Present – 1984 Mandingo Warriors
1965 – 1984 Yellow Pocahontas (Flag boy)
Chief Fi Yi Yi has been a part of the Black Masking Culture (BMC) for over 50 years in New Orleans. Well respected amongst his peers and the community for his warrior spirit. For twenty years he was a Flag Boy for a legend. It is often said but rarely valued “in order to lead you must learn to follow”. Chief Fi Yi Yi’s devolution and dedication as flag boy has made him a Mighty Chief that has created his own banner under the Mardi Gras Indians (BMC). The Mandingo Warriors Tribe is an African Banner, the fourth. This humble warrior’s community investment has been as mighty as his great spirit.
Q) How did the Mandingo Warriors and the spirit of Fi Yi Yi begin?
A) Well, it started out in 1984 but at the time I wasn’t the spirit of FI Yi Yi I was only the flag boy of the Legendry Chief Tootie Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas and I was his flag boy for 20 years. I started off with the Yellow Pocahontas in 1965. He will always be in my heart. He will always be my chief.
Q) What separated you from the Yellow Pocahontas?
A) They had a guy named Ernie Skipper. He wanted to make a record. He called me and said hey Flag (because I was a Flag boy) Meet us across the street from Blunts Bar at a little house studio. He told me what he wanted me to do. He gave me my little que and I said:
Flag Boy, Flag Boy, Flag of the Nation I’m the Flag Boy, I’m Flag Boy the next one with a bad bad reputation I’m Flag Boy from downtown and I won’t bow down because I don’t know how I’ll meet everybody let them come you know and with my traditional Howler.
I thought it was nice but it was so good to him, he took it and ran with it and from that point I didn’t hear no more about that. Now when I did hear about it “Wow” it was a big ole conflict. It kept coming up and then I said well I gotta go and find out what is all this. Next thing I hear I’m out the tribe. I knew nothing about what they were talking about I knew zero! The guy Ernie Skipper took the record and he wrote Shot Gun Joe, Ernie Skipper, Flag (me), and he used the Yellow Pocahontas and that was the problem.
Q) An all this was in 1984 Chief?
A) Yeah, I was out the tribe and people were acting funny with me and even my cousin was ducking me, and he must have been brainwashed. I’m saying this went too far. This man used to do all of my designs. I used to tell him what I wanted. He used to draw everyone’s stuff.
Q) What was the difference between going from Flag Boy to Chief?
A) I’m in control. Nobody wants to hear that but I’m in control and when they hear the word FI Yi Yi people come running you know. It’s like a blessing everybody comes in for blessings believe me because they coming to be blessed. It’s a blessing. It’s a healing that’s what. It’s all about when you hear FI Yi Yi everybody coming and when everybody’s feeling good you hear FI Yi Yi you forget your sickness. It’s a healing thing and when FI Yi Yi comes everything else stops.
Q) Chief we know the name of the tribe is Mandingo Warrior’s but where did you get the inspiration for FI Yi Yi?
A) The spirit of FI Yi Yi is about everyone. It don’t exclude nobody. Things were going so bad I had to go to God. God is the only one that could save me. One night I’m home all alone. I turned everything off. I needed silence. I recall being in the kitchen with my back up against the wall. I started asking all these questions. Why? I want to mask but I have no tribe. How can I mask with no tribe? I said God please talk to me. I’m truly spilling my heart out…No answer from God. I started crying. Big tears. I cried and I cried till I put myself to sleep. The next morning, I woke just feeling good. Then I said to myself AYE Yi Yi… AYE Yi Yi… Fi Yi Yi. Then I got chills in my body then I said it again FI Yi Yi and it felt good then the third time. I clinched my fist and held my hand to God and I scream It FI YI YIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII
Q) After that major transition what was the environment like for masking in 7th ward?
A) Well since then it’s like Roman falling. It started falling. It fell apart then the next thing you know someone else in the tribe got out the tribe and started a tribe and someone else in the tribe got out the tribe and started a tribe. There might be seven tribes in the seventh ward, in that one area from that one tribe. “I do know as long as I was there, there was one and as long as I had been there, and if I would have been there. There still would been one.”
Q) Chief how does your tribe impact the community?
A) I give a back to the school picnic party every year for 34 years we give 200-300 children and we give them all school supplies. We give them everything necessary that they need to put in their school pack. Pencils, paper, erasers, toilet paper, barrettes, you name it. Sharpener, rulers we just don’t give them a school bag we pack it. Colors, glue and not only that but, we feed them, many people and everybody who walk on that field while we are doing that. So, you see yeah, we have an impact.