Shane Lief and John McCusker, Jockomo: The Native Roots of Mardi Gras Indians

Whether you look forward to Super Sunday all year or you have no idea who the Mardi Gras Indians are, Jockomo: The Native Roots of Mardi Gras Indians will be a valuable resource for anyone seeking to further understand one of New Orleans’ most vibrant and complex cultural practices. Through thorough research and vibrant photography, authors Shane Lief and John McCusker delve into the complex blend of cultural influences that created Mardi Gras Indians, focusing specifically on their Native American roots.

When it comes to early colonial New Orleans history, words are almost all we have to examine. So naturally, language takes center stage in this book. The authors explore the origins and meanings of words like “jockomo,” “bamboula,” and “Balbancha,” going back to their native geneses. They also trace the cultural exchanges over three centuries that have created the modern identity of the Mardi Gras Indians—fleshing out some accounts, clarifying and dispelling others. They’ve bolstered their narrative with John McCusker’s breathtaking photographs from his two decades with the Times-Picayune as well as with archival images, hearty notes, and two appendices—one with biographies of notable figures and the other on Mardi Gras Indian music.

Ultimately the book urges us to learn from the Mardi Gras Indians to listen to the voices of the past, because in this way we might better understand who we were, who we are, and who we might become.