42 Tribes Week 3: Al Womble – Cheyenne Tribe
Big Chief Al Womble – Cheyenne Tribe
From 1963-present/ Big Chief Alfred Womble
Cheyenne Hunters/Cheyenne Tribe
From 1940’s-1964/ Mr. Alfred Womble Sr.
Golden Blades Tribe/Cheyenne Hunters
The Cheyenne Gang is the only full bloodline tribe in New Orleans. Chief Al has been masking for 46 years and with his wife (Wanda Womble) as his Big Queen been masking with him for 30 yrs. they have been passing it on from their children to their grandchildren for 5 generations of Black Masking.
Q: Chief Al how did your tribe begin?
(A): My father masked, I started right before Martin Luther King died (63-64). I just took to it. Kids were learning the craft of sewing and beading. I just took to it because it was a part of our community culture.
Q: Where did this culture start from?
(4 banners of Indigenous Black Masking)
(A): Being one of the older chiefs, how I was taught the Mardi Gras Indians (MGI) come under four banners right now different Banners, one of the older banners come from slavery, and that’s what most people assimilate too. If you see some of my old costumes (suits) I had red Indians. The red man symbolizes the American Indian and it’s when the slaves left from the plantations and ran to the American Indian for shelter and somewhere to go to get from the slave masters. That’s one culture that come under our banner (1) Uptown culture.
Another culture (2) the Downtown Culture which you will see, when you go see Tootie (Montana) and Mamut and them, they don’t make people they make designs and abstract bead work and that come from Maya Inca, see this City came from French, Spanish and the 7th ward creole people came under that so their costumes (suits) really emulate that.
Third (3) banner is a guy name Victor’s Fiyiyi. Victor makes the only African costume (suite) under MGI Banner in this culture. I think if we all would’ve knew more of our African culture we all would have made that type of costume (suite). We all came from different (banners), (to be) under the MGI Banner.
Now I’ve changed my Banner from the slave which was the red man, to the brown (4th banner) man, because I’ve been doing my history, I found there were actually Black Indians (indigenous) here. They wasn’t African, they wasn’t Red men, and we were Black Indians (indigenous) here. So, my suits changed to show who I really am.
Q: Chief how does the City of New Orleans or tourism dept. support Black Masking Tribes like yourself?
(A): They do not support us in no form, no fashion. I think it’s a shame the way they exploit us nationwide and they really just ignore us. People come from all over the world to see MGI and the City really don’t help us at all.
Q: Chief you are matter of fact when you say on all your suits you Draw it, Bead it, Stone it, decorate it, hook it up, and design it! Why is that?
(A):My first three years of masking we were a poor family. I wanted to mask so bad, my first year too! I didn’t really know the craft, but I wanted to be a MGI. So, I got some card board, I was like 3rd or 2nd grade. I made a suite out of plain card board. I came around the bar room Hollering and Screaming and Jumping and everybody laughed at me. The kids back than were so mean. They threw rocks hitting me like, Boom! Boom! My momma begged me to take off that suit but I refused too. But eventually I evolved. From Rocks being thrown at me to winning the Crystal Feather Award for best Chief in the City. My wife won Big Queen twice! So, I tell kids DON’T GIVE UP! No matter how much money you do have or don’t have, keep doing your craft, your art and one day you will get your own Crystal Feather.
Q: Chief in the next 300 years what would you like society to say was your legacy, your impact?
(A): If I can make an impact I would just like to let the kids know, to keep passing it down from generations, like I was taught. We pass it down from my daddy to me, to my children to my grandchildren to keep it alive. To keep the spirit of who we are! Not just Mardi Gras Indians, but a Black American Indians of African descent.
See you hear the Drums, when you hear the beats of the drum its spiritual, it brings something out in your spirit. The drums speak. I want the generations to know let the music DIE and this gone DIE. So, keep the music coming, keep the drums alive and if they do that!? We will be alright!