The Story Behind Cajun Mardi Gras Masks (Acadiana Living. Dec. 2014).

Georgie Manuel

Georgie Manuel


Wherever Mardi Gras is celebrated, the mask is key. Behind the best masks, they can’t tell whether you are laughing or crying. They can’t tell how absolutely drunk you are. The mask helps erase consequence. “Riders want folks to say, ‘Well, I didn’t see you on Mardi Gras!,’” claims Iota Louisiana mask-maker Jackie Miller. “Then they can say, ‘Oh, yes, you did; you just didn’t recognize me.’”

In South Louisiana, myriad small communities celebrate French-inspired Courir de Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday Runs through their towns. On horseback, flatbed trucks and ATVs, hordes of colorfully garbed riders blaze through the middle of big, Cajun crowds while singing, shouting and begging for nickels, trinkets and ingredients for a gumbo meal to be shared by the community later that night. The runs’ overlords (the capitaines) wear traditional wild, flashy robes and pointed hats called capuchin, while barking instructions to their foolish riders. The capitaines leave their faces exposed to let everyone know who is in charge. The drunken, debauched riders, however, hide their human identities behind various parish-specific masks made and molded out of wire mesh.

The wire masks of Church Point, for instance, are known to be plain, featuring regular human noses. Their capuchin are not as tall. Basile’s masks have no nose, just simple, colorful stylized features painted directly onto the screen.

Unlike other mask-makers, Lou Trahan covers her masks with colored felt, yarn, buttons, lace and other knickknacks. For 20 years, Trahan has been one of two people making traditional wire masks for the Egan community southwest-ish of Iota, between Crowley and Jennings. Egan happily stands in the shadow of the much larger Tee Mamou parade just to the west. She began making masks for her husband and two boys to wear while running with Mermentau. Of course, admiring friends soon wanted their own masks, which Trahan obligingly made. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece, which you should do, because check out this photo (below)!



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