School of Music


Master of Arts in Music and Worship (MA)


Katherine Morehouse


African Cultural Retention, Afro-Carribean, Black Hawk, Black Indian, Mardi Gras Indian, New Orleans


Ethnomusicology | Music | Musicology | Music Performance | Other Music


After a three hundred year journey from the continent, African cultural retention remains at the core of the Black Indian masking tradition of New Orleans. Prior research from progenitors in anthropology and ethnomusicology, focusing on African cultural retention, include the ground-breaking ethnographies of Robert Farris Thompson, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Kalamu Ya Salaam, Michael P. Smith, Margaret Thompson Drewel, Stephen Wehmeyer, Jason Berry and others, have established a solid foundation for research on African influences and retentions in expressive folk cultures, laying a firm foundation for this project. The author’s insider experiences within the Black Indian tradition are underscored by several field interviews conducted with Chiefs and tribal members, culture bearers, elders, curators and spiritualists. Through correlative research findings and examples relating African diaspora dance, music and regalia to the Black Indian tradition, the author has created a cross-cultural history that is based in fact, proving that the story of the Black “Mardi Gras” Indian transcends myth and legend. The provocative findings of the author throughout research for this project clearly carry a common thread. The phenomenological experiences related by culture bearers in the tradition exhibit an ability for Black Indians to transcend the physical into the spiritual realm during masking, channeling the energy and deeply embedded narrative of their ancestors. As a direct link to African masking, music, spirituality and rituals, maintained after three hundred years of cultural retention in America, “masking Indian” is a simultaneously historical and contemporary manifestation of “embodied memory” and cultural resistance, demonstrated through a unique and expressive masquerade ritual.