The religious and ceremonial rites practiced in the Americas draw their inspiration from various sources. The annual Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans is an amalgamation of Western Christian and West African traditions. It is a riot of colourful theatricality that is initiated before the more reflective season of Lent begins. Although the Coronavirus has halted the celebrations the event has always occurred, even after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina it was allowed to happen, albeit as a scaled down affair.
New Orleans is a city renowned for its resilience. It is also a place with a unique culture. The music of New Orleans is well known all over the world, and it has an element of magic and legend associated with it. The main thoroughfare, Highway 61 was reputedly the place where the blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil to achieve musical perfection.
The literature of New Orleans is also regarded as legendary and magical. It has established a distinct presence in the popular imagination. Writers like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote skilfully evoke the city`s languid and sultry atmosphere. However this atmosphere is seething with unease as it is a place with a troubled history, once part of the French colonial project and its slave trade. The island of Haiti was implicated in this slave trade and the degrading and humiliating experiences of slaves lead to the creation of specific folk tales and legends.
The legend of the “zombie” came from the stories of slaves who often felt more dead than alive. The Zombie trope is a familiar part of Horror fiction, reimagined by contemporary New Orleans writers like Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite. Horror is generally misunderstood as a genre. Most are ignorant of its historical context, and fail to realise its cultural importance. The desire for the forbidden is a major part of this culture.
The annual celebration of Mardi Gras is both ribald and frivolous, a party to enjoy before entering the sombre reflections of Ash Wednesday. It is a tribute to the robust character of the city and its people.