Coming home to the culture:
Although this was the first year Black Flame Hunters has hit the streets, their Chief is a Wiley Vet. Growing up, uptown at the age of six he and his friends started imitating the Wild Magnolias and Creole Wild West, Big Chief Jeremy “Black” was destined to have his own tribe. Playing Football successfully all the way to college pulled him away from his first love. Coming home, he started masking with Jeronimo Hunters and Big Chief Tom Landry for fourteen years where he honed his skills and love for this culture.
Q) When was the first time you saw an Indian?
A) Since I could remember. Where I’m from, Simon Bolivar between Jackson and Josephine. Apache Hunters and Wild Magnolias coming out of the same house. Indians coming out of each door. The Chief I masked with was Wild Magnolia. Next door to him his neighbor was one of the Apache Hunters. Creole Wild West was on Jackson.
Q) What’s some of the rich history of Uptown Black Masking Culture?
A) Uptown Indians, we’re kind of different from the downtown Indians. It’s about half and half what we do. Other guys downtown they might do the flat beading like we do, they probably bead a bigger patch, but we bead ours in sections. We kind of jewelry our stuff up because that’s uptown, that’s what I’m used to seeing from Creole Wild West and Wild Magnolia growing up, the richness of it.
Q) Uptown in your area the Tribes were so close. Were conversations about Black Masking Culture common?
A) Oh yea! As kids coming up I remember imitating. The newspaper was green and white and every weekend in the back yard of my Chiefs house making an Indian suit out of newspaper. We imitated our neighborhood Tribes to the fullest as little kids.
Q) Out of all aspects of this culture what attracts you most?
A) All of it. It’s exciting and it’s a real Spirit and you must really feel it. Some people say they want to mask but when they sit down and start beading everybody taps out. You got to be careful what you ask for.
Q) When did you pick up that needle and thread and say this is it?
A) You know the crazy part is that it took me a minute to come in from the streets. I always wanted to do it. When I was real young I wasn’t really into it, my uncle and them was a Chief and they would say, “come on and mask”, but I was always playing ball through high school up until college. Katrina came, and right before Katrina my uncle Tuba died. I was like you know what I’m just going to come on in. This literally saved my life. A lot of my friends were dying so I really came on in.
Q) Talk to me about footwork in this culture?
A) Man, they have some guys who really could put it down. From Chiefs to little kids. They probably can’t dance in the club, so they hear them drums it’s something totally different. I’m not a dancer but when I hear drums its different.
Q) What’s the role of the tambourine in Black Masking Culture?
A) To be honest with you, when I first even went to Indian practice as a kid, there wasn’t a drum it was all tambourines. Somebody probably had a little bucket or something in there, but it was all tambourines and it was rockin, and it was rollin.
Q) Many Chiefs say they feel free when they put on their ceremonial suit, what does that mean for you?
A) This is freeing. You’re free. Self-owned and self-made, you’re Free. It’s what we did before slavery. You’re a different person. There’s so much that you deal with in the year doing this. You lose so much, please believe me I’ve lost a lot. This destroys families. Sometimes either you accept it, or you just leave it alone. But this is free. No pain. I stick myself with a needle but it’s no pain. Its gonna hurt but it’s not pain because that end result is freeing. Literally like Freedom.
Q) The 1828 Webster Dictionary defines an American as a native of America; originally applied to the aboriginals, or copper-colored races, found here by the Europeans; but now applied to the descendants of Europeans born in America. History shows that this culture and your ancestors to this land predate colonialism. Was this history ever passed down to you?
A) You know I’ve been seeing it on Facebook. They have Black Indians. My 2nd Chief use to tell me, “I think you should change your men to brown and make brown Indians.” I respect what he was saying. Now is time to start. Since knowledge has been brought upon, now it’s really time to make them Indians brown.
Q) In 300 years what do you want to be said about the Black Flame Hunters and yourself?
A) That we are well respected and that we respected everyone and that I did my thing. That I put my time on the street and I had fun doing it and I’m merry about it. Hopefully the culture will keep going.
By Glenn Jones and Oba Lorrius