By Glenn Jones
1980 – Present – Big Chief Tyrone Casby
1972 – 1979 – Big Chief Frank “Summy” Jones
1971 – 1967 – Big Chief Rayfield Parker
1956 – 1966 – Big Chief Mosquito Blue
Big Chief Buck
Big Chief Wardell Harris
1955 – 1947 –Big Chief Frank Casby Sr.
The Principle Chief:
As the rain fell profusely on the early morning of October 2nd, I made my way to the 1.5. Big Chief of the Mohawk Hunters territory, known to others as Algiers Point, albeit late. Big Chief Tyrone Casby was gracious to extend his time for me.
Unknowingly at the time, I was making the Principle of Blue and Gold Landry- Walker High, late for school. Instead, I took the place of a student this morning, getting an 80 year old history lesson of a family’s lineage and its Great Tribe.
As protocol, I don’t do pre-interview research on chiefs. I do post research to complete the picture of that chief. The oddity of this chief is that his life outside the tribe is just as compelling as being 3rd generation tribal chief which his great uncle Frank Casby Sr. started in 1947 (two years after WWL II) out of Oakdale, an old community of Algiers before the Fisher Projects.
Casby has been masking for 50 years, serving as chief for 27 years and has raised two generations of his own in the culture. Respected Uptown and Downtown Mowhawk Hunters is the only tribe to represent the entire West bank. As well as bringing the Super Sunday Culture yearly to Algiers/Harvey since the 80’s. As chief says “I wasn’t blew here, I grew here.” Indeed, at the age of 4 Chief would sneak and follow his older brother Ralph “Tickle Man” Casby the “Wild Man” for the Mohawk Hunters to Fox Park in Algiers where the tribe gathered to sing and play the drums with the tambourine. That seemed to ignite his DNA and he became hooked on the beat of the drum. Chief says “tambourine and drums, I like the music, it touched my spirit.”
From there, still sneaking, but not to hear the Indians but this time to join in. At the age of 13, he along with a friend, broke down an old suit and created his own from the parts. 50 years later, with two sons and grandchildren raised in the culture, along with touching hundreds if not thousands of youth as an educator and coach, Big Chief Casby is a confident, poised culture bearer and community leader. Preserving our culture for the next Tricentennial.
Q) Every Chief has a different opinion of the effect of “Pretty” in this culture. What are yours?
A) When you talk about pretty you’re talking about competition now you’re talking conflict. Folks didn’t want this culture to prosper as it has. Because, if I put pretty in it, I put competition in it. You get conflict. When you get conflict you get confusion. Pretty is just a word used to enhance someone’s own ego. That’s where I’m at with it. What pretty did for the culture was made guys realize I can’t come out any kinda way? It gave standards but didn’t help the spirit of the culture.
Q) With the economic crunch our community is under, as well as being under the siege of exploitation, does this culture revolve around materialism?
A) It does not, because with me I can sew one patch and put it on my butt and run around the street and do the dance and sing the song I sang and I’m Pretty! Because I’m expressing me; I’m expressing what my ancestors brought here. It doesn’t matter what you put on, its’s what’s in you. My great grandfather, Frank Casby’s dad lived to be a 118 years old right here in Algiers. He was born in slavery. He was too young for the Civil War and too old for WWI. When I say that, I say that to say my family came through slavery. This is not something I do to say I’m pretty or do because I want to be like the children say “the Ish”, that ain’t me. I do it because that’s the spirit I have. That’s what I try to in instill in my kids and my tribe.
Q) What is the spirit of your tribe?
A) Well it’s a Conscience spirit, because at the end of the day, if you ever look at our suits, they all say something different. Everybody expresses their own being. There is no one person, everybody is different, everybody sews different, everybody thinks and reacts different, so therefore for me the theme would be do you.
Q) What aspects of black masking culture helped you become the man you are?
A) The leadership. The role of a leader in that culture. The fact the people are going to look up to me. So when I put that Indian suit on, I represent hundreds and hundreds of years of people and our struggles. What I represent in Algiers is that leader, that person that says I’m from Algiers, I represent you guys. I have to represent you right. I can’t come out there half stepping, drunk, fighting acting crazy. No, can’t do that because my children are looking, other children are looking. So I’m that role model. When I put that suite on I’m that role model. When I put this suite (shirt and tie principle) on, I’m that role model. No matter what suit I put on with the upbringing of my parents and siblings, there were fifteen of us that grew up in a two room house and from that I was able to say you know what I’m that guy. And now people in this community will tell you I’m that guy. Because from a youth to this day, I have been the guy to do what is right. Now I’ve done wrong but God has blessed me.