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To August 27
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Anyone who’s ever heard the Dixie Cups’ 1965 pop hit “Iko Iko” and wondered what a “spy boy” or a “flag boy” is should check out the Anacostia Museum’s new exhibit, “New Orleans Black Mardi Gras Indians: Exploring a Community Tradition From an Insider’s View.” Complemented by the museum’s collection of wildly colorful hand-beaded and hand-feathered costumes, the exhibit features selected portraits of Mardi Gras Indians by New Orleans photographer J. Nash Porter. An integral aspect of New Orleans culture, the Mardi Gras Indian tribes, of which there are now almost 40, originally evolved over a century ago, when groups from inner-city African-American neighborhoods devised their own way to participate in the then-all-white Carnival celebrations: wearing elaborate costumes designed to pay respect to Native American tribes, such as the Coushatta and Seminole, who once sheltered runaway slaves on their escapes to freedom. Though rival Mardi Gras tribes once settled scores in violent street fights on Fat Tuesday, the Mardi Gras Indians now march through neighborhoods peacefully on parade routes. Sometimes appearing without notice, they perform ceremonial dances, pantomime challenges, and whoop, holler, chant, and sing traditional Mardi Gras songs to Afro-Carribean jazz rhythms. Recently, some Mardi Gras Indians nailed their post-Katrina, water-soaked, and bedraggled but vibrant costumes to doors in the city’s 8th Ward, with signs such as “I WILL BE BACK. WILD MAN.” The exhibit is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily to Sunday, Aug. 27, at the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Museum & Center for African-American History and Culture, 1901 Fort Place SE. Free. (202) 633-4820. (Patricia Murret)