.

13. About second-lines, Regis and Walton (2008:411) say:

The term "second line" simultaneously refers to multiple phenomena. It is a distinctive syncopated rhythm, typically associated with the music played by New Orleans brass bands during traditional neighborhood parades. . . . It is a way of dancing in these parades, an uncodified and improvisational way of stepping to the rhythm. And it is a particular type of massive parade, organized by African American benevolent societies in New Orleans' inner-city neighborhoods. . . . Within the parade, the club members and the musicians are said to comprise the "first line," while the joiners, or followers, who make up the overwhelming mass of participants, are the "second liners." It is the unique dynamic interaction between musicians, club members, and followers, that characterizes a "second-line parade."

Historically then, the term second-line referred to those people who followed a parade put on by one of the African-American social aid and pleasure clubs but who were not actually members of the organization parading. The members, probably wearing uniforms or other special clothing, and the band were the first or main line. (There is also a local brass band called the Third Line.) Regis (1999) notes that the very fact that such parades are called second-lines indicates the importance of the parade's "followers." She also notes that few white residents really understand or even know much about this parading tradition. Recently there have been "second-lines" to call attention to local problems or in support of local causes; this may suggest that local usage has changed such that the term has begun to refer to a variety of local parades with brass bands that might perhaps be referred to as "second-line-like parades." New Orleans Times Picayune TV critic Dave Walker (Walker 2010; emphasis added) says that "typically, participants [in a second-line] include a sponsoring social aid and pleasure club and brass band" but defines a second-line simply as "a neighborhood street parade"; this suggests a looser conception of the term second-line (and I use the term somewhat loosely in this essay). To second-line as a verb may refer to walking in such a parade and adopting the sort of dancing gait appropriate to the occasion, so that any use of this way of moving conceivably might come to be referred to as second-lining.

Kunian (2007) is very informative on second-lines and Spitzer (2008): disk 2, track 6 is about post-Katrina second-lining.

14. Calling the Monday before Mardi Gras Lundi Gras ("Fat Monday") is a relatively recent local affectation, not an older French usage. In England this day is referred to as Shrove Monday.

15. The usual explanation given for this is that historically Monday was set aside as the household washday in New Orleans. Red beans could easily be prepared by being set on the stove to simmer while washing household linens preoccupied the time and labor of homemakers; the cook could also possibly make use of scraps of meat left over from Sunday dinner to flavor the beans.

16. Members of Mardi Gras Indian groups (African Americans who "mask Indian," who are organized into groups with hierarchies including such offices as Big Chief and Spy Boy, who fashion elaborate costumes, and who maintain their own song and dance traditions) may refer to their group as a gang. Following general usage that divides actual Native Americans into tribes, people also speak of the Mardi Gras Indian groups as tribes. They have such names as the Yellow Pocahontas and Seventh Ward Hunters.

17. She noted that on a trip to the Venice Carnival she had discovered that people there who posed in the elaborate eighteenth-century-style costumes were "hired hands" paid by local authorities to provide a sort of human backdrop for tourists; she saw this as an obvious contrast to the grass roots spirit of recent New Orleans groups.

18. In writing this article I observed both the St. Joan parade (January 6, 2010) and the Red Beans parade (February 15, 2010), as well as the Joan of Arc fête (January 3, 2010) held at the Bienville House Hotel, and the making of offerings for the football Saints by the St. Joan group at the Joan of Arc statue (February 6, 2010). I also interviewed Amy Kirk-Duvoisin on February 2, 2010, in the French Quarter and Devin Meyers on February 4, 2010, in the Lower Garden District. Additionally Kirk-Duvoisin and Meyers responded to subsequent e-mail queries, and the St. Joan organization maintains an on-line archive of blogs which was also consulted ( For the St. Joan Project I also spoke with Elizabeth Pinney (by telephone, March 14, 2010), Caye Mitchell (by telephone, March 15, 2010), Erin Boreros of the Bienville House Hotel (by telephone, April 14, 2010), and Antoinette de Alteriis (by telephone, June 17, 2010). For the Red Beans krewe I attended one group work session on February 10, 2010, and informally spoke with Leah Tenace, Allison Gorlin, Karaline Ziegler, and Gabrielle Reisman. My thanks to all these individuals for kindly providing me with information. My thanks also to Carolyn Ware at LSU, Rachel Lyons at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival archives, and Rosan Augusta Jordan for her photographs.


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This article first appeared in the 2010 Louisiana Folklore Miscellany. Frank de Caro is a folklorist now living in New Orleans.