For over 200 years the Northside Skull and Bone Gang has woken up Treme residents for Mardi Gras. The skeleton gang led by Chief Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes is meant to remind people of their mortality and to live a moral life to avoid becoming Skull and Bones. Starting before dawn at the Backstreet Cultural Museum on Feb. 25, 2020, the four skeletons come out the museum’s front door.
Then a fifth stilt-walking skeleton seems to magically appear from within the crowd.
Sunpie knocks on people’s doors and sometimes invited inside to wake up other people and is even offered a beverage or two. The group states that it is the oldest Mardi Gras Black Indian gang or tribe in America, with an African Creole tradition dating back to 1819, and that they are descendants of the slaves and Native Americans. Though they have similar ancestry, they are distinct from the feather-suited Mardi Gras Indians gangs and tribes that are thought to have originated later in the 1800s. Voodoo Queen Kalindah Laveaux and her sisters also accompanied the Skull and Bone gang this year.