From Behind the Mask: An Intimate Look into Traditional Mardi Gras Runs

With Mardi Gras right around the corner, many Louisianans have already begun preparing for the big celebration. In Louisiana's large, urban cities, the traditional Mardi Gras consists of street parades, king cake, and parties. But in Louisiana's smaller, rural communities, the traditional Mardi Gras is different. In these communities, locals participate in the Courir de Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras run. Barry Ancelet, the author of From Behind the Mask, explains the historical division between the urban and country Mardi Gras:

"In a nutshell, the country Mardi Gras comes from the way Mardi Gras was celebrated in France in the rural section as opposed to the urban carnival. It's an early springtime renewal and is essentially a way for communities to celebrate and find themselves."

At first glance, Mardi Gras runs can appear to be wide-open public celebrations, but they are actually intimate expressions of community solidarity. Participants in Mardi Gras runs engage in Carnivalesque play, which includes the familiar practice of dressing in costumes, singing, and dancing, along with a few unconventional practices such as begging, whipping, and verbal play, which can be surprising for outsiders. However, the processional nature of these practices create what the participants think of as their little worlds.

The following excerpt reflects one of Barry Ancelet's experiences with Carnivalesque play at the Grand Marais Mardi Gras, one of several dozen versions of the traditional Mardi Gras in south Louisiana:

From "The Apprenticeship of Misrule: Making Sense of Making Nonsense"

"[Thomas] came up to me on his knees, begging for a donation. I gave him a twenty-dollar bill. He stood and thanked me, saying that for twenty dollars I could choose someone to be whipped. I said that I only wanted to see somebody interesting whipped. He thanked me again profusely according to the ritual’s rules and made a big show of embracing me, in the process transferring some of the paint from his face to mine in the process. . . . After they had finished their song, the capitaine noticed me standing just outside the circle with paint on my face. He had me brought in and accused me of showing up late, standing outside of the circle, and running Mardi Gras without a hat. [After I protested] Capitaine Wallace then leaned toward me and said in a stage whisper that it was no use I try to talk my way out of this situation, because someone had given Thomas twenty dollars to have me whipped. I said, 'Now wait a minute. I’m the one who gave Thomas twenty dollars.' I insisted that it did not seem right to use a man’s own money to have him whipped. Capitaine Wallace allowed, 'You might have a point, there.'"

Paillasses with dress whips at Tuesday evening dance, Grand Marais, 2019


The continuation of this story, along with many others recorded over the span of forty years, can be read in Ancelet's latest title From Behind the Mask: Essays on South Louisiana Mardi Gras Runs

Interested? Purchase your copy today!

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