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From Behind the Mask: Essays on South Louisiana Mardi Gras Runs

From Behind the Mask: Essays on South Louisiana Mardi Gras Runs

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About the Book

From Behind the Mask brings together essays written over a period of more than forty years, based on Barry Jean Ancelet’s observations and experiences. Ancelet explores critical elements of the traditional Mardi Gras runs of Cajun and Creole South Louisiana, including strategies for masking, costuming, begging, singing, playing, and moving through the countryside. He addresses historical issues, including the tradition’s roots in European and Afro-Caribbean festivals, as well as its contemporary dynamics and ongoing evolution, including local social, cultural and political issues involving class, identity, gender and race.

Mardi Gras runs can seem at first glance to be wide-open public celebrations, but they are actually intimate expressions of community solidarity. Carnivalesque play is most effective when the players and their hosts would know each other except for the masks and costumes of the moment. Singing, dancing, intense begging, and verbal play create the improvised theater provided in exchange for contributions to the communal gathering and meal at the end of the day. Mardi Gras is an elaborate game designed to entertain and generate laughter, and because every game has its rules and masters, Mardi Gras capitaines and their deputies ride herd on the revelers to keep play from devolving into chaos. The processional nature of this ritual enables it to move through what the participants think of as their little worlds, turning everything around them into temporary props and stages and drawing observers into their improvised farces, driven by a sense of deep play that tickles power with inversions of social structures and intense interaction from behind the masks.


About the Author

Barry Jean Ancelet is professor emeritus of Francophone Studies and Center for Louisiana Studies Research Fellow at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He has given papers, published numerous articles and several books, and produced concerts, festivals, records, museum exhibitions, documentary films, and television and radio programs on various aspects of Louisiana French language and culture.

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