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Every Mardi Gras Indians’ suit has a story, hers is a love song to strong women

Tahj Williams is a student, a coach, and masks with the Golden Eagles

On Super Sunday at the corner of Washington and Lasalle streets, there were no less than 200 people standing around. Some were talking, some were eating, most were drinking. But, as soon as Tahj Williams walked out of A.L. Davis park and through the masses, the crowd parted like the Red Sea. Everyone turned to take a picture of her with their cell phones.

“That’s her! That’s Tahj! Oh, she’s so pretty!”

Williams, 20, is a Tulane University student majoring in cyber and homeland security. She balances her schoolwork with coaching and masking. Like most Black Masking Indians, her suit takes all year to make and tells a story.

This year’s suit was named the “Taj Mahal,” and is an ode to her grandmother and the women that raised her.

“I made a ball gown this year and at the bottom of it is a village of women,” she explained. “It symbolizes that it takes a village to raise a queen, and I definitely felt that more than anything because it took a lot of women to get me where I am today. At the top, I used all of my grandmothers’ jewelry because back in the day Indians didn’t have the money to get expensive stones and expensive materials. So they would use their wives jewelry, their grandmother’s jewelry, any woman in their family and that’s how they’d beautify their suits. So I kind of wanted to take an old school idea and put a twist on it, so that’s how I got my suit for this year.”

Photo by LaNitrah Hasan

Even the name of the suit tells a story of love.

“I named it the Taj Mahal because the Taj Mahal is a love symbol from a husband to a wife and this suit was a love symbol from me to my grandmother,” she said.

While Williams isn’t the Big Queen of the Golden Eagles, she’s one of the most visible on social media.

“I think we are in a place now where technology is everything,” she said. “We work so hard, all year, on our suits, more than just to show it one time. I like to share my process with everybody because I went through a lot to make it to the streets. So, I like to share that with my followers.”

The crowd surrounding A.L. Davis Park on Mar. 17 spoke volumes about the city. Thousands of people, black and white, came out to see the Indians.

“Super Sunday is a community day, it’s kind of like a family reunion,” she said. “This is a culture that’s one in a million. You can’t go anywhere in the world and see a culture like this and I guess I’m just excited to be a part of it. There are many Indians that came before me and I know there will be man Indians to come after me, so just to be one of those is special to me and being able to make a suit and be able to use my creative spirit every year and challenge myself, it’s special.”

With Mardi Gras barely two weeks behind us, Super Sunday and St. Joseph’s Night, two important dates for Black Masking Indians, came quick.

“It’s actually kind of like that every year,” Williams said. “I remember one year Super Sunday and St. Joseph’s Night was the same day, so that was exhausting, but I don’t mind as long as I get to put my suit on.”

She said no matter how many times she tries the suit pieces on, there’s nothing like hitting the streets.

“There’s actually no feeling that can describe when you finally get to put your suit on,” she said. “I know for a fact that I turn into a different person, I’m no longer Tahj. I’ve been told by many people they can see the transformation. You can ask any Indian, they’ll tell you they can’t describe that feeling. I guess its kind of like a kid on Christmas. You’re just excited, overjoyed, and you think about everything to get to that point. It’s even emotional, I kind of cry every Mardi Gras.”

Photo by Matthew Hinton
A. L. Davis Park
Getting there
2600 Lasalle St, New Orleans, LA 70113, USA